Wine lovers enjoy having long conversations about wine and its flavours. Oftentimes, these talks can sound intimidating, but if you discover the meanings of some key terms used in the wine world, you will be able to easily engage in fascinating discussions and become the favourite interlocutor during such pleasurable gatherings.
Useful wine terms
Appellation (French origin) – Legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown.
Barrique (French origin) – Oak barrel with capacity of 225 litres.
Botrytis – Disease that affects grapevines. It is caused by fungi that attack in humid weather.
Bouquet (French origin) – Layers of aromas perceived when sniffing a wine.
Vinification – Winemaking process, starting with selection of the grapes that are to be used and ending with bottling the finished wines.
Viticulture – Science that encompasses all aspects of the production and study of the grapes. Deals with the series of events that occur in the vineyard.
Oenology (UK oenology; US enology) – Science of all aspects of wine study and winemaking, except vine-growing and grape-harvesting.
Oenologist – Winemaking specialist, expert in oenology.
Oenophile (French origin) – Wine aficionado or connoisseur.
Cuvée (French origin) – A blend of two or more wines of different varieties, or a blend from different vintages. Synonymous with coupage (French origin).
Sommelier (French origin) – A trained wine connoisseur, a professional usually working in reputable restaurants, offering guests advice on wine selection.
Tannin – A compound in the wine that occurs in the skin, seeds and stalks of grapes. It gives the wine the basic flavour of bitterness. This substance is not desirable in large quantities.
Terroir (French origin) – A combination of natural elements: soil, climate and topography of the unique characteristics of a certain area, which gives the flavours and quality of the wine produced from grapes grown in that specific area.
Basic wine tasting descriptors
Tart – A wine with high levels of acidity.
Soft – Refers to a soft sensation in the gums. A soft wine is a wine that is not overly acidic/tannic/alcoholic.
Rich – Wine with rich, well-round flavour.
Silky – сIndicates consistency, used to describe finer wines.
Green – This term has double meaning:
- Refers to wine made of unripe grapes that contain ‘green’ tannins;
- Refers to wine with a vegetal flavour i.e. aroma of herbs, leaves and vegetation (plants). Considered a fault if the flavour is overwhelming.
Citrusy – Wine with aroma reminiscent of citrus fruits (grapefruit, lemon).
Nutty – Wine with aroma of nuts (hazelnut, walnut, almond).
Complex/Harmonious/Elegant/Balanced/Round/Refined – Faultless wine without dominant characteristics. It has a fine ratio of all elements.
Creamy – An element derived from malolactic fermentation.
Fat – Gives a pleasant mouthfeel. The wine has an overly obvious taste and often lacks elegance, but is appreciated by connoisseurs of sweet dessert wines.
Flat – Monotonous, boring. It usually refers to low acidity, which is the reason why it lacks flavour and excitement.
Corpulent – Refers to the body and texture. It often denotes rich and smooth taste.
Floral – A wine with pronounced flowery aroma.
Fresh – A wine with vibrant, fruity, sour flavour.
Fruity – It usually indicates a sweet taste which can be found in fresh grapes.
Hard – An overly tannic and acidic wine which causes dry mouth. Useful for identifying young red wines suitable for aging.
Strong/Powerful – A term used to describe young wines with high alcohol and tannin content.
Hearty – Full-bodied wine that evokes a sense of warmth and hospitality.
Hot – Used to describe a wine that is too high in alcohol and leaves a burning sensation in the gums.
Spicy – A wine evocative of spices (black pepper, anise, clove).
Sour – A term used for wines with sharp taste, usually due to high acidity.
Bitter – A harsh wine that causes a shrinking sensation inside the mouth, usually due to high tannin content.
Mature – An adjective used when the varietal characteristics of the grape are optimally present in a well-balanced wine.
Robust – Refers to vigorous and vibrant wine.
Varietal – A wine made from a single named grape variety, i.e. its flavour comes from grapes harvested at their optimal maturity point.
Charming – Implies lightness in flavour. It is used to describe wines that do not quite fulfil the first expectations and have brief aftertaste.
Clean – A wine without undesirable aromas and flavours.
Body – Sensation in the gums that comes from the combination of alcohol, glycerine and sugar in the wine. Full-bodied wines have a full mouthfeel and ‘weight’ on the tongue because of the alcohol content. Opposite of ‘thin body’ or ‘light body’.
Structure – A term used to describe the overall taste of the wine. It is usually followed by other descriptors such as well-structured, stable structure etc. It refers to the relation between the components that make the body of the wine and its intensity (alcohol, acids and tannin).
Finish/Aftertaste – The taste left in the mouth when one swallows the wine.