Wine Glossary Index

Old Vine Tempranillo Grapes

Acetic Acid

Acetic acid in wine is a vinegary substance produced during the fermentation process by yeasts and bacteria, and contributes to the creation of more complex, desirable flavors. It may also result from the wine spoiling due to bacteria. At low levels this volatile acid complements and heightens aroma and flavor. In excess it creates a vinegary taste.

Acidity

Acids occur in all wines, and in good wines they are properly balanced with fruit and other components. Important for wines to age properly, sufficient acids are also necessary for a lively, crisp wine. In excess they create a sour wine.

Aftertaste

As the word implies, aftertaste is the flavor effect that remains after wine is swallowed. Fine wines have a pleasurable and long-lasting aftertaste. Also called the "finish" of a wine.

Alsace

A province in France that makes world renowned dry white wines from grape varieties (Riesling and Gewurztraminer, among them) that in other wine growing regions are used to make sweet wines. Alsace also is >known for Late Harvest wine, a rare sweet wine valued highly among connoisseurs.

Amarone

An Italian dry red wine, the name of which translates as "big bitter." The name is misleading - typically Amarone is a big-bodied rich, ripe, raisined, wine with little acid.

American Viticultural Area

American Viticultural Area (AVA) refers to a set of U.S. laws pertaining to the use of place names on wines. An AVA is a specific and legally delineated area for producing wine. Though modeled on similar laws in Europe, an AVA doesn't regulate grape varieties, yields or vinification practices as do the appellation laws of Europe. As of this writing, the U.S. has more than 140 AVAs.

Appellation

A legally protected name under which a wine may be sold, indicating that the grapes used are of a specific kind from a specific vineyard or region.

Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) (ah-pel-ah-s'yawn daw-ree-jeen cawn-trohl-lay)

AOCs are France's laws governing wines. AOCs help consumers determine the origins and quality of wines. They also set rules for minimum alcohol requirements, grape varieties in specific wines, and other factors that determine the quality of wines from various regions. Generally, the rules pertaining to wines from a single vineyard are stricter than those for a wine-growing region. Higher quality wines are allowed to state they come from a specific vineyard. Lesser wines from the same area may be required to use more generic regional names.

Astringent

Term describing a sharpness, harshness and/or dryness in a wine due to a high tannin content. Young red wines are often astringent, sometimes causing the lips to pucker involuntarily.

Auslese (ouse'-lay-zuh)

A German word for "selected" - loosely translated as "cream of the crop." Auslese wines are made from hand selected, very ripe bunches of grapes and are usually intense in bouquet and taste. Dry Auslese wines are higher in alcohol than most dry wines and go with many main courses. Auslese dessert wines are often light and sweet, but they can be dry to medium-dry as well.

Ausone, Chateau (oh-zon)

A renowned French wine made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes in St. Emilion, a distinct region in Bordeaux. This elegant wine is given short shrift by some because of better known peers such as Latour and Margaux made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Haut-Medoc region just across the river.

Austere

A wine-tasting term describing a wine that is less than satisfying usually because it's a young wine with excess tannins. As tannic wines age, they typically improve. The tannins begin to decompose and the wine mellows, becoming less austere.

Back To Top

Baden (bah-d'n)

Bordered by Switzerland on the south and France to the west, Baden is a fairly large wine region in Germany where grapes are planted along the edge of the Black Forest. This is where you'll find the majority of German vines for the red wine grape Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder, as it is called locally) and the white grapes Pinot Gris (also known as Rulander) and Muller-Thurgau. The latter was developed in Switzerland in 1882 and is probably the most successful newly-created varietal of the last 125 years.

Balance

A wine tasting term referring to harmony among the components of a wine: alcohol, fruit, acidity, and tannins. The ideal is for these components to be in perfect proportion to one another, making for a well-balanced wine.

Barolo (bah-roh'-lo)

This is one of of Italy's finest and most expensive wines so, not surprisingly, it's also Italy's most collected wine. Often called "the king of wines, and the wine of kings," this full-bodied red, made in the Piedmont region from Nebbiolo grapes, ages wonderfully for one or two decades.

Bead

Refers to the size of the bubbles in Champagne, Cremant, Cava, or other types of sparkling wine. Some experts say the smaller and more persistent the bead in the glass, the finer the bubbly. The bead's appearance may be affected by temperature; a colder wine will be less effervescent than a warmer one.

Beaujolais (bo-jo-lay)

A wine producing district in southern France with ten Grand Cru villages that produce a red wine by the same name. The wines from the region are made from the Gamay grape and are typically light and fruity. Beaujolais Nouveau is an even more lightweight, early version of the red wine. It is released each year with much celebration on the third Thursday of November. Wines from this region age for as many as five years, though Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed generally within a year.

Beaune (bone)

Beaune is the unofficial wine capital of Burgundy, France. The Cote de Beaune includes this interesting walled city and the surrounding wine area - the south portion of Burgundy's famous Cote d'Or.

Bernkastel (bairn'-cast'l)

Located on the banks of the Mosel River in Germany, Bernkastel is another of Europe's quaint wine villages. One of Germany's most famous wines, Bernkastler Doctor, is produced there. Its vines blanket the steep hills above the Mosel, capturing a perfect south-facing exposure - an advantage in an otherwise cool northern clime.

Big

A tasting term describing a full-bodied wine with an intense flavor and concentrated feel on the palate. A big wine has a commanding flavor and aroma.

Bitter

If a bitter taste dominates in the finish of a wine, it's a fault. The term refers to a taste as opposed to astringency which is a dry feeling in the mouth.

Blanc de Blancs

Meaning "white from white" in French, this term denotes white wines made exclusively from white grapes. The phrase originated in Champagne country to describe wine made entirely from the Chardonnay varietal. Traditionally, Champagne is made via a blend of white Chardonnay grapes and red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes.

Blanc de Noirs

In French, the phrase means "white from black" and denotes white wines made entirely from red (black) grapes, usually Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. The phrase is used mainly to describe Champagne and sparkling wines.

Blanco (Spain)

White (wines).

Blending

Science and chemistry are important to the final blend of a wine but, ultimately, wine-making is an art and the winemaker's gift for tasting determines the final proportions. The winemaker adds a bit of this, and a bit more of that, until the end result equals that winemaker's ideal of perfection.

Blending can be done in a few ways:

  • Some wines are blends of the same color grapes. In the case of red Bordeaux, for instance, a winemaker uses any combination of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, or Petit Verdot grapes depending on what characteristics of those varietals the maker is seeking for the wine.
  • Some wines are made by blending red and white grapes together. Chianti, Cote Rotie, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Champagne come to mind. Rosé Champagne often owes its pink color to the red Pinot Noir grapes that were added to the blend.

Wines that have been made separately, called "lots", are sometimes blended together so even wines made from just one variety of grape can be blended. Winemakers may make different lots simply because they have too many grapes to fit into a single barrel or tank. They may then blend the lots together for convenience or for consistency.

Blind Tasting

A method designed to insure impartial judgment of a wine by tasting it without knowing what it is. The idea is to remove all preconceptions and prejudices from the mind of the judge(s) so that the wine can be evaluated solely on its quality.

Blush

"Blush" is a registered trademark describing rosé wines. They are most commonly made by preventing the skins from staying in prolonged contact with the juice, so only a pink hue is imparted into the wine. White Zinfandel, a blush wine popular in the U.S., uses the descriptive word "white" in front of the name of the red grape that provides its slightly pink color.

Bodega (boh-day'-gah)

Spanish for "warehouse" especially when used for the storage of wine. It has come to mean a winery or an above ground facility for storing wine.

Body

A tasting term referring to "mouth feel" - how weighty a wine feels in the mouth. A light-bodied wine would feel less heavy and have flavors that are less concentrated while a full-bodied wine would feel heavier and definitely be more concentrated. If a wine feels similar to the way water feels in your mouth, it's light-bodied. If it feels similar to whole milk, it's full-bodied.

Bordeaux (bore-doe)

Bordeaux is one of France's largest cities as well as one of the leading wine regions in the world; it is dotted with over 7,000 chateaux in the area. The term is also used to refer to the wines made in the region. More than 215,000 acres of vineyards grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes for the red wines and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes for their whites, producing some 35 million cases of wine every year. Bordeaux wines are some of the finest in the world with both wines and wineries garnering critical accolades: Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Margaux, and Chateau Petrus, among them. Some much heralded areas within Bordeaux include Pomerol, Medoc, St. Emilion, and Sauternes where France's most renowned dessert wine is produced.

Botrytis Cinerea (bo-trie'-tiss sin-eh-ray'-ah)

A mold that contributes to the production of many of the greatest dessert wines in the world. The mold removes the water from grapes by creating tiny lesions in the grape skins. As a result, the fruit has a much higher ratio of sugar to water thereby creating sweet wines. The French appreciatively call the mold Pourriture Noble - or "noble rot". But the same Botrytis mold is unwelcome when it attacks grapes earmarked for dry wines. Then the pesky mold is called "gray rot."

Bouquet

A tasting term describing the complex aromas that better wines develop as they age. Young wines indeed have aroma, but not the complexity of aromas called bouquet.

Bourgeuil (boor-guh'y)

A town located in the Loire Valley of France known for its historic towns and villages, its many chateaux and its fine wines, including Bourgeuil, a red wine made in the region from the Cabernet Franc varietal.

Bourgogne (boor-gon'-yah)

The French term for Burgundy, a wine producing region in east central France. The fertile Yonne and Saone river valleys are in the heart of the region. Their wines, especially those of the celebrated Cote d'Or ("Golden Slope"), are among the world's most distinguished. Red Bourgognes are produced using Pinot Noir grapes while Chardonnay grapes are used to produce white Bourgognes.

Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains (boor-gon'-yah pahss too gran)

A red wine from the south of Burgundy made from Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes. A winemaker must use at least 33% Pinot Noir grapes to create the blend which is rarely exported to the U.S.

Branco (Portugal)

White in Portuguese.

Brut

A term designating dry Champagne or sparkling white wine - as opposed to a sweet (sec) or semi-sweet one (semi-sec).

Buttery

A term used when tasting to describe a smooth texture and deep flavor. Think of the feel and flavor of butter at room temperature. It's generally used to describe white wines that are aged in oak such as Chardonnay and white Burgundy.

Back To Top

Cabernet Franc

This red French varietal is widely planted in Bordeaux where it is an important contributor in the blend of many of the region's wines. In most cases Cabernet Franc plays a supporting role, composing approximately 5-20% of the blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot taking center stage. Noteworthy exceptions are Saint Emilion's two highest-classified estates (Premier Grand Cru Classe "A"): the famous Chateau Cheval Blanc in which Cabernet Franc is the lead varietal, composing approximately two-thirds of the blend, and the exquisite Chateau Ausone in which Cabernet Franc is blended evenly with Merlot. Outside of France Cabernet Franc is not grown on a wide scale, though it does play an important role for winemakers seeking to emulate the classic Bordeaux style.

DNA testing has revealed Cabernet Franc to be one of the parents (along with Sauvignon Blanc) of Cabernet Sauvignon. The two Cabernet varietals are similar in many respects, though Cabernet Franc tends to be lighter, less tannic and acidic, and more fruity and herbaceous than Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc also generally has stronger aromas, often consisting of plum, pepper, or violets.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Descendent from a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon quite possibly has become the most commonly planted red wine grape varietal around the globe. It is the leading grape in many of Bordeaux's most acclaimed and famous wines (particularly those of the Haut-Medoc and Graves), and plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon have spread throughout the world in the wake of the excellent Bordeaux style wines it creates. The varietal was instrumental in helping to put New World wines on the map when in 1976 a California Cabernet Sauvignon shockingly won first place over Bordeaux's finest wines during a blind tasting by French judges in the widely-publicized "Judgment of Paris". Today, this varietal is widely planted in its homeland of France, as well as the United States, South America, Australia, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Spain, and Italy (where it has helped create the new "Super Tuscan" class of wines), and can be found in at least some quantity in virtually every wine producing nation on Earth.

Cabernet Sauvignon's flavor and aromas can vary according to the terroir and the physiological ripeness of the fruit at harvest time, but it is typically characterized by dark fruits like cassis, plums, and black cherries, as well as mint, eucalyptus, cedar, and tobacco. A bell pepper quality can also be apparent, particularly in cool climates that produce slightly under-ripe fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon is also a varietal that is quite tannic, disposing the wines made from it to significant aging; many versions require 10 years or more before reaching their peak period of flavor and balance.

Carmenere (car-men-yehr)

Belonging to the Cabernet family, Carmenere is one of Bordeaux's six permitted varietals for red wine blends, but is now typically used only in small amounts, if at all, by the winemakers of that region. During the phylloxera infestation of the mid-1800s, Carmenere vines were hit especially hard and the varietal was thought to have been almost wiped out. As the vineyards of Bordeaux were replanted, Carmenere was largely forsaken in favor of varietals that produced more consistent yields and were less prone to disease. Luckily for Carmenere, over the years it has enjoyed the good fortune of being mistaken for both Merlot and Cabernet Franc, leading to its unintentional importation to other countries. This occurred in Italy, New Zealand, and most notably in Chile, where cuttings believed to be Merlot were imported and widely planted prior to the Bordeaux phylloxera outbreak of the mid-1800s. Only in the 1990s were these "Merlot" vines discovered to be, in fact, Carmenere. Chile is now the largest producer of Carmenere wines worldwide, and the grape is used both in blends as well as pure varietal wines, the latter being quite a departure from its traditional role in Bordeaux. The warmer and drier climate of Chile is much more favorable to the healthy growth and production of Carmenere, which at its best produces wines replete with flavors of red fruits, earth, smoke, and spice. It tends to be medium-bodied and softer than Cabernet Sauvignon. Happily, Carmenere appears to be undergoing resurgence as vineyards in California, Washington State, and Australia are beginning to plant the varietal in increasing numbers.

