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Glossary of wine terms that every wine lover should know

Excerpts taken from “Red And White” Wine Made Simple
by Max Allen

Acid – A component of grapes and wine. Despite the harsh, sour connotations of the word, acid (particularly tartaric acid) is important to the structure and balance of wine, contributing zest, life and freshness and helping the wine age.

Acidic – Zingy, crisp, fresh, lively, juicy. tangy, zesty, lemony, citrusy - these are all good synonyms for acidic when the acid has contributed positively to a wine's structure. Sharp, tart and sour can all be used to describe a wine with excessive or unbalanced acid.

Aggressive – Wine that hits you in the mouth, that feels like it’s marching up and down on your tongue in acid-heeled stilettos, or thumping your gums in with tannin sledge hammers, might be described as aggressive.

Alcohol – Without it, wine would just be interesting grape juice. A funny poison, alcohol in moderation can be a wonderful thing; immoderation gives you a sore head and can do you serious damage.

Aldehyde – A nutty-smelling compound produced when juice or wine comes into contact with oxygen in a controlled way. Most often used as a tasting adjective with styles such as sparkling and fortified, as in: ‘my word, this old vintage champagne has wonderful nutty, aldehydic characters.’

Aperitif – The drink you drink before you’re having a drink. Good Aperitif wines, like sparkling wine or dry sherry, should tickle the taste buds and leave you thirsty for more.

Appellation – Geographically defined wine region. In France, where the word originated, the appellation controllee system is governed by detailed laws about what varieties can be planted where, and how wines can be made.

Aromatic – A catch -all phrase that refers to wines with strong positive aromas, such as the powerfully varietal smells of good sauvignon blanc.

Austere – A wine that tastes a little mean, hard and tight is austere, as though the flavors are there, but the wine doesn’t want to give them to you.

Balanced – All of life is about balance. Isn’t it? Wine’s part of this. A wine that is balanced has all its elements - fruit, tannin, acid, length - in seamless harmony.

Clean – simply a wine that is free of faults, fresh tasting, pleasant. Clean can occasionally be a more loaded description, implying that the wine is technically correct, but not overly exciting.

Coarse – Wine that’s a bit unsubtle and rough tasting is coarse - a bit too tannic, a bit too acidic. Unbalanced might be more correct; rustic might be more diplomatic.

Complex – You take a sniff and smell blackberries. You take another sniff and smell cherries. Another and wet undergrowth. Another and just a hint of fresh cracked pepper. You taste it and it seems to fill your mouth with a basket of dark fruits, layer upon layer coating your tongue in explosions of flavor. This is a complex wine.

Concentrated – Seems as though the wine’s flavors concentrate along the center of your palate; often found in wines made from low yields of old vines.

Decanting – Pouring a wine from one vessel into another, usually to get the wine away from any sediment or crust that might have fallen to the bottom, and to allow the wine to breathe.

Sediment – is usually made up of tannins and pigments that with time, have fallen out of solution and tartrate crystals , the solidified form of tartaric acid. Breathing gets rid of any bottle stink or stale odors that may build up over time, too, and perks the wine up a bit by giving it a gentle shake.

Dusty – The tannins in young red wines gives a bizarre impression of being dry and dusty along the sides and back of your tongue.

Extractive – A red wine which has a little too much color and or tannin for its own good, which makes it unbalanced.

Fat – Self-explanatory, really; a wine that fills the mouth and sits like a lump on the palate. Not necessarily a good thing, as it indicates the wine doesn’t have enough acidity to balance it.

Fermentation – The furious, frenzied, bubbling process where yeasts convert sugar to alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat.

Filtering – Filtering is done by passing the wine through a very fine filter. Purists claim that these processes also strip the wine of some of its flavor and character, so they don’t dine or filter their wine, preferring complexity to stability.

Firm – Solid, taut, tense, sturdy - a more pleasant version of austere.

Fleshy – A more positive way to saying “fat”: a wine with plenty of palpable fruit in the mouth.

Floral – Literally smelling like flowers.

Forward – A wine that seems to be getting old before its time.

Fragrant – A wine with lifted, sometimes ethereal, light, delicate aromas.

Fruity – Literally smelling strongly of fruit. Some grape varieties have distinctive fruit aromas associated with them. Some wines, especially blends of more than one grape variety, just smell broadly of “red fruits’ or “citrus fruits.”

Full bodied – A wine that fills the mouth and seems to impose the palate - in contrast with medium-bodied and light-bodied wines, which make a less imposing impression.

Gamey – Similar territory of the earthy range of smells; gamey, leathery, meaty smells and flavors often appear in older wines.

Herbaceous – There are two main reasons why a wine might smell grassy, herbaceous or green. It’s either meant to - like sauvignon blanc- or the grapes that made it were under-ripe - like some red wines grown in very cool climates.

Hot – Wine made from overripe grapes grown in warm climates can produce a hot tasting burn of alcohol at the back of the throat. The fruit in those wines can also taste a bit jammy.

Lees – All the material that falls to the bottom of the tank, barrel or vat of fermenting wine; the dead yeast cells, the bits of pulp, the seeds and some bits of skin and stalk. Also refers to the dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom of a bottle of sparkling wine after its secondary fermentation.

Long – A very good thing. A wine that has a long finish is one whose flavors seem to go on and on for seconds, right down to the back of your throat. The opposite, is a wine with a short finish.

Malolactic – The process that can take place in newly fermented wine where every fermentation hard malic acid (the acid found in tart apples) is converted by bacteria to much softer, lactic acid (the acid found in milk). It can happen spontaneously, but most winemakers induce it.

Must – After the grapes have been crushed, and before they become wine, the juice, pulp and skins is known as must.

Oxidation – The effect of oxygen on the chemicals in wine where the wine slowly oxidizes and goes brown and glat, eventually turning into vinegar. But in a controlled way - in the production of Sherry and some sparklings - exposure to oxygen can make the wine more complex.

Phylloxera – A tiny louse that likes to munch on the roots of grapevines.

Pungent – More than just aromatic, pungent refers to those special moments when you come across a wine that really lets off a smell - mostly good, but sometimes not.

Reserve – Strictly should mean held in reserve to be released at a later date, but is used often to indicate a better-than-average quality wine.

Rich – Wine with lots of viscosity, flesh, substance and fruit.

Smoky – Some white varieties exhibit a dusky, smoky perfume and sometimes barrels can give wines stored in them a different, more pungent smoky, charred aroma.

Soft – A docile, smooth, elegant, well-balanced, mature, approachable wine.

Spicy – Like smoky aromas, spicy characters can come from the grape varieties.

Sulphur – Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is added to prevent spoilage or oxidation in the finished wine.

Tannin – A puckering astringency caused by tannins which is found in grape skins. Red wines are usually high in tannin if they are made from grapes with thick skins or have extensive contact with stalks during fermentation.

Terrior – How the combination of soil, slope, sunlight and so on in a vineyard affect the taste of the resulting wine.

Velvety – Wine which is seamless, balanced and has a smooth, supple texture in the mouth.

Viticulture – The practice of growing vines.

Woody – A term that covers all sorts of descriptions from the vanilla-like smell of new oak barrels to the cedar wood smell of old cabernet and also covering the toasty smells, the dusty smells and even the dirty old barrel smells.

Yeast – It is the yeast cells, which are already in the area or introduced by the winemaker, that convert sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat.