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The list below contains many of the terms commonly used by winetasters to describe the aromatics and flavors of wines, as well as other terms that relate to wine growing and winemaking. In addition, I have also included several terms that I frequently use in my tasting notes.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M] [N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]

ACETIC ACID: All wines contain some of this, usually in very small amounts. When the percentage gets higher than 0.06%, a vinegar quality begins to become apparent. Considered a major flaw if the percentage of vinegar gets to be too high.

ABV (Alcohol by Volume) - ABV is used to quantify the alcohol levels by volume of a wine and is expressed as a percentage.

ACID: A very important part of all wines. The four major types of acids found in wine are tartaric, malic, lactic and citric. These acids help to preserve the wine and are an important component in the overall balance and structure of wine. They add a zest and crispness to many wines that can be quite appealing. They can also help to lengthen the aftertaste. Too little, and you'll have a flabby or flat wine.

ACIDIC: When the acid component of a wine is so obvious as to be a major component of the end product.

ACRID: A harsh or bitter taste or pungent smell, which can be due to too much sulfur still present in the wine.

AERATION: This is the process of trying to drive more oxygen (air) into the wine, usually done through decanting, double decanting, or vigorous swirling in the glass. This can be very helpful for young wines but can also be very harmful to older, more mature wines. Merely allowing the wine to BREATHE is usually considered less invasive.

AFTERTASTE: The taste that is left in your mouth after you have sipped and/or swallowed wine. This term is also often used to describe the "finish" of a wine. A long, lingering, rich, complex aftertaste is usually desireable in a wine.

AGGRESSIVE: A harsh component of a wine, usually due to high tannin or acid levels.

ALCOHOL: Ethyl alcohol is formed by the interaction of yeast on the sugar content of the fruit during fermentation.

ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: The percent of alcohol is required by law to be stated on the bottle within 1.5%. Table wines are not required to reveal their alcohol percentage. Wines are usually in the 12.5% to 14% range with some going as high as 17%.

ALCOHOLIC: An unbalanced wine which tends to have a hot taste on the finish. See also, HOT.

AMERICAN OAK: In contrast to the more expensive French Oak. American Oak is marked by strong vanilla, with some dill and cedar flavors. It is commonly used for aging Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It's less desirable, although still used for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. American oak barrels sell in the $250 range, compared to more than $500 for the French ones.

AMERICAN VITICULTURAL AREA (AVA): An grape-growing area that has officially been given appellation status by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Examples are Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, yet many AVA's are considerably smaller in size. The AVA's are largely determined by geography, although politics plays a hefty role as well.

AMPELOGRAPHY: The study of grape varieties.

APPEARANCE: Refers to a wine's clarity, not color.

APPELLATION: Defines the area where a wine's grapes were grown, such as Alexander Valley or Russian River Valley. In order to use an appellation on a California wine label, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in that area.

APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTROLEE (AOC): The French system of appellations (Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée). To use an appellation in this system, a wine must follow strict rules describing the area the grapes are grown in, the varieties used, the ripeness, the alcoholic strength, the vineyard yields and the methods used in growing the grapes and making the wine.

AUSLESE - A German wine quality designation, meaning "select harvest", made from selected very ripe bunches or grapes, sometimes with Noble Rot. Typically sweet or semi-sweet.

AROMA: I'm stepping on some toes here. Aroma is the overall smell of the wine due to natural fruits, fermentation and aging. Traditionally this has not been the case but in this case tradition is screwy!! See Bouquet.

ASTRINGENT: Describes a rough, harsh feeling in the mouth which is due to the tannins or high acidity.

AUSTERE: Used to describe relatively hard, high-acid wines that lack depth and roundness. Usually said of young wines that need time to soften, or wines that lack richness and body.

AWKWARD: Used to describe a wine that is out of balance.

BACKBONE: Used to denote those wines that are full-bodied, well-structured and balanced by a desirable level of acidity.

BACKWARD: Used to describe a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage.

BALANCE: A wine has balance when its elements are harmonious and no single element dominates.

BALTHAZAR: An oversized bottle which holds the equivalent of 12 to 16 standard bottles.

BARREL FERMENTED: Denotes wine that has been fermented in small oak casks (usually 55-gallon oak barrels) instead of larger tanks.