Cepage

This is a French word with a meaning equivalent to "grape varietal" in English. It also is used to refer to a wine's blend. For instance, a common Bordeaux cepage might include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

Chardonnay

One of the world's most popular and widely-planted white wine grape varietals, Chardonnay is quite hardy and relatively easy to cultivate. It is also considerably influenced by the terroir of the region in which it is grown; thus, it is responsible for white wines with quite varied characteristics. These can include a flinty mineral quality (as with Chablis), a buttery, oaky flavor (as with Meursault and many Californian examples), and notes of exotic fruits (as with many wines from Australia and other New World locales). In its ancestral home of France, Chardonnay is most famous for the world-renowned white wines of Burgundy. It is also a major contributor to the sparkling wines of Champagne, which are typically a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. For Champagne made entirely with white wine grapes, known as blanc-de-blanc Champagne, Chardonnay is typically the only varietal used. In California, Chardonnay is the state's most important white wine grape with almost one hundred thousand acres planted as of this writing. Chardonnay continues to grow in popularity worldwide, with plantings increasing in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and South America.

Claret

This term has no specific legal definition and is not consistently used to mean the same thing. The most common definition, popular in Britain, is as a synonym for red Bordeaux wine. Sometimes the word is used to refer to wines from outside Bordeaux that are of a similar style. In other contexts, it is used to refer to pale, dry red wines.

Clean

Fresh. A wine without noticeable flaws in appearance, aroma or flavor.

Clos (France)

Meaning "enclosed" or "fenced" in French, the term refers to a walled vineyard although on wine labels the term is used liberally.

Closed

Tasting lingo describing an undeveloped wine, a wine with little flavor or aroma - a wine without character. The term is often applied to young Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignons that have "closed down" but are destined to become "big" reds with maturity.

Coarse

A wine that tastes harsh or crude.

Complete

A tasting term that almost speaks for itself. The wine is mature and satisfying on many levels: aroma, mouth-feel, and a wonderful taste that lingers firmly on the palate.

Complex

Great wines are wines that can be appreciated on many levels - taste, aroma texture, and even visually. They are complex and the experience of drinking them complete.

Corked, corky

A tasting term that describes a wine contaminated by mold or trichloroanisole (TCA), which emanates from the cork, causing a wine to smell like old cardboard or worse, mildew.

Côte (France)

Meaning "slope" or "hillside" in French, the term is widely used to describe wine producing regions of France including: Côte d'Or (Burgundy), Côte Rôtie (Rhône Valley), and Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais).

Crémant (France)

A French bubbly or sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region, and therefore not entitled under French law to be called Champagne. It is, however, produced the same way as Champagne, via the Méthode Champenoise, but unable to be labeled as such. Alsace, Burgundy, and the Loire produce especially fine Crémant wines. Unofficially, Crémant can also refer to a Champagne or sparkling wine that is only lightly effervescent.

Crisp

A tasting term usually used to describe white wines that are fresh, brisk, and pleasantly tart - normally with high acidity.

Crushing

After the grapes have been harvested, the first step of the vinification process is typically the crushing of the grape bunches to extract the juice. Traditionally, this is the point at which people would trample the grapes underfoot to break the skins; however, modern vineyards now rely on machines to crush the grapes, which is both more efficient and more sanitary. The juice that flows from the grapes at this point is known as "free-run" juice, and is considered to be of higher quality than the juice that is extracted later via pressing.

Cuvaison

This is a French word for the process of transferring color, aroma and tannin to wine via leaving grape skins in contact with the juice during the fermentation of red wine. In English, this is known as "maceration".

Back To Top

Deep

A descriptive word tasters use to describe a high quality wine with layers of flavors that gradually emerge and fill the mouth.

Delicate

A tasting term for wine that is light in fragrance, body and flavor. The wine is attractive, if mild, and is more apt to describe a decent white wine than a red one.

Demi-Sec (France)

In French it means "half-dry" and denotes the sweetest of Champagnes that a winery typically produces.

Distinctive

A tasting term describing a wine with a character that is elegant, sophisticated, and refined.

Dolce (Italy)

Meaning "sweet," the term refers to wines with a lot of residual sugar.

Domaine (France)

Refers to an estate where wines are grown and produced.

Doux (France)

Means "sweet" in French when referring to wines with residual sugar.

Dry

A tasting term describing a wine without residual sugar - the opposite of a sweet wine. The majority of wines are dry and those that are sweeter are typically white wines.

Dulce (Spain)

Sweet.

Dull

Another descriptive term. Dull implies an uninteresting wine, lacking in character and liveliness.

Dumb

Wine that has nothing to say. Instead of flavor or aroma worthy of comment, the wine leaves a blank in the mind of the taster. Dumb has a similar meaning to "closed", and corresponds to a period that some wines go through in which the fruitiness of youth begins to decline before the complexity of age asserts itself. The result is a wine that has gone dumb and is not satisfying. Age-worthy wines may become dumb in their early years but may open up again and realize their full potential after further aging. Winemakers cannot easily explain why this occurs and have a hard time forecasting the duration of this phase in the life of some wines.

Back To Top

Earthy

A wine with a smell and/or flavor reminiscent of dirt. Just a whiff of earthiness is desirable in a good wine but too much designates a wine as flawed.

Elegant

A wine tasting term describing a wine that's well-balanced and subtly complex. The wine is stylish and distinguished with a refined character.

Entry

Tasters use the phrase to describe the immediate impression made by a wine as it hits the mouth. They then speak of "midpalate" and "finish" (later impressions) as well as "length" - terms described later in the glossary.

Extra Dry

A term describing Champagne indicating it's less dry (e.g. slightly sweeter) than Brut.

Extract

A wine tasting term referring to solids in a wine. Extract is increased via leaving the wine in contact with the grape skins longer during processing, resulting in more body and color. Wines described as "big" or "heavy" or "intense" have more extract than lighter wines. See Maceration.

Back To Top

Fat

A tasting term referring to a well-balanced wine that is full of flavor and body. Sweet wines, in particular, are praised for being fat, especially the finest Sauternes. "Fat" may also connote a wine with low acid levels, though not to the degree of being a flaw, as with wines that are considered "flabby" (see Flabby).

Finesse

A tasting term lauding balance in a fine wine - the amount of tannins, acidity and fruit are in such harmony that no single component of the wine dominates.

Finish

A term describing the taste left in the mouth after swallowing. The term reflects both the character and length of a wine's aftertaste. The finish may be short, soft, smooth, hot, harsh, tannic, lingering or even nonexistent.

Firm

A positive tasting comment meaning a wine greets the palate with a freshness and tannic astringency, which suggests a young wine that should age well. The implication is the wine has a distinct flavor profile and tightly knit structure.

Flabby

This is a wine tasting term applied to wines that are flawed due to a lack of acidity, and therefore have a rather poor structure. It's more common to see this term used to describe a white wine, but it can be used for reds as well. On the other end of the acid spectrum are wines that are considered "sharp" due to an overabundance of acidity. In both cases, the wine's structure is out of balance, making the wine less satisfying.

Flat

The flip side of firm, implying very low acidity. A flat wine lacks liveliness.

Fleshy

A wine tasting term denoting a wine with ample body, alcohol and extract. Fleshy usually connotes a rich, smooth wine. A high glycerin content contributes to fleshiness and if overly pronounced, the wine is said to be oily.

Flinty

Describes wines with dry, mineral characteristics, usually attributable to limestone or a limestone-marl soil in which the grapes were grown. Flintiness is a common characteristic of French Chablis and Sancerre (a Chardonnay from Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, respectively).

Flowery

A tasting term referring to a floral aroma that is most commonly applied to white wines.

Fortification

Adding additional spirits (especially brandy) to wine. If the alcohol is added before fermentation has reached its natural conclusion, it will kill the yeast and stop the fermentation at that point. The end product will have a higher sugar content and thus more sweetness than it would otherwise, such as with Port. If the alcohol is added after fermentation, the wine is fortified but remains dry - as with Fino Sherry.

Forward

A tasting term describing a wine that has developed ahead of its peers. It's mature and in peak condition. When tasted, the fruit is prominent. Its opposite is "closed".

Foxy

Calling a woman foxy is a compliment but calling a wine foxy is not flattering. The uncomplimentary tasting term is used to describe wines made from Vitis labrusca grapes native to America. While Concord grapes and California green table grapes make yummy juices and jellies, they're sometimes used to make foxy dry wines that are typically not in the delicious category.

Fruity

A descriptive word for a wine in which fruit flavors dominate, usually denoting light, younger wines. Fruity flavors can be predominant in both red and white wines, and include such examples as raspberry, citrus, strawberry, black currant, apple, peach, pear, and many more.

Full-bodied

Refers to how a wine feels in the mouth, e.g. mouthfeel. A full-bodied wine is weighty on the tongue - big and fat. The term is used to describe both red and white wines but red wines are more apt to be full-bodied. The other extreme is a thin-bodied wine.

Back To Top

Gran Reserva (Spain)

This is the highest category of wines produced in Spain. To earn this label, a wine has to age a minimum of five years. Two of those five years must be in the cask, and then the wine can spend its remaining time aging in the bottle.

Grandes Marques

In French the phrase means "great marks" or "great labels" and can be applied both to a specific Champagne house as well as a 24 member association whose members include the best of French Champagne houses.

Green

A term describing a wine that lacks in fruit flavor because it was produced from grapes that were not ripe. The result is a less than satisfying tart, acidic taste.

Green Harvest

A pruning practice in which grape growers remove clusters of unripe grapes in order to reduce each plant's yield, thereby increasing the quality of the harvest. Many fruit plants abort surplus fruit but the grape isn't one of them. If not for the practice of green harvesting, wine produced by the fruit would likely be thin and diluted.

Grenache

Grenache is a grape varietal that most likely originated in Spain from whence it spread into areas of southern France. Requiring a long ripening period, Grenache is at its best in regions that are warm and dry. The wines produced from this grape tend to have low acidity and low tannin levels, while being full of berry flavors and often spiciness, too. The ripe fruit also contains large amounts of sugar, which are sometimes responsible for a jam-like fruitiness in the wines in addition to elevated levels of alcohol. Grenache is usually blended with other varietals, as in Spain where it is known as Garnacha and commonly partnered with Tempranillo and Carignan. Grenache is the most important grape in appellations throughout France's southern Rhone region, such as the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape where it is blended with smaller amounts of Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, and other lesser known varietals.

Grip

Indicates a firm flavor, structure, and texture, and is generally used to refer to tannic red wines.

Back To Top

Halbtrocken (Germany)

Translates as 'half-dry" and refers to a dry wine with a touch of sweetness - a medium-dry wine.

Hard

Stiff - not a desirable characteristic. A hard wine is undeveloped, has excess tannins and is not balanced.

Harmonious

As the word implies, all aspects of the wine are in perfect balance: acid, fruit, alcohol, and tannins.

Harsh

A wine that's biting, rough, or hard in character due to excess acid or tannins. Often such wines have a high alcohol component and are very astringent. A harsh wine may become softer and more drinkable as it ages.

Heady

A term used to describe a full-bodied wine with a high level of alcohol.

Hedonistic

A term that describes a wine that is overtly satisfying and pleasurable, as opposed to a wine that is more subtle in its delights.

Herbaceous

Possessing fragrances reminiscent of the outdoors, such as fresh grass, hay, or leaves, and often characteristic of many Sauvignon Blancs. Sometimes the word is used to describe the aroma of green peppers found in some Merlots and Cabernets.

Herby

A tasting term for wines that emit the aroma of herbs; sage, eucalyptus, mint and thyme, for instance.

Hollow

An unflattering tasting term to describe a wine that's totally lacking in both flavor and texture.

Honest

A term describing a simple, straightforward wine without any noticeable flaws.

Honeyed

A wine that has a smell and taste similar to honey. It's most often characteristic of late-harvest wines made from grapes infected by "noble rot," or Botrytis cinerea.

Back To Top

Integrated

Part of the maturing process of wine is the integration and blending of the wine's separate components (e.g. alcohol, acidity, tannin, oak). At that point, the components are "integrated".

Intricate

Tasting description of wine in which complex flavors and aromas are subtly interwoven.

Back To Top

Landwein (Germany & Austria)

A term to describe the German counterpart of the French vin de pays - "wine of the country." The German word connotes "wine of the land". Wine has been so integral to French culture for so long that, in fact, one is much more likely to find better vin de pays than landwein.

Lees

Sediment made up of grape pulp, dead yeast cells, pips (grape seeds), etc. that are created during the wine making process. Leaving the wine on the lees for awhile can impart additional body and flavor. Eventually the lees must be eliminated either by racking the wine or by filtration, or by a combination of the two methods.

Legs

Swirl a glass of wine, especially one that's full-bodied, and it often leaves viscous streams running down the side of the glass. These are called legs and sometimes tears, though there's nothing to cry about because the presence of legs usually indicates a rich wine.

Length

In wine parlance, length refers to how long the bouquet and flavor of a wine persist on the tongue after it has been swallowed. This lingering of flavor is usually associated with a quality wine so length is a positive. Fine wine has a lengthy aftertaste or finish.

Light

A descriptive term that can mean several things. Light can mean light-bodied (a lack of texture or weight on the tongue) or low in alcohol, or a wine that is young and fruity. Whether lightness is a positive or negative characteristic depends on personal preference and the traditional style of a wine.

