Wine Glossary & Tasting Terms

Wine Glossary

The wine world has more than its fair share of technical terms and phrases. Whether related to the way wine is made or the words that are used to describe it, the following glossary aims to cover some of the more commonly used words, phrases, acronyms and tasting terms. There are links to other parts of the website where more in-depth explanations exist.

For common words and phrases associated with smell or taste of different grape varieties visit the Guide to tasting pages.

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

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acetic

A tart, vinegary smell indicating bacterial spoilage. Can be used as a tasting term.

acidity

An essential component of wine, acidity makes a wine crisp and refreshing. Too little acidity leads to a 'flabby' wine; too much, and the wine will have an unpleasant sharpness or tart character. An important element to note when tasting wine.

aeration

Exposing a wine to the air (more specifically, oxygen), to develop its flavours, be that during the winemaking process, or simply by swirling a glass of wine when served. Too much exposure to oxygen, though, leads to oxidation.

alcohol reduction

Reducing the alcohol level of a wine can be achieved in a number of ways, but chiefly through expensive high-tech methods such as reverse osmosis and the spinning cone, although some believe such practices strip a wine of its character, as well as some of its alcohol.

amontillado

Style of sherry which begins life as a fino, but the winemaker allows the flor (the protective layer of yeast covering the sherry) to die, thus exposing the wine to the air. Amontillados are amber in colour and have a nutty, dry to medium-dry character.

amphora

Ceramic vase used for transporting and storing wine first used in ancient Greece, up until the 7th century AD. Most held about 40 litres.

appellation

Generic term for a demarcated region for producing wine.

appellation d'origine protégée/contrôlée (AOP/AOC)

This is the way the French refer to wines of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO); a system of designating (and protecting) regions and areas for wine production. Does not guarantee quality; merely the wine's origin.

assemblage

French term (meaning 'blend') relating to the final selection of batches (or grape varieties) that will comprise the finished wine.

astringent

A term used to describe the dry, harsh sensation sometimes found in very tannic wine.

attack

Tasting term. The initial impact of a wine on the palate.

auslese

German wine category (literally 'selected harvest'). The wines are made from grapes with a naturally high level of sugar and therefore potential alcohol. Traditionally sweet at 7°-8.5° alcohol, but nowadays also fermented dry at 12°-13°.

austere

Tasting term. A tough, hard, uncompromising wine which is unlikely to mellow with age

autolysis

The decomposition of yeast cells, which in turn are responsible for the fresh bread characteristics of good Champagne.

azienda

Italian term, meaning 'business'. An azienda agricola is a wine business.

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backward

Tasting term. An adjective used to describe a wine that is immature and/or further back in its life cycle than expected.

baked/cooked/stewed

Tasting term. A hot (but not burnt) character indicating arid vineyards or warm vintages

barrel

The size and shape of barrels varies across the world. In Bordeaux, the barrique (which holds 225l) is the most common; in Burgundy, it is the 228l pièce; in Spain, the 225l barrica. No matter the size, by far the most popular type of wood for wine-barrel production is oak.

bâtonnage

The stirring of dead yeast cells and grape pulp and seeds (lees) in a wine barrel that prevents the build-up of nasty-smelling hydrogen sulphide, but also improves the mouthfeel and flavour of a wine.

beerenauslese

One of the ripest German wine categories, Beerenauslese wines are almost always affected by botrytis. The best are rich, deep-coloured, sweet and rare. The term means 'selected grapes'.

biodynamics

System of agriculture based on the ideas of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Biodynamic practitioners eschew pesticides and herbicides in favour of composting 'preparations', and adjust their workload according to the biodynamic calendar, which categorises days as 'fruit' (the best), 'flower', 'leaf', and 'root' (the worst). A number of high-profile producers have adopted biodynamics, including Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, Huet in the Loire, and Chapoutier in the Rhône.

bite

Tasting term. The trenchant impact of acidity and young tannin on the palate.

blanc de blancs

Literally 'white of whites', or white wine made from white grapes. Usually refers to sparkling wines made solely with white grapes (in Champagne's case, just chardonnay).

