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Wine Glossary


One of the essential elements in both grapes and finished wines. Acidity is necessary to keep any wine fresh. Ironically, acidity is perhaps most important in sweet wines, where it prevents them from being merely sickly-sweet.


Adding ACIDITY during winemaking to compensate for grapes which have over-ripened.

The flavour impression the wine leaves after it is swallowed. Also referred to as the 'finish' of a wine. Fine wines have a lingering finish, or aftertaste.


Ethanol is produced as a by-product of fermentation. The alcoholic strength of a wine is a measure of its concentration of Ethanol.

American Oak
Along with French oak, American oak is the most widely used wood in the world to build barrels for wine aging. American oak barrels are most often used to age some red wines (mostly, but not always less expensive ones), Spanish Sherries, Bourbon and Scotch. Less frequently utilised in the production of white wines, American oak has a different spice flavour than French oak. In fact, the flavours vary from different forests and states. Kentucky oak imparts mellower flavours, for example, than Oregon oak.

Appellation Contrôlée (AOC)
A term used in France and increasingly world wide to specify a designated geographical region. In France this applies to not only wines, but spirits and foodstuffs. It also applies regulations on permitted grape varieties, designated vineyard practices, yields and production methods.

An often misused definition that mainly applies to primary, simple smells from grapes, fermenting MUST or young wine. More and more the term is applied to specifically describe varietal characteristics. Different from Bouquet.

The 'puckerish' quality of high tannin content, which has the effect of drying out the mouth. Many young red wines are astringent because of tannins dominating the fruit.

A tasting term. A wine is balanced when all of its characteristics work together in harmony, with no single element - fruit, TANNIN, ACIDITY, ALCOHOL - overpowering anything other.

Tasting term for the weight and texture of a wine on the PALATE - the "mouth feel" of the wine. A combination of ALCOHOL, EXTRACT and glycerol.

Tasting term for the smell of a wine, particularly that of maturing or mature wine. Different from AROMA.

A fungus to which grapes are prone. Often it is bad news in the vineyard where it destroys grapes, but in a few places conditions allow it to develop beneficially as "Noble Rot". BOTRYTIS draws the water content from the grape and leaves concentrated sugary juice that makes luscious sweet wine.

Or just "Brett" to some wine buffs. A controversial fault in wine caused by a rogue strain of YEAST. It imparts a "mousey" AROMA that some find repulsive, some find adds character, particularly in Rhône and Burgundy reds.


Term used to measure the sugar content of grapes, grape juice (must) or wine. Grapes are generally harvested at 20 to 25 Brix, resulting in alcohol after fermentation of 11.5 to 14 percent.

Term for a dry Champagne or Sparkling wine.

Carbon Dioxide
Another by-product of FERMENTATION, winemakers take great pains to make sure none is left in the wine before bottling, unless they are making a sparkling wine.


Wines with unusual thickness of texture or tannins that one almost 'chews' before swallowing.

This effectively cleans the wine and removes impurities and leftovers from fermentation. Clarification can be done in stages by FILTRATION, COLD STABILISATION, centrifugation, RACKING or FINING.

Fresh, with no discernible defects; refers to aroma, appearance and flavour.

The offspring of grape vines that contains the genetic material of the parent. There are very many clones of grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir-some may ripen earlier than others, produce a larger yield, or have different characteristics the grower considers important. Research is continuing in this field and clonal selections are being studied in vineyards all over the world.


Young, undeveloped wines that do not readily reveal their character are said to be closed. Typical of young Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other big red wines.

Cold Stabilisation
A process in which white wine is chilled to precipitate tartaric acid as small crystals which can then be removed before bottling. Wines that have not been cold stabilised may throw these crystals at a later stage. They are harmless, but don't look very nice in the bottle.

Cork taint or Corked
A "Corked" wine suffers from a specific fault where a mouldy cork (or faulty processing of the cork) has caused a chemical called trichloranisole (TCA) to form, imparting a dirty AROMA and flavour to the wine.


Mature. A well-developed wine is more drinkable than an undeveloped one.

Elegant, refined character that sets the wine apart on its own.

French term for the small amount of top-up liquid added to Champagne just before bottling, sweetened to desired level.

Smell or flavour reminiscent of earth. A certain earthiness can be appealing; too much makes the wine coarse.

