Find below a glossary, ordered from A to Z, of the most commonly unknown or misunderstood wine terms that are very frequently used by wine professionals and connoisseurs.
There are currently 51 wine terms listed and their meaning explained below. I will be adding definitions regularly to provide as much useful explanations as possible.
If you spot any important wine terms missing below, let me know in the comment section and I will update for everyone to enjoy. Tx 😊
Wine Vocabulary Definitions – From A to Z
Acidity: A natural component of every wine, acidity in wine is composed mainly of 5 types of organic acids: tartaric acid, malic acid, lactic acid, citric acid and acetic acid. Acidity in wine is measured using the Total Acidity (TA) and pH measurements. Both give an indication of the perceived sharpness in a wine, depending on the balancing effect of residual sugars, alcohol and glycerol. Acidity is acknowledged as being a key factor in a wine’s age-worthiness or longevity, more acidic wines tending to age better. As a general rule, white wines contain a greater acidity that red wines.
Alcohol: the product of the alcoholic fermentation by yeasts transforming sugars (mainly glucose and fructose in fruits) into ethanol (or ethyl alcohol). While ethanol is by far the main alcohol in wine and other alcoholic beverages, wine contains many different types of alcohols, including methanol and superior alcohols (heavy alcohols) all contributing to a wine’s flavor and aromatic profile.
Anthocyanins: the red pigments responsible for the color of red wine. Anthocyanins are poly-phenols and therefore have anti-oxidant properties. They are found naturally in grape’s skin and extracted into the wine during vinification. The anthocyanins in grapes are of similar nature to pigments found in other red/black berries, beetroot, purple cabbage, and other plants. Their color varies from red to dark purple depending on the medium’s acidity.
AOC (AOP – DOP): Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, the official Controlled Appellation of Origin in France. Due to an adaptation to new European EU regulations harmonizing the terminology around DOPs (Protected Denominations of Origin) for all EU member countries, AOCs are now referred to as AOPs (Appellation d’Origine Protégée).
AVA: American Viticultural Area. Designated area of wine production in the USA, used on wine labels to guarantee the origin of a wine, with boundaries approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Generally, if a wine label carries the name of an AVA, 85% of the grapes must have been sourced from that specific AVA. If the label displays the name of a county, 75% of the grapes must come from that county. This same 75% threshold also applies to the proportion of a grape variety as stated on the label. As a typical example, a wine labeled as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon must contain at least 75% of Cabernet Sauvignon wine, and at least 85% of the grapes must have been sourced from Napa Valley.
Balthazar: large-format bottle which contains 12 liters of wine or the equivalent of 16 standard 750ml bottles. It is named after one of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts at Jesus’ Nativity. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
Blanc de Blancs: term used on Champagne and other sparkling wine labels (such as some Crémants) to designate wines made entirely from white grapes. In French Champagne, Blanc de Blancs wines are generally made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. Find the best examples with the Blanc de Blancs sparklings awards.
Blanc de noirs: term used on Champagne and other sparkling wine labels (such as some Crémants) to designate wines made entirely from red grapes. In French Champagne, Blanc de Noirs wines are made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Find the best examples with the Blanc de Noirs sparklings awards.
Botrytized: refers to dessert wines made from grapes affected by the fungus Botrytis cinereal, also called ‘noble rot’. Botrytis is the most common form of rotting fungus affecting grapes and all fruits in general. In its sporulating form, Botrytis cinereal fungus turns grapes into entirely grey berries releasing smokes of spores (or Grey Rot). When berries are only lightly affected by the fungus, Botrytis causes a loss of water in the grape berries, hence eventually concentrating both sugars and flavors in the resulting wines. Typical and traditional Botrytized wines are made in Sauternes, South of Bordeaux.
Brettanomyces: often referred to by professionals and connoisseurs as ‘brett’, Brettanomyces is a particular strain of yeasts (different from the ones responsible for the alcoholic fermentation) that causes spoilage to wines, with unpleasant aromas and flavors of plasters, mousey or farmyard. This fault is the result of the Brett yeasts producing bad-smelling volatile phenol compounds like 4-ethylphenol (4EP) and 4-ethylguiacol (4EG). The use of sulfites (SO2) in winemaking allows to prevent this important wine spoilage. Read more with our Top 6 Wine Faults: Their Causes & How to Identify them?
