GET UP TO SPEED WITH THE LINGO OF WINE!

Wine lingo

Wine is a lot like people: it has legs, a nose and produces tears; it can suffer the misfortune of being termed flat or flabby; and at 12 deg C can still be considered hot!

Make sense of these and other wine tasting terms below…

 
 
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» Acidity

Natural fruit acids which are essential for zestiness, aroma and longevity.

 

» Aftertaste

The flavours that linger in your mouth shortly after swallowing a sip of wine (good wines have a longer finish or aftertaste).

 

» Aging

The storing of wine under certain specific conditions for the purpose of improving the wine.

 

» Alcohol

Too high: adds a hot, sweetish taste. Too low: a wine may be thin, unbalanced and lacking in body.

 

» Appellation

A clearly defined area with uniform and characteristic conditions (climate, soil, etc.) for the wines made there. Appellation defines the origin of the wines; it can refer to a rather small but also to a larger growing area.

 

» Appellations Contrôlées

(AC/AOC) A system of legally defined and regulated wine regions in France. Appellation Contrôlées is a guarantee that a wine was produced in a specific location (appellation) by a particular method with approved grape varieties and in controlled quantities. Wines designated with the AC are usually of higher quality than those that are not – it is the highest of the quality standards.

 

» Aroma

Smell or fragrance from wine originating in the grape - as opposed to 'bouquet', which has its origin in the processing or aging methods.

 

» Astringency

Sensation of taste, caused by tannins in wine, which is best described as mouth-puckering, drying or bitter.

 

» Balance

Wine in which the tastes of acid, sugar, tannin, alcohol and flavour are in harmony is said to be in balance.

 

» Barrel fermented

Fermentation in small barrels rather than a large tank, common for top quality white wine. Adds richness and a buttery flavour and texture to white wines, especially Chardonnay.

 

» Bead

Also referred to as mousse – the bubbles that rise in sparkling wine. The bead should be fine and long-lasting.

 

» Big

Refers to a fully flavoured, often tannic and alcoholic wine.

 

» Bitter

Bitterness usually refers to tannin in wine and is sensed by taste buds along the sides of the tongue in the extreme rear.

 

» Blanc de blancs

A white wine made from white grapes only.

 

» Blanc de noir

A white wine made from red grapes (the juice of most red grapes is clear, colour is imparted to the juice through contact with the skins).

 

» Blanc fumé

A dry white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc which, contrary to the name does not have to be finished in wood.

 

» Body

Fullness on the pallet, a wine with body often has higher alcohol or sugar content than others.

 

» Botrytis

Fungus which grows on the skins of certain grapes under specific weather conditions. Called "noble rot" because it can turn ordinary fruit into precursors of great dessert wines.

 

» Bottle Age

Can be used complimentararily to describe the complexity a wine develops in the bottle over time. Or can pertain to stale or even off odours.

 

» Bouquet

Smell or fragrance in wine which has its origins in the wine production or aging methods.

 

» Brandy

The alcoholic liquid obtained from distillation of wine.

 

» Breathing

Letting a bottle of wine stand for awhile after uncorking, before serving it. Sometimes wines which exhibit off odours or tastes when first opened can be improved by exposure to air. Old red wines are often improved by opening an hour or so before serving, but very young wines rarely need air contact.

 

» Brut

'Extra dry' sparkling wine.

 

» Buttery

Flavour and texture (mouth feel) associated with barrel-fermented white wines, especially chardonnays; rich, creamy smoothness.

 

» Charmat

The process of producing sparkling wines in tanks rather than bottles. Often used to mass-produce inexpensive sparkling wines.

 

» Claret

Common English name for the red wines of Bordeaux.

 

» Cloying

A tasting term meaning the wine is difficult to enjoy because of excessive sweetness which "stays in your mouth" after the wine is gone.

 

» Corked

Musty smell/flavour, badly corked wine reeks of mushrooms or damp cardboard. Often but not always caused by natural cork. (Other faults: see Oxidation and Volatile Acidity )

 

» Crisp

Tasting term to describe good acidity and pleasant taste (can also be used negatively to mean too tart or sharp).

 

» Cru

French word for growth. It refers to a vineyard of especially high quality, such as a classified growth or "cru classe".

 

» Cuvée

A given lot or batch of wine usually held in a single tank or large cask. Often refers to a specific blend of still wines blended purposely for later champagne making.

 

» Decant

Decanting removes most of the floaty bits of sediment at the bottom of mature red wines. The wine is poured slowly into a glass decanter, leaving the last bit of wine in the bottle with the sediment. It also gives wine a chance to breathe (see Breathe above). Great way to make an average bottle of wine look posh!

 

» Demi-sec

Semi-sweet sparkling wine.

 

» Dessert wine

A sweet wine, usually fortified to higher alcohol content, which is served with desserts or as after dinner drinks. Common dessert wines are Ports, Sherries, Muscadel, Madeira, Tokay and Angelica.

 

» DOC

Denominazione di Origine Controllata - Italy's regulatory wine system, which protects the quality of the wines by specifying geographical limits, grape varieties, alcohol levels, top yields per acre, and aging requirements for particular wines.

 

» DOCG

Denominazione di Origine Controllata E Garantita - The next step above DOC in Italy's regulatory wine system. Represents the highest level of quality among Italian wines and is reserved for the top 23 wines.

 

» Doux

Sweet sparkling wine.

 

» Earthy

A smell reminiscent of soil, mushrooms or mustiness in the wine.

 

» Finish

The last impression left in the mouth by the taste of a wine (as above, the longer the better). See Aftertaste

 

» Flabby

A wine which is too low in acidity, too high in pH and difficult to drink.

