Wine Glossary

Welcome to the Wine Glossary, our dictionary of the most commonly used wine-descriptive words.


Wine, like any other product or industry, has its own unique language that adds to the mystique of the product. While many words may have a similar meaning for certain groups of people, this language is anything but universal. Everyone’s mouth chemistry is different, our thresholds are unique to us and we taste in various intensities. This makes it all the more difficult to articulate an exact sensation with mere words.


When we begin winetasting, we all start out using the simplest and broadest of terms and with patience, persistence and practice, our phrases become increasingly more specific and precise. But no matter where you are on this sliding scale of wine articulation, it is important to use those expressions that are truly common denominators so we have something we can all relate to.


A
Acid/Acidity
Aftertaste or Finish
Aging
Aroma
Astringent



B
Balance or Balanced
Big
Bitterness
Body
Botrytis or Botrytis Cinerea
Bouquet
Breathing
Buttery



C
Closed
Complex
Corked
Crisp



D
Delicate
Depth
Dry



E
Earthy



F
Finesse
Flat or Flabby
Fragrant
Fruity
Full or Full-Bodied



H - O
Herbacious
Intricate
Legs
Nose
Oaky
Off-dry
Oxidized



P - Z
Rich
Structure
Tannin
Terroir
Varietal Character



ACID/ACIDITY
Acidity is the “life” of wine. They’re necessary for the zest, freshness, liveliness, aroma and longevity, particularly in white wine. The best wines will have plenty of acidity balanced with other components of wine such as sweetness. A wine with too much acidity will taste sharp, or make you pucker as if you’ve tasted a slice of fresh lemon. A wine with too little acidity will taste soft or flat. Acid is a negative term used to describe a wine, acidity is a positive statement.


AFTERTASTE or FINISH
These are two words used to describe the taste left in your mouth after you’ve swallowed the wine. Both quality (fruity, hot, spicy, tannic, buttery, etc) and length (short or long) of aftertaste are evaluated.


AGING
Although long-term aging is not a sought-after virtue in wine any longer, wines do improve during the aging process, which can take anywhere from four months to five years before the wine is ready to be sold or drunk. If certain wines are able to age under proper conditions, all of its independent components merge together to create a wine that is altogether unique and more refined. Like the fine-tuning of a violin – the music is exquisite! Generally speaking, most of the wines available today are ready to drink and inexpensive wines should always be drunk young.


AROMA
The primary smells of a young wine that reflect the grape variety – anything from apply to rasiny or floral to spicy.


ASTRINGENT
The "puckerish" quality of high tannin content, which has the effect of drying out the mouth. Many young red wines are astringent because of tannin.


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BALANCE or BALANCED
A primary goal of every winemaker, this is the all-important ratio between the different components of a wine that make it pleasant. Acidity must balance with sweetness, oak and tannin should balance with fruit, and alcohol should balance with body and flavour. If all of the wine’s desirable components are present in proper proportion, it becomes graceful, like the sounds of a symphony. Sometimes age will have an influence on a wine’s balance.


BIG
You’ve heard it said that a wine is “big” wine. This is a broad, general term for a very full-bodied wine with plenty of flavour and richness. This generally positive term can refer to both red and white wines. In the case of red wines, it is often used to describe a wine with plenty of tannin. In white, it’s usually used to describe a full-bodied wine with high alcohol.


BITTERNESS
Bitterness is one of the four basic tastes and can be detected at the back of the tongue or top of the throat. Not usually a complimentary term, bitterness in wine may be a characteristic of the grape variety, such as Gewürztraminer or Muscat, extremely dry growing conditions, or poor wine making.


BODY
The body of a wine generally refers to the weight or fullness of a wine in your mouth. Wines can be categorized as light in body, medium or full. It can refer to the differences in weight in your mouth, similar to that of water, a milkshake or oil. These differences come mostly from the alcohol content, glycerin, or, in the case of dessert wines, sugar.


BOTRYTIS or BOTRYTIS CINEREA
In France, this is called “noble rot.” It is a mould that has the effect of concentrating the flavours and components of the grapes by allowing the evaporation of the water in the juice. It has the effect of imparting a desirable, unique, honey-like essence to the finished wine.


