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General Wine Terminology

Reading the label on the bottle? What do words like acid, balance, flowery, length and nose have to do with wine? Find out in this list of general wine terminology.

Acid

Acids of various types are present in wine, and are essential to the wine's longevity and also to your enjoyment. Too little can affect the wine's quality and too much can spoil the wine. It needs to be present in balance along with other components of the wine.

Aeration

The process of letting a wine \'breathe\' in the open air, or swirling wine in a glass. Aeration can soften young, tannic wines; it can also fatigue older ones.

Aftertaste

The flavour that lingers in your mouth after tasting or swallowing, and which can be either pleasant or unpleasant - or non-existent, which would indicate a neutral wine.

Alcohol

The substance that makes the difference between grape juice and wine! Alcohol is produced by fermentation; produced by the action of yeasts on grape sugars during the fermentation. Alcohol has an important bearing on the taste of wine.

Ampelography

The study of grape varieties.

Appearance

Refers to a wine\'s clarity; not colour.

Aroma

The smell of a wine; usually refers to pleasing smells rather than \"off\" odours. The aroma is normally associated with grape varieties. Often the wood can also come through in the aroma. Young wines often have more obvious aromas

Astringent

Tannins produce astringent tastes in wine. Astringency can be detected by involuntary \"puckering\" of your mouth as the tannins hit your tastebuds and can produce a drying taste in the mouth. Tannins come from grape skins, seeds and wood.

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.

Backbone

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

Balance

The appraisal that a wine has flavour components in complete harmony, no single component dominating.

Baum

A measure of the sugar content of grapes. The Baum value roughly equals the alcohol content in the finished wine (as a percentage of alcohol by volume). For example, grapes at 10 Baum will produce a wine with about 10% alcohol.

Big

Powerful in flavours or bouquet.

Big

Powerful in flavours or bouquet.

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.

Bitterness

Unpleasant characteristic in wine, usually detected in the aftertaste. Not to be confused with acidity.

Bland

Wine-tasting term denoting a wine without character, though not necessarily having any wine faults.

Blend

Mixing of two or more grape varieties to increase quality or maintain consistency.

Body

The impression of weight or fullness on the palate. \"Full-bodied\" describes a wine with fullness of flavour in the mouth; \"Light-bodied\" means the opposite. It is an important measure of a wines weight that is predominantly determined by its alcoholic strength. The more body that a wine has the less like water it tastes.

Botrytis cinerea

A parasitic fungus, which, if present in a vineyard, can attack ripe grapes, removing water and concentrating sugar and flavour components. It helps to make great sweet white wines.

Bottle age

Time spent in the bottle after making and possible wood aging. \"Will improve with bottle age\", means the winemaker thinks the wine will taste better with several years cellaring.

Bottle variation

Difference in the character of a wine from bottle to bottle in the same wine. These unexpected variations can be due to storage conditions, cork differences, unclean bottles, or other factors beyond the winemakers\' control.

Bouquet

The smell of a finished wine. May be affected by time spent in the bottle.

Breathing

Allowing a wine to come in contact with air before serving.

Bright

Perfectly clear wine with no suspended particles. Bright colour is an important factor for wine quality.

Cigar box

An aroma, in a red wine, analogous to the smell it describes, as a result of the combination of the fruit, wood and other constituents of a red wine. Not as unpleasant as it might sound.

Cloudy

A cloudy wine has suspended particles in it, obscuring the colour. An indicator of problems in a wine.

Colour

In wine, an extremely important indicator of quality and condition. Darker colours usually indicate older wines.

Complexity

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

Corked

Usually a wine whose quality is affected by the failure of the cork to keep air away from the liquid.

Crisp

A positive term for white wine with refreshing acidity.

Decant

Transfer of wine from the bottle into another container, usually a glass decanter. Decanting aerates the wine and allows you to leave any suspended particles in the bottle.

Depth

Describes the complexity and concentration of flavours in a wine, as in a wine with excellent or uncommon depth. Opposite of shallow.

Dessert wine

Wine designed for consumption with sweeter foods. Usually a richer, sweeter style of wine.

Dry

Absence of residual sugar in a wine. Dry is a term to describe the absence of sweetness in a wine.

