This is not an attempt to produce all-inclusive, fully comprehensive glossary of wine terms – those you can find without my help. The goal is to have a concise, small set of wine terminology explained in the layman terms – at least to the level that I can (finally) get them myself. Disclaimer – your criticism is most welcome and will be greatly appreciated).
Acidity – one of the taste components of the wine, responsible for acidic taste on the palate. Usually associated with perceived freshness in the wines, especially the white ones. Acidity is essential for the ageability and longevity of the wines.
Appassimento – a process of drying grapes outdoors before pressing them for wine. The drying process helps to concentrate the flavor and can last from days to many month (6 month for some of the Recioto wines). While best known for use in Italy in production of Amarone, Recioto, Valtellina Sfursat and some of the Vin Santo, the same method is used in many other countries.
Balance – A very (most?) important characteristic of wine. Balance in the wine means that all the taste components – fruit, acidity, tannins, sweetness, alcohol – complementing each other and none of the components stands out above or apart from the rest.
Blending – an art of achieving a consistent or unique taste of the resulting wine by combining different batches of the wine. Different batches can be coming from the different years, different vineyards, be differently fermented and so on.
Body – A perceived notion of weight of the wine in the mouth. Usual degrees are light, medium and full, with all the variations in between. A wine like Pinot Grigio usually has a light body, where Australian Shiraz would often be characterized as a full-bodied wine.
Cava – Sparkling wine from Spain, produced using traditional méthode champenois. Can be white or rose.
Champagne – a sparkling wine from Champagne, France, made using classic méthode champenois, which calls for secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Cremant – A Sparkling Wine from France, made using traditional méthode champenois, anywhere outside of Champagne region. Examples are Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Bordeaux, Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Jura, etc.
Estufagem – A method of heating up the wine after fermentation to 140⁰F (60⁰C) which imparts a very specific taste profile, similar to what the wine can acquire during prolonged sea voyage in the barrels. Used in production of the fortified wine called Madeira (see below).
Flor – a thin layer of yeast which develops naturally on top of the barrel during aging process, which partially protects the wine from oxidation. Flor is typically associate with production of Sherry in the south of Spain and Vin Jaune in Jura region of France, where it is called the voile (veil).
Fruit forward – A wine characteristic which is (or was) typically associated with wines produced in the New World (US, Chile, Argentina, etc.) which is associated with abundance of fruit flavors being the first sensation at the first taste of the wine.
Jerez – a subset of Sherry, fortified wine produced in the Jerez region in the south of Spain. Can be made in the different styles, starting from very dry all the way to very sweet. Jerez is protected name, similar to Champagne, and can be only used on the wines produced in the specified area surrounding the town of Jerez de la Frontera. For additional information please see Sherry below.
Legs – A traces the wine leaves on the sides of the glass once the glass tilted at a good angle and then set back straight. Can be slightly reddish on the red wines. An interesting artifact of the winetasting, giving you prediction for the mouthfeel of the wine – if visible, the wine will be perceived as heavier in the mouth. Related to the glycerin content or viscosity of the wine. Alternative names are tears and church windows.
Madeira – Fortified wine produced on the Island of Madeira in Portugal. Madeira is produced mostly from the whites grapes in variety of styles, from very dry to very sweet. Madeira is heated up during production using the method called Estufagem (see above), which leads to the wine being very long living and lasting almost indefinitely even after the bottle was open.
Malolactic fermentation – a process which is sometime undertaken in winemaking after the primary fermentation is complete with the purpose of converting of the naturally present harsh-tasting malic acid into a softer tasting lactic acid. The malolactic fermentation is initiated by adding a specific lactic acid bacteria which consumes and converts malic acid. One of the primary uses of malolactic fermentation is in production of Chardonnay wines.
Noble rot – a fungus, also known under the name of Botrytis cinerea, which affects the grapes at the late stage in the growing season and leads to their shriveling while still on the vine, which results in concentration of sugars. While very undesirable in production of dry wines, it is a key element in production of many dessert wines such as Sauterns, TBA Riesling and Hungarian Tokaji.
Sherry – an Anglicization of the name Jerez (Xeres), a fortified wine made predominantly from the white grape called Palomino. It is available in variety of styles starting from lighter wines such as Manzanilla and Fino, going to the heavier Oloroso and Amontillado and then to the dessert wine such as Pedro Ximenez. Sherry can be made using Solera method (see below). Sherry is the protected name under EU laws and can be only applied coming from the area of so called Sherry triangle in Andalusia in South of Spain.
Solera – Process of aging of liquids where the liquids are of different ages are blended together on yearly or so basis by adding of the new liquid to the oldest age container and subsequently moving the liquid into the containers with younger and younger liquids. The result is a complex blend containing some of the hundred years old liquids. This process is used in production wines, such as Sherry and Madeira, but also is used in production of brandy, balsamic vinegar and some other products.
Sparkling Wine – A generic class of wines which contain some sort of noticeable air bubbles, which distinguishes them from still wines which contain no air bubbles of any sort. As a generic class, Sparkling wines include Champagne, Cremant, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt and many other types produced nowadays in all winemaking regions of the world. Sparkling wines are produced using méthode champenois, Charmat or few of the carbonation methods.
Tannins – A taste component of the wines which is perceived as drying sensation in your mouth. Tannins are imparted by contact of the grape juice with skin, seeds and stems, thus if grapes are pressed into the clear juice and doesn’t spend any time in contact with skins, seeds or stems during fermentation, the resulting wine will not have any tannins. Depending on the style of wines, some level of tannins is desirable and an essential component of balanced wine (see Balance above). Tannins also act as preservative during the aging of the wine in the bottle; the resulting complexity usually associated with the aged wines often comes as the result of tannins breaking up little by little due to the trace amounts of oxygen getting into the bottle during the aging process.
Terroir – a French term which defines a combination of climate, soil, geographic uniqueness, growing and harvesting methods of the specific area when it comes to production of the wine (or coffee, tea, cocoa beans and many other agricultural products). This unique combination usually defines a unique and identifiable taste of the product which can be reliably associated with that unique location.
Vintage – in the simplest form, a designation of the year on the wine label when the grapes were harvested. But Vintage has much stronger meaning in production of some of the wines, such as Champagne and Port. Absolute majority of Champagne is produced in so called NV, or Non-Vintage category, where the fermented juice from the different vintages is blended together to achieve consistent Chateau-specific taste. In the exceptional years Chateau can declare a Vintage, and produce wine which will only be made from the grapes of a given vintage. Same applies to the Port, where majority of the wines are produced only under the notion of age, and in the exceptional years cooperative of Port producers can declare a year to be a Vintage.
Xeres – see Sherry