The world of wine can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Use our ultimate wine glossary to develop your understanding of all things wine and vine.
You don’t have to be an expert sommelier to enjoy drinking wine. You don’t even have to know WHAT a sommelier is. However, an understanding of wine terminology broadens your ability to truly experience and enjoy wine. Plus, the next time someone says a glass of wine has good legs, you’ll actually know what that means.
If you just want to sip in silence, then we support that! Sometimes, that’s the best way to experience it. But if you’re ready to be part of a larger conversation about wine, it’s time to read up. So, pour yourself a glass from your favorite bottle and start practicing your wine terminology.
The SECCO Wine Club Ultimate Wine Glossary
acidity — The crispness or tartness in wine that makes your tongue salivate. Often when someone says a wine is bright, fresh, or crisp, they’re referring to its acidity.
aeration — When you add oxygen to round out and soften a wine.
aging — The process of letting a wine mature and develop taste and flavor. This is often done by holding wine in barrels, tanks, and bottles.
alcohol — The ethanol (ethyl alcohol) in a wine produced through the fermentation of sugars by yeast.
anosmia — The loss of smell or having no sense of smell. Because wine is so aromatic, loss of smell makes it harder to experience flavor.
appellation — A geographical delineation that separates different wine-producing regions. These areas can be a single vineyard, or they can cover an entire country, but each appellation has laws that define the region.
aroma — The smell or “nose” of wine. Oftentimes an aroma can be described as fruity, floral, citrusy, earthy, or more depending on the grape variety, storage conditions, winemaking processes, etc.
astringent — High tannin levels can cause bitter, harsh, and drying sensations in the mouth during a tasting.
balance — When the different elements of wine (such as acidity, sugar, tannins, etc.) blend harmoniously.
barrel — The container used to ferment and age wine, most often made from oak.
barrique — Originally from Bordeaux, this particular oak barrel can store and age 225 liters of wine.
bitter — The taste sensation caused by tannins on the back of the tongue.
blend — When more than one grape variety is used to make wine.
body — Wine can be described as light, medium, or full-bodied. This term refers to the sensation of drinking wine and how its weight and fullness feel in your mouth.
Bordeaux — This region, located in the Southwest of France, is considered one of the elite wine-producing regions in the world.
botrytis — A type of mold that helps produce some of the best dessert wines. When it pierces the skin of a grape it causes dehydration which creates grape juices high in sugar.
bouquet — While the term “aroma” usually refers to younger wines, the “ bouquet” is used to describe the complex aromas in aged wines.
breathing — Exposing the wine to oxygen to improve flavors (remember “aeration” from earlier?). When someone opens a bottle and lets it sit before drinking, they’re “letting it breathe.” Essentially, this gives any volatile, undesirable compounds a chance to evaporate while helping to emphasize other aromas. Certain wines need to breathe more than others, while some don’t need to at all.
brettanomyce — an undesirable yeast that can spoil wine and produce a metallic, mousy, or barnyard aroma.
brilliant — A wine that’s very clear with no sediment. Usually a result of winemaking practices.
brut — Sparkling wines or dry champagnes.
bung — The plug used for sealing the wine barrel.
bung hole — The opening in the barrel where wine can be added or taken out.
cap — The grape pits, stems, and skins that rise to the top of a tank during the fermentation process. This is also what gives red wines their tannins, weight, and color.
chaptalization — When a vintner adds sugar to increase alcohol levels. This practice is illegal in certain wine regions.
citric acid — One of the three main acids in wine.
claret — A term used by the English for red wines from Bordeaux.
closed — A description for underdeveloped, young wines when their flavors aren’t being expressed well.
complex — A description used for wine expressing many flavors, nuances, and odors.
cork taint — An undesirable flavor and/or aroma often described as wet cardboard.
corked — Used to describe a wine suffering from cork taint.
crush — An English term for harvest.
cuvée — In Champagne, this is a blended batch of wine.
decant — When you transfer wine from the bottle to another vessel. This is usually done to aerate younger wines or to remove sediment from older wines.
demi-sec — A French term that means “half-dry.” This is used to describe a sweet, sparkling wine
dry — The opposite of sweet, and often attributed to tannins. This taste sensation often causes you to pucker your mouth. Usually attributed to wines containing no more than 0.2% unfermented sugar.
earthy — An odor or flavor often described as damp soil.
enology — The science of wine and winemaking.
fermentation — When grape sugars are changed to alcohol by yeast.
fining — The clearing of unwanted particles from wine by adding egg whites, gelatin, or other additives.
finish — After you swallow the wine, the finish is the lingering impression of textures and flavors.
flavors — Odors perceived in the mouth
fortified wine — When brandy is added during fermentation. This results in a wine with high sugar and sweetness.
foxy — This term is used to describe the odor and flavor of wines from vitis labrusca, a North American grape varietal. Often described as musty.
