Wine Glossary


ACETIC (see also ASCESCENCE).
All wines contain acetic acid - (ie: vinegar). Normally the amount is insignificant and may even enhance flavour. At a little less than 0.10% content, the flavour becomes noticable and the wine is termed acetic. Above 0.10% content is considered a strong fault. A related substance, ethyl acetate, contributes the smell associated with acetic acid content.
ACID/ACIDITY
Acid ... term used to describe a tart or sour taste in the mouth when total acidity of the wine is high.
Acidity ... term used on labels to express the total acid content of the wine. The acids referred to are citric, lactic, malic and tartaric. Desirable acid content on dry wines falls between 0.6% and 0.75% of the wines volume. For sweet wines it should not be less than 0.70% of the volume.
AFTERTASTE (see also FINISH, LENGTH) - a.k.a Farewell, Fairwell.
Term used to describe the taste left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Both character and length of the aftertaste are part of the total evaluation. May be harsh, hot, soft and lingering, short, smooth, tannic, or nonexistent.
AGE/AGED (see also MADERIZED, RIM).
White wines tend to turn from a greenish hue in young wines to a yellowish caste/tone to a gold/amber colour as they age. Reds usually possess a purple tone when young, turning to a deep red - (Bordeaux wines) - or a brick red colour - (Burgundy wines) - detectable at the surface edge in a wineglass as they age. Rose's should be pink with no tinge of yellow or orange.
Cellar aged red wines at their peak will show a deep golden-orange colour as it thins at the surface edge. If the wine colour has deepened into a distinctly brown-orange tint at the edge it usually indicates a wine past its peak and declining.
ALCOHOL (see also LEGS, TEARS).
This constituent of wine is a natural by-product of fermentation. It is one of the main pillars of perceived flavour, the others being "Acid", "residual Sugar" (and/or "Glycerin") and "Tannin". The presence of these components define a wine that has "good balance". For tablewines the wine label must, by law, state the alcohol content of the wine within the bottle, usually expressed as a percentage of the volume. Table wines do not usually exceed 14% alcohol content - (11% to 12.5% is generally considered the optimum amount) - although a few, such as the "jaune vin" of the Jura region of France are fermented in a special manner to attain consistently higher levels in the 14.5 to 15.5% range. Sweet dessert wines fall in the same range. Fortified wines - (eg: Sherry, Port etc) - range from 17% to 21% alcohol content.
ANGULAR (see also AUSTERE, CRISP, FRESH below).
The total effect of dominant, tart-edged flavours and taste impressions in many young dry wines. Has opposite meaning to round, soft or supple.
APPLEY
Refers to smell or aroma of a wine, usually carrying additional modifiers. "Ripe apples" describes a full, fruity, clean smell associated with some styles of Chardonnay wine. "Fresh apples" does the same for some types types of Riesling. "Green apple", however, is almost always reserved for wines made from barely ripe or underripe grapes. "Stale apples" applies almost exclusively to flawed wine exhibiting first stage oxidation.
AROMA (see also BOUQUET, NOSE below).
The intensity and character of the aroma can be assessed with nearly any descriptive adjective. (eg: from "appley" to "raisiny", "fresh" to "tired", etc.). Usually refers to the particular smell of the grape variety. The word "bouquet" is usually restricted to describing the aroma of a cellar-aged bottled wine.
ASCESCENCE
"Ascescence" is the term used to mark the presence of acetic acid and ethyl acetate. Detected by sweet and sour, sometimes vinegary smell and taste along with a sharp feeling in the mouth.
ASTRINGENT
Descriptive of wines that have a rough, puckery taste. Usually can be attributed to high tannin content. Tannic astringency will normally decrease with age. However, sometimes the wine fails to outlive the tannin.
ATTACK (see also LIGHT, THIN below).
The initial impact of a wine. If not strong or flavourful, the wine is considered "feeble". "Feeble" wines are sometimes encountered among those vinified in a year where late rain just before harvest diluted desirable grape content.
