Acetic Acid: The most important volatile acid found in wine, apart from carbonic acid. Small amounts contribute positively to the attractive flavour of a wine, but large quantities produce a taste of vinegar.
Acidity: Essential for the life and vitality of all wines. Too much will make wine too sharp (not sour, that's a fault), but not enough will make it taste flat and dull, and the flavour will not last in the mouth.
Aftertaste: A term for the flavour and aroma left in the mouth after wine has been swallowed. When the aftertaste is attractive, it could be the reason why you prefer one wine to a similar wine with no aftertaste as such.
Aggressive: The opposite of soft and smooth.
Alcohol: In wine terms, this is ethyl alcohol; a colourless flammable liquid. Alcohol is essential to the flavour and body of alcoholic products, thus a de-alcoholized wine is intrinsically difficult to perfect.
Appellation: Literally a name, this usually refers to an official geographically-based designation for wine.
Aroma: This should really be confined to the fresh and fruity smells reminiscent of grapes, rather than the more winery or bottle-mature complexities of bouquet; but it is not always possible to use this word in its purest form, hence aroma and bouquet may be thought of as being synonymous.
Baked: Applies to wines of high alcoholic content that gives a sensory perception of grapes harvested in great heat, either from a hot country, or from a classic wine area in sweltering hot year. This characteristic can be controlled to some extent by the following methods: early harvesting, night harvesting, rapid transport to the winery, and modern cool-fermentation techniques.
Balance: Refers to the harmonious relationship between acids, alcohol, fruit, tannin and other natural elements. If you have two similar wines but you definitely prefer one of them, its balance is likely to be one of the two determining factors (length being the other).
Barrel-Fermented: Some white wines are still traditionally fermented in oak barrels - new for top-quality Bordeaux, Burgundy, and premium varietal wines, old for middle- quality wines and top-quality Champagnes. New barrels impart oaky characteristics. The older the barrels, the less oaky and more oxidative the influence. Barrel-Fermented wines have more complex aromas than wines that have simply been matured in wood.
Big Wine: This term describes a full-bodied wine with an exceptionally rich flavour.
Bitterness: This quality may be either an unpleasant aspect of a poorly made wine or an expected characteristic of an as yet undeveloped concentration of flavours that should, with maturity, become rich and delicious.
Body: The extract of fruit and alcoholic strength together give an impression of weight in the mouth.
Bottle-Age: The length of time a wine spends in a bottle before it is consumed. A wine that has good bottle-age is one that has sufficient time to mature properly. Bottle-aging has a mellowing effect.
Bouquet: This should really be applied to the combination of smells directly attributable to a wine's maturity in bottle -thus "aroma" for grape and "bouquet" for bottle. But it is not always possible to use these words in their purest form, hence aroma and bouquet may be synonymous.
Breathing: A term used to describe the interaction between a wine and the air after a bottle has been opened and before it is drunk.
Buttery: This is normally rich, fat, and positively delicious character found in white wines, particularly those that have undergone malolactic fermentation.
Carbonic Acid: The correct term for carbon dioxide when it dissolves in the water content of wine. Although sometimes referred to as a volatile acid, it is held in equilibrium with the gas in its dissolved state and cannot be isolated in its pure form.
Chewy: An extreme qualification of meaty.
Charm: This is a subjective term: if a wine charms, it appeals without attracting in an obvious fashion.
Clean: A straightforward tem applied to any wine devoid of any unwanted or unnatural undertones of aroma and flavour.
Closed: Refers to the nose or palate of a wine that fails to open or show much character. It also implies that the wine has some qualities, even if they are "hidden", that should open up as the wine develops in bottle.
Cloying: Describes the sickly and sticky character of a poor sweet wine, where the finish is heavy and often unclean.
Complexity: An overworked word that refers to many different nuances of smell or taste. Great wines in their youth may have a certain complexity, but it is only with maturity in bottle that a wine will eventually achieve full potential in terms of complexity.
Corked: The term corked applies to a penicillin infection inside the cork, which gives an unpleasant musty character, spoiling an otherwise good wine. It should be highly improbable to have two consecutive corked bottles of the same wine, but every day scientists are discovering "corky" smelling compounds that have nothing to do with a cork, so it is quite possible for entire batches of wine to smell or taste corked. No wine merchant should, however, put such wines on the shelf.
Creamy: A Subjective term used to convey the impression of a creamy flavour that may be indicative of the variety of grape or method of vinification. I tend to use this word in connection with the fruitiness or oakiness of a wine.
Crisp: A clean wine, with good acidity, showing on the finish, yielding a refreshing, clean taste.
Delicate: Describes the quieter characteristics of quality that give a wine charm.
Depth: This refers primarily to a wine's depth of flavour and secondarily to its depth of interest.
Earthy: Describes a drying impression in the mouth. Some wines can be enjoyably earthy, but the finest-quality wines should be as clean as a whistle. When a wine is very earthy, it is usually due to a preponderance of geosmin, which can occur naturally in grapes, but in excess can give a wine a corked taste.
Ethyl Alcohol: The main alcohol in wine is so important in quantitative terms that to speak of a wine's alcohol is to refer purely to its ethyl alcohol content.
Extract: Sugar-free soluble solids that give body to a wine. The term covers everything from proteins and vitamins to tannins, calcium, and iron.
