Wine Phrases for Beginners

Posted by Keith Wallace

Essential Wine Terms

For most wine enthusiasts, getting to know wine only gets daunting at tastings. When people more experienced throw out a jumble of words and phrases, not to mention the ritualistic swirl-nose and spit. For some, it can be pretty hard to find your footing.

However, any good sommelier will tell you; wine is not complicated, neither should it be lost in a shroud of vocabulary. To make it much easier, we have summed up some of the most common wine terms you will have thrown at you.

For this article, and to make it all the more easier to decipher; we will group some of these terms into three. Those that show up on wine labels, those that you are most likely to encounter at wine tastings, and those that are used to describe wine.

On Wine Labels

Generally used to denote regions, grapes, or styles of wine in the bottle. It gets less bewildering at your favorite wine store to find a wine you might enjoy.


Geographically delineated wine region. America uses AVA, France AOC and so on.


Sadly not ‘Bring Own Bottle’ rather an acronym for “Buyer’s Own Brand,” referring to a private label wine owned by the restaurant or retailer that sells the wine. Retailer Berry Brothers and Rudd have several B.O.B wines of incredible value and quality.


Usually, protein-based substances are added at or near the completion of wine processing to remove organic compounds to improve clarity or adjust flavor or aroma.

Kosher Wine

Wines produced under the supervision of a Rabbi to be ritually pure or clean. May, at times, be sterilized.

Biodynamic Wine

A principle of grape cultivating that is based on spiritual/practical philosophies that require an intimate understanding of energetic, ecological, and spiritual elements of nature.


A wine merchant or trader assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name.

Cap Classique

A South African sparkling wine made according to the traditional method.


Spanish for a sparkling wine made according to the traditional method.


French term for ‘vat’ or ‘tank’. On wine labels, it is used to denote wine of a specific blend or batch.

At a Wine Tasting

A few wine definitions you may want to keep handy.

Residual Sugar/RS

Sugars are leftover in the wine after fermentation. They add to the body of the wine and are common results of unfermentable sugars like pentoses. Even dry wines can have some amounts of RS.


A French term for wines that fall between light red wine and dark rosé.


British name for Bordeaux wine now used to denote red wine similar to that of Bordeaux (with the same blend of grapes).


French sparkling wine that is not from/made in Champagne region.


Italian term for a semi-sparkling wine. Some Barbera’s are made Frizzante and unfinned. They continue to develop in the bottle.

Describing Wine


Is the smell of a young wine.


Is the complex and layered noted from aged wines.

Primary aromas

These come purely from the grape itself. Like Sauvignon Blanc’s famous cat pee (you read that right.) or cut grass aromas.

Secondary aromas

These are a result of winemaking. Malolactic fermentation (on dead yeasts called ‘lees’) bestows bready or ‘baked goods’ aromas.

Tertiary aromas

Wines often develop these as they age in the bottle. e.g. Caramel notes.


It can directly be used to describe the mouth-drying effect or ‘puckering’ that tannins ordinarily have on the palate.

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