ATTRACTIVE
The winetaster liked it anyway; a slight put down for expensive wines, a compliment for others.
AUSTERE
Usually used in description of dry, relatively hard and acidic wines that seem to lack depth and roundness. Such wines may soften a bit with age. Term often applied to wines made from noble grape varieties grown in cool climates or harvested too early in the season.
BACKBONE (see also BODY).
Refers to big, full-bodied red wines with evident tannin and/or acidity.
BALANCE
Denotes harmonious balance of wine elements - (ie: no individual part is dominant). Acid balances the sweetness; fruit balances against oak and tannin content; alcohol is balanced against acidity and flavour. Wine not in balance may be acidic, cloying, flat or harsh etc.
BERRYLIKE (see also HERBACEOUS).
Equates with the ripe, sweet, fruity quality of blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and cherries. The aroma and taste of red wines, particularly Zinfandel, are often partly described with this adjective.
BIG
The overall flavour of a wine, white or red, that has full, rich flavours. "Big" red wines are often tannic. "Big" white wines are generally high in alcohol and glycerin. Sometimes implies clumsiness, the opposite of elegance. Generally positive, but context is essential - (eg: A Bordeaux red wine shouldn't be as "big" as a California Cabernet Sauvignon).
BITTER (see also SALTY, SOUR and SWEET).
One of the four basic tastes. A major source of bitterness is the tannin content of a wine. Some grapes - (Gewurztraminer, Muscat) - have a distinct bitter edge to their flavour. If the bitter component dominates in the aroma or taste of a wine it is considered a fault. Sweet dessert wines may have an enhanced bitter component that complements the other flavours making for a successful overall taste balance.
BODY
The effect on the taster's palate usually experienced from a combination of alcohol, glycerin and sugar content. Often described as "full", "meaty" or "weighty".
BOTRYTIS
"Botrytis Cinerea", a mold or fungus that attacks grapes in humid climate conditions, causing the concentration of sugar and acid content by making grapes at a certain level of maturity shrivel. On the Riesling grape it allows a uniquely aromatic and flavourful wine to be made, resulting in the extraordinary "Beerenauslese" style of wine.
BOUQUET (see NOSE).
Near synonym for "aroma". Term generally restricted to description of odours from poured bottled wines.
BRAWNY
Term used mainly to describe young red wines with high alcohol and tannin levels. Certain red wines from Amador County, California, can be examples. The mild epithet "tooth-stainers" is sometimes applied to this style of wine, denoting respect for strength.
BREATHE/BREATHING (see also OPEN-UP).
Denotes the act of allowing the wine to "breathe"; ie: when wine is poured into another container, such as a wineglass, the admixture of air seems to release pent-up aromas which then become more pronounced, in many cases, as minutes/hours pass.
BREED (see also COMPLEX, ELEGANT).
Term reserved for wines from the best grape varieties, the so-called "noble grapes". Denotes wines judged to have reached classical expectations of aroma, balance, structure and varietal character.
BRIARY
Denotes a wine having an aggressive, prickly taste best described as "peppery". Sometimes combined with the adjective "brawny" to characterize a young red wine with high alcohol and tannin content.
BRILLIANT (see also CLOUDY, HAZY, UNFILTERED elsewhere).
Very clear (and transparent in white wines) appearance with no visible particulates or suspensions. May be sign of flavour deficiency in heavily filtered wines.
BRIX
Measurement system used for sugar content of grapes, wine and related products. A reading of 20 to 25 deg. Brix is the optimum degree of grape ripeness at harvest for the majority of table wines.
BROWNING (see also MADERIZED, OXIDIZED, RIM).
Denotes ageing in a wine. Young wine colour tints show no sign of such "browning". If possessed of good character and depth, a wine can still be very enjoyable even with a pronounced "brown" tint. In average wines this tint, seen along the wine surface edge in a tilted glass goblet, normally signals a wine is "past its peak", although still very drinkable.
BUTTERY (see also CREAMY, MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION).
Describes taste sensation found in better white wines, particularly Chardonnay.