BOUQUET
Is the smells that develop as a result of fermentation or with age in the wine bottle. These could be the characteristic smells of a matured wine. The bouquet of a Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, will often contain aromas of leather and chocolate.


BREATHING
This is what a wine does if you exposed it to air. Sometimes, simply leaving it in your wine glass for a few moments will bring out the character of a wine. Sometimes, it is necessary to decant a wine. Pour the wine into a larger container, such as a decanter, to mix the air with the wine, hastening the aging process. Breathing can be beneficial for many red wines and also for some young whites, depending on the wine. Breathing releases aromas which then become more pronounced.


BUTTERY
Descriptor for rich flavour and smoothness of texture, somewhat akin to the oiliness and flavour of butter. More often refers to oak-aged white wines than reds; many Chardonnays and white Burgundies are said to have buttery aromas and flavors.


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CLOSED
If a wine is said to be “closed” it suggests there are expected flavours and aromas that are hidden or that you cannot fully detect. Closed usually refers to a temporary condition and, with a bit of exposure to air or further aging, will bring about more character definition in the wine.


COMPLEX
A complex wine is one with many elements that are present together, yet none necessarily dominates the other. Complexity is that elusive quality in which many layers of flavour separate a great wine from a very good one.


CORKED
A negative expression meaning an unpleasant, musty, moldy, "wet cardboard" taste/smell imparted by a flawed cork.


CRISP
A favourable term referring to the acidic tartness noticeable and typical in good white wines. A wine with a lively acidity level will have the characteristics of a crisp, refreshing wine.


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DELICATE
This term refers to a wine that is light and complex with many flavours working together, but not overbearing.


DEPTH
This is a broad term that refers to a wine that is demanding of more attention. It begins with subtle layers of flavour that go deeper into more complex and secondary flavours.


DRY
The term refers to a wine vinified to possess little or no sweetness. It is used to describe the opposite of sweet. Most table wines are dry, because dry wines seem to work best with food.


EARTHY
Smell or flavour reminiscent of earth. A certain earthiness can be appealing; too much makes the wine course.


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FINESSE
A complimentary term referring to the complexity, elegance and delicacy of a wine.


FLAT or FLABBY
This is a negative term for a wine lacking acidity and structure.


FRAGRANT
A fragrant wine is one that is very aromatic and reminiscent of flowers or fruit blossoms.


FRUITY
A fruity wine is one in which various fruit flavors dominate the aroma and taste.


FULL or FULL-BODIED
This is a textural description for a wine that feels full and weighty in your mouth. Typically, wines of relatively high alcohol will have fuller bodies for balance.


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HERBACEOUS
This is an adjective used to describe a wine with the taste and aroma of herbs. An herbal aroma or flavour is primarily a function of the grape variety.


INTRICATE
Interweaving of subtle complexities of aroma and flavour.


LEGS
This term is used when referring to the liquid streams that form on the inside of a wine glass after the wine has been swirled. Usually, the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the streams.


NOSE
The nose is a wine taster's term for the overall aroma and bouquet of a wine. It refers to all odours detectable in a wine, whether desirable or defective.


OAKY
Aroma and flavour that derive from aging in oak casks or barrels. Characterized by smokiness, vanilla, clove or other spices. Should not be overly pronounced.


OFF-DRY
Not quite dry, a perception of sweetness too faint to call the wine sweet.


OXIDIZED
This smell refers to a wine that has been overexposed to air. The result will be a loss of clearly distinct components.


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RICH
Full, opulent flavour, body and aroma.


STRUCTURE
The structure of a wine refers to how a wine is built. Some compare it to the bones in a human body because it refers to how a wine holds together.


TANNIN
A natural component found to varying degrees in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes; most prominent in red wines, where it creates a dry, puckering sensation in young reds of concentrated extract; mellows with aging and drops out of the wine to form sediment; a major component in the structure of red wines.


TERROIR
This is a technical French term that is used to describe the characteristic aromas and flavours of wine from grapes grown in a particular vineyard or region. Terroir incorporates the characteristic contributions of both soil and climate to the wine's unique style or "typicity."


VARIETAL CHARACTER
This term reflects the expected aromas and flavours of the grape variety from which the wine is made. A region’s winemaking practices, soils and grape varieties all have an influence on the wine’s character.


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