Long

A lingering aftertaste, as in length. A long finish is characteristic of fine wines.

Luscious

A tasting phrase meaning the beverage is opulent, rich and smooth. Usually applied to wines that are sweet, the word is also used to describe any wine that is intensely fruity.

Back To Top

Macebeo (mah-cah-beh'-oh)

The most widely cultivated and most important white wine grape in the Rioja region of Spain where it is commonly called Viura. The grape gained prominence because of its high yields and has largely replaced the traditional white varietal Malvasia in this region. The white wines produced from it are generally light, floral and fairly fruity.

Maceration

This is the stage in the wine making process in which the freed juice is left in contact with the grapes' skins, stems, and seeds in order to extract color, tannins, and various flavor substances. For red wines, this process occurs during fermentation, and can last up to a month for full-bodied wines. Pure Vitis vinifera juice is light in color, regardless of the color of the grape it comes from, so this period is what allows a red wine to achieve its red color from the pigment compounds within the skins. Maceration is often avoided altogether when making white wines, with winemakers crushing and pressing their grapes as quickly as possible to immediately separate the juice from the skins. Certain white wines, such as some Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays, are sometimes allowed a few hours of skin contact to lend extra flavor and provide a bit of tannin, and it also can have the effect of lowering the wine's acidity. For rosé wines, the grape juice is allowed skin contact only until it has achieved its pink color, after which time maceration is halted by pressing the must. When a wine is macerated too long, it can become "over-extracted" and filled with very rough tannins and volatile acids, so proper timing is important at the maceration stage.

Macon (mah-cawn)

A large and important town in east-central France, situated to the south of the most famous slopes of Burgundy, The nearby Maconnais region of Burgundy takes its name from the town. It's known for good value, and fresh, simple whites produced mostly from the Chardonnay grape.

Macroclimate

A term used when describing the climate of a large wine-producing area - a whole region, for instance. A microclimate depicts a very small wine-growing area, as small as one vine's canopy, for instance; meanwhile a mesoclimate delineates an area in between the two, such as a hillside. Managing climates is important to growers because even slight changes in temperature, sun exposure, soil, etc. can have a major effect on the vines and grapes, and ultimately the wines produced from them.

Madeira (muh-deh'-rah)

Madeira is an island belonging to Portugal and is situated in the Atlantic Ocean about five hundred miles southwest of the European mainland. The island lends its name to one of Portugal's three most famous fortified wines (the other two are Port and Sherry), where it is produced from a variety of grapes. What makes Madeira unique is that it gains flavor from oxidization and heat: elements that would be the death knell for most wines. Madeira is baked and oxidized by the winemakers before being bottled. When wine contacts the oxygen it turns a dark brown color in a process known now as "maderization" for any wine that has oxidized. Madeira is an ancient wine with a long history in Europe, and in the 19th century it was the most commonly sold wine in America. It's also an extremely long-lived wine; a bottle of Madeira from the 19th century can still be excellent.

Maderized

When used to describe a wine, maderized means the wine has oxidized, and is displaying an amber or brown colorization and often an odor of staleness. It's definitely past its prime.

Magnum

A large bottle of wine which holds 1.5 liters, the equivalent of two normal 750ml bottles.

Malbec (mahl-bec)

A red wine grape of Bordeaux also known as Cot. It produces a tannic wine with a deep red color and is usually blended with one (perhaps more) of the four other allowed grapes in Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. In the Cahors region of southern Bordeaux, where the grape is the main grape used in blending, the resulting wine traditionally was known as "black wine." Today, the grape is so widely cultivated in Argentina that it is more important there than in its native France.

Manzanilla (mahn-thah-nee-yah)

A fino sherry. In Spain chamomile tea is called Manzanilla and the wine is so named because the taste of this pale, dry sherry is reminiscent of the tea.

Margaret River

Geographically, one of Australia's largest wine regions. Located in the state of Western Australia, the Margaret River area produces only 3% of the country's grapes but over 20% of their premium wines. The most heavily planted grapes include Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Margaux (mar-go)

The furthest south of the fine wine producing areas within the Haut-Medoc region of Bordeaux.

Margaux, Chateau (mar-go)

One of four wines to achieve First Growth status in the Bordeaux classification of 1855. The estate, in the Medoc region of France, dates back to at least the 13th century and began growing grapes in the 1570's. Among the most expensive wines in the world, the winery fell into a state of disrepair during the 1960's and 1970's and the quality of the wines deteriorated. Fortunately, the current owners have resurrected the standards and reputation. Chateau Margaux is a blend of approximately 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and a 5% blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot grapes.

Marsala (mar-sah'-lah)

The best known Italian fortified wine. In the U.S, it's probably used more for cooking than drinking, but in Italy it has traditionally been served as an aperitif, between courses of a meal, with a cheese course, or as a dessert wine. Marsala wines can be secco (dry), semi-secco (semi-dry), or dolce (sweet). As with Sherry and Madeira and other fortified wines, the color and flavor come from the wine oxidizing while being aged. Marsala is usually vinified dry and may be supplemented with a sweetener: a concentrated must called musto cotto or simply cotto which is responsible for Marsala's characteristic brown color and flavor.

Master of Wine (MW)

Conferred by the Institute of Masters of Wine, the MW is an internationally recognized designation for the top wine experts in the industry. Of those who attempt the two year program, only approximately 30% pass. As of this writing there are 264 MWs.

Mature

Wine parlance for wine that is properly aged, developed fully, and prime for drinking.

McLaren Vale

One of the oldest wine growing regions in Australia, it's located in South Australia and is famous for producing outstanding Shiraz from grapes which thrive in the thin soil and warm summers. While Shiraz represents about half of the total wine produced in McLaren Vale, other varietals grown in the region include Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Chardonnay.

Meaty

A wine tasting term used primarily to describe reds that are so firm, sturdy, and full-bodied one can almost chew them.

Médoc (may-doc)

Bordeaux, France's largest and most famous wine growing region. The Medoc is broken into two smaller regions: the Bas-Medoc (lower Medoc) and the Haut-Medoc (upper Medoc). Of the two, Haut-Medoc produces higher quality wines, so you often see Haut-Medoc on the labels of wines from the region. One may see Medoc (without Haut or Bas) on a label but one rarely sees bottles labeled Bas-Medoc.

Mellow

A descriptor for a likely well-aged wine that's soft and smooth, with no bite or harshness.

Meritage

A term invented and trademarked by U.S. winemakers in the late 1980s for use on the labels of blended wines crafted in the style of Bordeaux wines. The need developed due to the fact that in the U.S. there had not been a universally recognized term for American wines made in the Bordeaux style (meaning a wine with less than 75% of one varietal that is comprised of two or more traditional Bordeaux grapes, most commonly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, or Malbec ). This put winemakers in the position of having to either label their wines generically (such as "red table wine") or devise their own proprietary terms that meant little to the average consumer. Use of the term "meritage" (pronounced in a way that rhymes with "heritage") must be licensed from the California-based Meritage Association which regulates the criteria a wine must meet to qualify. No longer seen only on U.S. wines, "meritage" is being increasingly adopted by wineries worldwide as the term continues to achieve recognition among consumers.

Merlot (mair-lo)

A well-known red wine grape whose full name is Merlot Noir (there's also a Merlot Blanc). It's often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine grapes. In Bordeaux's Haut-Medoc region, it is second to Cabernet Sauvignon, while in neighboring Pomerol and St. Emilion, Merlot makes up the largest percentage of the blend, or cepage. The grape is now grown extensively worldwide, though for a while its reputation slipped because of overproduction in some areas such as Italy. The Merlot varietal is grown abundantly in Eastern Europe with large plantings in Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Merlot was initially planted primarily as a blending grape in California and Washington, but the varietal began to be bottled under its own name in the late 1970s and has been continually gaining popularity - in spite of the movie Sideways (2004) which implied Merlot was the beverage of wine cretins.

Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot grapes ripen fairly early and have higher sugar and lower tannin levels. They produce wines that are generally more round, soft, and supple than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc, and they can generally be enjoyed younger.

Mesoclimate

This term is typically used to describe the climate of a specific vineyard or hillside. See Macroclimate.

Méthode Champenoise (France)

The traditional protocol for creating sparkling wines in which a secondary fermentation happens in the bottle. The method, developed in France, is used worldwide, but only Champagne from the Champagne region of France may use the term legally.

The wine maker takes a variety of still wines and, in a vat, makes a house blend called a cuvee. Some elaborate cuvees can consist of 30 to 40 different wines. A small amount of a syrupy mixture of sugars and yeast is added, and then the wine is sealed and bottled. A secondary fermentation occurs due to the yeast acting on the sugar, which creates more alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, thus creating the bubbles in the wine. Sediment from the dead yeast remains in the bottles which are then, over a duration of several weeks or even months, slowly turned until this material falls down and collects in the bottle's neck. It is removed by placing the neck into a salt water solution sufficiently cold to cause some of the wine to freeze around the sediment. Then the bottle is opened and the ice is removed, taking the sediment away with it. More cuvee is added to the bottle to replace the sacrificed wine, along with additional sugar. The percentage of sugar is going to determine the final sweetness of the sparkling wine which ranges from nature or brut sauvage (the driest) to doux (the sweetest) with brut, extra dry, sec and demi-sec in between.

Méthode Traditionnelle (France)

Winemakers that produce sparkling wine in regions outside the bounds of the Champagne appellation in France are allowed to use this phrase on the label to indicate the sparkling wine was made following the Méthode Champenoise protocol.

Midpalate

A word used when tasting wine to describe how a wine develops within the mouth. The wine's entry is the description of its first impression, while the wine's length and finish can be described after swallowing.

Mis en Bouteille (France)

In French: "put in the bottle". In other words, "bottled". Often appearing on French wine labels, the phrase "mis en bouteille au chateaux" or "mis en bouteille au domaine" indicates the wine is estate-bottled and the grapes were grown on location. The phrase "mis en bouteille dans nos caves" generally indicates the grapes were grown at a vineyard separate from the winery bottling the wine.

Moelleux (France)

A French term used to describe wines that are medium-sweet to sweet.

Moldy

A scent you hope not to detect in a wine. It means the wine was either made from moldy grapes or stored in deteriorating casks afflicted by mold.

Morgon (mor-gawn)

One of the best of the 10 Grand Cru villages that produce wine in France's Beaujolais appellation. The red wines, all made from the Gamay varietal, are full-bodied, more complex, and are not as fruity as those of other Beaujolais villages. They are usually bottled later than most Beaujolais and, unlike most, can benefit from two to five years of bottle aging.

Moscato (moss-cah'-to)

Moscato is the name given to the Muscat varietal in Italy, which is used for Asti Spumante, their well-known bubbly. Unfortunately the best (and drier) examples of this sparkling wine are not the ones that are exported, so don't hesitate to try them in Italy if you have the chance. An extensive variety of Moscato wines, from sparkling to fortified, are produced throughout Italy.

Mosel / Moselle (mo'-zl / mo-zell')

Mosel is the German spelling for one of the most important wine regions in Germany and the river of the same name which winds through the region known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (incorporating the name of two of the Mosel's tributaries as well). The Mosel River starts in France and runs along the border of Luxembourg and on into western Germany. There are vineyards all along the river's route, but the wines made from the Riesling grapes along the beautifully terraced hills overlooking the river in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer are the most renowned. Many laud the wines of the Bernkastler Doctor vineyard as their favorite from Germany.

Mousse (France)

French for "froth" or "foam"; think of the head on a glass of beer. It's a descriptor used when tasting for the foam that forms on the surface of a glass of sparkling wine when it's first poured, as well as the nature of the wine's effervescent quality. Mousse can further be described as "soft," meaning not too fizzy, or "harsh" meaning too fizzy - overcarbonated.

Mousseux (France)

A French term for "frothy" or "sparkling," mousseux refers generically to sparkling wine made through the Charmat Method of bottling the wine under pressure instead of the more elaborate and higher-quality Méthode Champenoise (aka Méthode Traditionnelle).

Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau (moo-tohn rot-sheeld)

This First Growth Bordeaux property is located in the Pauillac commune along the south bank of the Gironde River, and it has been owned by the Barons de Rothschild for over a century. Assigned Second Growth status in the 1855 Bordeaux classification, Baron Philippe de Rothschild worked tirelessly in the 20th century to reverse the "monstrous injustice" and get the chateau upgraded to a First Growth (Premier Cru). He was successful in 1973, an unprecedented event and one unlikely to be repeated. Baron de Rothschild also had a flair for marketing and in 1946 he started commissioning original artwork for the labels. Now many wine enthusiasts know Mouton as the wine with the Chagall, Dali, Miro, Warhol, etc. labels. In 1953, for their 100th anniversary, the label was an homage to Picasso who died the same year. Big and full-bodied, the Cabernet Sauvignon based wines are as famous as the labels.

Muller-Thurgau (mew'-lair toor'-gau)

A grape type that is a cross between a Riesling and a Sylvaner and is now the most widely grown variety in Germany. It's also widely grown in New Zealand. The grapes produce low-acid, smooth, medium sweet wines, but in Germany they're not as flavorful as Riesling. In New Zealand wines from this grape are known as Riesling-Sylvane. They're higher in acid and pack more flavor than most of their German counterparts.

Muscadet (mus-cah-day)

A popular dry and light white wine produced in the western portion of France's Loire region where the Loire River empties into the Atlantic. Muscadet draws its name from the French word musqué, meaning musky or perfumed, which refers to the scent of the appellation's primary grape variety - Melon de Bourgogne. The wine is often considered to be perfect with seafood, particularly oysters, which is understandable given the vineyards' proximity to the ocean and the gustatory preferences of the locals.

