Wine Terminology

Every industry creates their own shorthand or jargon trying to make it easier for the insiders but understanding that it also frustrates outsiders. Here are a few of the common terms used to describe wine:


Wine with a pH below 7 is an acid. Acidity refers to the degree of acid. It is considered a preservative in wine resulting from fermenting the fruits and is often referred to favorably as tart or crisp and unfavorably as flabby if the necessary acidity is lacking.


Simply put, allowing wine access to oxygen; principle behind decanting. However, too much oxygen for too long can cause wine oxidation leading to rancidness.


A geographical area of one or more distinct attributes that distinguishes it from another place. Known as AOC (appellation d’origine controlle) in France, DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in Italy, and DOC (Denominación de Origen) in Spain.


Originating from the wine’s tannins, described as coarse, harsh or rough, often referred to for causing your mouth to pucker up when initially tasting the wine. Ideally this will decrease as the wine ages.


Having the flavor of acid or tannin predominant over fruit flavors, may indicate a capacity for aging.


An underdeveloped wine, slow to age. May also be referred to as austere.


A condition where the wine’s bouquet, taste and finish are in concert or harmony with each other. Neither characteristic is present in excess or is deficient.


A term personal to each taster but tends to represent an exaggeration of one or more of the wine’s characteristics. A common complaint for fruit forward New World wines which tend not to par well with refined cuisine but can rock with barbecue.


Strong acidity, typical of many young wines built to age.


A wine lacking in tannins, acidity and/or fruit. Essentially a nondescript wine.


A combination of the juice from two or more grape varietals. The purpose for blending is to control the end experience, some grapes are added for color, others for their alcohol capacity, others for their tannins, and others for their bouquet.

Bottle Size

Generally, the larger the bottle format the more gracefully a bottled wine will mature. Sizes:

187.5     ml          Piccolo or Split

375         ml          Half bottle (US)

500        ml           Demi bottle (Fr)

750         ml           Standard bottle

1.5          L              Magnum

3.0          L              Double Magnum

4.5          L              Jeroboam

4.5          L              Rehoboam, used for Champagne

6.0          L              Imperial

6.0          L              Methuselah, usually used for sparkling wines

9.0          L              Salmanazar, equivalent to one standard case

12.0        L              Balthazar

15.0        L              Nebuchadnezzar


Aromas created during the fermentation process and barrel aging.


The practice of adding sugar during the fermentation process to increase the alcohol level.


The absence of haze/particles in liquid suspension.


Heavy, sweet wine with aromas of plum. An attribute of fine Maury wines, otherwise not a quality descriptor.


Tainted wine caused by 2, 4, 6 Trichloroanisole (TCA) in the cork. Typically, it can be smelled as the bottle is opened but if mildly tainted it may be subtle and expand as the wine warms.


A full-bodied wine, plenty of glycerin and alcohol.


Describes the aftertaste once the wine is swallowed. Long, short, tannic, etc.


Lacks structure, probably low in acid, with a short finish.


Common descriptor of wines which can originate from various sources, some added but most associated with the grape or wine making process. Sauvignon Blanc grapes typically exhibit flavor notes of grapefruit. Other flavors could be from contamination in the vats or on the grapes as they are brought in from the fields. The point to appellations is that grapes take on a ‘taste’ of the place where they are grown, chardonnay from California will unlikely taste like chardonnay from Chablis, ignoring the variances in winemaking technique.


Naturally occurring wine aromas that remind one of herbs.


Mouth sensation caused by high alcohol levels.


When you swirl the wine and tip to one side then back, the clear coating that clings to the glass surface is glycerin.


A distinct vanilla taste derived from the vanillin compound found in oak wood. The flavor is imparted to wines that are fermented/age in oak barrels or in those countries with much looser standards from oak chips that are tossed into fermenting/aging wines.


Refers to a bad odor or taste sensation.


Exposure of grape juice to oxygen. Oxygen is important to maturing wine but it also hastens reduction which can produce a foul-smelling by-product Hydrogen Sulphide. Too much oxygen is generally bad.


Could refer to the wine’s color but typically refers to the sensations caused by over ripe grapes.


The indentation on the bottom of most wine bottles. Original glass making equipment was not able to produce a flat bottom so they made the indentation to keep the bottles upright.


Refers to the finish length.


Creates astringency, comes from the stems, skins and pips.


A wine that has too much acidity for the sugar content, may be resolved by age.


The ‘place’ where the grapes were grown; a combination of the soil, microclimate, and orientation to the sun.


Space between the bottom of the cork and the top of the wine.


Refers to a specific grape variety. Hachette Wine Library Grape Varieties lists 36 major varieties in France alone.


This entry was posted in Wine. Bookmark the permalink.