Wine Dictionary A to C

A – C / D – F / G – I / J – L / M – O / P – R / S – U / V – X / Y Z


Acetic Acid: All wines contain acetic acid, or vinegar, but usually the amount is quite small and not perceptible to smell or taste. At higher levels, it can become the dominant flavor and is considered a major flaw.

Acid: There are four major kinds of acids – tartaric, malic, lactic and citric – found in wine. Acid is identifiable by the crisp, sharp character in a wine.

Acidic: Describes wines whose total acid is so high that they taste tart or sour and have a sharp edge on the palate.

Acidification: The addition of acid to wine by a winemaker. The goal is to balance the wine’s soft components: sugar, alcohol, and fruit.

Acidity: Identified as the crisp, sharp character in a wine.

Acrid: Describes the harsh, bitter taste or pungent, nose-biting odor caused by excessive amounts of sulfur added during winemaking.

Aeration: The deliberate addition of oxygen to round out and soften a wine. Simply pulling the cork out of a bottle may not be sufficient; decanting or even swirling the wine in a glass are preferred.

Aftertaste: The flavor that lingers in the mouth after the wine is tasted, spit, or swallowed. The aftertaste or “finish” is the most important factor in judging a wine. Great wines have rich, long, complex aftertastes.

Ageworthy: Describes the small number of top wines that have sufficient flavor, acidity, alcohol, and tannins to gain additional complexity with time in the bottle.

Aggressive: Describes a wine that is unpleasantly harsh in taste or texture, usually due to a high level of tannin or acid.

Aging: Storing wine in barrels, tanks, and bottles to advance them to a more desirable state.

Alcohol: Or ethyl alcohol, a chemical compound formed by the action of natural or added yeast on the sugar content of grapes during fermentation.

Alcohol by volume: As required by law, wineries must state the alcohol level of a wine on its label. This is usually expressed as a numerical percentage of the volume.

Alcoholic: Describes a wine that has too much alcohol for its body and weight, making it unbalanced.

Alcoholic Fermentation: Also called Primary Fermentation, this is the process in which yeasts metabolize grape sugars and produce alcohol, carbon dioxide, and heat.

Allier: A forest in France that produces oak used for wine barrels.

Alsace: A highly regarded wine region in eastern France renowned for dry and sweet wines made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and others.

Amarone: A higher-alcohol red wine from the Veneto region in northern Italy, made primarily from Corvina grapes.

American Oak: An alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine. Marked by strong vanilla, dill, and cedar notes, it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot, and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It’s less desirable, although used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. New American oak barrels can be purchased for about half the price of French oak barrels.

American Viticultural Area (AVA): A designated wine grape-growing region in the United States, distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Amontillado: A category of Sherry richer than a fino Sherry, but still lighter than an Oloroso.

Ampelography: The study of and identification of grape varieties.

Amtliche Prüfungsnummer: The tracking number that appears on German wines indicating that the wine has passed a number of tests and meets all German legal requirements.

Ancestral Method: The oldest way of producing sparkling wine. It’s inexpensive but risky and difficult-to-control.

Anosmia: The medical term for loss of the sense of smell.

Anthocyanins: The pigments found in red grape skins that give red wine its color.

Appassimento: Italian term for drying harvested grapes, traditionally on bamboo racks or straw mats. This process is used in making Amarone, Recioto, and Sforzato.

Appearance: Refers to a wine’s clarity, not color. Common descriptors refer to the reflective quality of the wine; brilliant, clear, dull, or cloudy for those wines with visible suspended particulates.

Appellation: A labeled wine-producing region, particular to France.

Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC): The French certification was given to wines that had to have met a whole host of regulations regarding grape variety, maximum yield, minimum aging, and so on.

Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) Protected Designation of Origin: This is the European Union’s new designation, replacing the AOC for recognition across the member states.

Aroma: The smells that originate with the grapes (not Bouquet).

Aromatic: Describes a wine with intense, often floral, aromas. Particularly aromatic varieties include Gewürztraminer, Muscat, and Viognier.

Aspersion: The process of using water sprinklers to protect budding vines from late-spring frosts.

Assemblage: A French term for blending various lots of wine before bottling, especially in Champagne.

Astringent: Describes wines that leave a harsh, bitter, and drying sensations in the mouth caused by high levels of tannin.

Aszú: A Hungarian dessert wine classification for Tokaji, made from individually picked, botrytized grapes, meaning affected by Botrytis Cinerea.

