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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ceramic vase used for transporting and storing wine first used in ancient Greece, up until the 7th century AD. Most held about 40 litres.
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.
French term (meaning 'blend') relating to the final selection of batches (or grape varieties) that will comprise the finished wine.
A term used to describe the dry, harsh sensation sometimes found in very tannic wine.
Tasting term. The initial impact of a wine on the palate.
Tasting term. A tough, hard, uncompromising wine which is unlikely to mellow with age
The decomposition of yeast cells, which in turn are responsible for the fresh bread characteristics of good Champagne.
Italian term, meaning 'business'. An azienda agricola is a wine business.
This new feature is very much a work in progress: while it's already quite comprehensive, there are more terms to add, more cross-links to insert and a whole bunch of links to articles elsewhere on this site to complete. I've tried my best to make this accurate, readable and engaging, and although it's designed for people with no prior knowledge of wine I hope that serious geeks will find it of some use. The final goal is a searchable multilingual wine terms database. Comments are welcomed.
Tasting term. An adjective used to describe a wine that is immature and/or further back in its life cycle than expected.
Tasting term. A hot (but not burnt) character indicating arid vineyards or warm vintages
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.
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.
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'.
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.
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.
Spanish term for 'winery'.
Tasting term. Refers to the combination of fruit, extract and alcohol registered on the palate. Sometimes referred to as 'weight'.
Glass jars with a capacity of 25l, usually used to store vin doux naturel.
Any red wine that contains at least two of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, and carmenère.
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.
Tasting term. Collective noun for the aromas which make up a 'nose'.
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.
Indicates dryness in a Champagne or sparkling wine. A Brut Champagne must contain less than 15g/l of residual sugar.
Method of training vines, as the name suggests, low on the ground, with no trellising, in a ring shape.
The process by which grape sugars are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide after the addition of yeasts.
A single vineyard containing a hotch-potch of grape varieties, with no planning or structure.
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.
Tasting term. Evokes class, subtlety, specialness - the opposite of pedestrian, dull or four-square.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tasting term. A wine that is lacking in acidity may be described as flabby.
Tasting term. Stony, gunflint quality found in some Chablis.
The layer of yeast that develops on the surface of sherry, and helps to protect the liquid underneath from oxidation.
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.
The grape juice that drains from a fermentation vessel naturally after crushing, as distinct from juice which is collected from pressing.
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.
Another term for en primeur.
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.
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.
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.
Literally, 'great growth'. The highest-possible vineyard status in Burgundy.
Bordeaux term for a château's top wine.
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.
Tasting term. A 'green' wine characteristic associated with unripe grapes, as opposed to 'verdant', which is a positive descriptor for fresh, grassy wines.
Tasting term used to describe a wine with well-balanced tannin and acidity: a positive effect on the palate.
German equivalent of demi-sec.
Area of land equivalent to 10,000 sq m, or 2.47 acres, often seen abbvreviated to ha.
Tasting term. An aromatic, shrubby quality, rather like the smell of a bouquet garni, found in many wines from the southern Rhône and Provence.
Tasting term. Indicates a lack of 'middle' in a wine which starts and ends acceptably. Australians sometimes refer to these as 'polo wines'!
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.
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).
'Young' in Spanish, this category of wines refers to very young wines that usually see no oak.
American term for what Brits would call 'plonk'.
TheGerman 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.
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.
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.
Tasting term. A characteristic sometimes found in cabernet franc and some other cool-climate reds.
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.
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.
Tasting term. See tears.
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.
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.
Tasting term to describe fruitiness. A wine with lifted fruit will have plenty of fruit to the fore.
Tasting term. The best kind of colour, firm, clear and positively shining. A sign of good wine.
French term indicating a very rich, sweet wine.
Tasting term used to describe a sweet wine in which all the elements are in perfect harmony.
A system of agriculture ('reasoned struggle') in which the use of herbicides and pesticides is kept to an absolute minimum.
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.
Tasting term. A wine that is brown, oxidised and Madeira-like.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
Modern winemaking process whereby very small amounts of oxygen are added to a wine continually, to help it develop and mature gracefully.
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.
French term for 'vintage'.
mis(e) en bouteille
French term for 'bottled'.
French term (literally 'mellow') for 'medium-sweet'.