Refined character, distinguished quality, stylish, not heavy.

The substances, mostly derived from grape skins and just under the skin's surface, that contribute TANNIN, colour, glycerol and flavour to a wine. Some wines can be "over-extracted" meaning too much of these elements have been extracted making the wine inky and bitter.

Synonymous with "length": the amount of time a flavour lingers on the PALATE after the wine is swallowed. More is good.

A processed used to clarify wine. Some claim it can also strip flavour so many producers filter very lightly or not at all.

Another clarifying process where some gelatinous agent (for example, whisked egg whites) is added to the barrel and sinks through the wine trapping even minute solids.

Tasting term indicating a young wine that is maturing quickly or is made to be drunk young.

Free-run Juice
The high quality juice that runs from the FERMENTATION tank without pressing.

French Oak
The classic wood for wine barrels, it imparts flavours of vanilla, cedar and/or other spices. The oak from different French forests lends slightly different characteristics to the wine, and is therefore named for the forest region from which it was harvested. Famous French names include Limousin, Nevers, Allier, Vosges and Troncais. French oak is vital not only in the production of great French wines, but is also used around the world to age everything from California Chardonnay to Oregon Pinot Noir to Australian Cabernets.


Full proportion of flavour and alcohol; big, fat.


A wine made from unripe grapes that are tart and lacking fruit flavour.

Aromas reminiscent of fresh cut grass or hay; grassy, as in certain Sauvignon Blancs; also the green pepper, capsicum character of some Cabernets.

Any vine crossing where one or both "parents" is not from the wine vine, VITIS VINIFERA.

Hydrogen Sulphide
A by-product of fermentation formed from sulphur compounds. Characteristic smell of rotten eggs. Generally caused by poor winemaking.

Late Harvest
Designation appearing on bottles (in French, Vendange Tardive) where grapes were allowed to hang on the vine beyond physiological maturity. This over-ripens grapes, usually producing wines that are high in ALCOHOL and off-dry to sweet.

The solids left behind after FERMENTATION is complete: dead YEAST cells and grape seeds, pulp, skin fragments. White wines matured in contact with the lees (in French, Sur Lie) can develop creamy, nutty flavours.

Legs refer to the residue left on the inside surface of a glass after swirling or sipping it. Higher ALCOHOL wines leave tears or legs on the surface for longer than lower ALCOHOL wines. With observation one can use these as an indication of the wines ALCOHOL level.


Lingering aftertaste.

Refers to wines light in alcohol but also to texture and weight, how the wine feels in the mouth. Lightness is appropriate in some wines, a defect in others.

Crisp, fresh, having vitality.

A fault whereby the wine has OXIDISED and over-heated giving it a brown colour and burnt, stale taste. Not a fault in Madeira wine, which deliberately goes through a heating process to caramelise the wine.

Stirring the grape skins (and sometimes stems) with the wine during the fermentation process in order to extract colour, tannin and AROMA.

Malolactic Fermentation
A secondary FERMENTATION that is biological, in which harsh malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid.

Methode Champenoise
The traditional and best way of making a sparkling wine. EU has banned the term from bottles not made in Champagne , so look out for "Methode Traditionnelle" or "Fermented in this Bottle" instead.

The intermediate stage of grape liquid that is neither grape juice or wine.

Tasting term. Wine is assessed by taste (the PALATE) but also by smell (the nose).

Oak, oaky

Aroma and flavour that derive from aging in oak casks or barrels. Characterized by smokiness, vanilla, clove or other spices. Should not be overly pronounced.

The science of winemaking. Spelled Enology in the USA .

Oxidation/ Oxidised
What happens to the surface of a cut apple when exposed to air. Grapes and grape juice oxidise if not handled carefully. Bottled wine will also oxidise if the seal is not airtight.

Tasting term. Wine is assessed by smell (the NOSE) and by taste (the palate). The palate confirms flavours detected on the nose, but adds BODY, ACIDITY, TANNINS, FINISH, etc. to the picture.

Compounds found in wine, mostly coming from grape skins. These include TANNIN and flavour compounds. Also important in making wine beneficial to health: lowering blood pressure and risk of heart disease.