blanc de noirs

Meaning 'white of blacks', this refers to white wine made exclusively with dark-skinned grapes. The grapes are pressed lightly, with the skins separated from the juice before colouration. Usually refers to Champagne made with pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes.

bodega

Spanish term for 'winery'.

body

Tasting term. Refers to the combination of fruit, extract and alcohol registered on the palate. Sometimes referred to as 'weight'.

bonbonne

Glass jars with a capacity of 25l, usually used to store vin doux naturel.

bordeaux blend

Any red wine that contains at least two of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, and carmenère.

botrytis cinerea

A fungal disease that may be welcomed by producers of sweet wine, but despised by others. The malevolent form of botrytis, grey rot (pourriture grise), is never a good thing, but the benevolent form, noble rot or pourriture noble, helps to create some of the world's best sweet wines.

bouquet

Tasting term. Collective noun for the aromas which make up a 'nose'.

brettanomyces ('brett')

A yeast infection that occurs in wineries, causing some wines to develop 'mousy' flavours. Brett is found in wines from the Rhône more than other regions, but its presence is not necessarily a bad thing; indeed, some wine drinkers see its presence as a badge of honour.

brut

Indicates dryness in a Champagne or sparkling wine. A Brut Champagne must contain less than 15g/l of residual sugar.

bush vine

Method of training vines, as the name suggests, low on the ground, with no trellising, in a ring shape.

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canopy

All the elements of a vine above ground: the trunk, shoots, leaves, and fruit.

cape blend

Much-disputed term for a blended red wine from South Africa. Some producers have called for all Cape Blends to contain a minimum percentage of pinotage (a hybrid grape developed in South Africa by crossing pinot noir with cinsault), but no one has agreed on how much, while other winemakers say they should be free to choose which grapes to put in their own wine.

carbonic maceration

Method of red wine production, most commonly practised in Beaujolais. Unbroken clusters of grapes are placed in oxygen-free, carbon-dioxide-heavy vats, which causes fermentation to occur inside each grape. What the wine gains in fruity immediacy, it lacks in structure and ageability.

cave

French term for 'cellar'. A cave in Burgundy is usually underground, whereas a chai in Bordeaux is usually at ground level.

cépage

French term, meaning 'grape variety'.

chaptalisation

A widely used technique to increase the final alcohol content of a wine by adding sugar to the fermenting vat, which is converted to alcohol by the yeast.

château

Nothing to do with castles, this simply refers to a wine-producing estate.

classed growth

Any wine that features in a country's (or region's) wine classification system. Most correctly used to describe Bordeaux châteaux included in the 1855 Classification, as well as those in the St Emilion classification.

closures

The collective term for corks, screwcaps, synthetic corks, glass stoppers, and any other means of keeping oxygen out of a wine bottle.

cloying

Tasting term. A sweet wine lacking acidity or balance. Contrast with luscious.

colheita

Portuguese term for 'vintage' (literally, 'crop'). Also refers to a tawny port from a single vintage that has been aged for at least seven years.

complexity

Tasting term. Thought-provoking, multifaceted quality which separates quaffers from keepers.

co-operative

A business that will have a number (sometimes fewer than ten; sometimes hundreds) of winemakers, who forsake their individuality by making their wine under the co-op's name and not their own, but in return have the security of a large organisation behind them.

corked (corky/corkiness)

A term used to describe a wine contaminated with cork taint, otherwise known as TCA (trichloroanisole), a fungus. Corked wines will have a musty, unpleasant smell, and research has shown that around 5% of wines sealed with a cork are affected - to some degree - by TCA.

côte

French term for 'slope', as in Côtes du Rhône and Côte-Rotie.

coulure

Term that describes poor fruit set in the vineyard during the spring: the berries fail to develop and fall off the vine. Can be caused by harsh weather, poor metabolic conditions or poor vineyard practices.

