Wine Glossary of Terms

The WineShack Glossary of Wine Terms

Explore the world of wine like a pro with our comprehensive wine glossary

Learn the meaning and significance of common wine terms, from common descriptors to technical terms, and expand your knowledge of wine regions, grape varieties, and wine-making techniques.

Acid, Acidity: An essential component in wine that gives it its characteristic tang and helps to balance its sweetness. It is a byproduct of fermentation and contributes to a wine’s body and structure. A good wine should have the right amount of acidity for a balanced taste, but too much or too little can make a wine unenjoyable.

Aftertaste: The taste that lingers in your mouth after you swallow a wine. The aftertaste can differ significantly from the taste while the wine is in your mouth and can be a virtue, as long as the taste is pleasant.

Alcohol: An important aspect of wine that contributes to its body and texture. However, if a wine has too much alcohol, it can make the wine taste harsh and be a flaw.

Anise: A faint licorice-like flavor that is a pleasant element in some Spanish red wines. However, it can also indicate that the wine has been artificially acidified, which may improve short-term enjoyment but can make the wine cellar poorly.

Apple: A pleasant apple-like aroma that is particularly characteristic of Chardonnays made without excessive oak.

Apricot: Apricot flavors are often noted in sweet white wines, particularly if they are affected by botrytis (a type of fungus).

Aroma: The smell of a wine that is an important part of the tasting experience, as smell and taste are closely related. It is often used interchangeably with the term “bouquet.”

Attack: The initial impression a wine makes as it reaches your palate, distinguished from the “middle” or “mid-palate” and the “finish” or “aftertaste.”

Austere: A simple, one-dimensional wine that is usually applied to young wines of ageworthy quality to denote unrealized potential. It can also describe a wine that is light yet acidic, not necessarily simple, as in a Chablis.

Backbone: The structural component of a wine that is provided by its acidity.

Balanced: A wine that has the right proportion of acidity, fruit, and tannins (where applicable) to create a harmonious taste. A wine may have many good characteristics but is not considered complete unless it is balanced.

Barnyard: An earthy, organic character that is reminiscent of country lanes. This is expected in red Burgundies and, in the right proportion, is considered desirable.

Beaujolais-like: Resembling the light, fruity, and fresh style of Beaujolais wines, which are meant for easy drinking rather than contemplative sipping.

Big: A broad term used to describe a full-bodied, strong, assertive, robust, and flavorful wine. Some people prefer big wines, while others prefer more delicate ones.

Bitter: Not a common taste in wines but can be found occasionally, particularly in the aftertaste. It is often found in subtle, refreshing form in some Italian wines and Alsatian whites.

Blackberry: A common descriptor for the smell or taste found in young Zinfandels.

Black cherry: A common flavor in red wines, particularly Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chianti.

Blackcurrant: A fruity and herbaceous quality that is the hallmark of red Bordeaux and is also referred to as “Cassis” in French.

Black fruit: A general term used to describe a mixture of black cherry, blackberry, plum, and similar fruit aromas that are common in many good red wines.

Black pepper: A distinct and fragrant spice commonly found in Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Petite Sirah wine varietals.

Body: Refers to the texture or weight of wine in the mouth, influenced by factors such as alcohol, glycerin, and sugar content. It also refers to the depth and substance of a wine’s taste.

Botrytis: A type of desirable rot that affects grapes, particularly Riesling, during the late harvest season. It causes the grapes to dry and shrivel, resulting in concentrated and sweet juice that makes for memorable dessert wines. The finished wine has a distinct honey-apricot flavor.

Bouquet and Bottle Bouquet: The aroma or scent of wine, which is an important characteristic that indicates taste. It also refers to the smells that develop in the wine bottle over time, as opposed to the “aroma” associated with the fruit.

Breed: Referring to the character and complexity of a wine, often used to describe high-quality wines.

Bright: Used to describe a wine that is transparent in color and high but not excessive in acidity in flavor.

Brilliant: A visual term used to describe a wine that is exceptionally clear and transparent.

Brut: A term used to describe dry, usually applied to Champagne and other sparkling wines. Indicates less than 1.5 percent residual sugar by volume in Champagne, meaning it is drier than the term “extra dry.”

