Learning about wine is a lot like learning another language: not only are wine labels indecipherable to a normal human being, but the lingo used during a wine tasting can also be just as baffling. The glossary below aims to help you not only to understand those tricky labels but also to help you get through an introductory wine tasting. With a little bit of research and a glance at our Guide to Wine, these terms should seem less foreign and you'll be well on your way to enjoying the wide spectrum that wine has to offer.
Acidity - Acidity gives wine its certain crispness and liveliness; it prevents an overly sweet taste and adds a refreshing quality. If a wine has too little acidity, it will be flat, dull and cloying; too high, overly harsh and sour. This flavour component is detected around the front of the mouth, particularly around the edges of the tongue.
Aftertaste - The after-taste, or finish, is the lingering flavour left in the mouth after the wine is swallowed. Fine wines have long and complex after-tastes.
Alcohol by Volume - Alcohol by Volume should be clearly expressed as a percentage and stated on the label, as is required by law.
Appellation - The appellation indicates the geographical area in which a wine's grapes were grown.
Aroma - The aroma is, quite simply, the smell of the wine, especially younger wines (for aged wines
Backbone - This term is used to identify wines that are full-bodied, well-structured and have a balanced acidity.
Balance - When fruit flavours, acidity, tannins and alcohol are in proportion and no one element dominates, a wine is said to be balanced.
Backward - A young wine that is not as developed as others of its same type is said to be backward. This indicates that the wine is not yet ready to drink.
Body - Body indicates the weight and fullness of a wine on the palate: light, medium or full. The resulting mouthfeel is usually due to a combination of glycerin, alcohol and sugar.
Botrytis cinerea - Botrytis cinerea or Noble Rot is a mould attacking certain grapes under particular climatic conditions: the affected grapes shrivel and this greatly contentrates their flavours, sugar and acid. They are then used to make highly prized dessert wines such as Sauternes
Bouquet - The bouquet is the complex smell that a wine develops over time.
Corked - A tainted or faulty cork will cause undesirable smells and tastes; these are chiefly the result of mould growth on chlorine bleached corks. Corked wines often smell of mouldy newspaper, wet dog, or mushrooms. An inspection of the cork can often help pinpoint a spoiled wine before a tasting is performed: if the cork smells bad, chances are good that the wine is bad too.
Cru - This is a French term meaning "growth place"; it indicates a specially named growth region rather than a particular vineyard.
Cuvée - A cuvée is a wine blended from several tanks or batches
Decanting - A decanted
Dry - A dry wine does not taste of sugar. This is slightly subjective, but in general, one is able to perceive sweetness at levels of 0.5% to 0.7%.
Fat - Fat wines are full-bodied, high in alcohol and low in acidity. This is not necessarily a good thing as it may suggest that the wine's structure is suspect.
Finish - Finish is a synonym for after-taste: the flavours that linger after a tasting.
Forward - A forward wine, unlike a backward wine, has developed ahead of its peers.
Hectare - In viniculture, the most common way to measure area is with hectares. One hectare is 10,000 m² or approximately 2.5 acres.
Hollow - Hollow wines are greatly lacking in flavour. Generally, they have a short finish and lack depth.
Legs - Legs are the traces of liquid that cling to the side of the glass after the wine has been swirled.
Length - Length is the amount of time the finish lingers on the palate: the longer, the better.
Maceration - Maceration takes place during the fermentation process. The alcohol comes into contact with the grape skins, and from them extracts colour, tannins and aromas.
Madeirised - Madeira
Must - Must is the unfermented grape juice extracted during the pressing process.
Musty - A musty smell is stale or mildewy and is the result of a wine being made with mouldy grapes, improperly cleaned storage equipment, or a tainted cork.
Nose - The nose of a wine is synonymous with its aroma (including bouquet): the smell of the wine.
Oak - Certain wines are aged (and sometimes fermented) in oak casks or barrels; this will impart flavours of toffee, caramel, or butterscotch. The most common characteristics of American oak are vanilla and spice, whereas French oak tends to produce buttery flavours..
Oenology - Oenology (also spelled Enelogy) is the science of wine and wine making.
Palate - Palate is a tasting term referring to the feel and taste of a wine in the mouth.
Raw - Raw wines are young, undeveloped, often tannic and frequently high in alcohol content.
Robust - A robust wine is full-bodied and powerful; this can sometimes be a negative term.
Screwcap - Screw caps
Secondary Fermentation - When a batch of wine is moved from a stainless steel tank to an oak barrel, its time in the second vessel is called secondary fermentation.
Sommelier - A sommelier is a trained wine professional that commonly works in fine restaurants. Sommeliers are responsible for procurement and storage, for developing the wine list, and for matching food and wine.
Structure - The structure of a wine refers to the interaction of different elements such as acid, tannin, glycerin, alcohol and body and how this interaction affects the ultimate mouthfeel.
Sulphites - Sulphites naturally-occurring compounds naturally present in wine, but they are often added to prevent oxidation and spoilage.
Tannin - Tannins are derived from grape skins, seeds and stems. They are found most often in reds
Terroir - Terroir is the French term for "soil" and refers to the geographical environment in which a given variety of grape grows. Terroir can include climatic conditions, soil types and topography.
Texture - The way the wine feels in the mouth is referred to as texture: it can be silky, velvety, rounded, smooth, etc.
Vintage - A wine's vintage is the year in which its grapes were harvested.