Auslese: A German classification, literally meaning selected harvest, based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. The wines usually taste rich and sweet, but some “trocken” – German for dry – Auslese wines are fermented to dryness.

Austere: Describes relatively hard, high-acid wines that lack depth and roundness. Usually said for young wines that need time to soften or wines that lack richness and body.

Awkward: Describes a wine that has poor structure or is out of balance.

Azienda: The Italian term for Estate.


Bacchus: The Roman god of wine, known as Dionysus in ancient Greece. Also, a hybrid white grape from Germany.

Backbone: Describes the structure of a wine, referring to balanced acidity, alcohol, and, in red wines, tannin. Wines lacking structure are thin or flabby.

Backward: Describes a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage.

Balance: Describes when the elements of wine – acids, sugars, tannins, and alcohol – come together in a harmonious way.

Balthazar: A large-format bottle that holds the equivalent of 12 to 16 standard bottles.

Barbaresco: Nebbiolo-based red wine made in Italy’s Piedmont region.

Barolo: One of Italy’s most important wines, Barolo is made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes in Piedmont.

Barrel: The oak container used for fermenting and aging wine.

Barrel Aged: Denotes a wine that has spent a period of time in barrels before bottling. Aging in new oak barrels can add aromas and flavors of vanilla, spice, and smoke.

Barrel Fermented: Describes the process by which wine, usually white, is fermented in oak barrels rather than in stainless steel tanks.

Barrique: The French term for barrel, describing a 225-liter oak barrel used originally for storing and aging wines, originating in Bordeaux.

Bâtonnage: A French term for stirring the lees during the aging and maturation of wine.

Baumé: A technical term for measuring the approximate sugar concentration in grape juice. The degrees Baumé is an indication of the final alcoholic strength of the wine if it is fermented to dryness. Commonly used by winemakers in France and Australia.

Bead: The stream of tiny bubbles found in sparkling wines; a small, persistent bead is an indicator of quality.

Beans: Small bean-shaped pieces of wood added to wine during winemaking to impart oak flavors. Less expensive than oak barrels, beans are used primarily in inexpensive wines. They are rounder in shape and thought to add fewer harsh flavors than oak chips.

Beaujolais: A juicy, flavorful red wine made from Gamay grapes grown in Beaujolais, France.

Beaujolais Nouveau: The first Beaujolais wine of the harvest. Its annual release date is the third Thursday in November.

Beerenauslese: A German classification, literally meaning selected berries, based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. These grapes will be overripe and usually affected by Botrytis Cinerea. These wines are rare and costly.

Bentonite: A clay compound used in the fining process of white wines.

Berry: This term has two meanings. An individual grape is called a berry by grape growers. It also describes the set of fruit flavors found in many wines, which includes strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, etc.

Bin Number: Designates special wines, but often applied to ordinary wines to identify a separate lot or brand.

Biodynamic: A farming strategy that combines principles of organic farming, like the use of manure and compost as a substitute for artificial chemicals; incorporating livestock into plant care; and the following of an astrological planting calendar.

Bite: Describes a marked degree of acidity or tannins. An acid grip on the finish should be more like a zestful tang and is in general prized only in richer, fuller-bodied wines.

Bitter: Describes one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet) that is sensed on the back of the tongue and caused by tannins.

Black Grapes: Another term for red grapes. Also, in medieval times, used specifically in reference to Malbec in Bordeaux and Cahors in France.

Blanc de Blancs: White from whites, meaning a white wine made entirely of white grapes, like Champagne made only of Chardonnay, instead of a mix of white and red grape varieties.

Blanc de Noirs: White from Blacks, meaning a white wine made of red or black grapes. The wines can have a pale pink hue.

Bleeding: A clever winemaking trick often used by quality conscious producers, known also by the French term of saignée. Red wines gain their color and tannins from the contact between grape juice and skins during fermentation. To increase the ratio of skins to juice, some producers ‘bleed’ off some of the juice before fermentation. The juice bled off in this fashion can be used to make rosé wine.

Blend: A wine made from more than one grape varietal.

Blind Tasting: The act of tasting without knowing certain information about the wine. There are two main types of bling tasting: single-blind and double-blind. Single-blind is done by “blinding” the producer and price of a wine (the region, varietal(s), and vintage are known), in order to ensure full objectivity. Double-blind indicates that none of the wine’s characteristics are known.

