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Glossary of wine terms

Whether you’re new to wines and feeling lost with all the jargon or consider yourself something of a connoisseur and want to clarify an unfamiliar term, this wine glossary is a helpful resource you might want to bookmark for future use.

Aftertaste
Describes the flavours left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Harsh, smooth, hot, and tannic are among the terms used to characterize aftertaste. Also known as ‘finish’.

Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC)
The highest legal classification of French wine, requiring conformity to the most regulations concerning viticulture, alcohol content etc.

Backbone
Wines with backbone are full-bodied red wines in which tannin and/or acidity predominates.

Balance
Wine in which individual taste elements are in harmony, with no individual one dominant. Can also describe a sense and ability that wine drinkers lose after excessive wine tasting.

Biodynamic
An exacting approach to wine-making based on the philosophy of Austrian Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics calls for organic production and considers the effects of the moon and stars on grape vines.

Body
Describes the wine’s perceived weight on the palate – e.g. light, medium or full.

Botrytis
A mould that attacks grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine. Can be used intentionally in the process of creating certain sweet wines, such as Sauternes and Tokay.

Breathing
Pouring a wine into another container – a glass or decanter – mixes it with air, which allows flavours to open up

Carbonic maceration
A method of winemaking that produces immediately drinkable red wines that are fruity, soft and with little tannin.

Claret
A red Bordeaux in British parlance.

Crémant
An effervescent wine produced in the Champagne region of France.

Crisp
Describes a pleasingly tart, young white wine that is fresh and easy to drink.

Crianza
Spanish red wines bearing this description must be aged at least 2 years, of which six months must be in barrel.

Cuvée
Denotes wine of a particular batch or blend. ‘Vat’ in French.

Decanting
Pouring wine from a bottle into another container for the purpose of aerating it (in a young wine) or separating it from any sediment (in older wines).

Entry
How the wine tastes just as it passes your lips. Sometimes called ‘attack’.

Eiswein
German dessert wine made from frozen grapes (literally ‘ice wine’).

Finish
How the wine tastes when swallowed. And what you might want to do to the bottle if it’s pleasant.

Fresh
Describes wine with a fruity acidity: in general young whites, light reds and roses.

Fruity
General description for a wine made from ripe grapes, usually slightly sweeter.

Gran Reserva
Spanish classification of wines aged at least five years, of which two must be in barrel and three in bottle.

Grand Cru
In French literally ‘great growth’. Wine from the very top rated vineyards.

Kabinett
Denotes a high quality German wine with quality measured by sugar levels in the grape. The name comes from the idea that you put nice things on display in a cabinet.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
A style of Port produced to approach true vintage qualities for a fraction of the expense, by aging in wood for up to six years to soften the wine.

Late harvest
Describes dessert wines produced with grapes that have been on the vine much longer than usual, often after botrytis has set in.

Length
How a wine’s taste lingers on the palate after swallowed. A good length means a long finish.

Loire
A river in central France and the region renowned for producing Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Maceration
The process of leaving grape skins with grape juice during the fermentation process, further enhancing tannins and aromas.

Magnum
A bottle with contents equivalent to two regular 750ml bottles.

Malolactic fermentation
Quite a mouthful, this secondary fermentation process is used in the production of most red wines (and often in Chardonnays) to reduce sharpness and apparent acidity, namely by converting malic acids (apple) to smoother lactic (milk) acids.

Midpalate
The stage in wine tasting (after entry and before length and finish) in which one holds the wine in the mouth to form impressions on flavour, texture, tannins and acidity.

Mouthfeel
Perception of overall texture of the wine in the mouth through the entire tasting process.

Nose
A wine’s aroma or bouquet (the latter implies aging), as detected by the facial protuberance of the same name.

Oak
Wine is aged in oak barrels, imparting an ‘oaky’ taste and aroma, the intensity of which is determined by the duration of aging.

Oenology
The science of winemaking.

Premier Cru
‘First growth’ en francais; not Grand Cru but a very good vineyard.

Reserva
Spanish red wine that has been aged at least three years.

Structure
A tasting term referring to the completeness of the wine in terms of tannin and acidity levels.

Supertuscan
Not an Italian in tights and a mask who fights villains, but a group of red wines produced in Tuscany that aren’t in accordance with DOC regulations; often a blend containing Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.

Supple
A wine that goes down easy – no hard edges. Tends to imply balance and higher quality.

Tannin
Found in grape skins, stalks and pips, tannins account for any bitter taste in a wine. In proportion, this helps achieve a balanced character, but too much tannin is a fault.

Terroir
A French word, difficult to translate, that refers to the influence of soil, climate, and other natural factors on the ripening of grapes used for wine.

Texture
How a wine feels in the mouth, synonymous with mouthfeel.

Varietal wine
A wine made from one particular type of grape rather than a blend of two or more.

Vin de Pays
This French category of wines just above the lowest, Vin de Table, contains many good wines.

Vin de Table
The lowest category of French wines. Labels on Vin de Table bottles are not permitted to disply grape varieties or vintage. Best used for cooking or unwelcome guests.

Vintage
A specific year of harvest for a wine; a vintage wine is made from grapes harvested in a particular year.

Viticulture
The cultivation of grapes for winemaking.

Vitis vinifera
The species of grape from which all the world’s fine wine is produced, although often grafted onto a related species’ rootstock to protect the grapes from infestation by an aphid called Phylloxera vastatrix.

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