BARRIQUE - Literally translated as barrel, it often refers to any small oak cask.

BATONNAGE - The process of stirring the lees in the barrel/vat of the unfinished wine after the initial settling (debourbage). Batonnage proponents claim it increases flavour development in the wines and as lees absorb oxygen, promotes reductive oxidation. Opposition to batonnage dislike the reductive oxidation effect and claim it can promote off aromas and blur terroir differences in the wine.

BEERENAUSLESE - A German wine quality designation, meaning "select berry harvest", for wines made from individually selected overripe grapes often affected by Noble Rot, making rich, sweet dessert wines.

BIG: A full, rich, ripe and extracted wine possessing full tannins and abundant fruit. Usually perceived as having high viscosity or a "heavy" feeling on the palate.

BITE: A marked degree of acidity or tannin. An acid grip in the finish should be more like a zestful tang and is tolerable only in a rich, full-bodied wine.

BITTER: Describes one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet). A common source of bitterness is tannin or stems. Although a mild bitterness can often be a pleasant addition it is usually an indication of a flawed wine.

BLANC DE BLANCS: "White of whites," meaning a white wine made of white grapes, such as Champagne made of Chardonnay.

BLANC DE NOIRS: "White of blacks," white wine made of red or black grapes, where the juice is squeezed from the grapes and fermented without skin contact. The wines can have a pale pink hue. E.G., Champagne that is made from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.

BLANCO - A Spanish term for white wine.

BODEGA - A Spanish word for Winery

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 or medium-weight, or light-bodied.

BOTRYTIS CINEREA: Noble Rot. A beneficial mold or fungus that attacks grapes under certain climatic conditions and causes them to shrivel, deeply concentrating the flavors, sugar and acid.

BOTTLE SHOCK: Travel shock. A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines are shaken in travel. Rest is the cure!!

BOTTLED BY: Means the wine could have been purchased ready-made and simply bottled by the brand owner, or made under contract by another winery. When the label reads "produced and bottled by" or "made and bottled by" it means the winery produced the wine from start to finish.

BOUQUET: The smell that a wine develops after it has been bottled and aged. Most appropriate for mature wines that have developed complex flavors beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas. The usage seems to be somewhat out of fashion with aroma getting the modern nod in usage.

BREATHE: Describes the process of allowing the wine prolonged contact with air. Usually done through decanting a wine, but often just allowing a wine to sit in a glass will accomplish this.

BRETT (Brettanomyces) - Most commonly refered to by its shortened name, Brett is a genus of yeast that produces various phenolic compunds that, although in some low quantities can give a young wine an aged character, is generally regarded as a spoilage organism.

BRIARY: Describes young wines with an earthy or stemmy wild berry character. Often found in Zinfandels, and more than a few red Rhones.

BRIGHT: Used for fresh, ripe, zesty, lively young wines with vivid, focused flavors.

BRILLIANT: Describes the appearance of very clear wines with absolutely no visible suspended or particulate matter. Not always a plus, as it can indicate a highly filtered wine.

BRIX: A measurement of the sugar content of grapes, must and wine, indicating the degree of the grapes' ripeness (meaning sugar level) at harvest. Most table-wine grapes are harvested at between 21 and 25 Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by .55.

BROODING: Describes the impression of a dense wine that may be slightly closed in aroma, or a big mouthfeel that may be a bit dumb at presenteither or both the nose and mouth of a wine that gives.

BROWNING: Describes a wine's color, and is a sign that a wine is mature and may be faded. Could be a bad sign in young wines, but less significant in older wines. Older wines may have a brownish edge yet still be enjoyable. Sometimes this brownish edge will look brick colored.

BRUT: A term used to designate a relatively dry-finished Champagne or sparkling wine, often the driest wine made by the producer. The amount of sugar (dosage) added to sparkling wines after the second fermentation dictates the sweetness levels. Brut refers to dry sparkling wines, more exactly fewer than 12g of sugar per litre dosage.

BURNISHED: Describes wines that have a slightly singed, smoky, toasty or singed quality. This may come from certain growing or soil conditions, and/or slightly overripe grapes.

BURNT: Describes wines that have an overdone, smoky, toasty or cooked quality. Also used to describe very overripe grapes.