crémant

Term for the best French sparkling wine, but not including Champagne. Notable examples come from Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire, but Crémant can also be produced in Jura, Limoux, and Bordeaux, as well as Luxembourg.

crianza

Spanish term that describes both the process of ageing a wine and the youngest category for wine aged in oak. Crianza reds must be at least two years old, and have spent a minimum of six months in oak barricas. In Rioja and some other regions, such as Ribera del Duero, the wine must have spent a minimum of 12 months in oak.

cru

French term meaning 'growth'. Refers to a wine from a single vineyard.

crushing

One of the first elements in winemaking that involves breaking the skin of the grapes.

crusted

A style of port from a blend of vintages that needs to be decanted, like vintage port, to separate the wine from the 'crust', or sediment.

cultivar

Occasionally used term for grape variety and technically more correct but only widely used in South Africa.

cuvaison

The process of leaving the solid matter – the grapes' pips, skin, stalks and so on – to macerate in the wine during the alcoholic fermentation in order to extract colour, flavour and tannin.

cuvée

Usually refers to a blend, but also refers to the contents of a cuve (vat).

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demi-sec

Literally 'medium-dry'. A demi-sec wine is sweeter than a sec wine, but not as a sweet as a moelleux (mellow) or a doux (sweet).

depth

Tasting term. Used when discussing the measure of a wine's intensity and complexity of flavour.

disgorgement

The removal of the frozen slug of yeast cells in a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine.

dosage

After disgorgement, Champagne and sparkling wines are topped up with a mixture of wine and sugar syrup. The dosage determines the final sweetness level of the wine.

doux

French term for 'sweet'.

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edelzwicker

Term used in Alsace (German for 'noble mixture') to describe a no-frills blend.

1855 Classification

A five-tiered list of top Bordeaux châteaux (plus another covering Sauternes and Barsac) drawn up for the World Exhibition of Paris in 1855, based on reputation and price. The classification has changed only twice: once in 1856, when Château Cantemerle was added as a fifth growth, and more recently in 1973, when Château Mouton-Rothschild was promoted to first-growth status. St-Emilion wineries have their own classification, which has seen many changes since its inception in 1955.

eiswein

See ice wine.

élevage

The 'raising' of a wine, in the same way that children are raised by their parents. Refers to the care and attention bestowed on a wine by a winemaker.

en primeur

A way of acquiring wines when first released by the château or négociant before they have even been bottled. The winery (or, more commonly, négociant) gets their money as early as possible, and the consumer secures their wine for a decent price.

extract

Tasting term. The 'solid' fruit and tannic elements extracted from the grapes which boost flavour. Over extraction can lead to astringency.

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fermentation

The process by which grape sugars are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide after the addition of yeasts.

field blend

A single vineyard containing a hotch-potch of grape varieties, with no planning or structure.

fine wine

Popular but a very hard term to define. Wine writer Steven Spurrier once described fine wine as 'wine worth talking about', which seems apt. But putting a price to fine wine is impossible, as one person's desert-island wine could be another's everyday drop.

finesse

Tasting term. Evokes class, subtlety, specialness - the opposite of pedestrian, dull or four-square.

fining

The act of removing particles in a wine to clarify it and avoid cloudiness in the finished wine. Egg whites, bentonite clay, and even fish bladders have been used for fining, although miniscule traces (if, indeed any) of these materials remain in the finished wine.

finish

Tasting term. A wine's final chance to impress after it has gone down the hatch. The perfect finish is clean, decisive, convincing and sufficiently long-lasting to ponder.

fino

Bone-dry style of sherry. While in barrel, a protective layer of yeast, flor, preserves fino's light, delicate colour and aroma. Should be served chilled, and once opened, should be drunk within one week.

first growth

Only five Bordeaux châteaux are in this exclusive club: Lafite, Latour, Mouton-Rothschild, Haut-Brion, and Margaux. Mouton was the only one added after the 1855 Classification was drawn up, and was promoted to first-growth status in 1973.

flabby

Tasting term. A wine that is lacking in acidity may be described as flabby.

flintiness

Tasting term. Stony, gunflint quality found in some Chablis.

