The Wine A-to-Z is your code-breaker for unlocking the language of wine. Here you’ll find all those weird and wonderful words that you’ve often wondered about but have never been brave enough to ask.
A crucial, natural, balancing element that gives a wine freshness, vitality and life and a sharp, clean taste on the back palate (finish).
A sensation resulting from an excess of tannin, acidity or both.
The common name for “ethanol” measured as a percentage of the volume of the wine. Alcohol is the result of fermentation, when sugar is combined with yeast.
A “hot” feeling on the palate, from high levels of alcohol.
A wine lacking in fruit and depth, without a smooth taste.
A drink used to gets the taste buds humming before a meal,
Wines from pungently smelly or strongly scented grapes like Riesling, Gewürztraminer Muscat and Tokay.
A dry or sour sensation on the palate, usually from high tannin levels in a red or high acidity levels in a white. Generally an indication of youth.
Quirky, or maybe a little too young. Wines that seem difficult to appreciate, perhaps closed, atypical or “funky”.
A wine that still tastes young despite its age leading you to believe that it should be more approachable.
A wine that is in harmony, with all of its elements complimenting each other – the Holy Grail in wine-making and something we look for in every wine we taste.
A white wine that has been fermented in oak barrels giving rise to a stronger oaky flavour than those wines just aged in oak barrels.
A wine full of flavour.
A quality usually associated with the nose and palate of Champagne.
The fresh flavour that acidity brings to a wine.
The acid and tannin taste resulting from over-pressing grape-skins, pips or stalks.
Blanc de Blancs
A French term for a white wine made using white grapes only. On a bottle of Champagne it would signify a wine made solely from Chardonnay.
Blanc de Noirs
A French term for a white wine made using red grapes only, achieved by removing the skins from the must before any colour leaches out.
Mixing together several batches of wine (either different grape varieties or different parcels of the same variety) to create a final wine that is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts.
A tasting where the identity of the wine is unknown. The reference does not relate to the state of the tasters afterwards!
A low acidity wine that appears too fruity and unbalanced.
The weight of a wine on the palate (light, medium or full).
Usually shortened to botrytis, “noble rot” is an unwelcome fungus, unless you want to make sweet wines, in which case botrytis is your best friend. It attacks the bunches and lives off the water within the grapes, thus concentrating the sugar levels.
A recently shipped (or recently bottled) wine that appears to be jet-lagged, and needs time to settle down.
The smell, aroma or nose of a wine.
A curious yeast that gives rise to a peculiar “mousey” smell on a wine. Not unpleasant in small amounts, but it can become a wine fault if it dominates.
A term used to indicate a mixed berry fruit flavour, coupled with spicy notes.
Apart from the obvious explanation, this word is also used to describe a clear, bright colour of a wine.
French for “dry”.
A training system that makes the vine look like a goblet! The vines are free standing, without a trellis, with short trunks and the grapes grow on short arms resembling a little tree. Used in low vigour, hot climate vineyards and is common for Grenache in McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley.
The covering protecting the cork in a bottle of wine.
French for “blackcurrant” – a Cabernet Sauvignon descriptor.
Whilst this doesn’t sound like a very complimentary term, but it is a popular description for the nose on a Sauvignon Blanc.
The nose on an oak aged Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, particularly found in fine clarets.
This refers to the palate of a richly textured, often high alcohol wine. The flavour is so dense you can almost “chew” it.
Dark chocolate can be found on many big red wines, perhaps in the combination of aroma and texture.
Another classic red Bordeaux term for the aroma of oak and fruit combined.
Traditionally, a wine sold at a lower price without a label or any indication of its identity. In recent years, the addition of an alternative label has become common, revealing, more or less, the identity of the wine. Wines are cleared as cleanskins for a reason – you’ve been warned!
A wine that is somewhat subdued, not giving away much in the way of aroma or flavour. It usually needs more time to age or more air in a decanter.
A bad sign. A wine that has not been stabilized, exhibiting suspended yeast, bacteria or micro-organisms, or a result of sediment in a red wine being shaken up unwittingly.
Mouth-coating, usually referring to a sweet wine and often a sign of a wine lacking in balancing acidity.
Not a derogatory expression, but rather an indicator of a crowd-pleaser… and what can be better than that?
The sign of a fine wine, having a multi-layered flavour. A wine that reveals different aromas and flavours every time you taste it. Winemakers aspire to making complex, balanced wines.
Seemingly a “chemistry-set wine” that is “made” in the winery rather than “grown” in the vineyard. A wine reminiscent of confectionery.
A feeling that the fermentation was too hot and the wine ended up being “stewed”, with high alcohol and lacking balance.