Muscat (moos-cat or muss-cat)

Believed by some to be the father of all modern wine grapes of the Vitis vinifera species, the Muscat grape family includes many sub-varieties and colors. This category of grape goes back to the ancient world, and is now used for raisins, table grapes, and wine production. It is grown in temperate climates worldwide, and almost all wine-making regions in the world have Muscat based wines, so there are too many to name. Almost without exception, they can be somewhat, if not very, sweet. Look for Muscat or Moscato on a label. The grape often has a distinct aroma of musk.

Muscular

A descriptor for a wine, almost always red, that's vigorous, full-bodied and powerful.

Must

The juice of crushed grapes that will be made into wine. Must can include pulp and seeds as well as juice.

Musty

An undesirable, stale, damp smell in a wine that has probably been stored in an unclean wooden cask. It's not unlike the smell of mold that could be attributed to a moldy or defective cork. If that's the case, aerating should help. To discern whether the smell is musty and due to improper storage during the making of the wine, or a "corked" smell due to a moldy cork, pop open another bottle of the very same wine. If it smells too, then chances are great you have a musty wine.

Back To Top

Navarre (na-var)

A wine producing area in north central Spain, just south of Pamplona. It's best known for its rosada (rosé) and its increasingly fine Cabernet based wines.

Nebbiolo (neh-b'yoh'-lo)

One of the world's top red wine grapes, Nebbiolo is planted mainly in northern Italy's Piedmont area. Wines made solely from Nebbiolo grapes include Barolo, Gattinara, and Barbaresco and they're characteristically full-bodied, rich and chewy. They're usually tannic with powerful fruit flavors and a high alcohol content (13% or more), and they definitely benefit from aging which helps soften them. Curiously, the grape is not often grown in the U.S. and rarely cultivated at all outside of Italy.

New World

Broadly speaking, the wine world is divided into the New World and the Old. The New World refers to places outside of the classic wine making countries of Europe, like Australia, New Zealand, and North and South America. Over the past several decades, consumers have benefited greatly from the tremendous expansion of the wine industries in the New World and the excellent wines they are producing. New World is a bit of a misnomer because wine making in New World countries often has an Old World heritage: the Italians and Spanish in Argentina and Chile or the Dutch in South Africa, for example.

Noble

A tasting term that describes a superlative wine of outstanding character. The term has also been used to describe several traditional grape varieties known for producing fine wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Noir.

Noble Rot

See Botrytis Cinerea

Nose

A term referring to how a wine smells. The term nose is also used in place of bouquet or aroma. Some use nose in an attractive way to describe a very powerful and robust bouquet, while others may use the term "off nose" to describe unpleasant odors in a wine. Its connotation can be either positive or negative.

Nouveau (noo-vo) (France)

Nouveau simply means "new" in French. However, when paired with Beaujolais, as in "Beaujolais Nouveau", the phrase connotes a wine that's light and fruity and above all, young. Beaujolais Nouveau is shipped just a few weeks after its grapes are harvested in late October/early November. Most of the wines are produced using a method called Carbonic Maceration, which is much quicker than traditional wine making methods. The result, however, is a wine without much depth or complexity. One could say the marketing efforts are much richer than the wine that is celebrated and distributed worldwide.

Nutty

A tasting term usually used to describe a wine like Port or Sherry that has nut-like flavors - especially of walnuts or hazelnuts. An overly nutty flavor in most wines is looked upon as a flaw.

Back To Top

Oak

Most barrels employed to store and age wine are made of oak, which contributes both tannins and flavor to the contents and are especially crucial when trying to successfully produce long-lived red wine. The oak flavor should be subtle and never the overwhelming characteristic of a wine.

Oaky

Tasting term describing the flavor and aroma of oak imparted from aging the wine in containers made of that wood. This flavor is often characterized as being smoky with hints of spices such as clove or vanilla.

Oenology

Also spelled enology, it's the science or study of wine production or viniculture. Two top universities offering the major include the University of California at Davis and the University of Bordeaux in France. Students would be taught by experts in the field called oenologists or enologists.

Off-dry

A tasting term describing a wine with just a hint of sweetness. An off-dry wine isn't dry, but the sweet flavor is so subtle it can't be called sweet, either.

Off-flavors (also off-aromas or off-nose)

Term describing a wine in which the flavors or aromas are uncharacteristic or unpleasant. It's defective, with incorrect flavors for the type of wine that it is.

Old World

In the wine universe, the Old World refers to Europe (Italy, France, Spain, Germany, etc.) where there's an ancient tradition of growing grapes and making wine. Some places, especially in Italy, have been cultivating grapes expressly for wine production for literally millennia. Some Old World vineyards have been maintained by the same families for hundreds of years.

Open

A wine that reveals its complete depth and character and is ready to drink.

Organic Viticulture

Winemakers are not immune to the desire among consumers for organic products. Some grow grapes without the use of chemically altered fertilizers or pesticides in which case they may advertise their wine with the phrase "organically grown grapes". The wine itself may be made without the addition of sulfites, in which case a label is permitted to read "organically processed wine". When wine labels are without the phrase "Contains Sulfites", it indicates the wine has a SO2 (sulfur dioxide) content of below 10 ppm, and most likely has been organically processed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) regulates the marketing and distribution of wines and, as of this writing, doesn't allow the specific phrase "organic wine" to be used on labels.

Oxidized

Wine that has undergone chemical changes via prolonged exposure to air, often giving off a stale aroma not unlike Sherry. The result is considered unwanted in a red or white table wine, which may have a brownish color as a result, but oxidation is desirable and inherent in wines like Madeira and Sherry. The oxidation process is the same that occurs with fruit. Leave half an apple, pear, or avocado lying around for a half hour and it will turn brown from exposure to air.

Back To Top

Passito (pah-see'-toe) (Italy)

A wine production method used in Italy whereby grapes are dried, either on mats or by hanging, until they become raisins. As a result, wine made in this manner has a lot more sugar than is typical. Thus these grapes are used mostly for dessert wines which are called "Passito," after the method. One notable exception is the red and dry Amarone della Valpolicella, which is made the same way and benefits similarly from the concentrated flavors that desiccated grapes can provide.

Pasteurization

Developed by the famous French scientist Louis Pasteur while investigating the reasons why beer and wine spoil, pasteurization is the process of killing bacteria via heating the fluid then quickly chilling it. Ironically, wines are not commonly pasteurized because bacteria are necessary for wines to properly age. Some simpler wines that are designed to be enjoyed young are occasionally pasteurized.

Pedro Ximenez (peh'-dro hee-meh'-nez)

Produced most commonly in southern Spain, Pedro Ximenez is a grape varietal used to make white wines. The grape's name is the Spanish translation of Peter Siemens, a German who originally introduced this varietal to Spain's wine country. It is used to make Sherry as well as some unpretentious white wines in Spain and other parts of the world, including Australia and Argentina.

Perfume

A wine tasting term referring to a noticeable floral fragrance and flavor in certain wines. Perfume can also be synonymous with aroma, especially when a wine's aroma is favorable.

Petillant (France)

Lightly effervescent; slightly sparkling. Pétillance is found sometimes in wines not meant to sparkle but which are often bottled with some left-over CO2 - German Rieslings, for example. In Germany, the term for petillant is spritzig, while in Italy it is known as frizzante.

Petite Sirah (peh-teet see-rah)

This grape varietal is also known as Durif, after Francois Durif, the Frenchman who developed the grape in the late 19th Century. The result of a chance cross pollination between Syrah and the French grape Peloursin, Petite Sirah is now grown mainly in California, and increasingly in Australia. Make no mistake, there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah, which produces rich, powerful, and very tannic wines. Often best enjoyed within its first 5 years, it can also benefit from extensive bottle aging which can soften its sometimes extreme tannins.

pH

On a scale of zero to fourteen, pH is the standard for measuring the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The scale's midpoint of seven is neutral. A pH below seven indicates acidity. Table wines measure, ideally, approximately 3.0 to 3.6. Below 3, a wine becomes sharp; it becomes flabby above 3.6. The pH scale measures the concentration of the acid as opposed to the volume of acid. If the pH is too low or too high, the wine won't be well balanced even if the volume of acid is appropriate. Both determine a wine's potential quality. Low pH also hinders the growth of bacteria which is essential in wines if they're going to age well.

Phylloxera (fil-lox'-er-ra)

The most disastrous plague to ever afflict the wine industry resulted from the Phylloxera, a small insect related to aphids. Indigenous to North America, the phylloxera louse survives by consuming the leaves of North American grape vines. Unfortunately, the louse was inadvertently sent to Europe where it discovered the vinifera variety of grape had delicious appendages - the roots. Phylloxera stopped feeding upon leaves and became a root devouring machine. Given that the lice were feeding underground as opposed to on the leaves, the insects were harder to detect and eliminate. The latter part of the 1800s saw this insect ravage the vineyards of Europe and make its way back to wine producing areas in America, where, for the first time, it attacked vinifera and came close to destroying the wine making business before a solution was finally found. Root stock, native to North America and resistant to the tiny louse, was grafted to vinifera vines around the world, and the industry was spared decimation. Today the grafting technique is still used worldwide and as a result phylloxera is mostly controlled. Occasionally a wine maker, thinking perhaps the threat has diminished and that he can save a few bucks by using non-resistant root stock, plants non-resistant root stock with disastrous results. In California in the 1980s and 90s an epidemic of phylloxera occurred in Napa Valley reminding winemakers to be ever vigilant.

Piedmont / Piemonte (peed-mont / p'yay-mon'-tay)

Called Piemonte in Italian, the name Piedmont translates as "foot of the mountains" and appropriately describes a significant area of wine production in Italy lying at the foot of the Alps where the mountains form natural boundaries between Italy, Switzerland and France. The powerful red wines Barolo and Barbaresco are produced here, as are the light sparkling wines Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti. Popular grape varietals include Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Moscato.

Pinot Blanc (pee-no blahnc)

A white wine grape related to Pinot Noir that is grown widely in California, Oregon, and the French region of Alsace. Once, this varietal was prolific within Burgundy where it was planted adjacent to Chardonnay. It seems that much of the supposed Pinot Blanc that winemakers took away from Burgundy to be grown elsewhere actually turned out to be Chardonnay. In particular, many Italian growers of "Pinot Blanco" have been pleasantly surprised to discover they have actually been growing the more popular Chardonnay and they've acted quickly to correctly name their wine. Pinot Blanc grapes are now uncommon in Burgundy. Wines made from Pinot Blanc don't typically age as well as Chardonnays, though better versions will benefit from aging and develop honey-like flavors. They're crisper due to high acid levels, and as a result are finding their way into more and more sparkling wines.

Pinot Grigio (pee-no gree-jee-o)

A wine produced in northern Italy from the grape of the same name. The grape is also called Pinot Gris (France) and Rulander (Germany). Most of this popular wine is dry, crisp, and light, and there are a number of appellations in Italy, such as Colli Orientali and Alto-Adige, that are famous for their excellent Pinot Grigio. There are also some richer, honeyed examples primarily from the Alsace area of France. Grown also in areas of Central and Eastern Europe, Pinot Grigio is not commonly planted in the U.S., except for a small number of growers in California and Oregon.

Pinot Gris (pee-no gree)

See Pinot Grigio. Oregon has recently become well known for its daring, flavorful Pinot Gris.

Pinot Noir (pee-no nwahr)

Native to Burgundy, France, this grape is now planted all over the New World and has become one of the most successful red wine varietals on the planet. California and Oregon produce tremendous examples, and, more recently, New Zealand is fast becoming renowned for fine Pinot Noirs. The grape is also grown for use in many top-end Champagnes and other sparkling wines outside the Champagne region. Wine makers discovered that they could press the grape softly to prevent the red pigment from the skin of the grape from leeching into the juice, so the bubbly produced from Pinot Noir is basically clear and "champagne" in color. Rosé Champagne's color is generally produced through the addition of red wine and is usually not due to the color of the main grape's skin. Pinot Noir is typically low in tannins while offering high acidity, making it both easy to drink when young as well as the perfect complement for a meal. Pinot Noir is a challenging grape, both in the vineyard and in the winery. This causes fluctuations in quality to be commonplace, and leads to disappointing products from some winemakers, even in a good year.

Pinotage (pee-no-tahj)

This grape was created as a cross between the Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes, in an attempt to harness Pinot Noir's great wine producing qualities while increasing its hardiness and yield. It's one of South Africa's most important varietals, and although the winemakers there are enthusiastic about their Pinotage wines, they have yet to become very popular worldwide.

Pique (pee-kay) (France)

A French word applied to wines that have started to sour or take on a vinegar-like quality. This is the same meaning as the English tasting term "pricked".

Plonk

A slang word popular in Great Britain that is applied towards poor-quality jug wines produced in bulk.

Pomace (pah-muss)

The residue that remains after pressing and fermenting wine, including skin, seed, stem and pulp material. In France it's called "Marc" and it's distilled into a style of brandy also known as Marc. The Italians do the same and call the beverage "Grappa."

Porron (poh-rone)

A ceramic or glass pitcher used by the Spanish for consuming wine in a dramatic, celebratory way. Similar in appearance to a small flower watering pot, it has a pointy spout that streams a drink of wine into your mouth. You hold the Porron above your head and let the wine flow down. Drinking from it requires some skill as well as the ability to keep up with the constant flow of liquid.

