Wine Terms to Help You Sound Like an Expert

Wine Terms to Help You Sound Like an Expert

Don't know your Chardonnay from your Champagne? Not sure what mouthfeel really means or what wine legs are all about? Whether you’re a curious novice or seasoned aficionado, this glossary of wine terms will help you better understand and appreciate the wide world of wine. Plus, it'll give you the verbal prowess to sound like you know what you're talking about at the next wine tasting party

54 Must-Know Wine Terms From A to Z

Wine terms: Chilled Usual Wines Brut

While it's nearly impossible to include every word related to vino, this glossary features the top wine terms that'll help you out in real life — like when you're poppin’ bottles and trying to describe what you're seeing, tasting, and smelling. 

Here are 54 must-know words and phrases that decode the language of wine so you can confidently enjoy your oenophilic journey. (Don't worry, that word's covered, too.)

Acid

A natural part of wine that creates a lively taste and balances out the sweet and bitter components. Too much acid results in an overly tart, sharp, or sour wine; too little makes it flat and flabby. Acetic acid, citric acid, tartaric, malic acid, and lactic acid are the most common.

Aeration

Exposing wine to air so that it can "breathe" before drinking it. When oxygen is introduced to wine, it releases aromas and opens up flavors much like swirling wine in a glass does.

Aftertaste

The taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after tasting wine, also known as "finish.” This is the most significant factor in assessing a wine's character and quality. 

Alcohol By Volume

A measure of the alcohol levels in an alcoholic beverage, often truncated to ABV. The average glass of wine contains about 11-13% alcohol, but bottles can range from 5.5-20% ABV. 

Appellation

A legally defined geographical name that identifies where wine grapes were grown. In France, the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is the official certification for designated regions. In the United States, appellations are called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) — examples include Paso Robles, Sonoma Coast, and Napa Valley.

Biodynamic Wine

Wine produced according to the guidelines of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, which follows a holistic, ecological, and ethical method that forgoes synthetic chemicals or additives. Think of it as "organic plus."

Body

The sense of thickness on the palate resulting from a mix of the wine's alcohol content, sugar levels, and dissolved solids. A good analogy for wine body is milk — a light-bodied wine is akin to nonfat milk, medium-bodied wine is like whole milk, and full-bodied wine feels similar to creamer.

Bordeaux

A region in southwest France, as well as any wine produced in this location. Both red and white Bordeaux wines exist, but the red wine version is the most well-known.

Botrytis Cinerea

Better known by the more descriptive and easier-to-pronounce "noble rot" or "gray mold," botrytis cinerea is a beneficial fungus that grows on wine grapes and enhances sweetness and flavor complexity.

Brix

The sugar content of wine grapes that allows winemakers to measure the potential alcohol content of a wine before it’s produced.

Brut 

The French term for dry, which is the opposite of sweet in wine terms. Most often used to describe dry Champagne or sparkling wines.

Burgundy

A wine region in eastern France, as well as any wines (called Burgundies) produced there. The area's most well-known wines are dry reds made from Pinot Noir grapes and white wines made from Chardonnay grapes.

Cava

Spanish sparkling wine produced in the same fashion as Champagne. Consider it the Champagne of Spain.

Champagne

Sparkling wine made in the French geographical region of Champagne. Only sparkling wines produced in this specific area can be called Champagne with the uppercase “C," so be sure to check the wine label if you want the real deal. 

Chaptalization

The process of adding sugar to unfermented grapes in order to increase the alcohol content of the finished product.

Chardonnay

A wine grape used to make Champagne and other white wines. Also, wine made from this greenish-white grape.

Corked

A cork-top wine bottle that has been ruined with cork taint, a.k.a. spoilage that results in a musty smell and flat flavor.

Decanting

Pouring wine from one container into another, usually from a wine bottle to a decanter. Doing so allows the wine to aerate and separates it from any sediment. 

Dessert Wine

Any sweet wines served with dessert, typically in a small wine glass. Port, Moscato, late-harvest Riesling, and ice wine (made from grapes that froze while still on the vine) are examples. 

Dry

The opposite of sweet. (Also called "brut" in French.) If you're looking for sweet wine, avoid dry wine.

Fermentation

The winemaking process that turns grape juice into alcohol. Yeast is sometimes added to the grapes to convert the grape sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide, giving the wine its alcohol content.

View of a wine bottle from below

 

Fining

Also called clarifying, this technique in the winemaking process removes any unwanted particles (such as dead yeast cells) before bottling. The most common fining agents include gelatin, egg whites, milk, fish bladders, and bentonite clay.