Charmat: a sparkling wine production method running the secondary fermentation that allows a wine’s effervescence in pressurized stainless-steel tanks. Also referred to as ‘cuve close’ (closed tank) from French. Prosecco wines are made using Charmat method as opposed to Champagnes using the Méthode Traditionnelle with second fermentation in bottle.
Cooper (cooperage): A cooper is a craftsman who makes (assembles) and repairs the wine barrels and similar wooden vessels such as casks, wooden vats (foudres in French or botti in Italian), buckets, and tubs. The cooperage is the cooper’s business, brand, or premises. French for cooper is tonnelier, while the cooperage is called tonnellerie. Famous cooperages include: Sylvain, Seguin-Moreau, Taransaud, Francois Freres, Demptos, Tonnellerie de Mercurey, Radoux, Nadalié, Boutes, Vicard, Damy, Remond and many more.
Corked: often also called cork-tainted, or simply tainted, a corked wine has a dusty, mushroomy aromatic profile and deteriorated flavors resulting from the infusion of a molecule called TCA (trichloroanisol) from the cork and into the wine. Read more with our Top 6 Wine Faults: Their Causes & How to Identify them?
Disgorgement: the winemaking operation by which the lees sediments present in a bottle of sparkling wine (one produced by the traditional method of fermentation in bottle) are removed.
DOC: Italian appellation classification level, Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Controlled Denomination of Origin is below the DOCG level (see below) and is the Italian equivalent to the French AOC/AOP.
DOCa: Spanish appellation classification level, Denominación de Origen Calificada or Qualified Denomination of Origin is the highest quality level for Spanish wines. DOCa appellations include Rioja, Priorat, and Ribera del Duero.
DOCG: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or Guaranteed and Controlled denomination of Origin. It is the highest classification for quality Italian appellations. There are over 70 DOCG appellations in Italy, and their number keeps growing as DOCs are being promoted to DOCG. Top DOCG wines include Barolo, Barbaresco, Franciacorta, Amarone della Valpolicella, and some Prosecco wines produced in certain zones of the province of Treviso.
Double Magnum: As the name suggests, a Double-Magnum is the equivalent of 2 Magnums and contains 3 liters of liquid, or four times the volume of a standard 750ml bottle. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
IGP (also PGI, IGT, VDP or VDT): European EU classification level for PGI appellation wines (Protected Geographical Indication), generally applicable to wider geographical areas than AOPs (DOPs). Different European countries use different terminologies to indicate PGI wines: Indication Géographique Protégée in France (formerly referred to as VDP Vin de Pays), Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) in Italy, Vinos de la Tierra (VDT) in Spain.
Jeroboam: in the French Champagne region, a Double-Magnum bottle is called Jeroboam, named after the first King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who ruled for 22 years over the late 10th Century. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
Frizzante: Italian term for lightly sparkling wines, or ‘fizzy’, less effervescent than Spumante, e.g. Prosecco Frizzante. Can be considered as semi-sparkling.
Hectoliter: a metric measurement unit used mainly in Europe, equal to 100 liters or 26.4 gallons.
Hectare: a metric measurement unit used mainly in Europe, equal to 10,000 square meters (100 meters by 100 meters square) or 2.47 acres. Example: the vineyard in Burgundy producing the most expensive wine in the world, Romanée-Conti Grand Cru cover 1,8140 hectare (4.5 acres).
Imperial: an Imperial or Matuselah is a large-format wine bottle size containing 6 liters of liquid. This is enough to fill about 40 glasses of wine, and is equivalent to 8 standard 750ml bottles. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
INAO: for Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, renamed by the French as Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité. France’s government body in charge of the creation, maintenance and enforcement of French wine appellation laws and wine classifications (see AOCs, IGPs, VDTs). The INAO administration was created in 1935.
Ice Wine: English translation of the German term Eiswein, ice wines are made by pressing frozen grapes and extracting only the most concentrated juices. Because the higher the concentration in sugar in a liquid, the lower is the freezing temperature, when pressing frozen grapes, juices with very high levels of sugar concentration are pressed out first, resulting in sweet and flavorful wines. Ice wines are mainly made in countries where freezing temperatures arrive early enough in fall/winter to allow leaving the grapes hanging and delay the harvest, namely Germany, Canada, and Austria. Although more industrial ice wine can be made by artificially freezing late harvest grapes.
Languedoc: the biggest wine production region in France, possibly in the world. Languedoc is part of the wider Languedoc-Roussillon French administrative region located on the Mediterranean coast in the Southern part of the country. More information at Languedoc Wine: Map, Regions, Grape Varieties, History and more.