Port

A Portuguese wine, typically red and sweet, that is fortified. It is produced in a variety of different styles and types.

Vintage Port is produced only in years that are considered excellent, and are bottled within its first two years of life. Great examples can be aged for upwards of half a century. Not surprisingly, aged Vintage Ports need to be decanted prior to drinking because they will contain a lot of sediment.

Late Bottled Vintage Port (LVB) is also made from a single vintage of grapes but they're of lesser quality than those used for Vintage Port. It's then barrel aged for several years, which allows the wine to be consumed as soon as it's bottled. As its price indicates, it does not have the complexity of a quality Vintage Port.

Ruby Port is produced from wine batches that are of poorer quality, which then undergo barrel aging for approximately two years. It's then bottled while still young, fruity, and sporting a brilliant red color. In most cases, these are the least expensive of port wines.

Character Port is a non-vintage good quality ruby port. The style is not particularly complex and aging does not typically improve it. The term "character port" is not advertised on the labels; they will be sold simply under a brand name.

Tawny Port, so-called because of its tawny hue, is produced by combining a number of different vintages that have been aged in wood for as long as 40 years. The labels on fine tawny ports indicate the average number of years the vintages that went in to them have been aged. Like Late Bottled Vintage, tawny ports are ready to drink upon bottling. Inexpensive ones are made via blending ruby port and white port. Another style of tawny port is Colheita, which is made from only a single vintage, the year that is shown on the label.

White Port is made from white wine grapes. It is a dry wine, typically served as an aperitif, and it's rarely exported to the U.S.

Porto

Legally, Ports shipped to the U.S. are called "Porto" and the name has to appear somewhere on the label (Port bottled in Britain is not subject to this rule). This naming policy exists in order to prevent consumers from becoming confused between these imported wines and similar port-style versions made in America or elswhere.

Portugieser (por-too-ghee-zer)

A red wine varietal grown extensively in Austria, where it is one of the most commonly planted red wine grapes. It is also popular in Germany. The origin of the name is unknown, but there is no definitive evidence to relate it to Portugal.

Pouilly-Fuisse (poo-yee fwee-say)

A world-renowned French white wine, produced in southern Burgundy from the Chardonnay varietal.

Pouilly-Fume (poo-yee foo-may)

A French dry white wine produced in the Loire region from the Sauvignon Blanc varietal.

Premier Cru (preh-m'yay crew) (France)

In France, the term translates as "First Growth" and is used to indicate estates of high distinction. In Bordeaux, this is the highest classification and there are just five estates that have been awarded this title, making them the most exclusive producers in the region. In Burgundy, the term "Grand Cru" is given to the top vineyards whose producers are allowed to simply list the vineyard as the appellation. "Premier Cru" is the next level, and those wines must be labeled with both the originating village and the name of the specific vineyard.

Press

A device or machine that squeezes grapes in order to release their juice. There are a myriad of different press styles used in wineries around the world, but three of the most common are the basket, bladder, and tank presses. Pressing typically follows the crushing of the grapes and is used to extract additional juice from the grape skins, pulp, and seeds. With white wines pressing is done before fermentation, whereas with red wines it follows fermentation.

Press Wine

As part of the process of making wine, juice is extracted from the grape solids, or must: the stalks, skins, pulp, and pips. Prior to this, some juice, known as free-run juice, flows naturally from the grapes during crushing or even just from the force of the grapes stacked upon each other. It flows without pressing. Press wine is made from the juice extracted from the must after crushing. It's more coarse and dark and contains more tannins than free-run wine. The two are often blended together because the press wine makes the combined wine firmer and more structured.

Primeur (pree-muh'r) (France)

Meaning "first," it's a French word for wines meant to be enjoyed soon after harvesting. Beaujolais Nouveau is one such wine that is famous throughout the world.

Primitivo (pree-mee-tee'-voh)

A red wine grape grown in the Balkans and Italy. For many years it was believed to be the progenitor of California's Zinfandel grape but recent DNA testing indicates that the grapes are different clones of the same original varietal, likely Crljenak, a grape from Croatia. This makes them essentially identical genetically, with only very minor differences in yield and maturation time. See Zinfandel.

Prohibition

In 1920 the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed into law, outlawing the sale of alcohol and heralding the beginning of a thirteen year experiment that failed miserably. Between 1920 and 1933, when the 18th was repealed by the 21st amendment, consumption of alcohol in the U.S. doubled. Meanwhile, crime became rampant as smugglers, bootleggers, and organized crime syndicates each fought for their piece of the black market.

Prosecco (pro-seh-co)

An Italian white wine varietal grown primarily in the Veneto region. It's also the name of sparkling wines made from the grape, which can be Spumante, meaning fully carbonated, or Frizzante, meaning lightly carbonated. In the U.S. it's often served in lieu of more expensive Champagne. Characteristically, Prosecco is a dry, crisp wine with pleasant apple aromas and flavors. Proscecco can also be a still wine, but the still versions are rarely exported.

Provence (pro-vahn'ss)

A vast and beautiful viticultural region in southern France that lies east of the Rhone River and extends south to the Mediterranean Sea. It is said that wine production there goes back to approximately 600 B.C. Every year, Provence produces over 40 million cases of a wide variety of wines. Perhaps the best known is Cotes du Rhone. Red wine varietals popular in the area include Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre, Grenache and more recently, Cabernet Sauvignon. Popular white varietals include Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Viognier.

Punt

The inward depression at the bottom of a Champagne or wine bottle. The punt was originally created to strengthen bottles containing carbonated wine so they wouldn't break under the internal pressure, but it also catches sediment that precipitates out of the wine and allows easier stacking of the bottles.

Back To Top

QbA (Germany)

Short for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete, QbA is the mid-range of three categories delineating the quality of German wines. The other categories are QmP (the highest) and DMW (the lowest). QbA permits the addition of added sugar or süssreserve.

QmP (Germany)

An abbreviated form of Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, which translates loosely as "quality wine with distinction" and denotes the highest quality of German wines. There are six different designations within this category, each indicating a different level of sugar in the must. These wines have a certain minimum alcohol content and are not allowed to contain any added sugar. As of 2007, this wine category is now referred to as Prädikatswein.

Quinta (Portugal)

The Portuguese term for "farm", quinta is analogous to chateau in France and connotes a vineyard or wine-growing estate. Quintas are often associated with well known "port houses" such as Graham, Dow or Fonseca. Many of their grapes wind up in house blends but more and more are producing single-quinta wines and single-quinta vintage ports.

Back To Top

Racking

The process of transferring wine from one container to another. Racking is done with the express purpose of leaving sediment behind. The process also aides in the development of the wine by providing oxygen (via exposure to air) which is required for creating secondary aromas. White and light red wines are typically racked one or two times, whereas heavier reds usually undergo the process three or four times before bottling.

Reserva (Spain)

A legal designation for Spanish red wines that means the wine has aged at least three years prior to being released, with a minimum of one of those years inside of an oak barrel. The word is allowed to be used on white and rosé wines that have been aged a minimum of two years, six months of which were in the barrel.

Reserve

Unlike in Spain and Italy, in the U.S. the term means nothing legally. It's used because the implication is that the wine is among the best the vineyard has to offer. Often this is true, but unfortunately, it's frequently used as a gimmick and applied to a low-quality and/or cheap wine.

Retsina (ret-see'-nah)

Thousands of years ago the Greeks discovered that adding pine resin (pitch) to wine helped to keep it preserved by preventing the wine from spoiling. Apparently they became enamored of its distinct taste in wine, and Retsina, with its resin flavor still derived from pitch, is the direct descendent of its ancient predecessor. Popular in Greece, Retsinas can be white or rosé. Many who travel there acquire a taste for them perhaps because they're part of the romance of Greece.

Rhine Wine

In Germany the phrase indicates wines made in the Rhine Valley. In the U.S., however, the phrase is generic and applied mostly to semi-sweet white wines with an alcohol content under fourteen percent.

Rhone

One of the longest rivers in Western Europe, it starts in Switzerland and then wends its way into and through France in a valley that for a 125 mile stretch makes up one of the great French wine regions - from Avignon in the south of France to just below Vienne to the north. The northern end of the valley produces the powerful Syrah based wines of Cote-Rotie. The village of Condrieu, a little to the south, is home of the Viognier grape. Continue south and find Hermitage and further still, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which cultivates and uses 13 allowable grape varieties. Vineyards also dot banks of the Rhone in Switzerland.

Rich

A wine tasting term referring to a full-flavored wine of opulence and intensity.

Riddling

Riddling is one step in the process of making sparkling wine via the champagne method or methode champenoise. In a process that takes six to eight weeks, bottles are turned slightly and tilted at increasing angles until finally inverted and all the sediment has neatly fallen into the neck of the bottle where it's easily removed via "disgorgement". The process was developed in 1805 by the newly widowed Madame Clicquot of the Champagne house of the same name. Done by hand in the past, today it is likely to be done by machine.

Riesling (rees-ling)

One of the most important white wine varietals in Germany and one of the most celebrated varietals worldwide. Wines made from Riesling are balanced with strong fruit flavors and sufficient acidity to make them long-lived. Riesling accounts for some of the world's finest sweet whites.

Rioja (ree-oh-ha)

A renowned Spanish wine producing region with a history that goes back to the Roman era. Rioja might have had only its heritage to brag about had wine makers from Bordeaux not emigrated there in the 19th century in an attempt to escape the phylloxera that had destroyed their vineyards in France. Eventually the lice followed them there but not before they successfully revitalized the wine industry and growers got better at fighting the pesky insect. The quality of the wines produced in Rioja used to be less than consistent due to the dry, hot climate, which often was too much for the wines to endure throughout various stages of production. Modern vinification technology and temperature controlled vats are now able to bring consistent quality to the wines of the region. Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache in French), Mazuelo, and Graciano are the grapes used to produce Rioja's red wines, while Viura (also called Macabeo), Malvasia, and increasingly smaller amounts Garnacha Blanca (White Grenache) are the grapes most often used for white Rioja.

Riserva (ree-zair-vah)

The descriptor in Italy (regulated by Italian law) that means the wine has been aged a certain number of years. Just how many depends on the wine. For Chianti to be classified as Riserva, it has to be aged 3 years. For Brunello or Barolo the requirement is 5. Unlike in Spain, barrel aging is not required for classification as Riserva.

Robust

A wine tasting term describing a full-bodied wine (typically red). Similar in definition to "big", it also implies the wine is round, full of flavor and has good mouthfeel.

Rosé (ro-zay)

In French it means pink and in wine-speak it means wines that are pink or reminiscent of the color. With the exception of some Champagnes in France, rosé wines are made from red grapes so they are also known as "blanc de noir" (as in white from black, referring to dark grapes). Unfortunately, rosé wines don't enjoy a great reputation in the United States, perhaps because drinkers of wine may self-categorize as fans of red or white. Perhaps it's because rosé jug wines prevalent in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s were of less than high quality. The white zinfandels prevalent today do little to enhance the reputation of rosés. But fine dry rosés are produced in many regions of both the Old and New Wine Worlds, including fine French examples from Anjou, Lirac and Tavel. In the U.S., the descriptor "blush" is commonly used instead of "rosé".

Roses

Many a vacationer returns with photos of roses growing happily at the end of row after row of grapevines. They likely think of them as simply decorative, but in fact they actually serve an important function. They are essentially a viticultural canary-in-the-mine. Roses are highly vulnerable to a powdery fungal infection called oidium. If and when the roses are attacked by it, the grapes are treated to ward off a coming infestation.

Rosso (ross'-oh) (Italy)

The word for "red" in Italian. In Italy, it sometimes makes up part of the name of a wine, as in Rosso Piceno or Rosso di Montepulciano.

Rotwein (rot-vine) (German)

"Rot" is "red" and "wein" is "wine" in German - thus the German word for red wines.

Rouge (rooj) (French)

The French word for "red." In France "vin rouge" is red wine and the phrase is often used to order the house red.

Rough

A wine tasting term describing an unpleasant wine that bites, tastes harsh, is too tannic and/or unbalanced. Usually the term describes young wines but such a verdict doesn't hold out much hope that the wine will soften sufficiently with age to be a quality wine. The rough feeling may diminish over time, but so will the pleasing fruit flavors.

Round

Not unlike the term "fat", a round wine is balanced and mellow with a well-developed flavor profile and no rough edges.

Roussillon (roo-see-yawn)

A wine-producing locale in the south of France near the city of Perpignan, just north of the border with Spain. The region is commonly referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon but Roussillon has a character that is unique. The populace regard themselves as Catalans, an ethnicity that extends as far south as Barcelona. A lot of honest, well-made table wine is produced in Roussillon, with Cinsault as the most common base varietal blended with Grenache, Mourvedre, or Syrah. They are also known for unique wines including the fortified Rivesaltes and the uncommon and stellar wine called Banyuls.

Ruby Cabernet

An American varietal cross-bred from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault grapes. Developed in 1948 at the University of California at Davis, the grape was intended to be a more commercially viable alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon, which was slow to ripen. Unfortunately, wine made from it turned out to be a disappointment, so what little of this grape is still harvested in California's Central Valley goes into the making of bulk wine.

Ruby Port

A type of port wine that has undergone aging in a wood barrel for two to three years. Because they're produced from relatively low-quality wines and bottled while still young (and bright red), ruby ports are usually the least expensive of the port wines.

Rulander (roo-lahn-der)

The name for the Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio grape in Germany.