BUTTERY: Indicates the smell of melted butter or toasty oak. Also a reference to texture, as in "a rich, buttery Chardonnay." Often imparted by ML - that is, MALOLACTIC or secondary fermentation

CARBONIC MACERATION: Fermentation of whole, uncrushed grapes in a carbon dioxide atmosphere. In practice, the weight of the upper layers of grapes in a vat will break the skins of the lowest layer; the resultant wine is partly a product of carbonic maceration and partly of traditional fermentation of juice.

CASK NUMBER: A meaningless term sometimes used for special wines, as in Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23.

CEDARY: Denotes the smell of cedar wood associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends aged in French or American oak.

CELLARED BY: Means the wine was not produced at the winery where it was bottled. It usually indicates that the wine was purchased from another source.

CÉPAGE - A French word that literally transaltes as "vine" but refers to the grape variety.

CHAMPAGNE - A sparkling wine made within the Champagne region of France.

CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE SIZE - In order from small to large (with number of bottles in brackets): Piccolo (1/4), Demi (1/2), Standard (1), Magnum (2), Jeroboam/Double Magnum (4), Rehoboam (6), Methuselah (8), Salmanazar (12), Balthazar (16), Nebuchadnezzar (20), Melchior (24), Solomon (26.66), Sovereign (33.33), Goliath/Primat (36), Melchizedek (40)

CHAPTALIZATION: The addition of sugar to juice before and/or during fermentation, used to boost sugar levels in underripe grapes and alcohol levels in the subsequent wines. Common in northern European countries, where the cold climates may keep grapes from ripening, but forbidden in southern Europe (including southern France and all of Italy) as well as California.

CHARMAT: Mass production method for sparkling wine. Indicates the wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks and later drawn off into the bottle under pressure. Also known as the "bulk process." See also methode champenoise.

CHÂTEAU - French word for castle. However château on the lable doesn't necessarily mean the wines are bottled in a fine castle, some are merely a villa or purpose built winery.

CLARET - The English term given to red Bordeaux wine.

CLASSICO - The oldest, the best or the most famous part of an Italian DOC zone.

CHEESE or CHEESEY: Describes literally, the aroma of cheese, most commonly of cheddar, blue, and parmesan.

CHEWY: Describes rich, heavy, viscous or tannic wines that are full-bodied.

CIGAR BOX: Another descriptor for a cedary aroma.

CLARITY: Describes the depth of color

CLEAN: Fresh on the palate and free of any off-taste. Does not necessarily imply good quality.

CLONE: A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated asexually from a single source.

CLOSED: Describes wines that appear concentrated and with character, yet are extremely shy in aroma or flavor. These wines will often open up upon aging, showing more development and complexity.

CLOUDINESS: Lack of clarity to the eye due to sediments or particulates in the wine. Old wines with sediment are OK, but it can be an indication of a flawed product in young wines.

CLOYING: Describes ultra-sweet or sugary wines that lack the balance provided by acid, alcohol, bitterness or intense flavor.

COARSE: Usually refers to texture, and in particular, excessive tannin or oak. Also used to describe harsh bubbles in sparkling wines.

COOL/COLD FERMENTATION - The process of fermentation naturally produces heat. Cool/Cold fermentation is the process of artificialy reducing the temperature during fermentation; this slows down the fermentation process and allows the flavours, colour and freshness of the wine to develop properly. Cold fermentation generally means a temperature range of between 48°F to 55°F and cool fermentation between 55°F and 70°F.

COLD STABILIZATION: A clarification technique in which a wine's temperature is lowered to 32 degrees; F, causing the tartrates and other insoluble solids to precipitate.

COLOR: Describes the shades and depth of color.

COMPLEXITY: An element in all great wines and many very good ones; a combination of richness, depth, flavor intensity, focus, balance, harmony and finesse.

CORK - Cork is bark harvested from the Cork Oak. It is used around the world as a bottle stopper as it is impermeable and it is easily compressed, fitting into a wine bottle and expanding to form a tight seal.