Blunt: Describes a wine that is strong in flavor and often alcoholic, but lacking in aromatic interest and development on the palate.

Blush: Also known as rosé, this term describes a pink or salmon-colored wine made from red grapes. The wine may be dry or sweet.

Bodega: The Spanish term for Estate.

Body: Describing the weight and fullness of wine in the mouth.  A wine can be light, medium, or full-bodied.

Bordeaux: The area in Southwest France considered one of the greatest wine-producing regions in the world.

Botrytis Cinerea: A beneficial mold that pierces the skin of grapes and causes dehydration, resulting in natural grape juice exceptionally high in sugar. Botrytis is largely responsible for the world’s finest dessert wines. See Noble Rot.

Bottle Aging: A period of time spent in bottle prior to release and/or consumption.

Bottle Shock/Sickness: A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile, older wines) are shaken in travel. A few days of rest is the cure.

Bottling: Putting wine into bottles is an automated process.

Bouquet: A term which defines smells acquired by the wine during bottle-aging.

Box wine: Wine sold in a cardboard box, as an alternative packaging to glass bottles.

Brawny: Describes wines that are hard, intense and tannic with raw, woody flavors. The opposite of elegant.

Breathing: Exposing wine to oxygen to improve its flavors. See Aeration.

Brettanomyces: A spoilage yeast that can cause what is commonly described as barnyard aromas and flavors in a wine.

Briary: Describes young wines with an earthy or stemmy wild berry character.

Bright: Used for fresh, ripe, zesty, lively young wines with vivid, focused flavors.

Brilliant: Describes the appearance of very clear wines with absolutely no visible suspended or particulate matter.

Brix: A scale used to measure the level of sugar in unfermented grapes.

Browning: Describes a wine’s color, and is a sign that a wine is mature and may be faded.

Brut: A French term describing dry champagnes or sparkling wines.

Budbreak: Refers to the start of the new growing season, when tender green buds emerge in early spring’s warm temperatures; typically March in the Northern Hemisphere and September in the Southern Hemisphere.

Bung: The plug used to seal a wine barrel

Bung Hole: The opening in a cask in which wine can be put in or taken out.

Burnt: Describes wines that have an overdone, smoky, toasty or singed edge. Also used to describe overripe grapes.

Buttery: Describes the smell of melted butter or toasty oak; the rich, creamy characters often found in barrel fermented Chardonnay.

Burgundy: A prominent French wine region. Pinot Noir is the grape for red Burgundy and Chardonnay for white.


Cabernet Franc: A red grape common to Bordeaux, with an herbal, leafy flavor and a soft, fleshy texture.

Cabernet Sauvignon: A powerful, tannic red grape of noble heritage. It’s capable of aging for decades and is the base grape for many red Bordeaux and most of the red wines from California, Washington, Chile, and South Africa.

Cap: Grape solids like pits, skins, and stems that rise to the top of the tank during fermentation. It’s what gives red wines color, tannins, and weight.

Cane: A branch of a vine.

Canopy: The foliage of a grapevine.

Cap: The thick layer of skins, stems, and seeds that forms at the surface of fermenting red wine.

Capsule: The metal or plastic protective coating that surrounds the top of the cork and the bottle.

Carbonic Maceration: Most frequently associated with Beaujolais, this is a method of producing light-bodied, fresh and fruity red wines.

Casa: The Spanish term for house. See Bodega.

Case: A case of wine in the United States typically contains 9 liters or 12 standard 750ml bottles of wine. The size of wineries is most frequently measured in the number of cases produced annually.

Casein: A dairy-based protein used in the fining process. Casein is particularly effective at clarifying cloudy or off-colored white wines.

Cask Number: A term sometimes used to designate special wines, but often applied to ordinary wines to identify a separate lot or brand. See Bin Number.

Cava: The Spanish term for sparkling wine made using the traditional méthode Champenoise.

Cave: The French term for cellar.

Cedary: Describes the smell of cedar wood associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends aged in French or American oak.

Cellar: The room in a winery where wine is made or stored. Can also refer to a personal wine collection in a residence.

Cellared By: Means the wine was not produced at the winery where it was bottled. It usually indicates that the wine was purchased from another source.

Cépage: the French term for grape variety.

Chablis: A town and wine region east of Paris known for steely, minerally Chardonnay.

Chai: Another French term for Cellar.

Champagne: A denominated region northeast of Paris in which Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes are made into sparkling wine.

