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wine vocabulary

Complete Wine Vocabulary

All wines contain acetic acid – (ie: vinegar). Normally the amount is insignificant and may even enhance flavor. At a little less than 0.10% content, the flavor becomes noticeable and the wine is termed acetic. Above 0.10% content is considered a strong fault. A related substance, ethyl acetate, contributes the smell associated with acetic acid content.

Acid … term used to describe a tart or sour taste in the mouth when total acidity of the wine is high.

Acidity … term used on labels to express the total acid content of the wine. The acids referred to are citric, lactic, malic and tartaric. Desirable acid content on dry wines falls between 0.6% and 0.75% of the wines volume. For sweet wines it should not be less than 0.70% of the volume.

Term used to describe the taste left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Both character and length of the aftertaste are part of the total evaluation. May be harsh, hot, soft and lingering, short, smooth, tannic, or nonexistent.

White wines tend to turn from a greenish hue in young wines to a yellowish caste/tone to a gold/amber color as they age. Reds usually possess a purple tone when young, turning to a deep red – (Bordeaux wines) – or a brick red color – (Burgundy wines) – detectable at the surface edge in a wineglass as they age. Rose”s should be pink with no tinge of yellow or orange. Cellar aged red wines at their peak will show a deep golden-orange color as it thins at the surface edge. If the wine color has deepened into a distinctly brown-orange tint at the edge it usually indicates a wine past its peak and declining.

The total effect of dominant, tart-edged flavors and taste impressions in many young dry wines. Has opposite meaning to round, soft or supple.

The specific area a wine comes from. It can refer to a region, such as Bordeaux or Burgundy in France, for example. It can refer to an even more tightly defined sub-region within, say, Bordeaux, such as The Médoc.

Refers to smell or aroma of a wine, usually carrying additional modifiers. “Ripe apples” describes a full, fruity, clean smell associated with some styles of Chardonnay wine. “Fresh apples” does the same for some types of Riesling. “Green apple”, however, is almost always reserved for wines made from barely ripe or underipe grapes. “Stale apples” applies almost exclusively to flawed wine exhibiting first stage oxidation.

Drinkable, easy to enjoy.

The intensity and character of the aroma can be assessed with nearly any descriptive adjective. (eg: from “appley” to “raisiny”, “fresh” to “tired”, etc.). Usually refers to the particular smell of the grape variety. The word “bouquet” is usually restricted to describing the aroma of a cellar-aged bottled wine.

Descriptive term for wines of markedly flowery, spicy or grapy character

“Ascescence” is the term used to mark the presence of acetic acid and ethyl acetate. Detected by sweet and sour, sometimes vinegary smell and taste along with a sharp feeling in the mouth.

Descriptive of wines that have a rough, puckery taste. Usually can be attributed to high tannin content. Tannic astringency will normally decrease with age. However, sometimes the wine fails to outlive the tannin.

The initial impact of a wine. If not strong or flavorful, the wine is considered “feeble”. “Feeble” wines are sometimes encountered among those vinified in a year where late rain just before harvest diluted desirable grape content.

The winetaster liked it anyway. A veiled criticism of expensive wines, a compliment for others.

Usually used in description of dry, relatively hard and acidic wines that seem to lack depth and roundness. Such wines may soften a bit with age. Term often applied to wines made from noble grape varieties grown in cool climates or harvested too early in the season.


Describes a wine that retains youthful characteristics despite considerable aging. This usually indicates that it will take longer to reach maturity and requires even more aging in the bottle or barrel. Opposite of forward.

Denotes harmonious balance of wine elements – (ie: no individual part is dominant). Acid balances the sweetness; fruit balances against oak and tannin content; alcohol is balanced against acidity and flavor. Wine not in balance may be acidic, cloying, flat or harsh etc.

Term for reds meaning solid or chunky.

Equates with the ripe, sweet, fruity quality of blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and cherries. The aroma and taste of red wines, particularly Zinfandel, are often partly described with this adjective.

The overall flavor of a wine, white or red, that has full, rich flavors. “Big” red wines are often tannic. “Big” white wines are generally high in alcohol and glycerin. Sometimes implies clumsiness, the opposite of elegance. Generally positive, but context is essential – (eg: A Bordeaux red wine shouldn”t be as “big” as a California Cabernet Sauvignon).

One of the four basic tastes. A major source of bitterness is the tannin content of a wine. Some grapes – (Gewurztraminer, Muscat) – have a distinct bitter edge to their flavor. If the bitter component dominates in the aroma or taste of a wine it is considered a fault. Sweet dessert wines may have an enhanced bitter component that complements the other flavors making for a successful overall taste balance.

The effect on the taster”s palate usually experienced from a combination of alcohol, glycerin and sugar content. Often described as “full”, “meaty” or “weighty”.

