The world of wine counts with hundreds and hundreds of words to describe all sorts of things: the wine aromas and flavors, technical terms of viticulture, enology or winemaking, wine regions, grape varieties and so on…
Whatever your level of understanding of this complex and fascinating universe, there is vocabulary that you should definitely know and understand if you want to start exploring the intricacies of our favorite beverage.
No need to be snob about wine! That is why the following list is not. But there are certain terms you should definitely have in your repertoire to sustain any conversation with any wine lover, amateur, wine snob or reverse wine snob.
So with our friends of HisandHerwine.com, we’ve listed the Top 50 most commonly used words to describe wines, how they are made, and where they come from.
We’ve listed them alphabetically in the following infographic to keep it simple, fun and approachable. Descriptions of each wine term come below the infographic.
Posters are available to buy online via the His and Her Wine Store or by clicking on the image below.
Aromas are the odors you smell with your nose in a wine before you put it in your mouth which is when aromas become flavors (a combination of taste and aromas).
Acidity is a fundamental in wine. All wines are acidic, more acidic than many other food or beverages, but less than vinegar, lemon or Coke. Acidity is generally measured as pH. In wine it comes mainly from tartatric, malic and lactic acids.
Appearance is what the wine looks like: its color, its hues, whether it’s clear or hazy.
Barrel: wooden containers generally made of oak (French, American or Hungarian). Typical barrel sizes and shapes are the Bordelaise (228L, from Bordeaux region) and Bourguignone (225L, from Burgundy)
See our Infographic Anatomy of a wine barrel:
Bottle: most often a wine bottle is made of glass now, and since the 19th century. Most common size is 750ml.
Learn more about the Anatomy of a Wine Bottle:
Balance: one of the most important concepts in wine tasting. Balance is when acidity, alcohol, sweetness, body and tannins (for reds) marry harmoniously and complete each other nicely on the palate.
Chardonnay: Chardonnay is one of the most planted white grape varieties in the world, and certainly the most famous. It originates from France, but is grown almost in all other wine producing countries, most noticeably in California, Australia, Chile, Argentina, South Africa or New Zealand. It is often the base element of sparkling wines from Champagne, France and other bubblies around the world.
Find out more with our Infographics & Guide to Chardonnay Grape variety.
Cabernet: probably the most versatile red grape variety as it can produce quality wine in many different regions all around the globe. It originates from Bordeaux, France where it makes some of the finest examples. It is now also grown everywhere, with the best Cabernet wines coming from Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Tuscany or Coonawarra (South Australia).
Cabernet Sauvignon: Find out more about the grape with our Infographics & Guide to Cabernet Sauvignon Grape variety.
Cabernet Franc: learn how it’s now got its own Cabernet Franc day.
Decanter: glass or crystal container used to serve wine elegantly. Pouring the wine from its bottle into a decanter prior to service allows to: 1) eliminate sediments that may have deposited at the bottom of the bottle 2) aerate the wine to better reveal its aromas and flavors.
Find out our Top 7 Wine & Spirits Decanters in the World
Ethanol: the scientific name for what’s commonly called alcohol. Ethanol is the main alcohol in wine, beers or spirits although all alcoholic beverages also contain small proportions of other alcohols like methanol, isobutyl alcohol, glycerol, etc.
France: the biggest wine-producing country is the world (together with Italy depending on the vintage) and biggest exporter of wine, both in value and volume. France historically has pioneered and led the production of fine wines.
Fermentation: the transformation of the sugar contained in grape juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) by yeasts. Fermentation is generally conducted in tank or barrel at the winery.
Glass: the #1 wine accessory. Most wine drinkers use one!
Learn more at Wine Glassware & Stemware 101
Grape: most wines come from grape juice. Grapes come from grape vines and as a bunch made of multiple berries.