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.
The mixture of grape juice, seeds, skins and pulp that come from a grape crusher/destemmer before being fermented and turned into wine.
French term for wine merchants who buy wine from growers, then mature and bottle it themselves. Négociants play an important role, particularly in Bordeaux.
Tasting term. Associated with fortified wines and top-quality whites. Some premium Burgundies have hints of hazelnuts
A winemaker or wine consultant.
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.
Rich style of sherry, very different from fino and manzanilla. Olorosos are dark, nutty wines; some are sweetened to make cream sherry.
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.
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.
French term relating to grapes that have been dried (or 'raisined') on the vine, which concentrates the sugars inside.
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.
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).
French term for a lightly sparkling wine.
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.
Large wooden barrel used in port production. Most port pipes have a capacity of 550l-600l.
Tasting term. Pleasantly fresh and palate-stimulating, as opposed to 'sharp'. Denotes good acidity
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.
Winemaking term that involves placing grapes or grape clusters into a press, and applying pressure to extract juice.
The top wine produced by a Champagne house. Examples include Cristal from Louis Roederer, and Dom Pérignon from Moët et Chandon.
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.
Portuguese term for 'farm' but also refers to a wine estate.
The process of separating wine in a barrel from its lees, the mix of yeast cells and sediment. Known as soutirage in French.
Tasting term often used of fine German riesling to describe a pleasing interaction of vibrant fruit flavour and brisk acidity.
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.
The opposite of oxidation, wines that suffer from excess reduction develop unpleasant odours of rotten eggs and spent matches.
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.
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.
A term misused by wineries all over the world to signify quality, even though the term has no legal definition.
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.
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.
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.
Technique used chiefly in Italian winemaking, whereby Valpolicella wine is refermented on the lees from Amarone wines to give a richer result.
Tasting term. Honest and upfront, rather than complex or aristocratic
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.
The Spanish/Portuguese and Italian terms, respectively, for rosé wine.
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.
Tasting term. Lacking breed or finesse, coarse, and not particularly well made.
'Bleeding' of free-run juice from a vat of red wine either to increase its concentration or to make rosé.
Literally, 'dry'. The Italian equivalent is secco; in Spain and Portugal, it is seco.
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.
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.
Tasting term. Refers to a sudden finish or aftertaste which cannot wait to escape.
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.
Tasting term. Hard, astringent edge on the palate caused by unripe grapes, or too many stems in the fermentation vat
How South African winemakers used to refer to the chenin blanc grape. The term is still used on some labels.
Technically a brand name, owned by mining group Rio Tinto Alcan, but is now widely used as a generic term for a screwcap.
Australian slang for a sweet wine, particularly the fortified wines of Rutherglen in Victoria.
Top-quality sweet wine made by drying grapes on straw mats. Is produced in various wine regions, but mainly in Jura, France.
Tasting term. The 'build' of a wine, incorporating backbone and muscularity.
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.
Tasting term. Prickly or acrid sensation caused by an excess of SO2.
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.
Wines which have been aged with lees contact can be labelled 'sur lie'. Most commonly seen in the Loire, with Muscadet.
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.
Key preservative in red wine, present in grape skins and pips. Feels like stewed tea in the mouth.
Harmless tartaric crystal deposits sometimes found in a bottle of wine. Tartaric acid is a natural ingredient of wine.
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.
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.
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.
Tasting term. The feel of the wine on the palate on a range from astringent to velvety
French term for the sorting of grapes once they arrive at the winery. The grapes are sorted on a table de tri.
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.
German term for 'dry'.
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.
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.
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.
Tasting term. A farmyardy or cabbagey whiff sometimes present in mature red Burgundy
Tasting term. Describes a wine which is rich, ripe, opulent in texture.
French term for 'harvest'.
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.
When grapes go through veraison, they begin to ripen, soften, and (in the case of black grapes), change colour.
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.
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.
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.
Tasting term. Concentrated, 'true' wine character in the glass.
The study and practice of growing vines and managing vineyards.
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.
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.
The French name for sherry (Jerez in Spain).
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.
Tasting term. Just-fermented, bread-like smell often found in Champagne.
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.
Tasting term. Describes a crisp, zingy and refreshing white.
Abbreviation for zinfandel.