Fermentation

The process of converting sugars (in this case grape sugars) into alcohol with yeasts.

Finish

End taste of a wine after it has been swallowed. High tannin content might produce a \"firm finish\", or lack of a flavour might yield a \"poor finish\".

Firm

Term referring to taste experience at the back of the palate, caused by tannins.

Flabby

Similar to \"fat\", meaning the wine has unpleasantly big flavours on the back palate. High glycerine character, soft and broad flavoured.

Flat

Uninteresting, little flavour. In sparkling wines, little or no bubble left in the wine.

Flavour

The taste of wine.

Flowery

An attractive scent reminiscent of flowers. \"Floral\" and \"fragrant\" are similar words of approval often applied to pleasing young white wines.

Fortified

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

Fruity

Having the aroma and taste of fruit or fruits.

Green

A wine not ready for drinking, or made form under ripe fruit. One that has too much acidity.

Hard

Term that refers to bitter and dry tastes associated with tannins on the finish of some wines.

Herbaceous

A taste that can be related to herb flavours.

Honeyed

Relates to the flavour of honey to some wines.

Hot

Refers to a slightly burning sensation in the mouth produced by wines with too much alcohol.

Late picked

Grapes picked when riper than average, hence with higher levels of sugar.

Lees

Deposits in cask or bottle, notably the residue in champagne bottles, from dead yeast cells after the secondary fermentation has been completed.\"Lying on lees\" is the process that help gives bottle-fermented champagne its yeasty flavour.

Legs

Columns of wine, especially fortified wine, which trickle down the inside of a glass. Supposed to indicate high alcohol content in a wine.

Length

The amount of time the sensations of taste and aroma persist after swallowing. The longer the better.

Mature

Usually applied to attractive, older wines with mellow flavour and good colour.

Noble rot

A fungal infection (botrytis cinerea) that attacks ripe grapes - and which helps make some of the great sweet wines.

Nose

The smell or bouquet of a wine. To "nose"a wine is to smell it.

Oak

Wines might be stored in oak containers, usually to impart extra and more complex flavours. French, American and German oak barrels are widely used in Australia, but are getting quite expensive as oak trees become scarcer.

Oaky

Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. 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.

Oenology

The science of winemaking.

Oily

Pips and stalks in grapes can inject \"oily\" flavours into a wine. Not good.

Oxidation

The presence of oxygen causes wine to decompose, turning it eventually to vinegar. Higher temperatures speed the process.

Peppery

A not entirely unpleasant spicy characteristic sometimes-found in young red wines and ports. Rather raw, biting and reminiscent of black pepper.

Port

A fortified red wine. An after-dinner drink of quite high alcohol content (17 to 20 %). Tawny ports are blended wines that have usually been kept by the maker in wood barrels for some years in order to mature them for drinking when sold. Vintage ports (which bear a year of origin on the label) are usually sold early by the maker and you, the consumer, are expected to do the cellaring until the wine is ready for drinking.

Residual sugar

The natural grape sugar left behind (usually by design) after the fermentation has finished. It is a characteristic of many modern white wines, usually pleasant though sometimes sickly sweet if overdone.

Sharp

Acid taste on the palate. Not necessarily unpleasant.

Short

A wine with no length of flavour.

Sweet

More than fruity; pertaining to sugar.

Tannin

A vital ingredient (and preservative) in wines, especially red wines. It comes from the stalks, skins and pips of grapes. Tannins in a young wine produce a bitter, puckering taste on the palate.

Tart

Noticeable acidic taste of natural grape acids.

Thin

A wine lacking body to the extent of being watery.

Varietal

A wine made from a particular variety of grape.

Velvety

A description of texture usually used for wines with not much tannin and high glycerine.

Vigneron

Grape-grower.

Vintage

The period of picking or harvesting grapes each year, as in \"the vintage\"; also the year a wine was made of \"vintaged\".

Vintner

Winemaker

Viscous

The thick appearance of wine.

Volatile

A wine spoiled by the presence of acetic acid is said to be volatile.

Wine

The fermented juice of grapes.

Woody

Strong bouquet of wood (oak) in wine. Not necessarily unpleasant, but possibly very obvious.

Yeast

Single-cell organisms that convert grape sugar into ethyl alcohol.