flor

The layer of yeast that develops on the surface of sherry, and helps to protect the liquid underneath from oxidation.

fortified wine

The addition of spirits to a wine, serving a number of purposes: stabilising the wine; increasing the alcoholic strength; and stopping any further fermentation. Examples include sherry, port, and Madeira.

free-run juice

The grape juice that drains from a fermentation vessel naturally after crushing, as distinct from juice which is collected from pressing.

french paradox

American term used to describe the low level of heart disease among the French, despite a rich and fatty diet, attributed in part to enthusiastic red wine consumption. Red wine sales soared in the US following the broadcast of a programme which claimed as much.

futures

Another term for en primeur.

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garagiste

Now a generic term for a small-scale winemaker, but originated in St Emilion after a number of right-bank producers began making very concentrated, rich red wines with plenty of oak, in tiny quantities.

Garrafeira

A Portuguese term which used to be used widely on labels to denote a wine from an exceptional vintage that had been aged for a minimum of 30 months before sale.

glassy-winged sharpshooter

Feared insect that spreads Pierce's Disease. The disease, which has no cure, kills vines quickly. Outbreaks have been reported in southern California but the glassy-wing has yet to make serious inroads in high-profile regions such as Napa and Sonoma.

grand cru

Literally, 'great growth'. The highest-possible vineyard status in Burgundy.

grand vin

Bordeaux term for a château's top wine.

gran reserva

Top-quality Spanish wine, generally found in Rioja in exceptional vintages which has been subject to long ageing. The exact ageing period varies from DO to DO. In Rioja, red wine must spend at least five years in cask and bottle (in total), with a minimum of two in oak.

green

Tasting term. A 'green' wine characteristic associated with unripe grapes, as opposed to 'verdant', which is a positive descriptor for fresh, grassy wines.

grip

Tasting term used to describe a wine with well-balanced tannin and acidity: a positive effect on the palate.

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halbtrocken

German equivalent of demi-sec.

haut

Literally 'high'.

hectare

Area of land equivalent to 10,000 sq m, or 2.47 acres, often seen abbvreviated to ha.

herbaceous

Tasting term. An aromatic, shrubby quality, rather like the smell of a bouquet garni, found in many wines from the southern Rhône and Provence.

hollow

Tasting term. Indicates a lack of 'middle' in a wine which starts and ends acceptably. Australians sometimes refer to these as 'polo wines'!

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ice wine

Highly prized sweet wine (known as Eiswein in Germany), made by picking grapes at temperatures of around -10ºC. The grapes are left on the vine until winter, which naturally pushes up sugar levels, and when crushed, the water content (now frozen), remains in the press. Usually made with vidal or riesling grapes.

isinglass

A protein obtained from fish bladders used in fining wines. Its use is declining, however, in favour of vegetarian-friendly fining agents, such as bentonite (clay).

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joven

'Young' in Spanish, this category of wines refers to very young wines that usually see no oak.

jug wine

American term for what Brits would call 'plonk'.

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kabinett

The German Prädikat system has six levels based on the ripeness of the grapes. Kabinett is the first level, and such wines are among the lightest and most delicate in Germany. Kabinett wines are superior to QbA wines and simple table wines.

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lagar

A low-sided stone trough that is filled with grapes, in readiness for foot-treading that still takes place in the Douro. Robotic lagares have now been introduced by some port houses.

LBV

Late Bottled Vintage - a style of port that does not need decanting. LBVs are from a single vintage, and bottled between four and six years after the harvest.

leafy

Tasting term. A characteristic sometimes found in cabernet franc and some other cool-climate reds.

lees

The mixture of dead yeast cells, grape pulp and seeds that rest on the bottom of a barrel or vat. A process known as racking removes the liquid from the lees before bottling, but the lees are sometimes stirred while in barrel (known as bâtonnage), to add character to a wine.