Grenache: for long Grenache was the most planted red grape variety in the world, with huge plantings in Spain it originates from. It is a star in Southern France (Languedoc-Roussillon and Rhone)and is also found in Italy (e.g. Cannonau di Sardigna), California (a Rhone Ranger’s favorite) or Australia. Grenache produces full-bodied, high-alcohol wines that display intense fruit flavors.
Harvest: when the grapes are picked from the vines. Harvest can be manual using secateurs or done with machine harvesters. Grape harvest takes place around September in the Northern hemisphere, and around March in the Southern hemisphere.
Italy: the biggest wine-producing country, together with France. Italy is an historic wine-producing country. The Romans themselves introduced wine-growing to many regions in the rest of Europe like France, Spain or Germany. Italy counts more grape varieties than any other country which makes it the champion of diversity.
Jerez: known as Sherry in English, Jerez is a style of fortified wine named after a town in Andalucía, Spain. Vino de Jerez (sherry) is made by ageing wine under a flor (a layer of yeasts) in multiple barrels organized in a Solera system. Main sherry styles are Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez.
Kabinett: not the German word for wine cabinet, Kabinett is a grape sweetness level used in the Prädikat German wine classification system.
Leaf: grape vine’s leaves are responsible for capturing sunlight energy, and turning it into sugar and into all of the other elements that form a grape (flavors, colors, tannins).
Label: stickers on a wine bottle, used to attract buyers and provide information to consumers.
Lees: after fermentation, yeasts die in the wine and sediment at the bottom of the container (tank, vat, or barrel) forming the lees. To increase the body and aromatic complexity of a wine, lees can be agitated (process called batonnage in French) in order to put the yeasts back in contact with the wine, and liberate their compounds into the wine (like an infusion if you wish).
Merlot: one of the most famous and once popular red grape varieties. Merlot originates from Bordeaux, France but is grown worldwide. Best examples come from Pomerol, Tuscany (e.g. Bolgheri or Maremma) or California. American movie Sideways (2004) hurt its reputation and popularity.
Muscat: probably the most popular grape variety of all times. The Romans already cherished it for its intense floral and fruity aromatic profile and spread its culture all over Southern Europe. The many varieties of Muscat grapes (Blanc a petits grains or bianco, Alexandria, Canelli and many others) are grown extensively in Spain, France, Italy, Australia or California. In modern days, Muscat remains extremely appreciated in particular for sparkling wines such as Asti or the ‘Moscato’ style.
Must: technical term to designate grape juice in a winery. Must is obtained by separating the grape juice from the skins by pressing. The must is then fermented to make wine.
Nose: term used to designate the smell of a wine. The ‘nose’ of a wine is the whole of aromas you perceive when sticking your own nose into a glass of wine.
Learn more with The Three Phases in Wine Tasting:
Nebbiolo: grape variety originating from Piedmont in Northern Italy and almost grown exclusively in this region. Nebbiolo thrives on the limestone soils of Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba and Langhe areas where it produces intense and subtle wines. Typical aromas include floral notes of violet, but also berries, tobacco and tar.
Oak: the main type of wood used in winemaking. In History, after testing woods from many different trees, it was found that oak is by far the best type of wood to host wine during fermentation or the ageing process. Barrels and vats (foudre in French, or botti in Italian) give wine some positive flavors of nuts, toast, cloves or vanilla.
Pinot: a family of different grape varieties, originating from Burgundy, France. The Pinots come in different colors: Blanc (white), Gris (literally ‘grey’ in French but more of a light-pink color) or Noir (literally ‘Black’ in French but obviously red in a wine).
Find out more with our Infographics & Guide to Pinot Noir Grape variety.
Palate: the term used to describe the sensations perceive in the mouth while tasting: acidity, alcohol, sugar, tannins combine to form the palate. It is often divided into first-palate, middle-palate and finish.
Quality: there is not many wine word starting with Q, but quality is what all wines should have, and what all winemakers and drinkers aim at. So it definitely deserves its spot in the Top 50.
