Wine Glossary (A to Z)

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If you’ve ever been to a wine tasting or out to dinner with friends and felt like you were in over your head when the conversation turned to wine, this glossary is for you.

Here are common wine terms you might encounter, along with detailed explanations to help you sound like a pro 🙂

ABV

ABV is the scientific term for alcohol by volume, and it is used to measure the amount of alcohol in a wine.

The higher the ABV, the more alcohol content a wine has. Most wines range from about 9-16% ABV.

Acidification

Acidification in wine is the process of adding acid to the wine. This can be done for several reasons, such as to adjust the pH, add flavor, or preserve the wine.

The most common type of acid used in wine is tartaric acid. Other acids that are sometimes used include citric acid, tartaric acid, etc.

This practice is more common in hot climates as compared to cooled ones.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are an important part of wine, as they contribute to the overall flavor and aroma of the drink.

Different wines will have different amino acid profiles, depending on the grape variety and wine-making process; red wine, for example, can have amino acids anywhere between 400-1,300 mg/L.

These molecules can interact with each other and with other chemicals in wine, influencing the taste, mouthfeel, and overall quality of the wine.

Aroma Compounds

Aroma compounds are chemicals that are responsible for the perceived smell of a wine.

These molecules interact with our olfactory receptors to produce different aromas.

Some common aroma compounds found in wines include esters, terpenes, and phenols.

Astringency

Astringency is a term used to describe the drying sensation that certain wines can leave on your palate.

This sensation is caused by the presence of tannins in the wine, which are compounds found in the skins and seeds of grapes.

Tannins give wines their structure and help to preserve them as they age. Wines that are high in tannins can often taste bitter, or have an astringent quality.

Body

The body of a wine is its viscosity. A wine’s body is determined by the amount of alcohol and sugar present. The more alcohol and sugar, the fuller-bodied the wine.

Brix

Brix is a term that is used to describe the sugar content in grapes.

The sugar content of grapes is important because it determines how much alcohol will be present in the wine.

The higher the sugar content, the higher the alcohol content.

Brix is measured using a refractometer, which measures the amount of light that is bent when it passes through a liquid.

Carbonic Maceration

Carbonic maceration is a process that happens during wine-making in which whole grapes are fermented while they are still intact.

This process can result in wines that are fruity and light-bodied. This practice is followed by entry-level Beaujolais wines.

Chaptalization

Chaptalization is a process where sugar is added to grape must in order to increase the alcohol content of the wine.

This was traditionally done in cooler climates (like Germany, France, etc.) where grapes didn’t ripen fully and thus had less sugar.

Chaptalization is now banned in many countries (such as the United States), but was historically used to make wines more alcoholic and thus longer lasting.

Clarification / Fining

As wines age, they often become cloudy due to the accumulation of tartrates, proteins, and other particles suspended in the tartrate wine.

These particles can cause the wine to taste bitter and can also make it appear less appealing.

To improve the taste and clarity of wines, many producers will engage in a process called clarification, or fining.

Clarification involves adding substances known as fining agents to the wine.

These agents bind to the particles suspended in the wine, causing them to fall out of suspension and settle at the bottom of the barrel or bottle.

The most common fining agents used include egg whites, bentonite clay, and gelatin.

After a few weeks of storage, the wine is then racked off of its sediment, leaving behind a clarified wine that is brighter in appearance and smoother in flavor.

Clarity

When we talk about clarity in wine, we’re referring to how clear and bright the wine is.

Wine can be cloudy for a number of reasons, including poor filtration or simply because it’s an unfiltered style of wine.

But generally speaking, a clear wine is going to be more appealing than a cloudy one.

Cloying

Cloying is a term used to describe wines that are excessively sweet.

These wines can be difficult to drink because they are so sickly sweet. Some people enjoy cloying wines, but others find them to be too much.

Clone

In the wine world, a clone is a vine that has been propagated from a single parent plant.

Clones can be created through vegetative propagation, which is when a cutting is taken from the parent plant and then rooted to create a new plant.

Clones are often used in viticulture, or grape-growing because they can provide growers with vines that are genetically identical to the parent plant.

This means that the clones will have the same characteristics as the parent, including things like disease resistance and flavor profile.

Dessert wines

Dessert wines are typically sweet, rich, and full-bodied.

They can be made from a variety of grapes, including Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling.

Dessert wines are often served with dessert or as an after-dinner drink.

Diacetyl

Diacetyl is a chemical that is produced during the fermentation process of wine. It is also found in other foods and beverages such as beer, butter, and some types of cheese.