Chaptalization: Adding sugar to wine before or during fermentation to increase alcohol levels. It is illegal in some parts of the world and highly controlled in others.

Chardonnay: Arguably the best and most widely planted white wine grape in the world.

Charmat: A less expensive, mass-production method for producing bulk quantities of sparkling wine.

Château: The French term for castle. In the wine world, it translates loosely as estate.

Chef de Cave: The French term for cellar master or head winemaker.

Chenin Blanc: A white grape common in the Loire Valley of France.

Chewy: Describes highly extracted, full-bodied and tannic wines that are so rich they seem as if they should be chewed, rather than simply swallowed.

Chianti: A scenic, hilly section of Tuscany known for fruity red wines made mostly from Sangiovese grapes.

Cigar Box: Describes the cedary and tobacco leaf scents associated with cigar boxes, an aroma frequently associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends.

Citric Acid: One of the three predominate acids in wine.

Claret: The name the English use when referring to the red wines of Bordeaux.

Clarification: Removable of insoluble material from wine, usually through fining agents or filtration.

Clarity: Describes the reflective quality of wine as brilliant, clear, dull, or hazy. Referring to the amount of suspended particulate matter in a wine.

Classed Growth: A literal translation from the French term Cru Classé that describes a property or Château included in the famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux; these are the aristocratic wines of Bordeaux, and command high prices.

Clean: Describes wines that are fresh on the palate and free of any off-taste.

Climat: The French term for a vineyard site defined by its micro-climate and various other aspects of terroir. The term is most commonly associated with Burgundy.

Climate: The long-term weather pattern – including temperature, precipitation, and hours of sunshine – in a specific region. In contrast, weather is associated with a specific event, such as a hailstorm.

Clonal Selection: The vineyard management term for a technique by which dead or underperforming vines are replaced with new vines grown from a single superior vine or mother vine.

Clone: A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated asexually from a single source.

Clos: A French term used to describe a walled vineyard.

Closed: Describes wines that are concentrated and have character, yet are shy in aroma or flavor. Closed wines may open up to reveal more flavors and aromas with aging or aeration.

Cloudiness: Lack of clarity to the eye. Fine for old wines with sediment, but it can be a warning signal of protein instability, yeast spoilage, or re-fermentation in the bottle in younger wines.

Cloying: Describes ultra-sweet or sugary wines that lack the balance provided by acid, alcohol, bitterness, or intense flavor.

Cluster: A grape bunch.

Coarse: Usually refers to texture, and in particular, excessive tannin or oak. Also used to describe harsh bubbles in sparkling wines.

Col Fondo: A sparkling wine production method for traditional Prosecco.

Cold Stabilization: A clarification technique that can prevent the formation of crystals in wine bottles.

Colheita: The Portuguese term for vintage.

Commune: French term for village.

Complex: A wine exhibiting numerous odors, nuances, and flavors.

Complexity: An element in all great wines and many very good ones; a combination of richness, depth, flavor intensity, focus, balance, harmony, and finesse.

Cooked: Describes a dull, stewed flavor associated with wines adversely affected by excessive heat during shipping or storage.

Cooper: A wine barrel maker.

Cooperage: The facility where wine barrels are made.

Cooperative: A wine company that is owned and managed by a group of vineyard owners who bottle their wine under one label, sharing the profits. Wine cooperatives are typically associated with cheaper, often bulk, wine.

Coravin: An appliance that allows wine to be removed from an unopened bottle of wine via a hollow needle.

Corkage Fee: The fee charged by restaurants when guests bring their own bottle of wine rather than ordering from the wine list.

Cork Taint: Undesirable aromas and flavors in wine often associated with wet cardboard or moldy basements.

Corked: Describes a wine having the off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor and aroma and dry aftertaste caused by a tainted cork.

Côte: The French term for slope.

Cosecha: The Spanish term for vintage.

Coulure: During flowering in the spring, wind, and rain, as well as chemical deficiencies can keep grapevine flowers from being properly fertilized, causing these flowers to drop off the cluster.

Crianza: A Spanish term for red wine that has been aged in oak barrels for at least one year.

Crisp: Describes a wine with moderately high acidity; refreshing and bright with a clean finish.

Cru: A French term for ranking a wine’s inherent quality, i.e. cru bourgeois, cru classé, premier cru, and grand cru.

Crush: An English term for the harvest season when the grapes are picked and crushed.

Cuvée: A blend or a special lot of wine.