Butter and Buttery: A flavor descriptor used to describe a wine that has an obvious taste of butter. Common in Chardonnay, particularly from California, it is often a sign of “malolactic fermentation” (see below).

Candied and Candying Fruit: Specific flavor descriptor, similar to the bits of fruit found in traditional holiday fruitcake. Often found in California Pinot Noirs.

Cantaloupe: A flavor descriptor used to describe a melon flavor that is typical of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, and Chenin Blanc.

Carbonic Maceration: A winemaking process, also known as the Beaujolais process, in which whole grapes are fermented without crushing. Results in a fruity wine with characteristic aromas of bananas, strawberries, and cotton.

Cassis: A flavor descriptor used to describe the aroma of red Bordeaux, similar to the French blackcurrant liqueur. Also used to make the traditional Kir (white wine with a little Cassis).

Cedar: A flavor descriptor used to describe an herbaceous aroma often found in Bordeaux and California Cabernet. Similar to the smell of an old-fashioned cedar chest.

Citric: A flavor descriptor used to describe a generic citrus fruit flavor that is a pleasurable element in many white wines.

Character: Refers to the balance, assertiveness, finesse and other good qualities that combine to create the character of a wine.

Cheesy: A flavor descriptor used to describe a wine that has an organic, ripe natural cheese aroma. Usually considered a flaw, indicating poor winemaking and unwanted secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Cherry-Berry: A flavor descriptor used to describe a delightful fruit combination often found in good red wines, similar to the flavor of black fruit.

Chewy and Chunky: A textural descriptor used to describe a wine that is full-bodied and almost seems like it could be chewed.

Chocolate, dark-chocolate: Rich in flavor, with a “burnt” taste, commonly found in full-bodied red wines. May be associated with aging in oak barrels.

Cigar box: A unique scent of cedar and tobacco, often found in fine Bordeaux wines.

Clean: A wine without any off-putting aromas or tastes.

Closed: A wine that has limited aroma or flavor, potentially a temporary condition in an aging wine that is past its youth but not yet mature.

Cloves: A spicy flavor often associated with oak, commonly found in Spanish Rioja wines.

Cloying: Overly sweet without balancing acidity, resulting in an artificial sweetness rather than the natural sweetness of good fruit juice.

Complex: Wines with a broad range of qualities that make their taste challenging and interesting, in contrast to simple wines.

Consistent: A wine with aroma, taste, and aftertaste that complement each other.

Corked, corky: A flaw in wine caused by a cork fungus, imparting a musty, damp-cardboard flavor that overpowers all other aromas and flavors. Also known as “bouchonne” in French.

Creamy: A texture description used to describe the mouthfeel, mostly in reference to bubbly wines.

Crisp: A wine with a noticeable acidic tartness that is not overpowering, a desirable characteristic in good white wines.

Delicate: Complex with many flavors working together, but not overpowering. Typically lighter in style.

Dominant: An aroma or flavor that outweighs all other elements in the wine. This is not usually considered a favorable description and can be detrimental to the wine’s “balance.”

Dry: A wine without sugar or sweetness. A fully dry wine contains no residual sugar. This term is often overused and should not be used to imply a positive or negative evaluation.

Dumb: See “closed” above: An aging wine that has lost its youthful fruit but not yet gained the complex bouquet of bottle age, and is not showing much of anything during the interim.

Earthy: A wine that tastes of the soil in which the grapes were grown. This can imply imbalance or a fault and can be controversial, a little bit is usually enough.

Evolution: The development of complex and desirable aromas and flavors in aging wine that is stored under appropriate temperature conditions.

Figs: An aroma reminiscent of the fruit, often found in oaky Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs.

Finish: A wine-taster’s synonym for “aftertaste,” the flavors remaining in your mouth after the wine is swallowed.

Flat, fat, flabby: A heavy, insipid wine without sufficient acidity, therefore lacking “structure.”

Floral, Flowery: A wine with aromas more reminiscent of flowers than fruit. Can be very pleasant, especially in white wines.

Forward: A wine with full aromas and flavors that “leap out of the glass.”