CORKED WINE: A corked wine is NOT a wine with bits of cork in it from a disintegrated cork. Rather, it describes a wine having an off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper aroma and/or flavor and dry vapid aftertaste and caused by a tainted cork, and means the wine has spoiled. The cause is attributed primarily to TCA (Trichloroanisole) in the cork, which is then transmitted to the wine immediately upon contact! The bacteria/fungi may be present in the cork at harvest, or transmitted later. It is the act of cleaning the cork with clorine that appears to activate the TCA. Cork taint can occur irrespective of quality and/or price of a wine. The Sensory threshold of TCA varies widely in people. Thus, while its presence may be obvious to some, it may not be perceived by others.

CRUSH: Harvest season when the grapes are picked and crushed.

COSECHA - A Spanish term used on wine labels from that country. Literally it means Vintage and indicates that a minimum of 85% of the wine must by law come from the labelled vintage.

CRIANZA - A Spanish term. For a red wine, it means that the wine must be aged for a minimum of 2 years (6 months of that in oak minimum) prior to release. For white wines it means the wine must have at least 1 year of ageing (with at least 6 months in oak0 prior to release.

CRU - a French wine term traditionally meaning "growth" but more often it is used to refer to a specifically named and legally defined vineyard or ensemble of vineyards and the grapes grown on it.

CUVEE: A blend or special lot of wine.

DECANTING: A process for separating the sediment from a wine before drinking. Accomplished by slowly and carefully pouring the wine from its bottle into another container. Also used to air a young wine that is a little closed.

DELICATE: Used to describe light- to medium-weight wines with good flavors. A desirable quality in wines such as Pinot Noir or Riesling.

DEMI-SEC: In the language of Champagne, a term relating to sweetness. It can be misleading; although demi-sec means half-dry, demi-sec sparkling wines are usually slightly sweet to medium sweet.

DENSE: Describes a wine that has concentrated aromas on the nose and palate. A good sign in young wines.

DEPTH: Describes the complexity and concentration of flavors in a wine, as in a wine with excellent or uncommon depth.

DESSERT WINES: An umbrella term that generally describes various categories of wine such as Late Harvest, Port and other Fortified wines, yet may also include some non-dessert wines that exhibit a general sweetness.

DIRTY: Covers any and all foul, rank, off-putting smells that can occur in a wine, including those caused by bad barrels or corks. A sign of poor winemaking.

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 is removed.

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

DRYING OUT: Losing fruit (or sweetness in sweet wines) to the extent that acid, alcohol or tannin dominate the taste. At this stage the wine will not improve.

DUMB: Describes a phase that young wines undergo when their flavors and aromas are undeveloped. A synonym of CLOSED. The cause and lthe duration of this phase is a subject of great controversy, and one which seemingly lacks scientific explanation.

EARLY HARVEST: Denotes a wine made from early-harvested grapes, usually lower than average in alcoholic content or sweetness.

EARTHY: Used to describe both positive and negative attributes in wine. At its best, a pleasant, clean quality that adds complexity to aroma and flavors. The flip side is a funky, barnyardy character that borders on or crosses into dirtiness.

ELEGANT: Used to describe smooth wines of grace, balance and beauty, as well as those that accent smoothness over massive tannins.

EMPTY: Lack of flavor.

ENOLOGY: The science and study of winemaking. Also spelled oenology.

ESTATE-BOTTLED: A term once used by producers for those wines made from vineyards that they owned and that were contiguous to the winery "estate." Today it indicates the winery either owns the vineyard or has a long-term lease to purchase the grapes.

ETHYL ACETATE: A sweet, vinegary smell that often accompanies acetic acid. It exists to some extent in all wines and in small doses can be a plus. When it is strong and smells like nail polish, it's a defect.

EXTRA-DRY: A common Champagne term not to be taken literally. Most Champagnes so labeled are sweet.

EXTRACTION: Richness and depth of concentration of fruit in a wine. Usually a positive quality, although highly extracted wine can also be highly tannic.

FADING: Describes a wine that is losing color, fruit or flavor, usually as a result of age.

FAT: Full-bodied, high alcohol wines low in acidity give a "fat" impression on the palate. Can be a plus with bold, ripe, rich flavors; can also suggest the wine's structure is suspect.

FERMENTATION: The process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide; turns grape juice into wine.

FIELD BLEND: The name applied to a wine that comes from a vineyard that is planted to several different varieties and the grapes are harvested together to produce a single wine.