left bank

An area of Bordeaux on the left bank of the river Garonne at the Gironde estuary, which includes the whole of the Médoc, Graves and Pessac-Léognan, where cabernet sauvignon dominates. Right-bank wineries use a much higher proportion of merlot in their wines, because cabernet sauvignon ripens less well in their heavier, colder soils.

legs

Tasting term. See tears.

length

Tasting term. The length of a wine refers to how long the flavour of the wine lasts in the mouth; the longer the better. Also referred to as the finish.

lieu-dit

French term referring to the local or traditional name for a small plot of land or vineyard. Most commonly found in Alsace and Burgundy. Sometimes synonymous with the term climat.

lifted

Tasting term to describe fruitiness. A wine with lifted fruit will have plenty of fruit to the fore.

limpidity

Tasting term. The best kind of colour, firm, clear and positively shining. A sign of good wine.

liquoreux

French term indicating a very rich, sweet wine.

luscious

Tasting term used to describe a sweet wine in which all the elements are in perfect harmony.

lutte raisonnée

A system of agriculture ('reasoned struggle') in which the use of herbicides and pesticides is kept to an absolute minimum.

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maceration

In terms of wine, maceration involves keeping the crushed grapes in with their juice, in order to extract flavour, colour and tannin from the skins and pips.

maderised

Tasting term. A wine that is brown, oxidised and Madeira-like.

magnum

A bottle that contains 1.5l, twice that of a normal 750ml wine bottle. Wine in magnums age more slowly.

malolactic fermentation ('malo')

Winemaking term whereby sharp, appley malic acid is converted to more gentle lactic acid, which can soften wines with high acidity and also add character.

manzanilla

Dry style of sherry from the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Similar to fino, but with a little more acidity and an almost salty tang said to come from the flor, which grows more abundantly on the wine due to the increase humidity. Manzanilla Pasadas are aged a little longer, and develop a nuttier character.

marc

The leftover materials from winemaking once the grapes have been pressed: the pulp, seeds, stems and skins. Also the term for the grape brandy that is made from distilling them.

mesoclimate

The climate of a specific site, or a particular vineyard. Not to be confused with macroclimate (the climate of a region), or microclimate (the immediate climate around an individual vine).

méthode champenoise

The best, but most time-consuming way of making sparkling wine or Champagne, with a second fermentation inside the bottle. Also known as méthode classique and méthode traditionnelle (only Champagne producers may use 'méthode Champenoise' on their label).

micro-oxygenation

Modern winemaking process whereby very small amounts of oxygen are added to a wine continually, to help it develop and mature gracefully.

millerandage

Condition affecting grape bunches following poor weather at flowering when the vine produces lots of small, green stunted berries. It usually follows coulure (the failure of grapes to develop after flowering). Known as millerandage because there are thousands ('mille') of little berries.

millésime

French term for 'vintage'.

mis(e) en bouteille

French term for 'bottled'.

moelleux

French term (literally 'mellow') for 'medium-sweet'.

monopole

French term for an area (usually a vineyard), exclusively owned by one winery as a monopoly. An example is La Tâche, owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

must

The mixture of grape juice, seeds, skins and pulp that come from a grape crusher/destemmer before being fermented and turned into wine.

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négociant

French term for wine merchants who buy wine from growers, then mature and bottle it themselves. Négociants play an important role, particularly in Bordeaux.

noble rot

See botrytis.

nutty

Tasting term. Associated with fortified wines and top-quality whites. Some premium Burgundies have hints of hazelnuts

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oenologist

A winemaker or wine consultant.

old vine

Term often seen on wine labels ('Vielles Vignes' in French). Many believe that old vines produce better, more characterful fruit than young vines, but that is a broad generalisation. Yalumba winery in Australia has tried to make 50 years the minimum age for old vines, but this is unlikely to be enforced. At present, there is no legal definition as to what constitutes an old vine.

oloroso

Rich style of sherry, very different from fino and manzanilla. Olorosos are dark, nutty wines; some are sweetened to make cream sherry.

organic wine

No wine is truly organic; there are only organically grown grapes, that is, grapes grown without the use of pesticides. Organic grape growers have to use other techniques to ward off vineyard pests; examples include introducing particular insect species, growing cover crops between vineyard rows to keep weeds at bay, and even letting livestock roam the vineyard to eat predators.

oxidation

When wine is exposed to too much oxygen, it is said to be oxidised. A little oxygen is extremely beneficial to a wine; too much is deadly.