Foxy: A strong “grape jelly” aroma and flavor characteristic of native American grapes like Concord and sometimes found in a more subtle form in red French-hybrid grapes. Not generally well-thought-of by serious wine lovers, but a well-made Concord.

Fragile: An older wine that is fully mature and in decline.

Fragrant: A wine with a full, accessible aroma.

Fresh: A wine with good, pleasant fruit aromas and flavors.

Fruit, fruity: An overall description for wines in which fruitiness is the predominant quality without any specific fruitiness coming forward.

Fruit bomb: A jocular term for a wine in which forward fruit dominates the flavor profile. This can imply a lack of balance, with fruit being excessive for the wine’s acidic structure.

Full, full-bodied: A textural description for a wine that feels full and weighty on the palate, typically associated with wines of relatively high alcoholic content.

Funky: Modern slang for an “earthy” wine with strongly organic qualities, which may be complimentary, neutral or negative depending on its intensity and the taster’s personal preference.

Garnet: A color description for a wine that is reddish-purple, similar to the color of cooked jam. Often used to describe the luxurious appearance of fine wines.

Gold: Color description for white wines; a full gold color generally reflects either some age or substantial oak.

Grapefruit: A flavor and aroma characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer, similar to the fruit.

Grassy: An aroma characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc, similar to freshly cut grass.

Green olive: A vegetal aroma often noted in Cabernet Sauvignon. May be chemically related to the typical “blackcurrant” or “cassis” of Cabernet.

Green peppers: A herbaceous/vegetal quality that is generally considered excessive. This was once a specific pejorative for reds from California’s Monterey region, but modern vineyard management has largely overcome this issue.

Gulpable: A wine that is light, refreshing, and easy to drink. Not usually applied to high-end wines.

Hay: Similar to “grass,” only more pronounced.

Hazelnut: A specific nutty quality, usually subtle, not common but pleasant when present. Found in Italian Tocai Friulano, French White Burgundies and some dry Spanish whites.

Hazy: A visual description of a wine that is less than clear. In this age of industrial-produced wines, hazy samples are rare, but some “unfiltered” wines may appear less brilliant than most.

Hollow, empty: Lacking substance between the first taste and the finish, as in “hole in the middle” under “middle” below.

Honey: A specific flavor and aroma characteristic of botrytis but may also appear as a flavor nuance in dry white wines.

Hot: A wine that burns the tongue and palate, generally a sign of excessive or unbalanced alcohol.

Jammy: A wine that is so fruity that it’s reminiscent of jam or jelly. Often applied to big Zinfandels.

Juicy: A wine with forward, approachable fruit, not necessarily found in a complex wine, but tasty and pleasing.

Lean: A synonym for “acidic,” this term suggests a light wine with sharp acidity, a good food wine.

Leather: An “earthy” aroma often found in older red wines; specific adjectives may be added, such as “bookbinder’s leather” or “saddle leather.”

Lemon, lemony, lemon-squirt, lemon-lime: Specific citric flavors commonly found in dry white wines, highlighting why these wines pair well with seafood and fish, similar to the flavors of fresh lemons.

Length: The duration that the “finish” or “aftertaste” persists in the mouth; generally, the greater the length, the better the wine.

Light, light-bodied, lightweight: A textural description indicating a wine that crosses the palate without much sense of weight or body. May be associated with low alcoholic content.

Luscious: A broad term, usually complimentary, indicating that the wine is full of fruit, approachable and well-balanced.

Maderized: A wine that has turned brown and nutty, like a bad Sherry or Madeira, due to bad treatment or excessive age. Synonymous with “oxidized.”

Malolactic: A wine-making process in which the wine undergoes special fermentation to convert malic acid into lactic acid. The result is a softer, mellower wine that some wine lovers find “flabby,” but is very popular in the marketplace.

Meaty: Similar to “gamey,” above, a specific type of “earthy” quality, literally reminiscent of raw beef, sometimes found in red Rhones.

Medicinal: Herbal aromatics, not necessarily unpleasant, may evoke alcohol or witch hazel.

Medium, medium-bodied: As the name implies, a wine that is neither light-bodied nor heavy-bodied. This is rarely worth mentioning in a tasting note due to its middle-of-the-road status.