Back To Top

Saar (sahr)

The Saar is one of the Mosel River's tributaries and an area within the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine making region. Being a challenging area for viticulture due to the cold climate, there are only a few vintages each decade that produce magnificent wines (though they are sufficient to keep the area planted and the wines famous worldwide). Most years the harvest is used for making a German sparkling wine known as Sekt. Because the path of the Saar is a northerly one in this region, its grapevines aren't planted along the banks but instead on south-facing hills in its valleys. This planting strategy maximizes the exposure to the sun.

Saint-Émilion (sant ay-mee-l'yon)

A picturesque village and the second most important wine producing region in Bordeaux, France (the first being the Medoc region). The wines here are mostly Merlot based blends, although some are based on the Cabernet Franc varietal. Though it thrives in the nearby Medoc region, Cabernet Sauvignon isn't as well-suited to the cool clay soil of St. Emilion. The town itself holds a lot of charm and is a favorite of tourists from around the globe. The area is dotted with ancient caves carved out of limestone that were used as wine cellars. Because of the prominence of the Merlot grape, the wines of St. Emilion generally offer more softness and are better when young than their Cabernet based counterparts from the nearby Medoc region. Some local villages attach the name "Saint-Emilion" with a hyphen to the village name on their labels, but their wines are often lighter and are made with more Cabernet Franc.

Important to note is that St. Emilion was not included in the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification (which focused mostly on red wines from the Medoc). St. Emilion underwent its first classification in 1878, but unlike the Medoc, which has not undergone a reclassification since 1855, the chateaux of St. Emilion have undergone periodic reclassification, with some chateaux achieving higher status, and some receiving demotion.

Sancerre (sahn-sehr)

A French village at the east end of the Loire Valley famous for its fine Sauvignon Blanc wines. In fact, the wines of Sancerre and its neighbor, Pouilly-Fume, are largely responsible for placing the Sauvignon Blanc varietal on the international wine map.

Sangiovese (san-joh-vay'z eh)

Along with Nebbiolo, Sangiovese is one of the two most important Italian red wine varietals. It is believed to be an ancient grape that's been used in wine production since before the Roman era. If you doubt the tradition of wine-making goes back that far, consider that etymologists think the name of this varietal derives from sanguis Jovis, Latin for "the blood of Jupiter." It's found in Tuscany and throughout the central and southern wine producing regions, and its several clone varieties are used as the backbone for many of Italy's finest wines, including Chianti, Brunello, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Sangria (sahn-gree'-ah)

A beverage in Spain that's traditionally a mix of fruit and red wine, served on ice. Authentic Sangria from Spain often includes the country's brandy which is somewhat sweet and has its own unique flavor. Mixing fruit and/or sweeteners with wine is an ancient practice that likely originated as a way of hiding wine that had spoiled. It continues to this day because, when well made, it can be a cooling and wonderful drink on a hot summer's day. In the U.S. wine coolers are no doubt the progeny of sangria but lose in comparison to a well crafted pitcher of the real thing.

Sassicaia (sah-see-cah'-yah)

Sassicaia is a red wine made in Tuscany from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine is purposely made in the Bordeaux style, and, in fact, it's produced from vines that were grown from cuttings from the famous First Growth (Premier Cru) Chateau Lafite-Rothschild estate. Developed in the mid-1960's, it had no official classification for decades, even while becoming one of the most critically acclaimed and expensive wines in Italy. It was in the vanguard of a category of wines often called "Super Tuscans," all based on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in spite of the fact that Cabernet Sauvignon was not a permitted grape in Tuscany. Not surprisingly, a new DOC designation was created in the Bolgheri region of Tuscany for this wine in 1994.

Saumur (saw-muhr)

A charming village situated on the Loire River in the central Loire Valley, Saumur is part of a larger wine producing area called Anjou-Saumur. Since the early 1800's the majority of the wine produced in the area is sparkling, and it has been made via the Méthode Champenoise. Saumur vineyards grow primarily the white wine grapes Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay and the red wine grape Cabernet Franc, all of which are used for their sparkling wines. This region also produces still varieties of red, white and rosé wines from a variety of grapes.

Sauternes (saw-tehrn)

A region in Bordeaux, France and, more famously, a dessert wine of the same name. The secret to the stunningly sweet Sauternes wine is the Botrytis Cinerea mold (also known as Noble Rot) that attacks and dehydrates the grapes (which are already beyond ripe), concentrating their sugars. The sugar content is so high it can't be completely converted to alcohol so the resulting wine is about 14 percent alcohol with approximately 5 percent residual sugars. In addition to being often served after a meal in France, many connoisseurs and chefs consider it to be a wonderful pairing with foie gras and other rich dishes. Sauternes is made primarily from the Semillon varietal, and rounded out by differing degrees of Sauvignon Blanc. In the U.S., the name "sauterne", uncapitalized and without the "s" at the end, is a generic label used on some cheap dry to slightly sweet versions that are in many cases bulk wines made from inferior quality grapes. These wines bear no resemblance to authentic Sauternes.

Sauvignon Blanc (so-vee-nyohn blahnc)

One of the world's most widely planted white wine varietals, Sauvignon Blanc is grown in France, California, Italy, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South America, among other places. In Bordeaux, France, it's generally included in a blend with Semillon resulting in a rich and elegant wine, but without a lot of Sauvignon Blanc's distinctive character. The Sauvignon Blancs produced in the Loire Valley of France in the charming villages of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume give this varietal an opportunity to express itself in a fuller, more authentic way. In the late 1960s, the famous winemaker Robert Mondavi popularized his new California Sauvignon Blanc wines under the name of "Fume Blanc", and to this day the terms are often used interchangeably in that state. More recently, New Zealand is rapidly becoming famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. The grape produces grassy, herbaceous wines with noticeable acidity that are best enjoyed young.

Savennieres (sah-ven-yehr)

Nestled in the Anjou area of the Loire Valley, this French town is famous for outstanding white wines made from Chenin Blanc grapes. In contrast to other wines of the Anjou area, Savennieres' wines are invariably dry.

Savigny-les-Beaune (sah-vee-n'yee leh bone)

In the north of the Cote de Beaune region in Burgundy, France, this small village produces an abundance of light, high quality, reasonably priced red wines.

Schloss (shloss)

Meaning "castle" in German, the term is used similarly to "chateau" in France, indicating a vineyard or estate on a wine label.

Schloss Johannisberg (shloss yo-hah'-niss berg)

Probably the most well-known German wine producing estate. Its heritage dates to the 12th century when an abbey on its grounds was dedicated to St. John the Baptist; thus, the estate became known as Johannisberg, meaning "John's Mountain". In the early 18th century, Schloss Johannisberg became the first vineyard to record planting Riesling grapes exclusively. In 1775, there was an accidental delay in the harvesting of the grapes and, as a result, the sweetening effect of the Botrytis Cinerea fungus on grapes was discovered. The term Spatlese, meaning "late harvest" was later used to describe wines purposely picked later to create the same effect.

Screwcaps

Screwcaps, as well as synthetic corks, are increasingly popular, modern alternatives to using the centuries old practice of bottling wine with cork. These alternatives are gaining in popularity due to several problems that exist with oak corks. First, there's the question of supply; the world's supply of cork oak trees isn't infinite and demand continues to increase, causing the price to increase as well. Second, oak cork contains trichloroanisole (TCA) and other chemicals that can cause a wine to become flawed with "corked" smells and flavors. A "corked" bottle is harmless, but aesthetically it can detract greatly from one's enjoyment of a wine. Estimates are that the problem occurs in approximately 5 percent of all bottles corked with oak. A 2007 study in Bordeaux discovered that compared to traditional and synthetic corks, screwcaps create a better seal against oxygen. This provides greater protection against damaging oxidization and theoretically should allow wines sealed with screwcaps to withstand longer periods of aging without spoiling.

Sec (France)

The French word for "dry," the term thus connotes a dry wine, which is the opposite of a sweet wine.

Secco (seck'-o) (Italy)

Italian for "dry", it's the equivalent of "sec" in French - wines without a perceptible amount of residual sugars.

Sediment

During the wine making process, tiny particulates fall to the bottom of the tank or barrel. The wine is then removed from this sediment by "racking", in which the wine is moved to a new container while leaving the sediment behind in the old one. Typically the wine is clear when bottled but occasionally particles remain and are commonly referred to as "clouds" or "haze". Over time, grainy deposits in the form of tannin and naturally occurring coloring compounds will sometimes precipitate out of a wine that was clear when bottled and settle at the bottom or the side of the bottle, depending on how it's been stored. This explains why a wine becomes less tannic and its color lightens with age. Decanting wine is useful not just for allowing it to breathe; it also provides an opportunity to separate the wine from the sediment so that the wine can be enjoyed and the sediment discarded.

Sekt (zekt)

The commonly used German name for their Qualitätschaumwein ("quality sparkling wine"). This is Germany's official category for sparkling wine, which is derived from a variety of grapes, including Riesling, Rulander, and Weisburgunder. Germany produces about 25 million cases per year. Sekt is also produced in Austria and the Czech Republic.

Semillon (seh-mee-yohn)

Prevalent in France's Bordeaux region, Semillon is a white wine varietal that's often found in a blend with Sauvignon Blanc, a unique combination responsible for the region's dry white wines and their famed sweet dessert wines from Sauternes. The grape is also abundant in the New World, particularly Australia, where it is the most important white grape varietal.

Seyval Blanc (say-val blahnc)

A French hybrid grape that's a cross between a native grape of North America and a classic European grape, it is resistant to cold weather. It's gained favor in England, Canada, and New York State where conditions for growing grapes can be less than ideal. It's responsible for many good dry and off dry wines, as well as some of Canada's renowned ice wines.

Sharp

A tasting term describing a wine in which the acids are too strong or quite unbalanced.

Sherry

One of the three most famous fortified wines (along with Madeira and Port), Sherry is produced near the Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera. A wide spectrum of colors, sweetness, flavors, and quality can be found in Sherry, but there are basically two types: Fino and Oloroso. The main things separating the two are a yeast called "flor" and the alcohol level. Flor is only found in Fino style wines, which must be lower in alcohol than Oloroso at 15.5% maximum. Oloroso wines can contain alcohol levels up to 18%. All sherry barrels leave about one-sixth of the space at the top empty, which allows the wine to oxidize. Oloroso sherries aren't covered by a protective layer of flor so the oxidation is even greater, creating a color that ranges from a dark golden to a dark brown. It also gives it a rich and distinctively nut-like and raisin-like character. Oloroso sherry undergoes more extensive aging and, not surprisingly, is generally more expensive than Fino.

Shiraz (shee-raz)

Shiraz is the name used in Australia for the Syrah varietal, and it is that nation's most important red wine grape. Syrah was a widely planted grape varietal in the southern areas of France by the Middle Ages and Australia's Shiraz can trace its heritage to France, via South Africa. Fortunately for the Old and New Wine Worlds, the vines left France for South Africa before the dual scourges of phylloxera and oidium in the late 1800's. As the French were recovering from the catastrophe, they chose new clones of the grape varietals they had planted before. So the Syrah that was taken to Australia from South Africa is actually from an older clone than what is planted today throughout the majority of the Rhone Valley of France. The possibility that Australian Shiraz descends from a divergent clone may validate its different name.

Short

A tasting term referring to the finish of a wine. Short is not a positive. The length of time that the flavors of a wine persist in the mouth after tasting is a significant indicator of quality. Fine wines will have a lingering aftertaste, whereas a wine in which the flavors end abruptly is generally of lower quality.

Silky

A term used when tasting wine that refers to a particular mouthfeel. Silky wine will have a texture and a finish that is very smooth. It relates to the wine's balance and is usually characteristic of fine red wines that have aged sufficiently for the tannins to soften.

Simple

A term used when tasting for a wine that is not complex; it lacks different levels of flavor and aroma. Most wine is simple to some extent; only the extraordinary ones are considered truly complex.

Skin

The grape's outermost layer, sometimes also called the husk or hull. The skin is important because it provides the majority of a wine's color and supplies much of its flavor and tannin as well. Many varieties of grape, including those earmarked for making red wines, have pulp and juice that is quite light in color. If it weren't for the grape skins we wouldn't have red wine as we know it. This explains how rosé wines can be made from red wine grapes; the skins are quickly taken away from the juice. Not surprisingly, different grape varietals have different skin qualities. The thick and somewhat tannic skin of Cabernet Sauvignon produces wines that are dark and tannic. Nebbiolo grapes, by contrast, have a thin skin with a lot of tannin, so wine made from the variety is lighter in color but heavy when young. Pinot Noir has a thin skin and low tannin levels, and the resulting wines are crisp with a distinctive fruit character, and thus enjoyable in their early years.

Smoky

A tasting term reflecting a smoke-like flavor and aroma in a wine. Sometimes it can result from the wine being aged in oak barrels; other times the smokiness comes via the soil from which the grapes were harvested.

Smooth

A term used in wine tasting referring to the way the wine feels in the mouth. This tactile impression is related to the wine's overall acidity - not just its tannins - which contribute to the sensation of a wine being "soft" or "hard". Smoothness is considered the opposite of sharpness.

Soave (s'wah'-veh)

The most well known white wine in Italy, it's produced in the area around Verona in the northeast of the boot shaped country. Many wine enthusiasts would say the majority of Soave is uninspiring, produced to satisfy global desire for the famed wine. However, there are small producers in the region who craft high quality Soave, especially those in the Soave Classico DOC, which is the oldest zone of production. The Garganega varietal is the main grape used in the blend, often with Trebbiano in a supporting role (up to 30% of the blend).

Soft

A tasting term for wines that are in optimal balance - fruity, pleasing, and approachable. Usually it's indicative of a harmonious union between tannin and acid, both of which are apt to be low in a soft wine. For its opposite, see Hard.

