Food & Home

A Wine Glossary

We asked Alyssa Rapp and Kim Donaldson, the founders of Bottlenotes for a rundown on what means what when it comes to wine.

Bottlenotes on Wine Terms

Tasting wine is fun and relaxing. So why are wine tasting terms often so confusing and intimidating? It need not be the case!

Here are the quick tips on some commonly used, but often misunderstood, wine tasting descriptors and terms. They can also be found in the glossary of Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips.

If you have any questions about these terms or any others, you can always feel free to email us for wine help or advice. Or, if you’d like to keep enjoying a daily dose of wine knowledge, feel free to sign up for our daily email newsletter on all things wine called The Daily Sip.


Alyssa Rapp & Kim Donaldson

Tasting Terms, Excerpts from the Glossary of Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips.

American Viticultural Area (AVA): The controlled appellation system used in the United States. Defined as a specified grape-growing region distinguished by geographical features.

Appellation: An official designation for a wine, based on its specific geographical origin.

Aroma: The scents of a wine, also referred to as the “nose” or “bouquet” of the wine.

Balance: A reference to the harmonious relationship between the acids, alcohol, tannins, and other compounds in wine. A wine that is well balanced has a distinct beginning, middle, and end.

Barrique: The French word for barrel, it is used worldwide to describe any small oak cask.

Biodynamic: A method of farming without the use of chemical sprays, synthetic sprays, or fertilizers and a minimal use of filtration and sulfur. Biodynamic wine is vinified with natural yeast.

Blanc de Blanc: “White of whites,” meaning that the wine is made from white wine grapes. Typically, Blanc de Blanc refers to a Champagne made exclusively of the Chardonnay grape.

Blanc de Noir: “White of blacks,” describing a white wine made from “black” or purple grapes. Typically, Blanc de Noir refers to a Champagne made exclusively of the Pinot Noir grape. (The reason it doesn’t end up “pink” or “red” is that after the grapes are pressed, they are immediately taken off the skins.)

Body: The impression of weight or fullness on the palate; usually the result of a combination of glycerin, alcohol, and sugar. Commonly expressed as full-bodied, medium-bodied, medium-weight, or light-bodied.

Brix: A measurement of the sugar content in grapes, must, or wine. The level of brix indicates the degree of the grapes’ ripeness (sugar level) at harvest.

Brut: A relatively dry (low sugar content) Champagne or sparkling wine.

Clone: A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant.

Corked: Describes a wine with a musty or moldy odor and taste. Usually caused by a chemical called trichloroanisole, or TCA, which may be formed by the reaction of chlorine to corks, especially in warm, moist conditions such as the bottling rooms of wineries.

Cuvée: A blend or special lot of wine.

(To) Decant: Pouring wine out of its bottle into a vessel (or decanter) made of glass or crystal for the purpose of aeration and removal of sediment.

Demi-Sec: A half-dry Champagne or sparkling wine. Demi-sec sparkling wines are usually slightly sweet to medium sweet.

Dosage: In bottle-fermented sparkling wines, a small amount of wine (usually sweet) that is added back to the bottle once the yeast sediment that collects in the neck of the bottle has been removed.

Dry: Having little or no perceptible taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.

Enology: The science and study of winemaking, also called viniculture or oenology.

“Extracted”: A wine whose richness and depth of concentration of fruit is obvious.

Fermentation: In winemaking, the process of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide through the oxygen-free metabolism of yeast.

Filtration: The process of straining out solid particles in wine with various types of filters.

Fortified wine: Denotes a wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition of brandy or other neutral spirits—such as port!

“Hot”: High-alcohol, unbalanced wines that tend to burn the back of the throat on the finish.

Jeroboam: An oversized wine bottle holding the equivalent of six 750 milliliter wine bottles.

Late Harvest: On labels, this phrase indicates that a wine was made from grapes picked later than normal and at a higher sugar level than normal, making them “dessert wines.”

Length (of Finish): The amount of time the sensations of taste and aroma persist after swallowing. In general, the longer the better.

Meritage: A term invented by California wineries for Bordeaux-style red and white blended wines. Combines “merit” with “heritage.”

Methuselah: An extra-large wine bottle holding six liters, the equivalent of eight standard (750 milliliter) wine bottles.

Mouthfeel: A tasting term used particularly for red wines to describe the texture of a wine within the mouth. This relates to attributes such as smoothness or grittiness.

Négociant: French term for a merchant, refers to someone who purchases grapes or wine from a number of growers within an appellation, then blends the different lots and bottles the wine under his or her own label.

Non-Vintage: Blended from more than one vintage, a non-vintage wine allows the vintner to maintain a house style from year to year.

Oxidized: Wine that has been exposed too long to oxygen and has taken on a brownish color, losing its freshness and perhaps beginning to smell and taste like Sherry or old apples.

Phenolics/Phenols: Chemical compounds derived from skins, seeds, and stems. Phenols include tannin, color, and flavor compounds.

Phylloxera: Tiny root lice that attack the roots of vines. The disease was widespread in both Europe and California during the late nineteenth century and returned to California in the 1980s. There is no known cure at this time.

Ripasso: In northeast Italy’s Veneto region, a traditional method of winemaking where fresh, young Valpolicella wine is placed in contact with the dried skins of grapes after their fermentation. This process activates a second fermentation, imparting some of the sweet, raisin-like character of the dried grape skins into the young wine.

Structure: The interaction of elements such as acid, tannin, glycerin, alcohol, and body as it relates to a wine’s texture and mouthfeel. Usually preceded by a modifier such as “firm structure” or “lacking in structure.”

Sur lie: Wines aged sur lie (French for “on the lees”) are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or otherwise filtered. This is mainly done for white wines, particularly Chardonnay, to enrich them. (It is a normal part of fermenting red wine and so is not noted when talking about red wine production.)

Tannins: Compounds that contribute to a wine’s structure, mouthfeel, and astringency. Tannins in wine are derived from grape skins, seeds, and stems; the more contact the juice has with these elements, the more tannic the wine will be. Tannin is often considered the “backbone” of a wine; tannin might make a young wine less approachable, but it certainly helps in the aging process.

Terroir: The overall environment within which a given grape variety grows. Derived from the French word (terre) for earth.

Typicity: A wine tasting term, derived from the French word typicité, that refers to a wine’s quality of being typical to its geographic region, grape variety, and vintage year.

Varietal: A wine named for the dominant grape variety from which it is made, although other grape varieties may be present in the wine.

Viscosity: The extent to which a solution resists flow or movement. When tasters refer to a wine’s body, they are in part evaluating a wine’s viscosity.

Yeast: Microorganisms that produce the enzymes that convert sugar to alcohol. Yeast is necessary for the fermentation of grape juice into wine.