Wine Glossary

Anti Wine Snob’s Wine Words and Slurs

Caveat: With much knowledge comes much responsibility.Upon enlightenment, it will take concerted efforts of non-snobbery to refrain from tossing around words such as “palate” or“bouquet”.Learn and discern at your own risk.

Acetic or Acetic Acid: Like Vinegar or Vinegar. The taste of acetic acid in wine is often a sickeningly sweet/sour flavor. Acetic Acid flavor is also often joined by the flavor of ethyl acetate (acetone).

Acetone: Ethyl Acetate. Tastes and smells like nail polish remover. Excessive Ethyl Acetate is often formed when wine spoiled with acetic acid reacts with the wine’s ethyl alcohol and forms ethyl acetate. Not a tasty thing.

Acidity: A number of acids in a wine that give it crispness and structure. Too much is sour and harsh, but too little makes a wine taste flat, or as the wine tasters like to say, “flabby”. For more info on this, see antiwinesnob‘s article on Tannins and Acidity.

Appellation: A term that refers to an official area (a specific region with actual boundaries) where wine is grown. Every country has its own appellation system, but they were modeled after France’s AOC system.

AOC: Appellation d’Origine Controlee. A defined region where wine is grown. France’s Appellation system.

AVA: American Viticultural Area. USA’s Appellation System.

Barreled or Barrel-Aged: Wine that has been aged in wooden barrels, often to give it a softer, more “oaky” or “vanilla” flavor. Frequently, these barrels are made of oak.

Body: A wine tasting term that describes the fullness/density of a wine in your mouth: in other words, whether it feels light (as in, “It’s got a light body”) or heavy.

Bouquet: This word is used by many people when referring to the wine’s aroma. However, its “correct” use is actually applied when referring to an older wine’s aromatic complexities. It is not to be used when referring to younger wine. Hey. Isn’t that discrimination?

Cassis: French word simply meaning “black currant.” So, why do California wine labels state “cassis” on their tasting notes instead of black currant? An excellent antiwinesnob point to ponder….

Cellar/Cellared: To store wine in a cool, dry place for a period of time.

Cuvée: Cuvée comes from a French word meaning vat. It is usually employed to indicate that the wine has been created by a mix of several varieties or blended with other vats to ensure uniformity of quality and is often looked upon as that vintner’s recipe–much the same way as a perfumer will create a new perfume by blending several oils.

Cuvee is also used in the world of sparkling wines to indicate only juice from the first press of grapes has been used. While a press holds about 4000 kilograms (8800 pounds) of grapes, the first press of juice results in about 2050 liters (541 gallons) of juice and is considered the best quality. Juice pressed after this initial time is refered to as the tail or taille.

Deep: Means the wine has lots of flavors, often very layered and changing.

DO: 1. Denominacion de Origen (“place name”). Spain’s appellation system.

(Sometimes also called “Denominacin de Origen, Calificada” or DOC for short)

2. In a completely different context, “DO” can also be used when referring to the amount of oxygen in wine–short for “dissolved oxygen”.

DOC: 1. Denominazione de Origin Controllata (“controlled place name”). Italy’s Appellation system.

2. Denominacao de Origem Controlada. Portugal’s appellation system.

3. Denominacion de Origen, Calificada. Spain’s appellation system. Also see “DO” above.

Dry: At term used to categorize the wine’s lack of sweetness. Dry is the opposite of sweet and usually present in more acidic wines. See antiwinesnob‘s article on Dry and Sweet wines for more info.

Dumb: Not your little sister. At least in this application, it’s a wine tasting word used when a wine has no scent or flavor. In other words, since the wine cannot express itself, it is mute or dumb.

Ethyl Acetate: See Acetone.

Finish: Referring to the lingering flavor of wine after you’ve sipped it.

Flabby: What too much wine sipping can turn your tummy into. Not the definition you were looking for? Okay. It’s a wine tasting term referring to the flatness and lack of acidity in a wine.

Glycerol: Sugar alcohol content in wine, which is believed by many to affect the wine’s flavor.

Legs:   A huge thanks to a reader who has set AWS straight on this.  “Legs” (also called “tears”) refers to the trails of liquid that run down the sides of the glass when you swirl it.   The more ethanol alcohol in the wine, the more “legs”, which are a result of the differing surface tensions between water and alcohol.     Legs are caused when you swirl a glass, thereby breaking the surface tension of the liquid.  The ethanol, which has a much lower evaporation point than water, clings to the side of the glass and begins to evaporate while the water pulls the liquid back down, thereby creating the effect of tears or legs that you see.  Scientifically, it is called the Gibbs-Marangoni Effect and AWS likes the explanation of this effect on wine found here.

But wait!  There’s more!

A common belief is that these legs are an indicator of the richness and quality of wine and evidence the level of glycerol.  While glycerol, a sugar alcohol, may be found in small amounts in wine, and may contribute to the perception of smoothness or sweetness (but this, too, seems to be a matter of debate), it is understood that glycerol does not produce the “legs” as described above because of its high boiling point, thereby having very little vapor pressure at room temperature.

Furthermore, while the legs in wine do determine the ethanol alcohol content, it really has nothing to do with the quality of the wine, other than, obviously, how the ethanol may affect it.

Malolactic Fermentation “Malo“: A second fermentation process that converts malic acid (a harsher acid) into lactic acid (a softer, smoother acid). Done normally with red wines, but can be done with white wines as well.