 

» Flat

Similar to flabby, a flat wine is lacking in acidity and crispness.

 

» Fortified wine

Wine strengthened by the addition of grape spirit - this kills the yeast and the unfermented sugars remain in the wine.

 

» Fruity

Wine which has retained the fresh flavour of the grapes used in its fermentation.

 

» Herbaceous

Grassy, hay-like notes in the wine which can sometimes indicate under-ripeness.

 

» Hot

Taste sensation often found in high alcohol wines. Table wines with hot taste are unpleasant to drink.

 

» Late Harvest

Name given to dessert or full-bodied table wines produced from overripe grapes.

 

» Lees

The sediment (mainly dead yeast cells) that remains after the completion of fermentation. The longer the wine is ‘on its lees’ (sur lie) the more richness and flavour it should absorb.

 

» Legs

The "tears" which form on the inside wall of the glass, above the surface of wine after you swirl it. Tears are formed more readily by higher alcohol wines than by lower.

 

» Madeira

Portuguese island in the Atlantic from which come rich, sherry-like dessert wines.

 

» Magnum

Oversize bottle, twice the size of a standard 750 ml wine bottle.

 

» Medoc

Pronounced may-doc. Red wine district within the Bordeaux region of France where many of the greatest red wines of the world are produced.

 

» Méthode Cap Classique

(MCC) The S African term to describe making sparkling wine according to the traditional champagne method See méthode Champenoise.

 

» Méthode Champenoise

The traditional bottle-fermented method for producing champagne, including hand riddling and disgorging.

 

» Midi (the)

A term loosely used to describe Languedoc-Roussillon – the biggest wine producing region of the south of France, which produces 25% of French wines!

 

» Mousse

See Bead above.

 

» Mousseux

French for ‘sparkling’.

 

» Mouth-feel

The texture and feel of a wine in your mouth. Can be racy and crisp or supple and smooth.

 

» Natural

Term used on the label to designate a champagne or sparkling wine which is absolutely dry.

 

» Noble Late Harvest

(NLH) Sweet dessert wine exhibiting a noble rot (botrytis) character.

 

» Non-vintage

This means that the wine/champagne is not from one specific year but is a blend of different vintages.

 

» Nose

The odour of a wine, including aroma and bouquet.

 

» Nouveau

A term that originated in Beaujolais for fruity young and light red, usually from Gamay and made by the carbonic maceration method.

 

» Oak

French and American oak barrels both contribute tannin and vanilla flavours to wines during aging. American oak has a distinctive, bourbon-like flavour and French oak flavour is more subtle. The degree of toasting (the oak staves are held over fires to bend them during the making of the barrel); whether the barrel is new or has been filled before; and the ageing time will all affect the oak's contribution to the wine.

 

» Oxidation

Most noticeable in white wine that has absorbed too much oxygen into the bottle, usually because the cork has dried out and air has crept in. This is why wine bottles must be stored lying down to keep the cork moist and swollen.(Other faults: see Corked and Volatile Acidity )

 

» Port

Any of the rich, sweet, alcoholic and full bodied wines from the Oporto region of Portugal. Those made in South Africa are preceded by the word ‘Cape’.

 

» Premier grand cru

A South African term, usually an austerely dry white. (This is not a quality rating as in France).

 

» Residual sugar

Term commonly used in wine analysis referring to the content of unfermented sugar in a wine already bottled. Wine snobs take on a knowing look, lowering their eyes slightly, and call it "the RS."

 

» Sec

Dry sparkling wine.

 

» Sediment

Tasteless and harmless tartrate crystals or tannins that settle to the bottom of the bottle. See Decanting above.

 

» Sekt

German word for sparkling wine. (The word "Champagne" is not used on German labels, even for export)

 

» Sommelier

A steward, highly educated on all matters of wine, who is usually responsible for compiling a restaurant's wine list and advising diners on their choice of wine.

 

» Sour

The taste sensation of acid. Not to be confused with bitter, which is the taste of some tannins.

 

» Special late harvest

(SLH) A South African, lighter dessert style wine.

 

» Spumante

The Italian word for sparkling wine. Equivalent to sekt in German.

 

» Stein

A semi-sweet white wine.

 

» Still wine

Wine which is not sparkling.

 

» Tannin

A natural, mouth-puckering substance present in grape skins, stalks and pips. Tannin adds body to red wine and is essential for its longevity.

 

» Terroir

Earth or soil, used in the special sense of "place," which includes localised climate, soil type, drainage, wind direction, humidity and all the other attributes which combine to make one location different from another.

 

» Thin

Term used in sensory evaluation referring to a wine which lacks body, viscosity, alcohol or sugar.

 

» Toasty

Wines showing a pleasant biscuity flavour imparted by the barrel.

 

» Ullage

The empty space above the liquid in a wine bottle usually after long storage. It is used as an indicator of how well a cork seals its bottle. Little or no ullage in old wines usually indicates that the wine will be unspoiled; large ullage is a sure sign that the wine is dead.

 

» Varietal

Wines made with one grape varietal (e.g. Chardonnay).

 

» Vin de Pays

French country wines that often offer great character and, usually, great value.

 

» Vin de Table

French table wine, the cheapest at the bottom tier of quality designations (below Vin de Pays).

 

» Vintage

The "year" or season of winegrowing. Vintage wine is defined as wine which is produced at least 95% from grapes harvested in a single stated year.

 

» Volatile Acidity (VA)

The presence of excessive amounts of acetic acid, or ethyl acetate. One is the major component of vinegar, the other of nail varnish remover so the wine will have a smell or taste of one of these, and whilst not harmful, will taste revolting! (Other faults: see Corked and Oxidation )

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