Melon, muskmelon, musky melon: Similar to “cantaloupe,” a musky, melon aroma found in many whites, such as Pinot Blanc, Gris, and Grigio, also Muscadet, and sometimes Riesling.

Middle, mid-palate: A term that refers to the sensation of a wine as it hits your palate, between the initial taste and swallowing. A wine may be described as having a “hole in the middle” if the mid-palate impression is not as strong as the attack or finish.

Mineral: A difficult-to-describe term that may reflect the stony character of Chablis wines, associated with the minerals in the soil.

Mint: A specific flavor of mint, often found in subtle proportions in California Cabernets.

Mouth-filling: A wine that impresses with its weight, texture, and flavor on the palate, similar to “full-bodied”.

Mushrooms: A mild earthy quality, pleasant in restraint. However, a musty, mushroomy taste may indicate a “corked” wine.

Musty: An indication that a wine is “corked”, but may also be present in older wines that will blow off with time in the glass. Corked wines never improve with breathing.

Nose: A wine taster’s term for the overall smell of a wine, including its aroma and bouquet.

Nutmeg: A pleasant spice, similar to cloves, typical in some red wines aged in oak.

Nutty, nutlike: A subtle flavor element in any wine or a predominant characteristic in a Sherry, Madeira, Tawny Port, or an over the hill “maderized” wine.

Oak, oaky: A wine that has been aged in oak barrels and shows the influence of the oak. This can manifest in various forms, such as pineapple and tropical fruit flavors in oaky white wines, and strong vanilla aromas, herbal dill, or spices in oaky reds.

Olive, ripe olive, black olive: A unique flavor found in Mediterranean reds and some flavorful Sauvignon Blancs and White Bordeaux wines.

Opaque: A visual term meaning a wine is too dark to see through.

Organic: A general term for earthy, forest floor, cheesy, leather, barnyard and related aromas and flavors.

Over the hill: A wine that has been kept too long or poorly and is no longer enjoyable to drink.

Oxidized: A chemical term for a wine that has interacted with air over time and has turned brown, Sherry-like and unattractive. A controlled amount of oxidation may be desirable in an old White Burgundy.

Palpable: Easily perceptible, usually used to describe tannins.

Peach: A specific fruit flavor found in Riesling or Gewurztraminer and sometimes in dessert wines.

Pear: A specific fruit flavor typically associated with Chardonnay aged in toasted oak barrels.

Peppery: Spicy with the fragrant pungence of black pepper. Common in Rhone and Languedoc reds made from Syrah and Grenache.

Perfumed: Aroma term, usually reflects a strong floral quality.

Persists, persistent: A general term for the length of a wine’s finish or aftertaste, roughly synonymous with “long.”

Pineapple: A specific fruit flavor, often found in California Chardonnay and a primary component of “tropical fruit.”

Pinpoint: A term describing the tiny bubbles in a fine Champagne.

Plum, plummy: A common description for red wines, particularly budget-range reds from warm climates.

Quaffer, quaffing wine: A wine that is simple and refreshing, meant for easy drinking rather than thoughtful contemplation. See “gulpable.”

Racy: A positive term for a wine with a tart-crisp acidic flavor that is well balanced by fruit, making it particularly refreshing.

Raisins: A specific fruit flavor that is generally found in simple table wines made from warm-weather grapes.

Raspberry: A specific fruit flavor commonly found in Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Young Cabernet wines.

Red fruit: A broad term for red wines with mixed flavors of apples, raspberries, strawberries, etc. and is typical of Languedoc reds. Compare to “black fruit”

Residual sugar: A technical term for the natural sugar that remains in sweet wines after the conversion of fruit sugars into alcohol.

Ripe: A general term for the overall impression of fruit in a wine. A favorable description for a wine in good balance, and stops short of “juicy,” “jammy,” and similar terms describing wines in which fruit is dominant.

Rising bread dough: A specific aroma description for a fresh, yeasty quality found in Champagnes and White Burgundies. Also “toasty” or “biscuity” is used to describe this scent.

Robust: A term used to describe a full-bodied, full-flavored wine, similar to “big.”

Rough: A slight, usually acceptable harshness in a wine, characteristic of “country-style” and “spaghetti” wines.