Riesling: probably the most famous white grape variety after Chardonnay and Muscat. Riesling comes from Germany (Mosel, Rheingau and many other regions) and is grown in many other countries and regions (e.g. Alsace, Clare Valley, Oregon, New Zealand)
Rosé: a French word to designate pink wines. There’s a variety of rosé hues in wine, from pale pinkish grey to nearly red, but also salmon or ‘onion peel’.
Sugar: what’s common called ‘sugar’, what you put in your cakes, tea or coffee, and that is in fact called sucrose in chemistry, is actually never present in wine. The main sugars in wine are glucose and fructose, but other sugars are also present (e.g. pentose). All wines dry or sweet contain some sugars, in variable proportion obviously from fractions of a gram per litter up to over 300 g/L.
Sauvignon: a family of grape varieties, whose superstar is obviously Sauvignon Blanc. His brother Sauvignon Gris is also grown sporadically around the world. Cabernet Sauvignon is a cousin, bread a few centuries ago around Bordeaux by crossing Mr. Cabernet Franc with Ms. Sauvignon.
Find out more with our Infographics & Guide to Sauvignon Blanc Grape variety.
Sangiovese: probably the most famous Italian grape variety, originating in Tuscany. The Chianti area between Florence and Sienna is its home. But Sangiovese is also grown successfully in Montalcino (Brunello), Montepulciano (Vino Nobile) or Scansano (Morellino). Sangiovese is grown and made in a modern style is also an important part of many Super Tuscan wines.
Syrah: the star variety from Rhone in France has been adopted worldwide. Almost all producing countries grow Syrah (called Shiraz in Australia and many new world countries when it’s made in a full-bodied style).
Learn more about it at From the origins of Syrah… to Shiraz?
Terroir: this French word (that comes from Terre, French for earth) has been adopted extensively by the world’s wine community. Terroir is the whole combination of factors that influence the final expression and taste of a wine: mainly the climate and soil, but also the viticultural and winemaking techniques employed.
Learn more with an article I wrote on the topic on Vivino: Terroir: What Is It and Why Is It Controversial?
Tannins: important components of red wine, tannins give them their astringency. They are what dries your mouth in red wine. Tannins are anti-oxidants considered to have great health benefits. In the bottle, they agglomerate with each other and also anthocyanin (the molecules giving the red color to wine) to form bigger molecules that eventually get too big to stay suspended and therefore sediment to the bottom.
Tartaric: tartaric acid is the main acid of grape fruit and therefore wine. Grape vine is one of the very few plants to produce tartaric acid. But the great thing about tartaric is that most bacteria can’t metabolize it (unlike citric acid for example, the acid of citrus fruit also found in most fruits). It is therefore hard for any bacteria to grow in the wine, which is why wine is such a stable liquid compared to any other beverages made with other fruit.
Uva: Spanish and Italian for grapes.
Vineyard: field where the grape vines are grown.
Variety: there variety in grapes (grape varieties) but also in wines, which is why we love the world of wine.
Vin: French word for wine
Water: made of 2 atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen (H2O) water is the main component in wine generally representing over 80% of its composition. This is why wine lovers often say: “save water, drink wine”.
Wood: as mentioned above, oak is the main type of wood used in winemaking. But oak flavors in wine are often referred to as ‘wood flavors’.
Xmas: I know, that’s not the correct spelling of Christmas but there’s very few wine words starting with the letter X that are related to wine. Xmas is an enormous event for wine. Wine sales and happiness are at their peak on the 25th December.
Yeast: like for making bread, brioche, beer, sour dough or sour mash, yeasts do the fermentation in wine, transforming sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. What would we be without yeasts?
Zinfandel: iconic California grape variety. Genetic tests showed that Zinfandel is in fact a close relative to Primitivo grown in Southern Italy. Zinfandel gives bold and rich red wines. Best examples come from old vines (e.g. Lodi). Typical Zinfandel aromas are plum (if not prunes) and mint.
Posters of this infographic are available to buy online via the His and Her Wine Store or by clicking on the image above.