Marc: A French word for the skins, pips and stems of grapes already pressed. Also called pomace.

Meniscus: The rim of the wine in a glass. Also called “rim color”. The meniscus is often studied during a wine tasting to determine the level of the wine’s concentration and/or maturity. The darker and more dense the colors seen in the meniscus, the more full-bodied and rich the wine is expected to be.

Must: Crushed grapes and its juice before fermentation.

Nose: A term used in the wine-world to indicate either the smell of the wine (i.e., the aroma) or the act of smelling the wine (i.e., to sniff). And if I hear you saying this, I’m putting the antwinesnob gestapo on you.

Oenology: The study/science of winemaking.

Oenophile: A wine pervert. Just kidding. Oenophile means a wine expert or connoisseur. It comes from two Greek words: “oinos” meaning wine, and “philia” meaning love. So, literally, Oenophile means “lover of wine”.

Off Dry: A wine that is just slightly sweet.

Oxidized: When it is exposed to oxygen. Wine can purposefully be oxidized by the vintner to make a wine taste a bit more nutty or mature (often used in making sherry, for example). However, wine is also oxidized when a bottle is not properly sealed or once a bottle is opened and exposed to air. If left for too long, the wine decomposes and begins to taste and smell like vinegar. Before it reaches that state, however, it will take on a spoiled, old or stale taste and can have an undesired nutty flavor. Some people describe the smell of oxidized wine as smelling like old, cut apples.

Palate: A wine tasting term people like to use to appear intelligent. It refers to the feel and taste of a wine in your mouth. “Palate” in the literal sense, refers to the roof of your mouth (hard palate), and the soft, fleshy part between your hard palate and the opening of your throat (soft palate). Generally, when people refer to palate in terms of wine tasting, they either mean their soft palate or simply their entire mouth and tongue.

Peppery: A wine tasting term that can mean a number of things. It can mean the wine tastes like black pepper or chili pepper (also described as “spicy”). It can also be used when a person means the wine tastes like green bell peppers (although I wish they wouldn’t–to me, that just confuses things).

pH: Potential Hydrogen. Basically, for our purposes, it is a measure of acidity in wine. The higher the pH, the lower the acidity.

Pip: Grape seeds.

Plonk: An insulting term often used when referring to inexpensive wine. I’m going to be fair here and suggest that it’s probably intended to be used more towards inexpensive wine that’s not any good.

Pomace: The skins, pips and stems of grapes already pressed. Also called marc.

QbA: Qualitaetswein bestimmer Anbaugebeite. Germany’s Appellation system.

Reserve: A term used to indicate a higher quality of wine and one that has been aged. This term has different standards of meaning depending on where you get your wine, but in the USA, it has no legal meaning. (As in, a USA winemaker can put “Reserve” on its bottle and this may or may not mean the wine is of higher quality or that it has been aged.)

Residual Sugar: Sugar that is left over in wine after the fermentation process has been completed. For more info, see antiwinesnob’s article on Sweet Wine, Dry Wine and the Fermentation Process.

Ripe: When a wine has reached its peak and should be drunk. If you have a ripe wine that you cannot drink right away, please contact antiwinesnob immediately for wine-waste mitigation. 😉

Spicy: Aroma and/or flavor that tastes of black pepper, chili pepper, cloves or even licorice (also called anise).

Still Wine: It just means not carbonated.

Structure: The firmness of a wine’s taste. Acidity and Tannins give a wine its structure.

Sulfites: Salts left over from a gas called sulfur dioxide that is often used as a preservative in wine.

Sweet: Seriously? Well, okay. I’ve looked it up before, too. It just means the level of sweetness in a wine. It refers to the residual sugar content. For more info, see antiwinesnob‘sSweet Wine, Dry Wine article.

Tail or Taille: The second and third pressings of juice. The tail is considered less desirable and of poorer quality than the cuvee (the first press of juice).

Tannin: A group of phenolic compounds from the grapes’ skins, seed and stems (and also from wooden barrels) that give the wine a bitter, dry or puckering feeling when you drink it. Found mostly in red wine. For more information, see antiwinesnob‘s article on Tannins and Acidity.

Tears: See “Legs”

Terroir: A French term coming from a Latin word meaning “soil”.  Terroir refers to the entire region and climate from which a grape was grown, such as soil, native plants and air.  People sometime refer to a wine’s terroir when they are discussing or describing the wine’s mineraly or other distinctive flavors indicative of the grapes’ region. The concept of terroir is that wines take on the flavors of where they were grown.  (Side note: thank you to AWS reader Jane, for pointing out the earlier transposition snafu.  “Terroir” is the correct spelling, not “Terrior”.)

Texture: A wine word used to describe how the wine feels in your mouth.

Trocken: German word meaning “dry”.

Vintage: The year that grapes in the bottle of wine were harvested.

Variety: The type of grape. For more info, see antiwinesob‘s article on the Difference between Variety and Varietal.

Varietal: A wine made from one specific type of grape (or a required percentage of a specific type of grape). For more info, see antiwinesnob‘s article on the Difference between Variety and Varietal.

Viscosity: A term often used in describing the wine’s appearance and thickness. A higher or thicker viscosity simply means that the wine appears thicker and more condensed. It is derived from the word viscid which means having an adhesive or glutinous quality.


Vintner: A person who makes wine.

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