• Acidic: or tart, sour. All wines contain some acids, predominantly tartaric. Raw, young wines are generally more acidic than older ones. improperly balanced wines may taste sour because of an abnormally high acid content.

  • Alcohol: the sine qua non of wine, its affects run from the obvious to the not so obvious. Alcohol doesn’t just provide the kick: it gives texture ("body"), flavor (roundness and sweetness) and vinosity (makes it smell and taste like wine) as well as providing balance and a certain chemical and physical stability to wines. The primary alcohol is known as ethyl alcohol or ethanol, but there are dozens of other so-called "higher" alcohols which though in minute quanitites provide hundreds of flavors.

  • Aroma: that portion of the smell of a wine derived specifically from the grape variety,such as Cabernet-Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as opposed to that portion of the smell derived from other sources (see Bouquet).

  • Austere: the more prestigious châteaux wines of PauiIlac and St. Julien are sometimes referred to thusly. It implies a sensation of pleasant bitterness from tannins. Think of crisp lemonade as opposed to cola or country well water as opposed to soft tap water. Beaujolais, Lietfraumilch, or most American jug wines would not be considered austere.

  • Balance: a balanced wine is one whose constituents--sugar, acids, tannins, alcohols, etc.--are evident but do not mask one another. A young red wine--tannic and acidic-- is not considered balanced because these two characteristics mask the other flavor elements of the wine, which, given time, may display themselves.

  • Big: a wine of more flavor, alcohol, etc. than others. A Barolo, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, late-harvest Zinfandel or the like is considered a big wine.

  • Bitter: one of the four basic taste sensations. Young, red Bordeaux or Cabernet-Sauvignons will taste bitter because of their relatively high tannin content. Tannin is a bitter element in wines.

  • Body: English wine authority Michael Broadbent puts it well in his Wine Tasting: "the weight of the wine in the mouth due to its alcoholic content and to its other physicai components. These in turn are due to the quality of the wine, to the vintage, its geographical origin, and general style. Wines from hotter climates tend to have more body than those from the north (compare the Rhône with the Mosel, for example)."

  • Botrytis cinerea: Latin name for one of many molds which attacks grapes on the vine. Under the proper conditions and at the proper time, this mold will often have a beneficial affect upon the resulting wine’s quality. Grapes affected beneficially by the mold, called noble rot, may smelI more or less like peaches or apricots.

  • Bouquet: as opposed to aroma, bouquet is more encompassing. It is the odor which derives from the fermentation process, from the aging in wood and bottle process, and other changes independent of the grape variety used.

  • Brix: a measure of grape solids in a juice sample, usually at picking time. The great majority of these solids are sugars which are fermentable into alcohol. By measuring the brix of grape juice at picking, it is possible to estimate the final alcoholic content of the wine. So when a wine writer asks a winemaker "what was the brix at picking" he is not just trying to be cute.

  • Bunch: the term to describe a full cluster of grape berries; also used to describe any non-Muscadine grape, most often employed by winegrowers in the American southeast.

  • Carbonic maceration: a method of fermentation, invented by the Rhône-French in the 1930s involving an intra-cellular transformation within whole berries, as opposed to allowing the berries’ juice to be expressed and fermented normally. Wines--usually red--fermented this way are referred to as "nouveau" or "primeur’.

  • Character: a wine of good character is one which doesn’t just slip down the throat and say "bye-bye"; it says "stop a while, friend. You have just come upon an above-average liquid. Think on it".

  • Chewy: a high-but-balanced acid wine with a greater than average tannin content is considered chewy. Some Bordeaux reds, especially St. Estèphes, California coastal mountain Cabernets or Shiraz wines are so described.

  • Chaptalization: is the addition of "foreign" sugars (beet or cane) to a must in order to raise the final alcoholic content of the wine.

  • Clone: a vine so produced to better adapt to climatic or geologic conditions. You will often hear in discussion of the grape of "the Romanée-Conti clone of Pinot noir as opposed to the "Volnay" clone. It is a biologically exact replica of the mother material it was, well, cloned from.

  • Cold fermentation: a method of fermenting grape juice into wine at lowered (c. 55 degrees F.) temperatures in order to conserve as much primary and secondary fruit character as possible.

  • Complex: a complex wine is many-faceted; it contains not only acids, alcohols, tannins, etc., but more. Each sip brings another flavor, reveals another nuance.

  • Cork(y): said of a wine that smells more of cork than it does of wine. Such an odor will usually not dissipate, and, if noticed to excess in a wine, provides sufficient reason for returning it to the retailer or restaurateur.

  • Crush: in wine lingo, the time of year when the grapes are picked and processed. Grapes for the so-called "finer" wines are not literally and dramatically crushed, but are broken open to allow their juice to run out.

  • Earthy: not actually referring to a dirty or soil-like smell or taste, but to a characteristic of the wine derived from its special soil and climate. The iodine-like quality that many relate to red Graves wines, or the rubbery character many associate with Mayacamas Mountain Cabernets is called earthy, or possessing goût de terroir (taste of the ecosystem, if you will).

  • Estate-bottled: an over-worked term which classically means that the grapes for the wine in the bottle were grown by the fellow that bottled the wine (and raised, tended, and picked the grapes, as well). Corporate entities make for a dilution of the term insofar as America is concerned.

  • Fat: generalIy referring to a wine of higher than average alcohol and/or glycerin content.

  • Feminine: this term is often used to describe a wine of more delicacy than most: a Margaux as opposed to a Pauillac or a Mondavi Cabernet as opposed to a Ridge.

