Acetic acid: A cause of wine that has gone bad, normally recognizable through the telltale smell of vinegar or nail-polish remover. This is caused by microbial spoilage and/or oxidation. A low level of acetic acid is acceptable in some wines, such as dry, full-bodied, red table wines. Sometimes when wine becomes acetic it actually can be used for cooking in dishes that call for vinegar.
Acidity: The lively, crisp tartness of a wine that affects the salivary glands.
Alcoholic fermentation: The process by which yeast turns grape sugar into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethanol alcohol. In most fermentations, the CO2 is allowed to evaporate, but in Methode Champenoise (see later entry) fermentations used to make Champagne and other sparkling wines, the CO2 is captured under pressure and becomes the bubbles in the bottle.
American Oak: A mostly Midwestern U.S.-grown oak (quercus alba), from which are crafted barrels used in the process of aging whiskey and wines. Usually imparts a more assertive oak component, similar to resin, and is favored in the making of full-bodied red wines. French Oak, on the other hand, is known more for finer, delicate flavors.
American Viticultural Area (AVA): A demarcated, geographical grape-growing area officially granted appellation status by the American Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are both AVAs, for example. The French equivalent is an Appellation d’origine contrôlée.
Astringent: The austere, drying, furry or bitter mouth feel of wines, normally due to high tannin levels. More typical in reds than whites.
Austere: Term used for wines that are low on fruit flavors and high on acidity and/or tannins. Sometimes said of young wines that need more time to soften with age.
Balance: A harmony between all elements within wine: acids, sugars, tannins and alcohol.
Barbaresco: A dry, tart red wine made entirely of Nebbiolo grapes from the northwestern district of the same name in Piedmont, Italy.
Barolo: A bigger, richer and often-pricier wine than Barbaresco, Barolo is also a dry, tart red wine from Piedmont, Italy.
Barrel: An oak container (usually around 55 gallons) used for aging and fermenting wine.
Barrel-fermented: The process of fermenting wine in oak barrels rather than in stainless steel tanks. Can increase the complexity, texture, body, and oakiness of wines, though the process is riskier and more labor-intensive than alternative methods.
Barrique: French term for a small wooden barrel in which wine is aged.
Beaujolais: A French wine-growing district where the red wine grape Gamay Noir a jus Blanc is prominent, and makes a light, delicate red wine.
Bitter: The tannin taste sensation on the back of the tongue.
Blend: A mixture of different grape varietals, regions or vintages, to add complexity, balance and/or consistency.
Body: A tactile sensation of a wine’s mouth-feel in terms of weight and fullness. A wine can be light-, medium- or full-bodied.
Bordeaux: A large area in Southwest France, known as one of the preeminent wine-producing regions on the planet.
Botrytis: Also known as “Noble Rot,” a mold that pierces the skin of grapes late in the growing season, resulting in a natural grape juice substantially higher in sugar. Used in as the basis for dessert wines, though it can ruin some grapes.
Brix: A system, popular in America, which measures sugar content (and thus the ripeness) of grapes. Most table wines are harvested between 20 and 26 degrees Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by 0.55.
Brut: A term to describe dry wine, usually Champagne or sparkling wine.
Burgundy: A well-known growing region in France, where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes flourish. The name can also generally refer to a blended red wine.
Buttery: Indicates the smell of melted butter or toasty oak, or a rich texture.
Cabernet Sauvignon: A major red wine grape that grows in a variety of climates. A dominant grape of Bordeaux, it also grows well all over the planet.
Carbonic Maceration: Method of making light-bodied, fresh and fruity red wines by dumping whole grape clusters into a bin that is rich in carbon dioxide, and then letting the clusters ferment inside their own grape skins. Commonly practiced in Beaujolis.
Champagne: A sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. Champagne is produced under regulations requiring a secondary fermentation in the bottle to create carbonation. The sweetness of Champagne (and sparkling wine in general) is measured from driest to sweetest: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux.
Chaptalization: The process of adding sugar to sugar-deficient grape juice, to ensure that the resulting wine contains sufficient alcohol. Common in northern Europe countries, where cold climates can prevent grapes from fully ripening. Illegal in southern Europe (including Italy and southern France) and California.
Chardonnay: A primarily white wine grape first grown in Burgundy, including the Chablis and Champagne regions. One of the most widely planted grape varieties worldwide.
Charmat: The less-expensive, mass-production method of making sparkling wine in a large vat rather than in bottles. This decreases lees contact and produces larger, coarser bubbles. Also known as “tank method.”
Chateau: A French term that typically refers to an estate that makes wine from vines grown onsite.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape: One of the most renowned appellations in France’s southern Rhône Valley. Produces more reds than whites, with Grenache the most common grape variety. Wines from this appellation are typically sold in heavy, dark bottles. More wine is produced here than in the entire Northern Rhône region.
Chenin Blanc: An acidic white wine grape most widely grown in the Anjou region of France. Can produce a variety of wines, from sparkling to dessert. Also known as Steen, or Pineau de la Loire.
Chewy: A tasting term that refers to wine with noticeable tannins that have a mouth feel, as if you could chew the wine.
Chianti: Red Wine from Tuscany, Italy, made almost exclusively from the Sangiovese grape.
Claret: The British term for the red wines of Bordeaux.
Colombard: A French white grape variety, generally used in blends, such as “jug wines.” Sometimes called French Colombard, or Colombar.
Corked: A wine that displays an off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor and aroma and dry aftertaste, as caused by a tainted cork.
Decanter: To pour wine from the bottle into another container, as to aerate the wine — allowing it to breathe and “open up” — or to separate it from sediment.
Dolcetto: Red wine grape of Italy that typically makes a dry, light, easy-drinking red wine with flavors of black cherry, licorice or prune, with a characteristic bitter finish.
Dosage: Sugar syrup added to Champagne and sparkling wine to lessen the acid and increase the sweetness.
Douro: Portuguese town where Port is produced, near the town of Oporto.
Dry: A term that refers to wines lacking the taste of sugar. Rather, tannins are very present, and lead to a puckering sensation in the mouth. The opposite of sweet.
Durif: See Petite Syrah.