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passerillage

French term relating to grapes that have been dried (or 'raisined') on the vine, which concentrates the sugars inside.

passito

Italian sweet winemaking style, whereby grapes are either allowed to dry on the vine, or are dried after harvesting, lowering the water content and concentrating the flavour.

pedro ximénez

Both a grape and a style of sherry, often abbreviated to PX. PX sherry is dark, viscous, and very sweet (and is excellent poured over vanilla ice cream).

pétillant

French term for a lightly sparkling wine.

phylloxera

The phylloxera aphid was responsible for wiping out swathes of European vineyards in the late 1800s. It attacks the roots of vines. Consequently, the majority of vines around the world are now grafted on to phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks.

pipe

Large wooden barrel used in port production. Most port pipes have a capacity of 550l-600l.

piquant

Tasting term. Pleasantly fresh and palate-stimulating, as opposed to 'sharp'. Denotes good acidity

premier cru

Term used in Bordeaux to signify the highest level of quality ('first growth'). Premier cru is also used in Burgundy, but is inferior to grand cru.

pressing

Winemaking term that involves placing grapes or grape clusters into a press, and applying pressure to extract juice.

prestige cuvée

The top wine produced by a Champagne house. Examples include Cristal from Louis Roederer, and Dom Pérignon from Moët et Chandon.

pruning

After harvesting, vines need to be pruned, a strenuous and back-breaking (but essential) task that involves cutting back unwanted shoots and canes in preparation for the following vintage.

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quinta

Portuguese term for 'farm' but also refers to a wine estate.

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racking

The process of separating wine in a barrel from its lees, the mix of yeast cells and sediment. Known as soutirage in French.

racy

Tasting term often used of fine German riesling to describe a pleasing interaction of vibrant fruit flavour and brisk acidity.

rancio

Tasting descriptor often used with fortified wines. Refers to the powerful dried-fruit, Christmas-cake aroma that occurs when wine is deliberately exposed to oxygen and/or heat.

reduction

The opposite of oxidation, wines that suffer from excess reduction develop unpleasant odours of rotten eggs and spent matches.

remuage

French term for the riddling process in sparkling wine production, which involves shaking the bottle to force the yeast cells into the neck of the bottle. Riddling is still done by hand, but also by automated gyropalettes.

reserva

Used in Spain and Portugal but with different meanings. In Spain, Reservas must be aged for at least three years for reds, and two for whites. In Portugal, the term denotes a wine at least half a per cent of alcohol higher than the minimum level for the region.

reserve/réserve

A term misused by wineries all over the world to signify quality, even though the term has no legal definition.

residual sugar

Also known as RS, this refers to the unfermented sugar left in the finished wine. It is measured in grams of sugar per litre of wine. For example, a dry wine would have an RS level of no more than 4g/l, while a bottle of Sauternes would easily top 100g/l.

rhône ranger

US-derived term for a number of Californian winemakers who helped to boost the image of Rhône varieties in their homeland, through top-quality wines made with syrah, grenache and mourvèdre. They include Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Bob Lindquist of Qupé winery.

right bank

Wineries based on the right bank of the Dordogne river in Bordeaux, especially châteaux in St Emilion and Pomerol, are said to be right-bank wineries. Merlot and cabernet franc are the dominant grape varieties, unlike the left bank, which excels with cabernet sauvignon.

ripasso

Technique used chiefly in Italian winemaking, whereby Valpolicella wine is refermented on the lees from Amarone wines to give a richer result.

robust

Tasting term. Honest and upfront, rather than complex or aristocratic

rootstock

The plant that forms the root element of the vine, to which the fruiting branch is grafted. After phylloxera devastated vineyards across Europe, winemakers were forced to graft their vines onto American rootstocks, which are resistant to the bug.

rosado/rosato

The Spanish/Portuguese and Italian terms, respectively, for rosé wine.

ruby

The cheapest style of port available, ruby is generally aged for two to three years. Its youth gives it its robust and fiery taste, and it has a ruby-pink colour.

rustic

Tasting term. Lacking breed or finesse, coarse, and not particularly well made.