Rubber band: An unpleasant sulfurous flavor. It may blow off with time in the glass but it indicates the likelihood of excessive sulfuring by the winemaker. Also typical of some French-hybrid reds made in Eastern U.S. wineries.

Ruby: A reddish-orange color, similar to “garnet,” a jewel color used as a metaphor for fine red wine.

Short: A finish or aftertaste that does not last. Opposite of “long” or “lingering.”

Smoky: A controversial description, the French “Pouilly-Fumé” and the imitative American “Fumé Blanc” are said to be based on a smoky quality. A lightly toasted (charred) oak barrel can impart a notably smoky quality to white wines, and some Fumé Blancs in particular take advantage of this.

Smooth: A general textural term, favorable, contrasts with “rough” or “astringent.”

Soft: A low-acid wine, not tart or sour. When taken to extremes, it yields a wine that is “fat” or “flabby,” but within a balanced range, the wine may be palatable and even “gulpable,” many mass-market wines are made on the soft side.

Spicy: A general term for mixed spices, most often the cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg mix found in some red wines aged in European oak.

Stalky, stemmy: A specific vegetative description, rare, most often found in unappealing Pinot Noir made from young vines or under-ripe grapes.

Steely: A specific kind of acidity that is firm and seemingly metallic, typical of some very fine Sauvignon Blancs such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire.

Stony: Similar to “steely,” but with a distinct mineral quality alongside the metal. Reminiscent of licking on a pebble. Classic descriptor for Chablis.

Straw: A common color in white wines, lighter and less yellow than gold.

Strawberry: A common aroma found in Beaujolais wines, referring to the specific fruit.

Structure: The overall composition of a wine’s body, determined by acidity, alcohol, and tannins.

Subtle: A complex and well-balanced wine, with multiple elements at play. It is not as delicate as “delicate” but balance is crucial.

Tannic, Tannins: A component of wine, specifically red wine, derived from the grapes’ skins, seeds, and stems. It gives a dry, cotton-like sensation in the mouth and subsides as the wine matures.

Tart: A synonym for “acidic” describing a wine with crisp acidity and good balance.

Terroir: The taste of the soil or earth, describing the unique aromas and flavors of wine from a specific vineyard or region due to the combination of soil and climate.

Toast, Toasty: A flavor and aroma term often found in wine aged in lightly toasted or charred oak barrels, also present in some Champagnes and older Bordeaux.

Tobacco, Tobacco-Leaf: A common vegetal aroma found in some Bordeaux and California Cabernet wines.

Tropical Fruit: A term used to describe mixed figs, dates, and pineapple, with an emphasis on pineapple; commonly found in oaky California Chardonnay.

Truffles: An earthy, subtle mushroom. Used as a descriptor, it implies a favorable intent, unlike its cousin “mushroom.”

Vanilla: A characteristic spice aroma found in some wines aged in new American oak, particularly in Spanish and some California reds.

Varietal: A term referring to the type of grape used to make a wine. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. A wine’s “varietal character” refers to the expected aromas and flavors of the grape variety it is made from.

Vegetal: Similar to “herbaceous” but can have a slightly negative connotation.

Velvet, Velvety: A texture description referring to a smooth and delicious texture, often used to describe red Burgundy and other fine Pinot Noir.

Vinegary, Volatile Acidity: The presence of acetic acid in a wine. Historically it was a sign of poor wine-making or storage, but now it is rare in modern, industrial wine-making. Small amounts may be present and acceptable in wines made by carbonic maceration (Beaujolais) and fine dessert wines.

Violets: A floral aroma characteristic of some Italian reds, particularly Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape.

Walnuts: A nutty aroma, commonly found in Sherry.

Wildflowers: A term used to describe the light, delicate floral aromas in a wine, often pleasing to the senses.

Woody: A term used to describe a wine with a dominant oak aroma and flavor.

Yeasty: A pleasant yeast aroma, often found in sparkling wines, similar to the smell of rising bread dough.

Zinfandel: A grape variety grown almost exclusively in warmer regions of California, known for its jammy red-berry aromas and undertones of apricot or peach, as well as its high alcohol and tannin content. This is a truly American wine and pairs well with barbecued and grilled foods. The origin and parentage of the grape is not well understood by enologists.