fruity — A tasting term for strong smells and flavors of fresh fruit.
full-bodied — The mouth sensation when a wine is high in alcohol and flavors. It’s often described as “big.”
green — A description for wine that has underripe, vegetal flavors.
herbaceous — When the odors and flavors are reminiscent of fresh herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary, etc.
hollow — A description for wine that lacks depth and/or body.
hot — A high alcohol wine.
late harvest — A description for dessert wines made from grapes that were left on the vine for an extended period of time (oftentimes until botrytis has set in).
lees — During fermentation, lees describes the sediment that accumulates consisting of dead yeast cells, seed, grape pulp, etc.
legs — The droplets that form on the inside of a wine glass as a result of fluid surface tension from the evaporation of alcohol. Wines with higher alcohol collect more droplets on the sides of the glass compared to low alcohol wines, and sweeter wines will have legs that flow more slowly.
length — How long the flavors remain in the mouth after swallowing wine.
malic acid — One of the three main acids in grapes. This acid is found naturally in several fruits such as plums, tomatoes, cherries, and apples.
malolactic fermentation — A second fermentation process where the tartness from malic acid evolves into a smooth sensation. Wines that have gone through this process are often described as “buttery” or “creamy.”
mature — A wine that’s ready to drink.
mouth-feel — The way a wine feels on your palate. Often described as rough, smooth, velvety, or furry.
must — This is unfermented grape juice that includes seeds, skins, and stems.
negociant — A French term for a wholesale merchant, blender, or shipper of wine.
noble rot — The common term for the botrytis mold.
nose — A tasting term for the aromas and bouquets of a wine.
oak/oaky — A description used for smells and flavors of baking spices, coconut, vanilla, mocha, or dill. These smells and flavors are caused by barrel-aging.
oenology — Another term for the science of wine and winemaking (remember enology?).
open — A taste description meaning a wine is ready to drink.
oxidized — When a wine is exposed to too much air and is no longer fresh.
phenolic compounds — These are natural compounds present in grape skins and seeds.
phylloxera — A microscopic insect that kills grape vines by attacking their roots. Basically, they’re a vineyards worst nightmare.
plonk — A slang term for cheap wine that’s also used to describe very low-quality wines.
racking — Moving wine from one container to another to leave behind sediment.
riddling — When champagne bottles are rotated to move sediment toward the cork.
rough — A description for very astringent wines that have a “coarse” sensation.
sec — French for “dry”
silky — A description used when the texture of a wine is particularly smooth.
sommelier — A wine butler or certified wine professional. There are even certificates and diplomas awarded to expert wine professionals.
spicy — A description for odors and flavors such as black pepper, curry powder, bay leaf, oregano, baking spices, thyme, rosemary, saffron, and/or paprika.
steely — A term used to describe very crisp, acidic wines that weren’t aged in barrels.
sweet — When the sugar content of a wine is easily perceptible in both the mouth and nose.
table wine — Wine between 10 and 14 percent alcohol. In Europe, this term also designates a wine that was made outside of the regulated regions or with unapproved methods.
tannins — The phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, dry, and puckery feeling in the mouth.
tartaric acid — Tartaric acid is the main acid in grapes and promotes flavor and aging.
terroir — A French term for the geographical characteristics unique to a given vineyard.
texture — The way a wine feels on the palate.
typicity — How well a wine exhibits the characteristics from the grape varietal it was made from.
vegetal — When the nose and/or flavor of a wine is reminiscent of fresh or cooked vegetables. Common descriptions include grass, asparagus, and bell peppers.
vinification — The process of making wine (we prefer to think it’s the “art” of making wine).
vinology — The scientific study of wines and winemaking (So, technically YOU are studying vinology right now!).
vintage — The specific year a wine is produced.
weight — This term is similar to “body”, but mainly refers to the sensation when a wine feels thick or rich on the palate
wine — Fermented juice from grapes (duh).
yeast — The microorganism that converts grape sugars into alcohol.
yield — How productive a vineyard is.
young — An immature wine usually bottled and sold within a year of its vintage. When a wine is meant to be enjoyed “young,” it’s often noted for its fresh, crisp flavors.
We hope this inspired you to savor every sip! The history and culture surrounding wine are complex and beautiful, and every time you open a new bottle you become part of it!
So we challenge you to do your homework! Don’t worry, you’ll like this (wink*)
Open one of our bottles and try to describe it using some of the above terms. See, we knew you’d like it. The best way to learn about wine is to DRINK wine. So whether you make this part of your solo self-care routine or the new Thirsty Thursday for you and your friends, open a bottle and practice your new wine vocabulary.
If you need a good wine recommendation, head on over to our Instagram to see what others are loving! Plus, if you snap a pic of your “wine studies” and tag us in it, you could get featured on one of our stories!
Cheers! Salute! Santé! Salud! Skål!