FILTERING: The process of removing particles from wine after fermentation.

FINING: A technique for clarifying wine using agents such as bentonite, gelatin or egg whites, which combine with sediment particles and cause them to settle to the bottom, where they can be easily removed.

FINISH: The key to judging a wine's quality is finish, also called aftertaste--a measure of the taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted. Great wines have rich, long, complex finishes.

FLABBY: Soft wines which lack acidity on the palate. Often delicious by themselves, this type of wine may have a difficult time standing up to food.

FLAT: Having low acidity; the next stage after flabby. Can also refer to a sparkling wine that has lost its bubbles.

FLESHY: Soft and smooth in texture, with very little tannin, yet with a chewy consistency.

FLINTY: A descriptor for extremely dry white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, whose bouquet is reminiscent of flint struck against steel.

FLIPPER: The term given to those who buy expensive and/or scarce wines from mailing lists with the intention of reselling them at a profit (as in "flipping" the wine). Ordinarily, a flipper is an affable individual. But, challenge them or get them riled, and they prefer anonymity.

FLORAL: The characteristic aromas of flowers and petals.

FORTIFIED: Denotes a wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition of brandy or neutral spirits.

FREE-RUN JUICE: The juice that escapes after the grape skins are crushed or squeezed prior to fermentation.

FRENCH OAK: The traditional wood for wine barrels, which supplies vanilla, cedar and sometimes butterscotch flavors. Much more expensive than American oak, it can cost more than $500 per barrel, as opposed to $250 for American.

FRESH: Having a lively, clean and fruity character. Young wines should be fresh.

FRUITY: Having the aroma and taste of fruit or fruits.

GRACEFUL: Describes a wine that is harmonious and pleasing in a subtle way. See ELEGANT.

GRAPE SKIN [TASTE]: Characterized by fresh, chewy taste of the skins themselves.

GRAPEY: Characterized by simple flavors and aromas associated with fresh table grapes; distinct from the more complex fruit flavors of cherry, blackberry, fig, currant, apricot, apple, caramel, etc., etc, found in fine wines.

GRASSY: A signature descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc and a pleasant one unless overbearing and pungent.

GREEN: Tasting of unripened fruit. Wines made from unripe grapes will often possess this quality. Also used by some tasters to refer to a vegetal or bell pepper streak in the wine. While some of this quality can provide a pleasant complexity in some wines, it is generally considered a fault, induced by either harvesting too early, or the vineyard source itself.

GROWN, PRODUCED AND BOTTLED: Means the winery handled each aspect of wine growing.

HALF-BOTTLE: Holds 375 milliliters.

HARD: Firm; a quality that usually results from high acidity or tannins. Often a descriptor for young red wines.

HARMONIOUS: Well balanced.

HARSH: Wines which are very tannic or high in alcohol.

HAZY: Used to describe a wine which is unfined and unfiltered.

HEARTY: Used to describe the full, warm, sometimes rustic qualities found in red wines with high alcohol.

HERBACEOUS: Herbal. The taste and smell of herbs in a wine. Can be a nice complexity in some wines.

HOLLOW: Describes a wine that has a first taste and a short finish, and lacks depth in the middle. No body!

HOT: High alcohol wines that tend to burn on the finish are called hot. Can be acceptable in fortified wines.

HUGE: Bigger than BIG.

IMPERIAL: An oversized bottle holding 4 to 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard bottles.

INTEGRATED: All of the wine's components are woven together.

JEROBOAM: An oversized bottle holding the equivalent of six bottles. In Champagne, a jeroboam holds four bottles.

LATE HARVEST: On labels, indicates that a wine was made from grapes picked later than normal and at a higher sugar (Brix) level than normal. Usually associated with botrytized and dessert-style wines.

LEAFY: Describes the slightly herbaceous, vegetal quality reminiscent of leaves.

LEAN: Used to describe wines made in an austere style. Can be a criticism when it indicates a wine is lacking in fruit.

LEES: Sediment remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. Often used as in sur lie aging, which indicates a wine is aged "on its lees." See also sur lie.

LEGS: The viscous droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled.

LENGTH: The amount of time the aftertaste lingers in your mouth. Long is better!

LINGERING: The aftertaste of a wine. If it lasts for a decent length of time it is said to be lingering.