Solid

A wine tasting term for wines that are firm, full-bodied and full of alcohol, acidity, tannin, and fruit. Occasionally the word is applied to a young wine expected to evolve well with age.

Sommelier (so-mel-yay)

Originally a French term, the title is often used very loosely today for a wine steward or waiter in charge of wine. In fact, a true sommelier at a high-end restaurant is responsible for a broad spectrum of tasks, including the development of the wine list, product acquisition, and proper cellaring. In addition, the sommelier will suggest appropriate pairings for the restaurant's various dishes. Today there are a number of organizations offering credentials and training in this field, including the classification of Master Sommelier offered by The Court of Master Sommeliers. As of 2008, fewer than 200 people hold this exclusive title.

Sound

A term used simply to indicate that a wine does not have any obvious defects. "Sound" is a low bar (any properly made wine should meet this criterion) so, while it is a positive term, it should not be thought of as praise.

Sour

A tasting term for a wine that's full of very sharp, vinegar-like acids. Sour wine is not simply tart; it is beyond that, implying the wine has a serious defect and is becoming vinegar. Fortunately, it's uncommon today to encounter such an undrinkable, sour wine.

Sparkling Wine

Carbonated wine is known as "sparkling wine", the most famous of which is Champagne. There are several methods for making sparkling wine, but the technique for making the finest quality examples, including all Champagne, is known as the methode champenoise, which involves the secondary fermentation of the wine by yeast inside the closed bottles. Another technique is called the transfer process, whereby the production process begins inside bottles and then the wine is transferred to tanks, at which time the sediment is filtered. The wine is then finished by adding it to new bottles while pressurized. An even more commercial method is the Charmat Method, whereby the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in bulk in tanks prior to bottling. Finally, another technique is to simply add pressurized carbon dioxide to a still wine, just as if it were a cola. This process results in large bubbles that don't last long in the glass and no quality sparkling wine is made that way. According to European Union regulations, a sparkling wine may bear the name Champagne only when it originates in the Champagne region of France. The United States, Australia and other New World wine producing countries don't have the same regulations, so they allow their domestic sparkling wines to be labeled with the term "Champagne." In the ever-growing global market this may change. In early 2008 a large shipment of U.S. sparkling wine was confiscated and destroyed in Belgium by agents of the European Union because it was labeled "Champagne".

Spice / Spicy

A descriptor for wines with an energetic spiciness to their aromas and flavors. It's a catch-all term which could refer to any one of many spices - cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, mace, allspice, and white and black pepper among them. A spicy characteristic can sometimes come from the wine contacting newer oak barrels during aging, but it is more likely to be attributed to the varietal. Gewurztraminer is a grape with a prominent spicy quality, for example.

Split

A bottle of wine that is one-quarter the size of a standard bottle, most commonly encountered with Champagne.

Spritzer

A cold drink typically made with soda water and white wine, spritzers are a commonly requested drink at American bars. While some enophiles may consider it an offensive practice to adulterate wine with soda water, it's a custom that goes back centuries. In the hotter climes of both the New and Old Worlds, it's common to mix a little sparkling water into both white and red wine to create a cooling drink.

Spritzy

A description for wine with a slightly effervescent quality. In French this quality is known as perlant; in Italian it's frizzante.

Spumante / Spumanti (spoo-mahn'-teh / spoo-mahn'-tee)

The Italian term for "sparkling", Spumante (Spumanti is the plural form) refers to fully sparkling wines, whereas wines that offer just a slight effervescence are known as "Frizzante". Historically most sparkling wine in Italy has been produced via the transfer process, but thanks to French influence, increasing numbers are being produced via the Méthode Champenoise, or what the Italians call the "Metodo Classico". In the U.S., Asti Spumante is perhaps the most recognized Italian sparkler but Prosécco is gaining ground.

Steely

A wine tasting term used primarily to describe white wine that is dry and very crisp, with considerable levels of natural acidity. Sometimes this acidity leads to a metallic sensation on one's palate. A prime example of a wine that is often described as "steely" is Chablis, the renowned Burgundy Chardonnay. "Flinty" is often used to describe wines in a similar context.

Steen

The South African name for the Chenin Blanc varietal, which is a popular and widely grown varietal in that country.

Stemmy

A descriptor that's not complimentary. It is applied to wines with harsh, astringent, and bitter plant-like flavors. These "green" flavors are alternately referred to as "stalky", and typically originate from the juice being left in contact with the stems for too long of a period during the vinification process.

Still

Wines that contain no carbon dioxide; they are not effervescent or sparkling.

Strong

Wine tasting descriptor for a wine (usually red) that's big, robust, powerful, and generally high in alcohol.

Structure

The term describes the framework formed by all of a wine's components (alcohol, acid, fruit, tannin, and glycerin) and their proportion to each other.

Sturdy

Descriptor for wines that assert themselves with a full bodied delivery and offer bold, powerful, rich flavors.

Sulfites / Sulfur

Sulfites (also spelled "sulphites") are sulfur-based compounds, like sulfur dioxide, used in the vinification process. Recent years have seen much negative discussion of sulphites, which is unfortunate since they are an integral and valuable part of wine making. For instance, SO2 gas is sprayed on the grapevines to halt fungal growth. Sulfite compounds are also applied to wine barrels to destroy harmful bacteria. To prevent the wine from browning and to thwart the strains of undesirable wild yeast that are naturally on the grapes when they are harvested, sulphites are introduced to the juice before the fermenting process. During the production of certain sweet wines, they're employed to halt fermentation in order prevent the yeast from converting all the sugars into alcohol, which would make for a dry wine. Sulfur gives a large degree of control to the wine maker, and in most cases, the few wines produced completely without it tend to be poor in quality.

However, there are legal limits to the amount of sulphites that are allowed in wine. The effects of too much sulfur in wine can be disastrous to the final product, which is why it is almost always used in small amounts (far lower than the limits established by law), and with great care. Over the past several decades, sulfite use has seen significant declines due to the development of cleaner, more advanced vinification equipment. There are a few individuals who are allergic to sulfites but for the overwhelming majority of people, sulfites in wine pose no health threat.

Supple

A commonly used wine tasting term describing a wine that is soft, smooth and well-balanced. In other words, it's a well-structured wine; one that's probably near, if not at, it's prime.

Sweet

In the wine world, sweet is the opposite of dry. Sweetness in wine comes from any residual sugars that remain in the wine after fermentation is complete. This amount of sugar may range from a hardly perceptible one percent up to more than ten percent, making for intensely sweet wine. The difference between a pleasantly sweet and a sickly sweet flavor in a wine relates directly to the balance between sugar and acid. If there is not enough of an acid balance, the sweetness would be cloying and thus be viewed as a flaw. The label sweet is typically used in regards to a wine's flavor, but some components of a wine may impart a sweet smell, such as intense fruit or the vanilla-like essence that can come from oak, so the term can apply to both flavor and bouquet as well as to the actual residual sugar in wine.

Synthetic Closure

A term used to represent the artificial cork that is becoming increasingly common in the industry worldwide. For more information on the challenges associated with traditional cork see the entry for Screwcaps.

Syrah (see'-rah)

Along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Syrah is one of the most important red wine grapes around the globe. It's widely grown in France's Rhone Valley, California, South Africa, and Australia where it's called Shiraz, as well as many other locales. Syrah is the most important red wine grape in Australia and its popularity is spreading quickly elsewhere. See Shiraz for more information.

Back To Top

Table Wine

In the U.S., "table wine" is a legal name for a broad category of wines: all still wine that contains between 7 and 14 percent alcohol. This does not connote poor quality; it simply relates to alcohol content.

In Europe, the phrase refers to wine that wasn't produced according to the prescribed rules of the region from which it hails. While that often indicates poor quality wine, there are notable exceptions. Wine producers who, for the sake of creativity, wish to bend the rules of production and stray from the officially sanctioned grape types and vinification methods of the region, must label their wines as table wine instead of with the typical wine name of the region. In many cases these wines are of exceptional quality, making the labeling quite confusing, especially for those outside the region.

Table Wines Include:

  • The majority of wine sold in the United States
  • Wines of lesser quality or merit
  • High quality wines that do not conform to a prescribed regional standard
  • In France: vin de table or vin ordinaire
  • In Italy: vino da tavola
  • In Germany: tafelwein

Tafelwein (tah'-fel-vine)

Tafelwein translates as "table wine" in German.

Tannin

Known collectively as "phenolic compounds", tannins are natural components of grapes that are critical to the wine making process. They are found in the skins, seeds (pips), stalks, and stems of grapes. Most prominent in red wine, tannins are also introduced to wine via the oak barrels used for aging. Tannins are bitter, harsh, and astringent chemicals. In excess, they cause a puckering feeling in the mouth similar to what happens when drinking very strong tea, which also contains a lot of tannins. Tannins are necessary to age red wine, and in proper amounts, the chemicals supply a framework on which wine develops into the wonderful, complex beverage so many of us love. White wines have little tannin because they have little or no contact with the skins and stems of grapes.

Tart

A wine tasting term for a wine that produces a prominent, yet not excessive, acidic impression on the palate. Too much acid moves the wine into negative territory, on a continuum of harsh to downright sour. Dessert wines can be described as both sweet and tart if the residual sugars and acids are in balance.

Tawny Port (Portugal)

A pale port aged in wood sufficiently long for it to lose its red pigment, hence the name. In addition to imbuing a tawny color, extensive barrel aging also gives the wine a nutty aroma. The finest tawny ports are typically labeled by their age, such as ten, twenty, or even forty years old. Lower quality and less expensive versions are produced through a blend of white and ruby ports, and there's no comparison in quality to real tawny ports.

Tears

A synonym for the term "legs", meaning the viscous film that runs down the side of the glass after swirling. There is some disagreement about whether tears are a function of the glycerin in wine, thus indicating wine with a good body, or if it is simply related to the amount of alcohol.

Tempranillo

One of Spain's most important red wine grapes, Tempranillo is the dominant varietal in that country's famous Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions. It produces full-bodied wines of relatively low acidity and alcohol, thus it is often blended with modest amounts of other varietals to augment its structure, like Graciano, Garnacha (Grenache), and Carignan. Tempranillo wines are characterized by a gorgeous dark ruby color and flavors of berry, tobacco, spice, plum, leather and vanilla. In most cases Tempranillo based wines can be drunk while still young, but many of the finest examples of the varietal undergo barrel aging for three years or more prior to bottling. In Portugal's Douro region, Tempranillo is named Tinta Roriz and it is an important varietal used in Port wine blends.

Terroir (France)

A French term that technically translates as "soil," but is actually used to describe a vineyard's geographical universe. It encompasses all of the important natural factors affecting the growth of the grapes: the vineyard's soil, position in relation to the sun, hillside angle, altitude, exposure to wind, the local climate, water drainage, and more. American producers are likely to employ the English terms "microclimate", "mesoclimate", and "macroclimate" to refer to the same range of factors. Terroir is also used with the French word for "taste" in the term gout de terroir,which describes an earthy flavored wine.

Tete de Cuvee (tet duh coo-vay)

The phrase translates from French as "head blend." Unofficially, it's used to refer to the top sparkling wine blend within a given Champagne house. For instance, Moet & Chandon's tete de cuvee is Dom Perignon, a vintage Champagne and Moet's finest production.

Texture

The tactile sensation of a wine on one's palate, "texture" is more specific than "body", which is a more general term for a wine's impression. Wines with pleasing textures are often described as velvety, silky, or smooth.

Thick

A wine tasting term describing wines which are dense, rich, and somewhat heavy, typically with low acid levels.

Thin

A tasting term for a wine that does not have much body and, thus, feels somewhat watery in the mouth. This is not necessarily a flaw; certain wine styles, like champagne for instance, strive more for balance and refinement than dense, full-bodied power.

Tignanello (tee-n'ya-nell'-oh)

An Italian Bordeaux-style red wine produced in the Chianti region of Tuscany. When introduced in 1971 by the esteemed Antinori firm, the wine broke with the heritage (and the rules) of the Chianti producing region by adding Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to the Sangiovese blend. They also flouted the DOCG regulations requiring a small percentage of white wine grapes in the Chianti blend thus taking Tignanello even farther from its Chianti heritage. The wine was one of the very first trailblazers in the popular category now called "Super Tuscans".

Tired

A descriptor used for wines that are rather boring and dull due to being old and beyond their prime.

Toasty

A term used when tasting wine to describe a pleasing aroma of toast. In many cases, it describes a sparkling wine or Chardonnay that has been stored in an oak barrel that was purposely charred on the inside during its construction.

Tough

This descriptor is applied to wines that taste hard or astringent due to having an excess of tannin. Many tough wines soften and improve after being aged.

Tuscany

This important viticultural region in central Italy has been producing Chianti for centuries. Other well known wines from Tuscany include: Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Thanks to the relatively recent success of a few ambitious producers who broke from tradition and DOCG regulations, Tuscan wine makers are increasingly producing more and more Cabernet based blends, creating the unofficial category of Super Tuscans which are now among the most desirable and expensive Italian wines (see "Tignanello"). Sangiovese is the leading red varietal in the region, though Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are now important, too. Historically, the Canaiolo grape was important for making Chianti, but it is now being grown less in Tuscany. Trebbiano is Tuscany's most widely planted white grape. Other white varietals grown in the region include Malvasia, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, and Semillon.

Back To Top

Ullage

The empty space in wine bottles between the bottom of the cork and the level of the wine. In a young, healthy bottle, the ullage is small and not something to be concerned about. Over time, the space may increase due to the wine evaporating, and the additional air within the bottle can cause the wine to oxidize. So, at an auction, wines with a large ullage will sell for a significantly lower price than wines with a smaller space.

