Wine Terminology & VocabularyThe Ultimate Wine Dictionary from the Wine School of Philadelphia
We created this glossary of wine terminology for all wine lovers, especially our wine students. In this wine dictionary, you can find the most important wine terms and their definitions. Enjoy!
acidity — the liveliness and crispness in wine that activates our salivary glands
aeration — the deliberate addition of oxygen to round out and soften a wine
aging — holding wine in barrels, tanks, and bottles to advance them to a more desirable state
alcohol — ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the product of fermentation of sugars by yeast
anosmia — the loss of smell
appellation — a delineated wine producing region particular to France
aroma — the smell of wine, especially young wine (different than “bouquet”)
astringent — tasting term noting the harsh, bitter, and drying sensations in the mouth caused by high levels of tannin
balance — a term for when the elements of wine – acids, sugars, tannins, and alcohol – come together in a harmonious way
barrel — the oak container used for fermenting and aging wine
barrique — a 225-litre oak barrel used originally for storing and aging wines, originating in Bordeaux
bitter — a taste sensation that is sensed on the back of the tongue and caused by tannins
blend — a wine made from more than one grape varietal
body — a tactile sensation describing the weight and fullness of wine in the mouth. A wine can be light, medium, or full bodied.
Bordeaux — the area in Southwest France considered one of the greatest wine-producing regions in the world
botrytis — a beneficial mold that pierces the skin of grapes and causes dehydration, resulting in natural grape juice exceptionally high in sugar. Botrytis is largely responsible for the world’s finest dessert wines. (see “noble rot”)
bouquet — a term that refers to the complex aromas in aged wines
breathing — exposing wine to oxygen to improve its flavors (see “aeration”)
brettanomyce — a wine-spoiling yeast that produces barnyard, mousy, metallic, or bandaid-ish aromas
brilliant — a tasting note for wines that appear sparkling clear
brut — french term denoting dry champagnes or sparkling wines
bung — the plug used to seal a wine barrel
bung hole — the opening in a cask in which wine can be put in or taken out
chaptalization — adding sugar to wine before or during fermentation to increase alcohol levels. Chaptalization is illegal in some parts of the world, and highly controlled in others.
citric acid — one of the three predominate acids in wine
claret — the name the English use when referring to the red wines of Bordeaux
class growth — see cru classe
closed — term describing underdeveloped and young wines whose flavors are not exhibiting well
complex — a wine exhibiting numerous odors, nuances, and flavors
cork taint — undesirable aromas and flavors in wine often associated with wet cardboard or moldy basements
corked — a term that denotes a wine that has suffered cork taint (not wine with cork particles floating about)
cru classé — a top-ranking vineyard designated in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855
crush — the English term for harvest
cuvée — in Champagne, a blended batch of wine
demi-sec — french term meaning “half-dry” used to describe a sweet sparkling wine
dry — a taste sensation often attributed to tannins and causing puckering sensations in the mouth; the opposite of sweet
earthy — an odor or flavor reminiscent of damp soil
enology — the science of wine and winemaking (see “oenology”)
fermentation — the conversion of grape sugars to alcohol by yeast
fining — the addition of egg whites or gelatin (among other things) to clear the wine of unwanted particles
finish — the impression of textures and flavors lingering in the mouth after swallowing wine
flavors — odors perceived in the mouth
foxy — a term that describes the musty odor and flavor of wines made from vitis labrusca, a common North American varietal
fruity — a tasting term for wines that exhibit strong smells and flavors of fresh fruit
full-bodied — a wine high in alcohol and flavors, often described as “big”
herbaceous — a tasting term denoting odors and flavors of fresh herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, rosemary, etc.)
hot — a description for wine that is high in alcohol
lees — sediment consisting of dead yeast cells, grape pulp, seed, and other grape matter that accumulates during fermentation
leesy — a tasting term for the rich aromas and smells that results from wine resting on its lees
length — the amount of time that flavors persist in the mouth after swallowing wine; a lingering sensation
malic acid — one of the three predominate acids in grapes. Tart-tasting malic acid occurs naturally in a number of fruits, including, apples, cherries, plums, and tomatoes.
malolactic fermentation — a secondary fermentation in which the tartness of malic acid in wine is changed into a smooth, lactic sensation. Wines described as “buttery” or “creamy” have gone through “malo”.
mature — ready to drink
mouth-feel — how a wine feels on the palate; it can be rough, smooth, velvety, or furry
must — unfermented grape juice including seeds, skins, and stems
negociant — French word describing a wholesale merchant, blender, or shipper of wine
noble rot — the layman’s term for botrytis
nose — a tasting term describing the aromas and bouquets of a wine
oak/oaky — tasting term denoting smells and flavors of vanilla, baking spices, coconut, mocha or dill caused by barrel-aging
oenology — the science of wine and winemaking (see “enology”)
open — tasting term signifying a wine that is ready to drink
oxidation — wine exposed to air that has undergone a chemical change
phenolic compounds — natural compounds present in grape skins and seeds
phylloxera — a microscopic insect that kills grape vines by attacking their roots
plonk — British slang for inexpensive wine; also used to describe very low-quality wines
rough — the tactile “coarse” sensation one experiences with very astringent wines
sec — French word for “dry”
Sommelier — A wine butler; also used to denote a certified wine professional. For a full overview go here: sommelier courses.
spicy — a tasting term used for odors and flavors reminiscent of black pepper, bay leaf, curry powder, baking spices, oregano, rosemary, thyme, saffron or paprika found in certain wines
structure — an ambiguous tasting term that implies harmony of fruit, alcohol, acidity, and tannins
sweet — wines with perceptible sugar contents on the nose and in the mouth
tannins — the phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, dry, and puckery feeling in the mouth
tartaric acid — the principal acid in grapes, tartaric acid promotes flavor and aging in wine
terroir — French for geographical characteristics unique to a given vineyard
texture — a tasting term describing how wine feels on the palate
typicity — a tasting term that describes how well a wine expresses the characteristics inherent to the variety of grape
ullage — the empty space left in bottles and barrels as a wine evaporates
vegetal — tasting term describing characteristics of fresh or cooked vegetables detected on the nose and in the flavors of the wine. Bell peppers, grass, and asparagus are common “vegetal” descriptors.
vinification — the process of making wine
vinology — the scientific study of wines and winemaking. Also, the website for the Wine School of Philadelphia.
vitis vinifera — the species of wine that comprises over 99% of the world’s wine
vintage — the year a wine is bottled. Also, the yield of wine from a vineyard during a single season.
weight — similar to “body”, the sensation when a wine feels thick or rich on the palate
wine — fermented juice from grapes
yeast — a microorganism endemic to vineyards and produced commercially that converts grape sugars into alcohol
yield — the productivity of a vineyard
young — an immature wine that is usually bottled and sold within a year of its vintage. Wines meant to be drunk “young” are noted for their fresh and crisp flavors.
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