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saignée

'Bleeding' of free-run juice from a vat of red wine either to increase its concentration or to make rosé.

sec

Literally, 'dry'. The Italian equivalent is secco; in Spain and Portugal, it is seco.

second wine

A wine released by an estate that has a different name - and is of a lesser quality - than its main wine. Very common in Bordeaux, with Carruades de Lafite (Lafite) and Le Petit Mouton (Mouton-Rothschild) notable examples. Sometimes it is made from young vines from the estate, or off-cuts from the main grand vin.

sediment

Any solid matter that forms in a wine bottle, barrel, or vat. Sediment in a bottle of wine will need to be decanted to avoid particles ending up in the glass.

sélection de grains nobles (SGN)

The sweetest category of Alsace wines.

short

Tasting term. Refers to a sudden finish or aftertaste which cannot wait to escape.

spätlese

German wine law classifies the quality of wine by the degree of sugar in the harvested grapes. Spätlese, literally 'late harvest', lies between Kabinett and Auslese in terms of ripeness, but the wines can be dry or sweet.

stalkiness

Tasting term. Hard, astringent edge on the palate caused by unripe grapes, or too many stems in the fermentation vat

steen

How South African winemakers used to refer to the chenin blanc grape. The term is still used on some labels.

stelvin

Technically a brand name, owned by mining group Rio Tinto Alcan, but is now widely used as a generic term for a screwcap.

stickie

Australian slang for a sweet wine, particularly the fortified wines of Rutherglen in Victoria.

straw wine

Top-quality sweet wine made by drying grapes on straw mats. Is produced in various wine regions, but mainly in Jura, France.

structure

Tasting term. The 'build' of a wine, incorporating backbone and muscularity.

sulphites

Wine labels must carry the phrase 'contains sulphites' in the EU if the wine inside contains more than 10mg/l of sulphur dioxide, which is used to preserve wine and prevent it from oxidising.

sulphury

Tasting term. Prickly or acrid sensation caused by an excess of SO2.

supertuscan

Italian term that refers to a number of top-quality wines released under the lowly Vina da Tavola category as a reaction (and protest) against the inflexibility of the country's wine laws. The two most famous are Sassicaia and Tignanello.

sur lie

Wines which have been aged with lees contact can be labelled 'sur lie'. Most commonly seen in the Loire, with Muscadet.

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tank method

Method of sparkling wine production, usually reserved for bulk wine. It is cheaper and quicker than the méthode champenoise, but the results are not in the same league.

tannin

Key preservative in red wine, present in grape skins and pips. Feels like stewed tea in the mouth.

tartrates

Harmless tartaric crystal deposits sometimes found in a bottle of wine. Tartaric acid is a natural ingredient of wine.

tawny

A style of port that is aged in oak, and develops an amber/brown colour. Tawny ports taste nuttier and less fruity than vintage ports or LBVs, and are delicious drunk chilled.

TCA

See corked.

tears

Tasting term. The trails of liquid that cling to the side of a wine glass that has been swirled, which then slowly make their way to the bottom. Often a sign of alcohol strength. Also known as legs.

terroir

A French concept to describe the quality of a vineyard that makes it particular, comprising soil, exposure to sunlight, position, and mesoclimate.

tête du cuvée

Alternative term for prestige cuvée.

texture

Tasting term. The feel of the wine on the palate on a range from astringent to velvety

triage

French term for the sorting of grapes once they arrive at the winery. The grapes are sorted on a table de tri.

trie

The feminine form of tri refers to the passing of pickers through the vineyards several times, or tries, to pick grapes cluster by cluster. This process is essential in the making of botrytized wines and is also employed for dry wines where there has been uneven ripening.

trocken

German term for 'dry'.

trockenbeerenauslese

The ripest category of German wines, translated as 'selection of dried grapes', and sometimes known as TBA. TBAs are not possible in every vintage, but when they are, they command top prices. Such wines are, in fact, very sweet. The grapes are only dry in the sense that they contain very little water.