Diacetyl gives the wine a buttery or creamy flavor and aroma. Too much diacetyl can make wine taste artificial or “off.”

Effervescence

Effervescence in wine is caused by the presence of carbon dioxide gas. When wine is first made, it is in contact with the air and starts to oxidize.

This process creates carbon dioxide gas, which dissolves into the wine. Over time, the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide decreases, and the wine becomes less effervescent.

Eiswein

Eiswein is a type of ice wine that is made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine.

The freezing process concentrates the sugars in the grapes, resulting in a sweet, intense wine.

Eiswein is typically made from Riesling or Gewürztraminer grapes and is produced in limited quantities due to the challenging conditions required for frozen grapes.

Esters

An ester is an organic compound formed by the reaction of an acid with an alcohol. Esters are found in many fruits and wines and contribute to their flavor and aroma.

In wine, esters are responsible for fruity flavors and aromas, as well as some floral and spice notes.

The most common esters in wine are ethyl acetate and isoamyl acetate.

Fortified Wine

Fortified wine is a type of wine that has been enhanced with a distilled spirit, typically brandy.

This process fortifies the wine, meaning it increases the alcohol content and makes the wine more stable.

Fortified wines are often used in cooking because they can add a complex flavor to dishes.

Grape Must

The must is the freshly pressed juice of grapes that includes the skins, seeds, and stems.

The term grape must refer to this unfermented juice that is full of natural sugars.

The must is an important component in wine making as it provides the yeast with food for fermentation and determines the final alcohol content of the wine.

Horizontal Pairing

Horizontal wine pairing is when you pair a particular wine with a food dish. For example, you could pair white wine with chicken or fish or red wine with beef or lamb.

Ice wine

Ice wine is produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine.

This results in a highly concentrated grape juice.

Ice wine is typically made from Riesling or Vidal Blanc grapes and has a sweetness and viscosity similar to honey.

It is usually served in small glasses, as it is very rich and sweet.

Late-harvest wines

Late-harvest wines are made from grapes that have been left on the vine longer than usual (way past the harvest time).

This extra time on the vine concentrates the sugars in the grape, resulting in a sweeter wine.

Lees

Lees are the dead yeast cells and other solids that fall to the bottom of a wine tank or bottle during fermentation.

Although lees contact is often considered undesirable in white wines because it can impart a yeasty flavor, many winemakers believe that lees aging can add complexity and roundness of flavor to both red and white wines.

Malolactic Fermentation

Malolactic fermentation is a process in which bacteria convert the harsh-tasting malic acid in wine into softer-tasting lactic acid.

This can give the wine a rounder, creamier mouthfeel and can help to preserve it.

Mouthfeel

Mouthfeel is a wine term that refers to the way a wine feels in your mouth.

It can be affected by many factors, including alcohol content, tannins, acidity, and sugar levels.

It is associated with a variety of sensations – thinness and thickness, fineness and coarseness, softness and hardness.

A wine with high alcohol content may feel “hot” or “burny,” while a wine with high tannins may feel “astringent” or “dry.”

Natural Wine

Natural wine is made with grapes that are grown organically and are free of chemical pesticides.

The grapes are also fermented using wild yeasts rather than commercial yeast strains. Natural wines often have a cloudy appearance and a more funky flavor than traditional wines.

Neutral Match Wine Pairing

A “neutral match” is when a wine is paired with a food that does not have a strong flavor.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you are looking for in a pairing.

If you are looking for an individualized and superior gastronomic experience, then a neutral match may not be ideal.

No Match Wine Pairing

No match means that the wine you are drinking does not pair well with the food you are eating.

Noble Rot

Noble Rot is a type of mold that affects grapes, and it is considered beneficial to the wine-making process.

The mold causes the grape to shrivel, which concentrates the sugar content and results in a sweeter wine.

Off-Dry

Off-dry wines are those that have a slight sweetness to them. This is usually due to the wine having a higher sugar content than dry wines.

Many people enjoy off-dry wines because they provide a nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity of the wine.

Orange Wine

Orange wine is a type of white wine that is made using red wine grapes.

The skins of the grapes are left in contact with the juice during fermentation, which gives the wine its orange color.

Orange wines are usually dry and have a higher acidity than traditional white wines.

Oxidation

Oxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs when oxygen interacts with another substance.

In the context of wine, oxidation can refer to the process by which oxygen molecules interact with grape juice or wine, causing it to change color and flavor.

Oxidation can occur during the wine-making process or after a bottle of wine has been opened and exposed to air.