A faulty wine spoiled by a tainted cork, which unfortunately still happens far too often. See also TCA and screw-cap.
A white wine with refreshing levels of acidity.
A catchall word for an individual barrel, a blend or a style.
The process of pouring a wine out of its bottle into a decanter or jug, for the purpose of removing its sediment or just letting it breathe.
A French term meaning half dry, therefore medium dry.
The concentration or richness of flavour.
A term to indicate maturity, as in under-developed (too young), well-developed (ready to drink now) and over-developed (too old, past its best).
A smart word for an after dinner drink: a fine curtain-call to finish off a good dinner.
A French word for a winery that owns it own vineyards and makes its own wine.
Pouring a wine into a decanter, then back into its original bottle after having washed out any sediment.
A palate sensation usually associated with high-ish tannin levels, almost as if there was a dusty coating to the wine.
Another dimension to the aroma and palate, coming from the soil. A welcome element in the complexity of a wine.
An even, lingering flavour that is pleasing, refined and not too overblown.
Any wines that are offered for sale before they have been bottled, similar to buying a “future”.
Found on the nose, this distinctive smell often pops up on Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignons.
The “guts” of a wine, making up its body.
The conversion of sugar to ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide (C02) by the addition of yeast.
The straining of solid particles from a wine.
There are two meanings to this. Fine Wine is a catchall term for expensive and possibly rare wine. Fine on its own, implies a degree of class and complexity.
Often used in the same breathe as “elegance”, this is another word used for a complex if slightly lighter-bodied wine. Nearly always mentioned in the context of expensive Champagne.
The clarification and stabilization of must or wine by the addition of a “fining agent” which coagulates or absorbs solids.
The end flavour left on the palate (aftertaste), measured in terms of length.
A wine lacking in balancing acidity: one stage worse than blowsy.
A gunflint or smoky scent picked up on Loire Sauvignon Blancs, coming from the French word fumer – to smoke (as in Pouilly-Fume).
The addition of alcohol (usually grape spirit) to a fermenting wine (or after fermentation in the case of sherry) to arrest further fermentation, by inhibiting the yeast’s ability to convert sugar to alcohol. This results in a higher than normal alcohol wine known as a fortified wine.
A wine that can be drunk earlier (in its lifetime) than expected.
The finest quality grape juice that runs out of the grapes even before the press has been started as a result of the crushing process,
A wine with perky acidity and a lively flavour.
Not always complimentary, this term can mean that a wine is a touch faulty but not enough to detract from the overall impression of the wine.
As the word implies, a scent or taste of game that is meaty, fairly strong and a little rotten, in the nicest sense of the word. Only found on red wine (usually older bottles).
A jokey word for a simple, undemanding, easy-to-drink wine that would please everybody’s palate. Perfect for a party.
The “green” smell, often reminiscent of cut grass, particularly in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
An unripe smell and taste often found on thin Merlots and Cabernet Francs associated with an unripe crop resulting from overproduction or a bad vintage. Green wines tend to have raw acidity on the finish.
The firm feeling on the back-palate brought about by dominant acidity or tannin. Essential in very ripe wines.
Almost always followed by “tannins” (i.e. too young to drink).
Another acidity and tannin adjective, suggesting a high degree of one or the other, or both.
A dizzy-making feel to a wine. Not for quantity reasons, just alcohol levels.
Not to be confused with “green”, this word conveys the scent of greenhouses or garden centres. Often a pleasant extra dimension to a wine.
Wines with high alcohol.
An oiliness found in some heavy white wines, particularly Semillon.
Vines that are picked later than normal in the quest for extra ripe grapes with which to make intense dry white, very full-bodied reds and sweet wines.
Another superb descriptive word that conjures up new shoes, motorcycle gear, tack rooms and all manner of leather goods. Often found on Shiraz, Grenache and Cabernet blends.
The dregs or sediment that settles at the bottom of a barrel or fermentation tank made up of dead yeast cells, grape-skin fragments & grape seeds.
The patterns made by wine sliding down the inside of a wine glass, as a result of its viscosity. Also known as tears. Not a sign of quality, but simply of alcohol level.
The time that the wine’s flavour lingers on the palate – the also known as the finish.
A reference to the keen acidity in a young wine.
Double-sized bottle (1.5L)
Malolactic Fermentation (malo)
The chemical conversion of harsh malic acid (think green apples) to softer lactic acid (think milk). White wines that have not been through malo often have punchier acidity. Cooler climate whites tend to go through malo to soften the overall impact of the acidity on the palate.
Always with reference to a huge red wine – don’t forget your knife and fork!