Merlot

A black grape variety originally from the Bordeaux region of France. Also used to describe a dry, mild, and low-tannin red wine made from this grape.

Mouthfeel

The physical sensations in the mouth that wine (or any food or drink) creates. Smooth, velvety, sharp, or rough are some examples.

Must

Derived from the Latin word meaning "young wine," must is the unfermented grape juice that contains the fruit's skins, seeds, and stems.

Natural Wine

Although the term is not regulated by the FDA, natural wine means no artificial or synthetic ingredients have been added to it. 

Negociant

The French word for a wine merchant or wholesaler who buys grapes, grape juice, or wine in various stages from others and sells the final product under his or her name.

New World Wine

In the broadest sense, this is any wine from non-traditional European winegrowing regions, such as Africa, Australia, Chile, and Argentina. It also refers to a modern approach to winemaking that utilizes various technologies and manipulations.

Nose

Another word for aroma, this term describes the smell of wine in a glass. 

Oenology

The study and science of wine and winemaking.

Oenophile

A wine lover, plain and simple. Also called a vinophile if you want to keep it casual. 

Old World Wine

An umbrella term for traditional winegrowing regions in Europe, such as France, Italy, and Spain. It also implies tradition, history, and minimal intervention when it comes to winemaking. 

Organic Wine

Wine made with organic grapes and without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic ingredients. Organic wine production must follow organic farming practices, and the wine label will indicate this. 

Pinot

Literally translated as "pine" in French, pinot is any black or white grape variety used to make Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, respectively. Also refers to any wine made from these grapes. 

Racking

The act of transferring wine (or technically, grape juice) from one vessel to another to ensure that all sediment — including grape skins and seeds — is removed.

Red Wine

A type of wine produced from dark-colored grapes. Hues may range from a deep purple (young wines) to brick red (mature wines) and brown (older wines).

Residual Sugar

The amount of grape sugar left in wine after the fermenting process is complete and alcohol is created.

Usual Wines Brut next to glass

 

Rosé Wine

Also known as blush wine, rosé is a genre of wine — like reds and whites — that can be made from any red grape and cultivated in any wine region. The time it ferments with grape skins is shorter than with red wine, which creates its signature pink hue. 

Sommelier

A wine expert who suggests, selects, and serves wine at restaurants. The most dedicated sommeliers take courses and exams to get certified, which establishes their skills in tasting and evaluation, wine knowledge, and service.

Sparkling Wine

Any wine with enough carbon dioxide to make it fizzy and bubbly. A term often used interchangeably with champagne (lowercase "c"), although such usage contributes to the continuing confusion about these wine terms.

Sulfites

Naturally occurring compounds found in wine (as well as the human body and some foods). Sulfites can also be artificially created to prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria in wine, which could ultimately ruin its taste, texture, and color

Table Wine

An everyday wine that's affordable and of decent quality. It also refers to a wine that's not fortified or sparkling.

Tannins

Natural compounds found in wine that create an astringent, drying, and bitter flavor on the tongue. Typically, red wines are more tannic than white wines. High-tannin reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet Franc.

Terroir

From the French word "terre," meaning “earth,” terroir describes the entire natural environment where a particular wine is produced, including the soil, climate, and topography.

Usual Wines

Delicious, clean wine — packaged in convenient single-serve bottles — made the Old-World way in small batches from sustainably-farmed grapes with no sugar, no chemical additives, and minimal intervention.

Varietal

Another word for grape variety; made from or belonging to a single variety of grape. Examples include Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, and Zinfandel.

Viniculture

The practice of cultivating grapes for winemaking.

Viticulture

The practice of growing grapevines, be it for wine or grape juice.

White Wine

A type of wine produced from grapes that are fermented without grape skin contact. Wine colors may range from pale yellow to yellowish-green to deep gold. 

Wine Legs

Also known as wine tears, these streaks form on the sides of a wine glass after swirling. Although believed to indicate wine quality, that's just a myth. Get the facts here.

Wine Pairing

The art of combining food with wine to create the best possible eating and drinking experience.

Yeast

Sugar-eating fungus that turns grape juice into wine during fermentation.

Zinfandel

A popular black-skinned wine grape variety often grown in California.

Zymology

The science of fermentation in wine.

Understanding Wine on Your Own Terms

Wine terms: Usual Wines bottles cast shadow

 

When it comes to broadening your wine vocabulary, familiarizing yourself with these wine terms is certainly a good start. After all, to fully appreciate something, you need to understand it. And there's plenty to learn about the wonderful world of wine and its journey from grape to glass. For more top tips and must-have info, check out the Usual Wines knowledge base so you can quench your thirst whenever, wherever, and however you want.