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ullage

Most widely used to mean the level of wine in a bottle. Ullage is crucial when wine is bought or sold at auction - low levels can mean that excessive oxygen has got into the wine, thus lowering its value dramatically.

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varietal

Much-misused term that relates to a wine made predominantly from a single grape variety. It is not a synonym for 'variety', and should not be used as such. The term has been in much wider use since the rise of new world wines.

vegetal

Tasting term. A farmyardy or cabbagey whiff sometimes present in mature red Burgundy

velvety

Tasting term. Describes a wine which is rich, ripe, opulent in texture.

vendange

French term for 'harvest'.

vendange tardive

Literally 'late harvest', Vendange Tardive wines are only ever found in Alsace, but sweetness levels vary considerably. The grapes are left on the vine longer than normal, allowing sugar levels to rise.

veraison

When grapes go through veraison, they begin to ripen, soften, and (in the case of black grapes), change colour.

villages

The term Villages (not to be confused with a village wine) applies to wines that must be made from one or a number of communes that have been recognised as superior to the rest of that region, such as Rasteau in the Rhône, or Uchizy in Mâcon. The wine will not necessarily bear the name of the commune; this is particularly true in the case of Côtes du Rhône-Villages.

village wine

Usually refers to a wine from Burgundy, superior to generic Bourgogne, but inferior to premier and grand cru. A good example is Pommard. It may or may not name the vineyard on the label.

vin de paille

See straw wine.

vin doux naturel

Translated as 'wine with natural sweetness', but VDNs, as they are known, are actually fortified with neutral grape spirit which stops fermentation and ensures that some sweetness remains in the wine. Most VDNs are made in Languedoc-Roussillon, with either muscat or grenache.

vin jaune

One of the most distinctive wines in the world, vin jaune ('yellow wine') is mainly made in the Jura region of France. Like Sherry, a layer of yeast develops on the surface of the wine while in barrel, but unlike Sherry, vin jaune is not fortified. It is, however, encouraged to oxidise, which partly explains its extraordinary savoury character. The best vins jaunes keep for decades.

vinosity

Tasting term. Concentrated, 'true' wine character in the glass.

viticulture

The study and practice of growing vines and managing vineyards.

vintage port

The most prestigious (and expensive) style of port, vintage port is from a single year, bottled after two years in cask, and needs lengthy cellaring to show at its best. Vintage ports are only produced on average three times a decade, usually by agreement among the major port producers. Vintage port can be drunk young, but after a few years, it closes up completely, and must be cellared for at least 10-15 years before it begins to open up. It throws a heavy sediment, and must be decanted.

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western grapeleaf skeletonizer

Elaborately named vineyard pest first found in California in the 1940s. Gets its name from the larvae's habit of 'skeletonizing' vine leaves by eating the soft tissue and leaving the main veins of the plant intact.

wine of Origin (WO)

Wine of Origin is the South African equivalent of appellation contrôlée.

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xérès

The French name for sherry (Jerez in Spain).

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yeast

Miscroscopic organisms that are essential if fermentation is to take place. Winemakers can opt for a risky approach and hope that natural yeasts in the atmosphere of the winery will get fermentation going, or, as is more common in the new world, they will use 'cultured' yeasts for more precision.

yeasty

Tasting term. Just-fermented, bread-like smell often found in Champagne (see above).

yield

The amount of fruit that a vine or vineyard will produce. There are many factors that will affect yield, such as the density of planting in the vineyard, how the canopy has been managed, and the age of the vine. There is also an accepted link between yield and quality.

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zesty

Tasting term. Describes a crisp, zingy and refreshing white.

zin

Abbreviation for zinfandel.

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