LIVELY: Describes wines that are fresh, fruity, and bright.

LUSH: Wines that seem high in residual sugar and taste soft or viscous are called lush.

MACERATION: During fermentation, the steeping of the grape skins and solids in the wine, where alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color, tannin and aroma from the skins.

MADE AND BOTTLED BY: Indicates only that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled a minimum of 10 percent of the wine in the bottle.

MADERIZED: Describes the brownish color and slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized and often nutty character found in mature dessert-style wines.

MAGNUM: An oversized bottle that holds 1.5 liters, or two 750 milliliter bottles.

MALIC: Describes the green apple-like flavor found in young grapes which diminishes as they ripen and mature.

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION: Secondary fermentation occurring in most wines. A natural process which converts malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This reduces the wine's total acidity, can add complexity and soften some wines.

MATURE: Ready to drink.

MEATY: Describes red wines that show plenty of concentration and a chewy quality. They may even have an aroma of cooked meat.

MERITAGE: An term used by California wineries to describe Bordeaux-style blends. The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn't meet minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

METHODE CHAMPENOISE: The process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. See also charmat.

METHUSELAH: An extra-large bottle holding 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard bottles.

MILLERANDAGE: A condition resulting from poor or incomplete pollination, in which the bunches contain fewer-than-normal, scattered berries. May result in a "poor set" in such cases. Yields can be drastically reduced over normal.

ML: See MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION: Secondary fermentation.

MOUTHFEEL: The term is usually used with a modifier (big, sweet, tannic, chewy, etc.) to describe the general sensation of the wine on the PALATE.

MURKY: More than deeply colored; lacking brightness, turbid and sometimes a bit swampy. Mainly a fault of red wines.

MUST: Unfermented grape juice. Extracted by crushing or pressing grape juice in the cask or vat before it is converted into wine.

MUSTY: Moldy or mildewy smell. Resulting from wine made of moldy grapes, stored in improperly cleaned tanks and barrels, or contaminated by a poor cork.

NEBUCHADNEZZAR: Oversized bottle holding 15 liters; the equivalent of 20 standard bottles.

NEGOCIANT (NEGOCIANT-ELEVEUR): A French wine merchant who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wines and combines them, bottles the result under his own label and ships them. Particularly found in Burgundy. Two well-known examples are Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot.

NOBLE ROT: Botrytis cinerea.

NONVINTAGE: A wine blended from more than one vintage. Common is Champagnes, sparkling wines, sherry and posts such as nonvintage Ports, tawnies and rubies.

NOSE: The aroma or bouquet.

NOUVEAU: A style of light, fruity, youthful red wine bottled and sold as soon as possible. Applies mostly to Beaujolais.

NUTTY: Used to describe oxidized wines. Often a flaw, but when it's close to an oaky flavor it can be a plus. Can be very nice in tawnie ports, sherry and other fortified wines and dessert wines.

OAKY: Describes the aroma and taste imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Fairly desirable in many wines if not overdone. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side. See also American oak, French oak.

OENOPHILE: A lover of wine, one who has studied the many aspects of wine.

OFF-DRY: Indicates a slightly sweet wine in which the residual sugar is barely perceptible: 0.6 percent to 1.4 percent.

OFF-SWEET: Describes the barest sense of sweetness.

OXIDIZED: Describes wine that has been exposed a long time to oxygen and taken on a brownish color. This can result in a loss of freshness but older wines have a little bit of this and it is usually a positive thing if not overdone.

PALATE: Refers to a combination of surfaces within the mouth (roof, tongue, etc.). This area is frequently described in tasting notes as being divided into sections, such as mid-palate or latter palate. For instance, a wine could be described as tasting HARSH from mid through latter palate. Often seen as interchangeable with MOUTHFEEL. However, PALATE is a place, which MOUTHFEEL is a sensation.

PEAK: The time when a wine tastes its best.

PERFUMED: Describes the strong, usually sweet and floral aromas of some wines.

PH: A chemical measurement of acidity or alkalinity; the higher the pH the weaker the acid. Low pH wines taste tart and crisp; higher pH wines are flabby. A range of 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while 3.3 to 3.6 is best for reds.