Lees: term derived from the French world ‘lies’ designating the solid particles that settle at the bottom of a wine tank or barrel after alcoholic (and sometimes malolactic) fermentations. Lees are mainly composed of dead yeast and bacteria cells, but would also contain solids from the grapes. Lees are an important factor to the quality of certain wines, particularly some white wines and sparklings. Winemakers may decide to mature their wines ‘on lees’ in barrel or in tank and allow the dead yeast cells to decompose and liberate molecules (polysaccharides) providing a softer rounder texture. Contact with lees also infuses notes of sour dough, brioche, and smoky tones, fundamental elements of the aromatic profile in such styles as oaky Chardonnay and fine sparkling wines. This breakdown of lees yeasts is often encouraged in wine barrel by an operation called lees stirring. It also happens importantly during the laydown of sparkling wines made using the Méthode Traditionnelle (or Méthode Champenoise).
Magnum: large-format wine bottle containing 1.5 liters, hence equivalent to 2 standard 750ml bottles. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
Malolactic fermentation: second fermentation occurring during the winemaking process, after the alcoholic fermentation. The malolactic fermentation is run by lactic bacteria, transforming the harsher malic acid into a softer lactic acid (the acid present in cheese). Red wines are almost always run through malolactic fermentation during the winemaking process, while winemakers may choose to prevent it from happening or stop mid-course in white or rosé wines to preserve more acidity and primary fruit flavors. Malolactic fermentation releases creamy or yogurt aroma into the wines, especially when conducted in oak barrel.
Melchior: was another of the Three Wise Men bringing presents to Jesus. The large format named after him holds 18 liters of wine or the equivalent of 24 standard 750ml bottles. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
Maturation (aging): the period during which the wine evolves at the winery, either in tank, vats, or oak barrels, towards a state of readiness for bottling. Maturation can also be used to designate the ongoing development of wines in bottle during cellaring, or cellar-aging.
Méthode Traditionnelle: the traditional method for producing quality sparkling wines used in Champagne, France, and all around the world. Many producers, including outside Champagne, used to call it Méthode Champenoise as it is generally considered to have been invented, or at least perfected in Champagne (by Dom Pérignon). But the Champagne bureau protected the ‘Champenoise‘ term to avoid any confusion with consumers, hence the use of the French term for traditional instead. The Méthode Traditionnelle consists of a first fermentation in tank, producing a still wine. Then this wine is bottled together with yeasts and sugar, for a second fermentation in bottle, giving the wine its effervescence. These wines are often aged on lees for several months after fermentation (minimum of 18 months in Champagne for example) to complexify their flavor profile and refine bubbles and texture. The term Méthode Traditionnelle is used in various synonym and translated forms such as: Método tradicional in Spanish, Metodo Classico in Italian, Cape Classic in South Africa, or simply often referred to as Method.
Nebuchadnezzar: named after a famous King of Babylon, large-format bottle size containing 15 liters of wine or the equivalent of 20 standard 750ml bottles. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
Organic: Wines made from grapes grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. An organic wine must be made from organically-grown grapes and give information about who the certifying agency is. Find organic wine worth trying at organic wine reviews.
Phenolics (tannins): also called polyphenols or tannins, phenolics are natural chemical compounds present in grapes. These molecules have anti-oxidant properties that are often associated with the health-benefits of wine. They are also responsible for the astringency of wines that contain them. Phenolics are found in great quantities in red wine (generally then called tannins), but are also found in small proportion in white and rosé wines, giving a slight savory, salty and dry sensation to the finish. Certain white grape varieties are known for delivering wines with greater levels of phenolics such as Viognier and Pinot Gris/Grigio.
Primeur – En Primeur: French for ‘Futures’, En Primeur is a tradition born in France and mainly for Bordeaux wines of buying/selling wine after it is made but before it is bottled or released into the market. This practice is used mainly by the Place de Bordeaux (the Bordeaux wine exchange market) for the Classified Growths (or Crus classés), but also for some top Burgundy, Rhone Valley, or Portuguese Port wines. Typically, Bordeaux En Primeur campaigns take place annually in April. Wines from the previous vintage are tasted by the trade and wine critics while they are still being matured in barrels. As an example, in April 2015, the 2014-vintage were tasted and assessed while they won’t be made available to customers before mid-2018. Wines bought or sold en primeur are also referred to as ‘pre-arrivals’.