Fruit: Wine is made from grapes and must therefore be 100 per cent fruit, yet it will not have a fruity flavour unless the grapes used have the correct combination of ripeness and acidity.
Hard: Indicates a certain severity, often due to excess tannin and acidity.
Hot: Synonym for baked.
Malolactic: The so-called malolactic fermentation is sometimes referred to as a secondary fermentation, but it is actually a biochemical process that converts the hard malic acid of unripe grapes into soft lactic acid and carbonic gas.
Mellow: Describes a wine that is round and nearing its peak of maturity.
Must: Unfermented or partly fermenting grapes.
Nose: The smell or odor of a wine, encompassing both aroma and bouquet.
Oak: Many wines are fermented or aged in wooden casks and the most commonly used wood is oak. There are two main categories of oak, French and American, and they are both used the world over. Although the French always use French oak, the greatest California wines are also usually made in French oak barrels. American oak is traditional in Spain, particularly Rioja, and Australia, although both these countries have a growing usage of French oak. Oak often gives a vanilla taste to wine because it contains a substance called vanillin, which also gives vanilla pods their vanilla aroma. French oak, however, is perceived to be finer and more refined, while American oak is generally considered to have a more upfront, obvious character. This difference in character is due not to intrinsic qualities in the two types of oak (although American oak grows more quickly than French and has a bigger grain, which does have some influence), but to the traditional weathering of French oak in the open for several years, which leaves out the most volatile aromatics. American oak is kiln-dried, therefore not leached, and sawn (unlike French oak, which is split), which ruptures the grain, exposing the wine to the oak's most volatile elements in a relatively short time. American oak is often highly charred in the construction of a barrel (wine makers can order it lightly toasted, medium toasted, or highly charred), and this too has an effect, adding caramel, toffee, and smokey-toasty aromas to wine. The toastiness in oak is different to any toastiness derived from the grape itself. Strangely, oak can produce a cedary taste, although this is probably confined to wines made from spicy, black-grape varieties that are fermented and/or matured in relatively old wood. If you get a strong impression of coconut, it's a good bet that the oak used is American. Oak barrels are very expensive to buy and labor intensive to work with, so if you find a very cheap wine with obvious oak character, it will inevitably be due to the use of oak chips or shaving, which are chucked into a huge , gleaming stainless-steel vat of wine.
Oxidative: A wine that openly shows the character of maturation on the nose or the palate. This can range from various buttery, biscuity, spicy characteristics to a hint of nuttiness.
Peppery: A term applied to young wines whose components are raw and not yet in harmony, sometimes quite fierce and prickly on the nose, it also describes the characteristics odor and flavor of southern French wines, particularly Grenache-based ones. Syrah can smell of freshly crushed ground pepper.
Reserve Wines: Still wines from previous vintages that are blended with the wines of one principal year to produce a balanced non-vintage Champagne.
Robust: A milder form of "aggressive", which mayoften be applied to a mature product; the wine is robust by nature, rather than aggressive through youth.
Sharp: This term applies to acidity, whereas bitterness applies to tannin and, sometimes other natural solids. An immature wine might be sharp, but, if used by professional tasters, the term is usually a derogatory one. Good acidity is usually described as ripe acidity, which can make the fruit refreshingly tangy.
Smokiness: Some grapes have a smoky character. This character can also come from well-toasted cask, but may also indicate an unfiltered wine.
Smooth: The opposite of aggressive and more extreme than round.
Soft: Interchangeable with smooth, although it usually refers to the fruit on the palate, whereas smooth is more often applied to the finish. Soft is very desirable, but " extremely soft" may be derogatory, inferring a weak and flabby wine.
Spicy: An aspect of a complex bouquet or palate, probably derived from bottle-age after time in wood.
Tannic, Tannin: Tannins are various phenolic substances found naturally in wine that come from the skin, pips, and stalks of grapes. They can also be picked from casks, particularly new ones. Grape tannins can be divided into "ripe" and "unripe", the former being most desirable. In a proper balance, however, both types are essential to the structure of red wines, in order to knit the many flavours together. Unripe tannins are not water-solubleand will remain harsh no matter how old the wine is, whereas ripe tannins are water-soluble, have a suppleness or, at most, a grippy feel, from an early age and will drop out as the wine matures. Ripe grape tannin softens with age, is vital to the structure, of a serious red wine, and is useful when matching food and wine.
Tart: Refers to a noticeable acidity between sharp and piquant.
Tarteric Acid: The ripe acid of grapes that increases slightly when the grapes increase in sugar during veraison.
Terroir: This literally means "soil", but in a viticultural sense terroir actually refers in a more general way to a vineyard's complete growing environment, which also includes altitude, aspect, climate and any other significant factors that may affect the life of a vine, and thereby the quality of the grapes it produces.
Total Acidity: The total amount of acidity in a wine is usually measured in grams per litre and, because each acid is of a different strength, expressed either as sulphuric or
Varietal: The unique and distinctive character of a single grape variety as expressed in the wine it produces.
Vegetal: Applied to wines of a certain maturity, often Chardonnay or Pinot, that are well rounded in style and have taken on a bouquet pleasingly reminiscent of vegetation, rather than fruit.
Vintage: A wine of one year.