PHYLLOXERA: Tiny aphids or root lice that attack vine roots. The disease was widespread in both Europe and California during the late 19th century, and returned to California in the 1980s.

PORT: A general term used to describe any Port-styled or fortified wine. May be made from any variety of grape(s).

PORTO: A fortified wine from made with specific grapes from the Douoro region of Portugal. Also know as Oporto.

POTENT: Intense and powerful.

PRIVATE RESERVE: This description, along with Reserve, once stood for the best wines a winery produced. Some care need be taken when buying wine with this designation as it has no legal definition.

PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY: Indicates that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled at least 75 percent of the wine in the bottle.

PRUNY: Having the flavor of overripe, dried-out grapes. Can add complexity in the right dose. Can make a wine smell and taste cooked if overdone.

PUCKERY: Describes highly tannic and very dry wines.

PUNGENT: Having a powerful, assertive smell linked to a high level of volatile acidity.

RACKING: The practice of moving wine by hose from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. For aeration or clarification.

RAISINY: Having the taste of raisins from ultra-ripe or overripe grapes. Can be pleasant in small doses in some wines.

RAW: Young and undeveloped. Raw wines are often tannic and high in alcohol or acidity.

REDUCED: Commonly used to describe a wine that has not been exposed to air.

REHOBOAM: Oversized bottle equivalent to 4.5 liters or six regular bottles.

RESIDUAL SUGAR: Unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine. Often perceptible in a white wine such as Chardonnay, where it imparts a light sweetness that many find agreeable to the taste.

RESTRAINED: A term used to describe aromas or flavors that are shy and not very forthcoming. Less severe than CLOSED.

RICH: Wines with big, smooth, full, pleasant flavors are described as rich.

ROBUST: Means full-bodied, intense and vigorous, perhaps a bit overblown.

ROUND: Describes a texture that is smooth, not coarse or tannic, sometimes tending to have a low acidic content.

RUSTIC: Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods. Less refined and elegant.

SALMANAZAR: An oversized bottle holding 9 liters, the equivalent of 12 regular bottles.


SHATTER: Another metabolic reaction occurring in early grape development. The tiny grapes have a small "cap" on the end. Normally, as they start to grow, this cap pops off. However, in a very cool, wet spring, the grape fails to develop early and the cap toughens. When warmer weather finally hits and the grape grows, it pushes against this tough cap. Instead of the cap popping off, the grape shatters. Again, this drastically reduces yields and leads to very low berry count and bunches with only a few grapes. Shatter was a major factor in the very low yields of the 1995 harvest in California.

SHOE POLISH: For me, this is usually a very pleasant aroma that smells something like shoe-shine wax, or a shoe repair shop. It's been suggested to me that this may in fact be VOLITILE ACIDITY (VA), but I don't think so. The shoe polish aroma I usually find seems much sweeter and pleasing.

SMOKY: Usually an oak barrel byproduct, a smoky quality can add flavor and aromatic complexity to wines.

SOFT: Describes wines low in acid and/or tannin. Usually an easy drinking wine, and can be quite fruity.

SOUR: Similar to TART in sensation, but usually imparts more of a green or underripe fruit quality, than by acids.

SPICY: A descriptor for many wines, indicating the presence of spice flavors such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper which are often present in complex wines. Very typical in Rhones styled wines.

STALE: Old, over the hill wines which have lost their freshness without developing the positive aspects of successful aging.

STALKY: Similar to stemmy, but exhibits more of a fibrous quality. Smells and tastes of grape or vegetal stems, or has leaf- or hay-like aromas.

STEMMY: Wines fermented too long with the grape stems may develop this quality in either or both the nose and mouth. It can be pleasant or unpleasant, depending upon how dominant the stemmy quality overshadows the actual fruit.

STRUCTURE: The combination of factors such as acid, tannin, glycerin, alcohol and body as it relates to a wine's texture and mouthfeel. Often spoken in terms of "nice structure" or "lacking in structure."

SUBTLE: Delicate wines with finesse and elegance. Understated flavors that are well integrated and inspiring.

SUPPLE: Describes texture, mostly with reds, as it relates to tannin, body and oak. Tends to indicate well balanced.

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.

SWAMPY: Describes an aroma similar to stagnant water or sewer gas. This smell can often be due to a temporary condition or state of the wine, with the wine becoming more appealing with time.