The louse that eats vine roots. Devastated Europe in the late nineteenth century until it was discovered that American rootstock was resistant. Since then, most European vines are grafted onto American rootstock. Ironically, the Californian industry was badly damaged by Phylloxera in the 1980's and 90's after planting on low-resistance rootstock.

Pumping Over
The bubbling mass of skins and pips that floats to the surface forming a cap during FERMENTATION of red wine. It must be submerged regularly.

Required when barrel fermentation has occurred and is performed by letting the wine settle and then siphoning off the clear upper layer. Labour intensive.

French term for the process by which the dead YEAST cells in maturing Champagne and other quality sparkling wines are gradually moved into the neck of the bottle before being removed. Traditionally done by hand, more often nowadays by machine.

Residual Sugar (RS)
The amount of sugar remaining in a wine that has not been converted into ALCOHOL when FERMENTATION stops. Less than 2g/l is imperceptible. Some sweet wines will have upwards of 25g/l.

Highly convenient closure for consumers but perhaps without the 'romantic' feel of removing a cork Usually made from an alloy of aluminium with an inert film in contact with the wine. The seal is impermeable to oxygen sparking debate about the development of wines sealed with this closure in the medium and long term as oxygen is required for bottle development.

Refers to finish, or aftertaste, when it ends abruptly.

Tasting term. To describe a wine as "well-structured" is very complimentary. It means it has an "architecture" of fruit, ACIDITY, ALCOHOL and TANNINS, that should allow it to age and stop it from being bland or wishy-washy.

Sulphur Dioxide
An important and age-old additive in winemaking. Sulphur is an antiseptic and antioxidant. If used correctly it should be imperceptible. The smell of a burning match suggests an excessive use of free sulphur dioxide. This is an "off" odour and unacceptable. Too much will bleach wine.


Usually indicates the presence of residual sugar, retained when grape sugar is not completely converted to alcohol. Even dry wines, however, may have an aroma of sweetness, the combination of intense fruit or ripeness. Considered a flaw if not properly balanced with acidity.

A naturally occurring chemical that helps to preserve red wine and adds a savoury edge to the flavour. Tannins are present in grape stems, pips and skins. Tannin also comes from oak ageing of wine. As the grape ripens on the vine so do tannins, making them less astringent. Bottle age also lessens tannins, which will eventually precipitate as sediment.


A French word (untranslatable to English) summarising the total physical and natural environment of a viticultural area. It can be as broad as identifying the soil, topography, and their interactions between each other and with the macroclimate to determine the meso-climate and vine microclimate.

The level of charred character formed on the inside of an oak barrel when it is being made. Wine matured in lightly toasted barrels tend to taste oaky and woody and wines matured in highly toasted barrels tend to taste and or spicy.

Unfiltered Wine
Wine that has been bottled without filtration. Fashionable in quality wines, it avoids a process which many believe strips wine of some flavour and complexity.

Varietal Labelling
The practice of naming the grape or grapes on the label - still uncommon in classic European regions, adopted widely elsewhere over the past 20 years. In New Zealand wines have to be listed in order of volume that they are present in the blend (i.e. a Merlot Cabernet Franc is mostly Merlot, then Cabernet, then Franc).

Vitis Vinifera
The wine vine. Almost all important wines are made from this species.

Volatile Acidity (VA)
A real fault ranging from a vaguely sharp smell, to a horrible vinegar AROMA and taste. Caused by bacterial infection, especially of acetobacter (acetic acid) which converts ALCOHOL to acetic acid. Botrytised wines, Tawny ports and Olorosso sherries tend to have a higher concentration of acetic acid. It may smell like nail polish remover and taste like sherry or boiled sweets.

Other than grapes, the essential element in FERMENTATION. Yeast is a single-cell organism that is naturally present on the surface of grapes, but in commercial winemaking is more likely to be laboratory-grown. It devours grape sugar, converting it into Ethanol (ALCOHOL).

Measurement of vineyard crop expressed as tonnes per hectare. Volume is measured as hectolitres per hectare using the yield figures. To make 100Ltr's (1 hl) of red wine, which is fermented with the grape skins and can be pressed harder than white grapes, about 130kg (0.13 tonnes) of grapes are needed. To make 100Ltr's of white wine, about 150kg are needed.


In simple wines signifies youthful freshness; in finer wines, refers to immaturity, wines as yet undeveloped.