Back To Top

Valais (val-ay)

A prominent and distinguished Swiss viticultural area and the alpine source of the Rhone River. Fendant (white) and Dole (red) are perhaps Valais' best known wines.

Valpolicella (vahl-poh-lee-t'chell-ah)

Next to Chianti, this is the most heavily produced Italian red wine. The name translates as "valley of many cellars", an apt description of the area to the north of Verona where it's produced. Generally, Valpolicella is light, round, satisfying, and easy to drink, but when the harvest allows, an allotment of the grapes is allowed to dry prior to being fermented. The result is a sweet wine known as Recioto della Valpolicella. Not much of it is exported to the U.S., but a dryer style is more commonly found, known both as Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone or Amarone della Valpolicella (or simply Amarone). More apt to be found in the U.S. than the sweet style, great Amarone is full-bodied, powerful, and intense, and it is one of the finest Italian red wines.

Vanilla

Descriptor for a sweet, vanilla-like aroma often present in wines that have undergone aging within barrels made of new oak. This vanilla flavor comes from vanillin, an organic compound found in oak as well as in the vanilla bean. Vanillin extracted from wood is often used in place of vanilla (from the bean) in cooking and baking.

Varietal Wine

Wines that are labeled according to the primary grape variety used to make it, i.e. Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. This is a common naming convention in the New World, where many different varietals and styles of wine are often vinified in the same region. Old World wines are typically named after the area from which they originate, such as Chianti, Burgundy, Ribera del Duero, etc. To be designated as a varietal in the U.S., at least 75 percent of the wine must come from the grape named on the label. In other places the amount may be different, as with Australia, where it's 80 percent.

Vegetal

Wines possessing the aroma or flavor of vegetation or vegetables (often bell peppers and asparagus), are referred to as having a vegetal character. These flavors can be a pleasant component of a complex flavor profile, and are commonly found in Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. However, when pronounced, such flavors are undesirable and signal a flawed wine. "Herbaceous" is also sometimes used as a descriptor for these flavors or aromas.

Velvety

A wine tasting descriptor for wines with a smooth, rich, and silky texture.

Vieux (v'yuh) (France)

The term translates as "old" in French. It's often found on wine labels reflecting the name of a vineyard or the winemaker as in Vieux-Château-Certan. "Vieille" is the word's feminine form.

Vieilles Vignes (France)

In French the phrase translates as "old vines", but the term has no specific meaning that's been assigned by law. In Germany, old vines are known as "Alte Reben". Old vines typically produce lower yields and, hence, more concentrated flavors; thus many people associate old vines and high quality.

Vigorous

A wine tasting term describing full-bodied wines that have a firm, lively, or pronounced flavor profile.

Vin (van)

The French word meaning "wine".

Vin Blanc (van blahnc)

Translates from French as "white wine".

Vin de Pays (France)

Translates from French as "wines of the country" and is a lower rank than the top AOC and secondary VDQS classifications. However, it is not uncommon to find quality wines in this class, certainly superior in most cases to the typically very unremarkable vin de table wines, which is France's fourth and lowest wine classification.

Vin de Table (France)

The bottom classification of wine in France. Often they're not even bottled; rather they're dispensed at local cooperatives via a machine resembling a gas pump. When they are bottled, by law they're not allowed to be labeled with the grape varietals, vintage, or the region of origin.

Vin Rouge

Translates from French as "red wine".

Vinegary

Possessing the aroma of vinegar. See the term Acetic Acid for more information.

Viniculture

A term that covers the whole industry and business of wine production, including the tending and harvesting of the grapes, creating the wine, and the marketing and sales of the final product.

Vinification

"Vinification" refers to the entire process of creating wine from grapes.

Vinify

Turning grapes into wine via fermentation of their juices.

Vino (veen-no)

"Vino" is the word for "wine" in both Spanish and Italian.

Vino da Tavola (vee-no dah tah'-voh-lah)

The Italian equivalent of Table Wine. Consistent with the rest of Europe, the designation is used in Italy for the bottom category of wines. However, many great Italian wine makers have a penchant for flouting their regional DOC winemaking rules, so some very impressive and expensive wines, such as the famed "Super Tuscans", have been legally relegated to this category.

Vintage

The term "vintage" has a couple of related but somewhat different meanings. First, it is used to refer to the year of a grape harvest. Additionally, the wine produced from that specific year will also be referred to as a vintage. A wine that is produced by blending wines from different years would be referred to as a non-vintage wine (N.V.), and this is common with wines like champagne and port. Due to variation from year to year in terms of the quality and character of the grapes harvested, some years, or vintages, are considered better than others. Typically, champagne is produced as a N.V. wine (many champagne houses prefer the term "multi-vintage"), and this enables the producers to create wines of consistent quality by blending multiple years together. During exceptional years, winemakers will take advantage of the high-quality harvest to produce outstanding vintage champagnes, like Dom Perignon.

Vintage Port

Vintage port is produced only during years in which the grape harvest was of extraordinary quality. Known as a "declared" vintage, they occur about two or three times every ten years. Unlike tawny ports which are often aged in wood for decades, vintage ports are bottled after no more than two years, but then are usually aged in the bottle for at least twenty years before being enjoyed. It is important to decant these wines due to the significant amount of sediment that will accumulate in the bottle during this time.

A case of vintage port is a wonderful wine to buy for a child's birth; the two can age in tandem and the wine sampled at intervals throughout the child's life. When young, vintage port is a mere shadow of what it will become; not until its teenage years does it begin to exhibit character. Upon reaching its early 20's, a vintage port has achieved maturity, but is not as rich and fully developed as it will become over the next several decades. As are we, these wines are much more complex upon reaching their fourth decade, and will begin to mellow - transitioning from intense plum-like flavors to softer, nut-like flavors. Over the next several decades, the port continues to build character and complexity but begins to lose vitality and power. Six to eight decades is nearing the end of a vintage port's lifespan. Only bottles that have been stored properly from the finest producers and vintages will survive ten decades.

Viognier (vee-oh-nyay)

An outstanding white wine varietal that's most commonly planted in France's northern Rhone region. The grape earned its renown due to the stellar wines of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet - dry, floral-scented whites of the northern Rhone Valley. A small amount of Viognier is also commonly added to the Syrah used to make the impressive red wines of Cote-Rotie. It can also be used to create delightful late harvest dessert wines. Plantings of the varietal have been extremely limited because the grape is highly susceptible to disease and its yield is low, but that's changing. Viognier is making its way into New World wines with plantings in South Africa, Chile, Australia, and the United States, particularly California.

Viticulteur (vee-tee-cul-tuhr)

A French word that translates as "vine grower". In most cases the term is applied to the owner of a vineyard or the chief manager. The term vigneron has a similar meaning, but more commonly is applied to someone who is an employee or who rents the land.

Viticulture

The field of study involving specifically the growing of grapevines. Not to be confused with "viniculture", which relates to the making of wine. Obviously the two terms involve overlapping concepts, but they are distinctly different.

Vitis Vinifera (vee-tis vin-if'-er-ah)

The genus "vitis" is made up of over forty individual grape species, and Vinifera is the shining star among them as it is the species from which almost every wine (and certainly every fine wine) is produced. It is widely speculated that the Muscat varietal is the original Vinifera from which all other types (Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, etc.) are descended, but since Vinifera cultivation predates recorded history, we may never know for sure.

Volatile, Volatile Acidity (VA)

A wine is considered "volatile" if it is presenting excess amounts of volatile acids. These acids are intrinsic to wine in general, and in balance they are important for proper aromas and flavors. However, high levels of acetic acid and ethyl acetate will give the wine a disagreeable sharp and vinegar-like taste, and is a considerable flaw.

Vouvray (voo-vray)

An appellation in France's central Loire Valley. The vineyards surrounding the town of Vouvray grow Chenin Blanc almost entirely, and the character of the wine of this region ranges from dry and crisp to lush, with beautiful,sweet fruit flavors predominating. Increasingly, Vouvray producers are making sparkling wines by way of the champagne method.

Back To Top

Watery

This descriptor is applied when a wine is thin and lacks flavor, body, alcohol, and acidity. In other words, it tastes diluted.

Weedy

An aroma or flavor of freshly cut grass or hay.

Weighty

A term applied to assertive, powerful, full-bodied wines.

Wein (vine)

The term means "wine" in German.

White Zinfandel

A wine that snobs tend to scorn, probably due as much to its popularity among neophytes as to its character as a wine, this quaffable blush wine (called a rosé in France) was developed in the late 70's and very quickly achieved significant popularity. In fact, for many inexperienced wine drinkers, the name "Zinfandel" is more likely to evoke images of easy-drinking pink wine than the hearty red wine for which California is famous. California winemakers had an unusual surplus of the red wine grape Zinfandel when white wines exploded in popularity, so they created White Zinfandel via a process in which they quickly remove the skins from the juice after pressing. It's then vinified the same as white wines. The color ranges from pale pink to salmon, and the majority of White Zinfandels are somewhat sweet, but some can be quite dry.

Wine Cooler

Very popular in the U.S. during the 80's, particularly among young adults, wine coolers are a mixture of low quality wine and various types of fruit juice, added to very sweet carbonated water. They often taste more like soda than wine. After the U.S. Congress raised taxes on wine in the early 90's, producers turned away from wine coolers. Beverages based on cheaper barley malt filled the void in this market with a new popular drink category, often called "flavored malt beverages" or "malternatives". Not surprisingly, these beverages taste more like soda than beer. See Spritzer.

Woody

Wine that has been aged in a barrel for a long time can acquire a barrel or "woody" taste. In the New World, a certain woodiness is often characteristic of Chardonnay, but an overwhelming oaky aroma and taste are definitely not desirable. Among wine aficionados, there is much debate regarding how long wine should age in barrels, and the benefits such aging might lend to a wine.

Back To Top

Yeast

God bless this single-celled fungi because without it there would be no bread, beer, or wine. Via a process known as fermentation (and discovered by Louis Pasteur) yeast converts the sugars in wine into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. The latter, when prevented from escaping into the air, is what lends effervescence to sparkling wines. Wild yeasts are a fact of life in a vineyard, where they reside on the skins of the fruit. After harvesting, the grapes will begin fermenting on their own if given enough time, particularly when the skins are broken via crushing, exposing the yeast to the sugars within the juice. In modern times, science has contributed extensively to viniculture by isolating and identifying the best yeast strains for a given style of wine. Today's wine producers can select yeasts with certain characteristics to use in combination with different varietals.

Yeasty

A wine that has gone through a secondary fermentation, like Champagne for example, may sometimes have a slight smell or flavor of freshly baked bread. In addition to Champagne, certain other wines are made to age sur lie meaning "on the lees" (which is composed primarily of dead yeast sediment left over after fermentation). These wines are also apt to have a similar yeasty flavor. This sur lie aging is designed to impart desirable complex qualities to some Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, and a slight yeasty characteristic is generally considered a positive attribute in these wines as long as it's not too prominent. For other styles of wine that have not gone through a secondary fermentation or been aged on lees, a yeasty quality is to be considered a defect.

Yield

The term is used to quantify the productivity of a vineyard or wine growing estate. Measuring yield is also a way to compare how different grape varietals fare in different geographic locations. Grape yield is referred to in terms of tons per acre in the U.S. and Australia, while Europe and South America refer to it as hectoliters per hectare. In addition to geography, yields also vary according to the varietal, microclimate, and individual vineyard practices. In the wine world, quality is associated with low yields, and often winemakers purposely lower the yield via a "green harvest". Immature grape bunches are pruned off of the vine, and this has the effect of causing increased flavor concentration in the remaining grapes. In Europe's highly regulated wine industry, in fact, the yields of a particular appellation may be subject to legal regulations in order to maintain the production of quality wine in that region. In the New World, modern viticultural approaches have, to a certain degree, allowed increased yields while simultaneously retaining quality. For winemakers worldwide, achieving the proper balance between the two is the key to keeping their vineyards profitable.

Young

A wine tasting term usually used to describe wines that are exuberant and full of lively, fresh fruit flavors. When it comes to age-worthy wine like a powerful, tannic Bordeaux, for instance, "young" can mean a wine is undeveloped and not yet ready to be fully enjoyed. Many full-bodied, assertive reds can remain young for over 10 years before hitting their pinnacle of complexity and balance.

Back To Top

Zinfandel

One could say this red wine varietal is California's claim to fame since it's grown almost exclusively in the state, with only small plantings elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world. It certainly originated in Europe, but its exact lineage remained a mystery until recently. Many believed it had descended from the Italian grape Primitivo but others theorized the reverse may actually have been true. What we know now, thanks to DNA testing, is Zinfandel and Primitivo are separate clones of the same original grape, identified as the Croatian varietal Crljenak. The exact history of those clones, likely taken from Crljenak at different points in time, remain somewhat of a mystery. Regardless of the origin, it's a widely planted grape of which California can be proud. The vines are older than those of most other varietals in the state and, as a result, Zinfandel produces very intense fruit and many of California's finest red wines. Zinfandel can be vinified into a wide range of styles from light and young to bold and powerful, and Zinfandels shine, too, as dessert wines and fortified wines in the style of Port. In most cases, however, Zinfandel is not very tannic, and so is best when enjoyed within 5 years of creation. Do not confuse true red Zinfandel with White Zinfandel. White Zinfandel is a style of blush wine made from Zinfandel grape juice that is removed from the skins very soon after crushing. See White Zinfandel.