Rehoboam: a Rehoboam is a large-format wine bottle size containing 4.5 liters of liquid. This is enough to fill about 30 glasses of wine, and is equivalent to 6 standard 750ml bottles. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
Saignée: French word meaning ‘bled’, saignée is one of the 2 winemaking techniques used in the production of rosé wines. After harvest and the crushing of red grapes into a tank for allowing skin contact and extraction of color from the skins into the juice, the pink free-run juice is run off or bled before it turned red. This method also allows to enhance and concentrate the red wines made with what’s been left in the tank as the ratio of juice to grape skin is increased, resulting darker and denser wines. The alternative to saignée for making rosé wine is the direct pressing where grapes are pressed directly without allowing any skin contact.
Salmanazar: a Salmanazar is a large-format wine bottle size containing 9 liters of (generally-fine) beverage. This is enough to fill about 60 glasses of wine, and is equivalent to 12 standard 750ml bottles. Read all about it with my Simple Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes on Vivino.
Sekt: German for sparkling.
Spumante: Italian for sparkling.
Sulfites: Sulfites, or more precisely SO2 (oxidized form of Sulfur) is a common preservative used in winemaking. With both antioxidant and antiseptic properties, sulfites protect the wine’s flavors from being oxidized and prevents spoilage organisms to develop. Sulfites have been wrongly blamed for provide headaches to wine drinkers, although a small proportion of the population can have strong allergic reactions hence the obligation to indicate ‘contains sulfites’ on wine labels. Read more with our complete article: Sulfites (SO2) in Wine: Top 7 Facts.
Swirl: the action of rotating the wine glass before smelling the wine to evaporate the aroma and concentrate them in the glass. Swirling in an important part of the wine tasting process to fully appreciate the bouquet of a wine. Read all about it with Why and How Do We Swirl Wine?
Terroir: the combination of the various growing conditions in a vineyard, including the climate (macro-climate of the whole region, and micro-climate of the block), the soil composition and it water retention ability, the exposure (which direction it’s facing, North, South, etc.), topography (position on a slope, plain, etc.), proximity to a body of water (sea, river, lake), and altitude. The French who invented the term also include in what they call terroir the traditional customs in which wine in made in their wine appellations (viticulture, blends, ageing, etc.). You can learn more with my article on Vivino about Terroir: What Is It and Why Is It Controversial?
Varietal: term used to designate a wine made from only one grape variety and named after that grape, as opposed to a blend. ‘Varietal’ is also used to qualify a character in a wine that is typical of the grape variety it is made from, such as bell pepper (capsicum) in Cabernet Sauvignon, passion fruit or cat’s pee in Sauvignon Blanc, black pepper in Syrah, tart cherry in Pinot Noir.
VDT: Entry-level wine classification level in Europe, often used for basic table wines. Meaning Vin de Table in France (also called Vin de France), or Vino da Tavola in Italy. The Spanish equivalent is Vino de Mesa.
Veraison: French word used in viticulture to designate the period during the year when grape’s change color and become softer. Veraison generally lasts for about two weeks around the end of July/beginning of August in the Northern hemisphere. Grapes turn from being extremely acidic and not containing any sugar, and from a green color to a pink/red color for red grape varieties or yellow for white grapes. Veraison is when grapes start accumulating sugar and becoming sweet, the starting point to grape ripening.
Vigneron: French term to designate a wine grower that makes wine from his own grapes. Read more about the underlying meanings at What’s a Vigneron? Wine Term Definition.
Vintage: a particular harvest year the grapes used to make a wine were picked, as indicated on a wine labels. In the United States, when a wine label carries a vintage, 95% of the grapes must have been grown during the stated year (5% max of wines from different vintages can be blended into it).
Yeasts: micro-organisms responsible for the alcoholic fermentation process in wine (see entry for ‘Alcohol’). Yeasts used in winemaking can either be ‘natural’ (or ‘wild’ as in using only the yeasts naturally present on the grape’s skin) or commercial (or ‘selected’ when special selection of yeast strains are added to the must in order to initiate its fermentation).
Yield: the amount or weight of grapes harvested from a vineyard surface area. Typical yield units used are: tons per acre in the United States, and hectoliters per hectare (hl/ha) in Europe. Yield may also refer to the efficiency of the grape pressing process, or volume of juice extracted from a ton of grapes during pressing.