  • Fine: to reduce the solids content of wine after fermentation. In traditional operations, egg whites, milk solids or blood is used, more often, a fine clay called "bentonite" or the like is used.

  • Finish: the sensual impression -- long or short, strong or weak --that lingers after you have swallowed a wine; a.k.a. "aftertaste".

  • Flowery: a nebulous term referring to an indeterminate fragrance akin to flowers in general. Mosel wines are flowery, as are some Chenin blancs, Seyval bIancs, and Aurores.

  • Free run: wine that is allowed to flow by gravity from the fermenter. It is considered lighter and less rich than press wine, but is often blended with it to arrive at a balanced product.

  • Fruity: a pleasant fragrance from ripe grapes made into wine; a berry-like quality akin to fruits in general.

  • Generic: a wine that takes its name from a European district that has garnered some fame. American "Chabils" are meant to recall the French product, but usualIy don’t. The original intent of such rip-offs was pure and natural: to sell that which is recognizable (to an immigrant population that was familiar with the terms). Nowadays, such names are giving way to more accurate, if less colorfuI, appellations.

  • Goût de Terroir: the smell and taste derived from a combi nation of the soil, macro/meso/microclimate, aspect, etc. of the vineyard; the "Taste of the Ecosystem".

  • Harsh: A hard or green wine will generally soften with age; a harsh wine, because of its excessive astringency, probably will not. 1957 Château Latour comes to mind.

  • Herbaceous: smelling or tasting of soil-covered herbs; sometimes used to describe Merlots.

  • Hot: a wine that reminds you more of alcohol than anything else is considered hot.

  • Late Harvest: a term seen on wine labels to indicate that the grapes for the wine were left on the vine to ripen, often raisin, for longer than normal. Usually a so-labeled wine will be higher than average in residual sugar and/or alcohol.

  • Legs: a wine’s body or viscosity can be determined, often, by the way rivulets (or sheets, or "tears") of wine descend the inner glass after swirling. It has to deal with the surface tension and other technical stuff; but a look at the legs will give you tips on the wine’s nature: in a dry wine, slow falling legs indicate a full-bodied-wine; quick-falling indicate a light wine.

  • Luscious: a rich wine, high in sugar and, often, in glycerine, is sometimes referred to as luscious. Sauternes, Portos and some sweet white wines affected by Botrytis cinerea fill the bill.

  • Malolactic conversion: a conversion by bacteria of the malic acid in wines into lactic acid which results in a lowering of the overall acidity, and, hence, tartness of the wine. The conversion occurs mainly in wines from cooler climates where there is an excess of malic acidity in the grapes and wine, and usually happens after the alcoholic fermentation. Modern methods, however, allow for malolactic conversions brought about by the addition of malolactic-inducing cultures.

  • Must: the term for the mixture of grape juice, skins, seeds, and pulp in a red wine fermentation or just the juice in a white fermentation.

  • Oxidized: all wines are oxidized to a degree because of the presence of oxygen in or near them. A high degree of oxidation is not desirable in most table wines, while in fortified wines, especially Sherries, a greater oxidation is attained and desired. A table wine smelling more like a Sherry and tasting generally lifeless is said to be more or less oxidized.

  • Phylloxera (vastatrix): Latin name for a vine-louse which nearly destroyed the European vineyards in the late 1800s. As a result, most new vineplants are grafted onto a phylloxera-resistant rootstock to ensure proper vine health and adequate bearing. Phylloxera remains a problem in most of the world's vinifera vineyards.

  • Pomace: residue, usualIy grape skins, un-used pulp, and seeds, after fermentation is completed. Pomace is sometimes plowed back into a field for fertilizer, but is often dumped for fear of contaminating a vineyard with parasites or other vine problems.

  • Rack: the process of draining wine from a holding tank in order to separate it from the sediment that has collected at the bottom. This also serves to aerate the wine.

  • Spicy: many wines will display distinct or nebulous ("what is that flavor?") spicy flavors such as dill, basil, or the like. Often, any tangy character in a wine, such as that in a fairly dry Gewürztraminers, will be described as spicy.

  • Tannin: a natural constituent of wines, especially reds. It is a bitter-tasting material which is partially responsible for preserving wines during their sometimes long aging periods. Bite a grape seed to experience the flavor of tannin or have a cup of tea, neat.

  • Tomatoes (stewed, canned): not necessarily a sought-after taste or odor (although to the converted it is wonderful in small doses, especially in Pinot noirs), it generally arises from the yeast called brettanomyces (dekkera).

  • Ullage: the distance between the cork and the wine as the bottle stands upright.A large ullage in an older wine is normal; a similar level in a younger wine might mean trouble.

  • Wood(y): many wines are aged or treated in wood containers, ranging in size from fifty to one million gallons. In well-made, well-aged wines this wood lends a characteristic smell and taste--depending upon the type of wood used and the size of the barrel--which is just another facet of the wine. Old wood, contaminated wood, or excessive wood aging will result in an overly woody, sometimes astringent smell and taste. See musty.

  • Yeasty: yeasts, or rather enzymes in yeasts, ferment wines. Some maintain that yeasts in fino Sherry butts (casks) contribute to the yeasty flavor of these wines. Others see the yeasty character of Champagnes to be directly related to the long period of yeast contact that such wines have. However, what we perceive as yeast-smells in Champagne (or similarly made sparkling wines from other countries) is more likely the result of a lightly to strongly oxidized white-grape wine blend, Chardonnay in Champagne’s case. Experiment with fresh Chardonnay-rich Champagnes (or "Blanc de Blancs", if you can find them) and older, even badly-stored examples of the same wine, to see what is meant here. You may like the latter more.