SWEET: Usually used to describe the general sweetness of the fruit itself, or the varying degrees of sweetness that is tasted in a wine. Ironically, the term is more frequently used in describing DRY wines, than it is for describing DESSERT or LATE HARVEST wines. This is because sweetness is an accepted fact in a dessert wine.

SWEET-SOUR: A term used to describe either the fruit or general mouthfeel of a wine. Mimics a sweet-and-sour sauce taste.

TANKY: Describes dull, dank qualities that show up in wines aged too long in tanks.

TANNIN: The mouth-puckering substance--found mostly in red wines--that is derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Can result in a cottony mouth feel. Tannin acts as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop.

TART: Sharp-tasting because of acidity.

TARTARIC ACID: The principal acid in wine.

TARTRATES: Harmless crystals of potassium bitartrate that may form in cask, bottle or on the cork from the tartaric acid naturally present in wine.

TERROIR: (tear-wah) The "sense of place" component that seems apparent in a wine's aromas or flavors. The term is used to generally describe nuances imparted by soil and climatic factors in certain wine-growing regions. Should not be confused with TERRIER.

THIN: Lacking body and depth.

TIGHT: Describes a wine's structure, concentration or body. Although a temporary condition that is most common with younger wines that have high aging expectations, a wine at any age may exhibit this quality. Closed or compact are similar terms.

TINNY: Metallic tasting.

TIRED: Old, over-the-hill, limp, feeble, lackluster.

TOASTY: Describes a flavor derived from the oak barrels in which wines are aged. Also, a character that sometimes develops in sparkling wines.

ULLAGE: Refers to the unfilled air space at the top of a bottle of wine, which is there largely to allow for expansion of the wine as the temperature changes.

VARIETAL: Refers to the wine made from a specific grape variety (at least, mostly from that variety). In the U.S., wines are generally varietally labeled, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

VARIETY: Refers to the type of grape itself, rather than the wine. Thus, Cabernet Sauvignon is the variety of grape that comprises the majority of grapes that go into a bottle of wine varietally labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon.

VERASION: Color change; the moment color appears in the grapes. It also signals a shift in the development of the grape, which now begins the long process of ripening.

VEGETAL: Some wines contain aromas and flavors which are reminiscent of plants and vegetables. In Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, a small amount of this vegetal quality is said to be part of varietal character, and can often enhance the wine's complexity. However, if the vegetal element becomes too predominent, or if it shows up in wines in which it does not belong, it is considered a flaw.

VELVETY: Having rich flavor and a silky, elegant texture.

VINICULTURE: The science or study of grape production for wine and the making of wine.

VINOUS: Literally means "winelike" and is usually applied to dull wines lacking in distinct varietal character.

VINTAGE DATE: Indicates the year that a wine was made. In order to carry a vintage date in the United States, for instance, a wine must come from grapes that are at least 95 percent from the stated calendar year. See also nonvintage.

VINTED BY: Largely meaningless phrase that means the winery purchased the wine in bulk from another winery and bottled it.

VINTNER: Translates as wine merchant, but generally indicates a wine producer/or winery proprietor.

VINTNER-GROWN: Means wine from a winery-owned vineyard situated outside the winery's delimited viticultural area.

VITICULTURAL AREA: Defines a legal grape-growing area distinguished by geographical features, climate, soil, elevation, history and other definable boundaries. Rules vary widely from region to region, and change often. In the United States, a wine must be 85 percent from grapes grown within the viticultural area to carry the appellation name. For varietal bottling, a minimum of 75 percent of that wine must be made from the designated grape variety. See also appellation d'origine.

VITICULTURE: The cultivation, science and study of grapes.

VOLATILE ACIDITY: An excessive and undesirable amount of acidity, which gives a wine a slightly sour, vinegary edge. At very low levels (0.1 percent), it is largely undetectable; at higher levels it is considered a major defect.

WATERY: Wine that is thin, diluted, or otherwise lacks concentration of fruit. Sometimes, an excessively rainy growing season may impart this to a wine.

YEAST: Micro-organisms that produce the enzymes which convert sugar to alcohol. Necessary for the fermentation of grape juice into wine.


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Last Update 07.22.13