A character trait brought on by age, this usually means soft and smooth with a harmonious palate.
Along with Methode Classique, Methode Traditionnelle is the accepted terms for the finest process of sparkling wine production where the second fermentation occurs in the bottle in which the wine is sold. The old term was Methode Champenoise.
The fizz on the surface of a glass of sparkling wine or Champagne.
A superb self-explanatory term referring to the sensation of a wine on the palate.
A hygiene problem somewhere along the line leading to a stale aroma or taste. Usually disappears with aeration, but if it doesn’t, bin it… the wine’s off!
This term refers to wine-making countries outside of Europe and the Mediterranean.
The aroma, bouquet or smell of a wine.
The wood used to make barrels in which wine is fermented and matured. French, American and Eastern European forests are the main sources of oak for wine barrels.
The smell and taste of oak barrels. Shouldn’t be too intrusive.
European and Mediterranean-bordering wine making countries.
A wine made from grapes grown without the use of man-made chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertiliser.
A wine spoiled by oxidation tends to be browning in colour and stale on the nose and palate.
The flavour of a wine and also a word for your mouth.
Older Rieslings tend to have this unusual, pungent scent.
The grape squeezing apparatus.
A word associated with a skunky smell on a wine. This smell is of sulphur compounds such as hydrogen sulphide that should subside with decanting and aeration.
The remaining sugar in a wine that accounts for its degree of sweetness.
A sulphurous nose if too strong, but can actually be an attribute of some cheaper New World reds, or Italian Dolcettos.
Snobs will argue for cork, but the screw cap is the closure of choice for any self-respecting winemaker who wants their product to make it to the consumer in exactly the way they put it into the bottle. Stelvin is one brand of screw cap.
The solids found at the bottom of some old red wines.
A term used to describe an acidic wine.
A disappointing length of aftertaste.
Very smooth on the palate.
A lack of juicy fruit character, exposing the acidity and tannin elements of a red.
In reds, smokiness can be found on a range of wines, particularly Shiraz, Nebbiolo, Mourvèdre and Grenache. In whites it is only really used for Pouilly-Fume.
Often countering a fruity flavour, a herbal spiciness on whites and a dried-spice character on reds is common and welcome.
The correct term for the bucket that you spit into.
A gentle prickle of fizz on the palate. Found on young whites.
The physical framework on which a wine’s flavours are hung.
Similar to the smell of a “struck-match”, sulphur is detectable on the nose, but should disappear when the wine comes into contact with air.
Used as a preservative in finished wine and labelled as “Preservative 220 on the bottle.”
A lush, round style of wine with no obvious, hard acidity or tannin.
The bitter, astringent flavour that is found in grape skins, seed and stalks as well as oak barrels, that thankfully softens as red wines age. Tannins give rise to a “drying” sensation in the mouth and a harsh feel on the inside of the cheeks.
The harmless crystals that are deposited during wine-making and occasionally form in bottles of wines. The appearance of tartrates in a white wine is a good sign as it means the wine has not been filtered – a process which means the wine inevitably loses some of its flavour.
The full name is “2,4,6-trichloroanisole”, the unpleasant, musty-smelling compound that gives rise to cork taint in wine.
A French word that rolls all of a particular vineyard’s attributes such as micro-climate, soil, drainage, altitude, aspect, exposure and slope into a single term.
The nose associated with oak-aged wines, on account of the insides of the barrels being charred or toasted.
The space between the top of the wine and the bottom of the cork in a bottle of wine.
Intense, oily character usually associated with sweet wines.
Just that: a wine that has not been filtered. Unfiltered wines are more likely to have sediment and may require decanting.
An aroma resulting from oak-ageing, particularly in American oak.
A wine that displays textbook grape variety characteristics.
A word that groups together various vegetable smells and tastes, mostly with reference to red wines. Not always derogatory.
The smoothest and most luxurious of textures on the palate. Merlot, Pinot Noir and other sensuous red varieties can attain this character if they are of the finest quality.
A wine tasting consisting of a number of different vintages of the same wine.
A French vineyard worker.
The year in which a wine was produced.
Volatile Acidity (VA)
Acetic acid, that in certain concentrations gives an off-putting vinegary smell. This is usually brought about as a result of shoddy wine-making.
Over-oaked… when you can’t see the fruit for the trees!
It’s aliiiive! Yeast is the thing which transforms the sugar in grape juice into alcohol and C02 via the process of fermentation. Yeast is naturally found on grape skins or can be added by the winemaker in a process called “inoculation”.
The fresh-baked bread nose found on Champagne and other white wines mainly using Chardonnay.
A citrus taste associated with acidity and also with some white grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.