Improve Your Wine Vocabulary

12 Wine Words That You Should Know

By Zeke Quezada

These are a few wine words that should help your wine vocabulary. Some details about wine you can forget but understanding some of the vocabulary, will help you understand what you are tasting. At the end of the day, you should be drinking what you like, period. 

However, if you are curious about learning a bit more why not “Quench Your Thirst For Knowledge” with some new vocabulary words?

Want to improve upon your wine education? Check out our Glossary of Wine Terms

Astringent –  A mouthwatering sensation associated with tannins, particularly less ripe tannins. While it is often associated with bitterness, astringency is actually a tactile sensation and not a taste.  Although a flaw when it dominates the mouthfeel of a wine, many Italian wines, both red and white are intentionally produced with a bit of astringency.

Biodynamic – This term is used to define and describe wines and techniques used when applying the science of agricultural teachings taught by philosopher Rudolph Steiner who wrote extensive articles during 1861-1925. This process that was taught believed that a life force within nature involves ecological, energetic and spiritual phenomena that could improve organic viticulture when applied.

Blend – A combination of 2 or more grape varietals to make a wine. Blended wines are historically challenging to create balance between all varying flavors and aromas to create a palatable harmony.  The earliest form of wine being created in this style is still found to this day as the world’s leading most influential wines from famous growing regions. For Example: Bordeaux France.

Corked – A wine that displays undesirable aromas introduced by faulty corks is said to be “corked” or “corky”. The compound usually responsible is Trichloroanisole or ‘TCA’. The word should not be used to refer to a wine sealed with a cork or to one with pieces of cork floating in it.

Cuvée – From the French word ‘cuve’, meaning ‘tank’: the contents of a vat of wine. There are several different meanings of cuvee, depending on the regions and context in which this term is used.  The first relates to the initial pressing of the juice from the grapes in making Champagne. Another meaning of cuvee is the process off blending finished wines together in Champagne or other regions. A third and rather ambiguous meaning is for any particular lot of wine that the winemaker has set aside.

Cru – The French word for ‘growth’. This term has varying meanings depending on the region and the context in which it is used and in the most common sense refers to distinguishing qualities of wine.  If speaking of Burgundy, this term refers to the vineyard that carries the rating of ‘Premier Cru’ (First Growth) or‘Grand Cru’ (Great Growth); the highest level of which both designations are clearly showcased on the label.  When speaking of Bordeaux, this term refers to the chateau that carries the rating of growth and can be seen as on the label in various classifications. The most well known is the classification that came about in 1855 applying to wines that hail from the Medoc and the Graves regions, listed from first through fifth growth as ‘Grand Cru Classe’, also clearly indicated on the label. Other Bordeaux regions that carry varying classifications include St.Emilion, Sauternes, and Barsac and showcase the term ‘Premier Grand Cru Classe’

Dry – A dry wine contains no noticeable residual sugar. All wines start out as very sweet grape juice and become dry when yeast converts all of the sugar into alcohol.  In order to create a sweet wine, a winemaker may stop the fermentation at a particular point, or add back unfermented juice after fermentation is completed. In California and most of Europe it is illegal to add sugar to sweeten a wine some, although the practice is permitted in most other states and a few foreign countries. Consumers often confuse wines having aromas of sweet foods such as honey or apricots with sweet wines. Sweetness is a taste and cannot actually be perceived by olfactory senses such as smell. High alcohol can also contribute to the impression of sweetness in a wine.

Lees – The residue or sediment thrown off by a wine soon after it is made. It is composed of dead yeast cells, pieces of skins, stems, seeds, and tartrates. Most fine wines are allowed to age in barrel or cask following vinification, when most of the lees have settled to the bottom of the barrel, the clarified wine is siphoned off into another container in a process called ‘Racking’.  The wine may be allowed to age on the lees, which adds flavor and creaminess.

Tannins – A group of organic substances responsible for the mouth-drying quality in a structured red wine. They can also be present in white wines such as Pinot Grigio and Gewurtztraminer, which are made from pinkish red grapes.  The primary source for tannin in wine is found in the skins of the grapes, although it may also come from the oak treatment, seeds, and stems. Some grapes naturally have more tannic compounds than others and its levels of strength are determined by style and maceration time.

Terroir – Term widely used in France recently adopted by New World wine growing regions and has been the topic of controversial debate. It may be translated as ‘soil’, however, the concept is far broader and embraces all of the environmental factors that form the character of a wine. These include the macroclimate, vineyard mesoclimate, precipitation patterns, the length of the growing season and the geographical features of a particular vineyard.

Vintage – The vintage is the year in which the harvest of the grapes occurred.

Yeast – Single cell organisms that initiate the fermentation of the grape juice to react chemically. There are various types of yeast strains that are natural within the vineyard environment and perform in varying levels. Some of these yeast strains that are found naturally at times are referred to as ‘indigenous’  or ‘wild’ yeast. Cultured yeast that has been developed in laboratories have been known to work more efficiently and consistently than some wild strains and have become a choice tool for wine production.