The most important wine region in France. Wines from this area are called “Bordeaux”. Red wines from Bordeaux are primarily blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. White wines from the region are usually blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

“Botrytis Cinerea”, a mold or fungus that attacks grapes in humid climate conditions, causing the concentration of sugar and acid content by making grapes at a certain level of maturity shrivel. On the Riesling grape it allows a uniquely aromatic and flavorful wine to be made, resulting in the extraordinary “Beerenauslese” style of wine.

Near synonym for “aroma”. Term generally restricted to description of odors from poured bottled wines.

Term used mainly to describe young red wines with high alcohol and tannin levels. Certain red wines from Amador County, California, can be examples. The mild epithet “tooth-stainers” is sometimes applied to this style of wine, denoting respect for strength.

Denotes the act of allowing the wine to “breathe”; ie: when wine is poured into another container, such as a wineglass, the admixture of air seems to release pent-up aromas which then become more pronounced, in many cases, as minutes/hours pass.

Term reserved for wines from the best grape varieties, the so-called “noble grapes”. Denotes wines judged to have reached classical expectations of aroma, balance, structure and varietal character.

Denotes a wine having an aggressive, prickly taste best described as “peppery”. Sometimes combined with the adjective “brawny” to characterize a young red wine with high alcohol and tannin content.

Very clear (and transparent in white wines) appearance with no visible particulates or suspensions. May be sign of flavor deficiency in heavily filtered wines.

Measurement system used for sugar content of grapes, wine and related products. A reading of 20 to 25 deg. Brix is the optimum degree of grape ripeness at harvest for the majority of table wines. A quick conversion method for users requiring Specific Gravity units of measurement is to take the Brix reading, deg. Brix (as Sucrose, for which most refractometers are calibrated), and multiply by 0.00425 and then add 0.9988 to the resulting number. This will give a close approximation to the equivalent figure for the S.G of Sucrose at 20 deg. C. Ex: A Brix reading of 18 equals S.G. 1.074. Using the conversion technique above gives a figure of 1.075 which is close enough for most users.

Denotes aging in a wine. Young wine color tints show no sign of such “browning”. If possessed of good character and depth, a wine can still be very enjoyable even with a pronounced “brown” tint. In average wines this tint, seen along the wine surface edge in a tilted glass goblet, normally signals a wine is “past its peak”, although still very drinkable.

Refers to dry Champagne or Sparkling Wine. The authorities in the Champagne region of France use this term to denote added sugar.

Describes taste sensation found in better white wines, particularly Chardonnay.


The name for Sparkling Wine (similar to Champagne) from Spain.

Aroma component often found in fine red wines.

White wine from the Chablis area of France. Made from Chardonnay grapes.

An important region of France, most known for its production of the only sparkling wine that can truly be called Champagne. The méthode champenoise was invented there.

A comment applied to wines that don”t quite fulfil the first expectations. Means detecting a slight flavor lightness. Sometimes used to describe wines made from the Chenin Blanc grape styled after a type of wine originating from the Loire region of France.

Refers to a high total tannic component of a wine. Figuratively, one cannot swallow this wine without chewing first.

Near synonym for “tobacco” aroma detected in the nose, especially if a “cedarwood” component is present. Spanish cedarwood is the traditional material for making cigar boxes.

Describes aroma and flavor reminiscent of citrus fruits. Most common is a perception of “grapefruit” content. Most often detected in white wines made from grapes grown in cooler regions of California or other countries.

In England, “Claret” refers to English-style Bordeaux or wines from Bordeaux. In France “Clairet” is a particular Bordeaux that is produced like red wine but the must stays in contact with the skins for the first 24 hours during its making.

Opposite of clear. Noticeable cloudiness is undesirable except in cellar aged wines that have not been decanted properly. A characteristic of some unfiltered wines showing the result of winemaking mistakes and often possessing an unpleasant taste.

Almost a synonym for “breed”. Possesses that elusive quality where many layers of flavor separate a great wine from a very good one. Balance combines all flavor and taste components in almost miraculous harmony.

Wine has unpleasant “wet cardboard” taste/smell. Reason is thought to be chemical changes in the wine caused by inadequately sterilized cork stopper inserted at bottling source.

Refers to “silk-like” taste component of wines subjected to malolactic fermentation as opposed to the “tart/crisp” taste component of the same wine lacking the treatment. Almost a synonym for “buttery”. Opposite of “crisp”.

Wine has definite but pleasing tartness, acidity. Generally used to describe white wines only, especially those of Muscadet de Sevres et Maine from the Loire region of France.


A method by which cellar-aged bottled wine is poured slowly and carefully into a second vessel, usually a glass decanter, in order to leave any sediment in the original bottle before serving. Almost always a treatment confined to red wines. The traditional method uses a candle flame as the light for illuminating the neck of the bottle while the wine is passing by. The low intensity of the light is ideal for viewing since it does not strain the eyes. Care must be taken NOT to allow the flame to heat the wine while performing this ritual.

Any wine demonstrating somewhat mild, but attractive characteristics. Occasionally used to describe well-made wines from the so-called “lesser grape” varieties.

Refers to a premium wine that demands more attention, it fills the mouth with a developing flavor, there are subtle layers of flavor that go “deep.”