While some oxidation is necessary for the development of certain flavors in wine, too much oxidation can cause a wine to become sour, flat, and unappetizing.

pH

The pH of a wine is a measure of its acidity. The lower the pH, the more acidic the wine.

Wines with a high acidity tend to be tart and tangy, while those with a low acidity are more mellow and smooth.

Phenols

Phenols are a class of organic compounds that are found in many plants, including grapes.

They are responsible for the characteristic aromas and flavors of wines.

Some common phenols in wine include catechins, tannins, and anthocyanins. Phenols can also contribute to the astringency and bitterness of wines.

Port Wine

Port wine is a type of fortified wine that is made in the Douro Valley in Portugal.

It is made from red grapes that are grown in this region and then fermented with brandy.

Port wine is then aged in barrels for a period of time before it is bottled. Port wine has a sweet, rich flavor and is often served as a dessert wine.

Reduction

Reduction in wine refers to a lack of oxygen exposure during the wine-making process.

This can result in wines that are more concentrated and have higher levels of alcohol.

The reduction can also cause a wine to have less fruitiness and more savory flavors.

Refreshment Match Wine Pairing

A Refreshment match is when a wine is paired with a food that has similar flavors. This can help to cleanse the palate and make the wine taste more refreshing.

Residual Sugar

Residual sugar is the natural sugar that is left in a wine after fermentation.

This sugar can come from the grapes themselves, or it can be added by the winemaker.

Residual sugar gives wines their sweetness, and it is one of the main factors that determine a wine’s body and mouthfeel.

Sommelier

A sommelier is a professional wine taster and consultant. They are experts in all things wine, from grape varietals to wine regions and styles.

A sommelier can help you choose the perfect wine for any occasion, whether it’s a special dinner party or a casual night in with friends.

Sulfites

Sulfites are a class of compounds that occur naturally in some foods and drinks and are also added to others as preservatives.

Wines contain sulfites, which occur naturally during the fermentation process, as well as added sulfites, which are used as preservatives.

Sulfites can cause allergic reactions in some people, and these reactions can range from mild to severe.

Synergistic Match Wine Pairing

A synergistic match is when two wines are paired together, and the combination is greater than the sum of its parts.

The flavors and aromas of the wines interact with each other to create a new, more complex flavor profile that neither wine would have had on its own.

Synergistic matches can be found by trial and error or by following some basic guidelines.

For example, red wines tend to pair well with bolder, richer foods, while white wines are often a good choice for lighter fare.

Tannin

Tannins are an organic compound found in grapes that give the wine its astringent taste. They also help preserve wine, allowing it to be aged.

Terroir

Terroir is a French term that refers to the unique characteristics of a particular piece of land that give a wine its distinctive flavor.

The factors that contribute to a wine’s terroir include the type of grape used, the climate, the soil, and even the slope of the vineyard.

All of these elements come together to create a wine that is truly unique to its place of origin.

Typicity

Typicity is a term used to describe how well a wine represents its varietal and regional characteristics.

In other words, how “typical” the wine is of its grape and place of origin.

Wines can be more or less typical depending on a number of factors, including climate, viticulture practices, and wine-making style.

Umami

Umami is a Japanese word that refers to the fifth taste, which is savory.

It’s often described as a “meaty” or “brothy” flavor, and it’s found in foods like mushrooms, soy sauce, and Parmesan cheese.

Wines with umami flavors can have a similar savory quality, and they’re often described as being “full-bodied” or “complex.”

Umami flavors can add depth and dimension to wine, making it more interesting to drink.

Vertical pairings

A “vertical pairing” is a more complicated process of matching several food courses with several wines in a multicourse, progressive dinner.

This type of pairing is often used when hosting a dinner party or other event where multiple courses will be served.

Vinification

Vinification is the process of making wine, which includes crushing and fermenting the grapes.

Vinous

Vinous refers to the overall characteristics of a wine, including its aroma, flavor, body, and color.

These characteristics are determined by the grape variety, the terroir, and the wine-making process.

Volatile Acidity

Volatile acidity is one of the main indicators of a wine’s quality.

It is a measure of the amount of acetic acid in wine and is an important factor in determining a wine’s taste, smell, and overall balance.

Volatile acidity is also a good indicator of a wine’s age; as wine ages, the level of volatile acidity decreases.

High levels of volatile acidity cause wine to spoil.

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About Barbara Foster

Barbara is a traveler who has traveled to more than 25 countries. She loves the variety of food she gets to experience on her trips and maintains detailed journals of her travels which she plans to publish as a book someday. She loves to bake. Her favorite cuisines are Italian, French, and Mexican.

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