Has two meanings:
Fortified wine – eg: Sherry – where alcohol is added in the form of Brandy or neutral spirits. Sweet or very sweet wines of any alcohol level customarily drunk with dessert or by themselves and usually in small amounts.

Everything present in this wine is immediately obvious.

Describes any of the undesirable odours that can be present in a wine that that was poorly vinified. A characteristic imparted by improperly cleaned barrels or various other processes performed incorrectly. Usually detected first in a wine by the smell of the cork stopper or from a barrel sample. Not to be confused with corked wines where the stopper is thought to be responsible.

Dry/Off Dry: Little or no sugar = “dry”, slightly sweeter = “off dry”.


Covers situations where a “mother-earth” component is present. Earth is soil-dirt, but an earthy wine is not dirty as in “DIRTY” above. The term appears to be applicable to wine thought, by some, to be made from certain young varietal grapes obtained from vines planted on land previously used for growing vegetables containing components which “marked” the soil in some way. European tasters use the term in a broader sense to describe “terroir” characteristics.

Undemanding but pleasant, doesn”t require good taste, just tastes good.

What to say when there is great balance and grace in the wine, but you can”t quite find apt words of description. Almost a synonym for “breed”.

Two meanings:
Refers to “odor kits” containing vials of representative flavor essence.
Used occasionally by wineries to describe a late harvest, sweet red wine. Most frequently appears on bottle labels for Zinfandel red wine made from grapes picked at 35 deg. Brix or higher sugar content.

Refers to the coloring imparted to wines during the fermentation process by the skins of the grapes used. Can also occur in the further step known as “maceration” where new wine is allowed to steep with the skins again. This second step usually results in a “highly extracted” style of wine, deeply colored with strong flavors and tannin. Rose”s, (aka “blush” wines), are normally made by limiting contact with the skins, the opposite of “extraction”.


Fills the mouth in a positive manner. The wine “feels” and tastes a little obvious and often lacks elegance but is prized by connoisseurs of sweet dessert wines. Not quite desirable in a late harvest Moselle Riesling, but appropriate in a classic Sauternes. Fatness/oiliness is determined by the naturally occurring glycerol – (a.k.a glycerin) – content in the wine.

Wines that have had suspended particulates resulting from the fermentation process removed. Important for future clarity and stability of a wine.

Use of various materials for clarifying wines. These materials precipitate to the bottom of the fermentation process vessel carrying any suspended particulate matter with them.

As in “this wine has a (whatever) finish” or aftertaste

Attacks the palate with acid or tannic astringency. Suggests that the wine is young and will age. Nearly always a positive comment and very desirable with highly flavored foods.

Opposite of “firm”. Usually indicates very low acidity, so tasting insipid and lacking flavor.

Refers to both body and texture. A fleshy wine tastes fatter than a meaty wine, exhibiting some excess oiliness if too pronounced. Often suggests great smoothness and richness.

Synonym for “stoney”. Derived from French phrase “gout de pierre a fusil”, literally a smoky, whiff of gunflint, almost acrid taste. These terms are presumably metaphorical approximations based on the flavor sensations allegedly present in wines made from grapes grown on a limestone/silica rich terroir. “Flinty” describes an initial evaluation indicating a young white wine made from cool region grapes under cold fermentation conditions. Characterized by high acidity, a tactile “mouthfeel” that is filling and yet has a flavor sensation that is cleanly “earthy”.

Suggests the aroma or taste, usually aroma, of flowers in wine. “Floral” usually employed as an adjective without modifier to describe attributes of white wine aromas. Few red wines have floral aromas.

Opposite of “closed-in” or, as used by some, backward. Means presence of “fruitiness” is immediately apparent. Usually employed as a term denoting that the wine is in peak condition and on its plateau of maturity.

Common descriptive word used to note the presence of the unique musky and grapey character attached to native american Vitis. labrusca grapes such as the Concord or Catawba varieties. The term “fox” has traditionally been a pejorative name given by grapegrowers to the fruit of a feral, ie. reverted to the wild species, cultivar grapevine. The earliest known reference to a “fox” grape occurs in the first part of the 17th century, specifically applied to cultivated North American grapes, and seems to refer to the unexpected results obtained from planted seeds, a notoriously unpredictable method of reproduction. The word itself may be an early corruption of the french word “faux”, (ie. false). Some also claim the word is derived from the french “gout de renard” meaning, in all senses of the phrase, “taste of fox”. The aroma and flavors defy verbal description. The best way to imprint “foxiness” in the memory is to mentally compare the flavor of fresh Concord grapes and any fresh California table grape. Most people find the juice or jelly from the Concord grape quite sprightly and delicious. In dry table wines the fermented flavor result is considered by many to be obtrusive and even quite disagreeable.

The wine has a lively fruity acidity, maybe a little bite of acid, as found in youthful light reds, rose”s and most whites. All young whites should be fresh. The opposite is flatness, staleness.

A fruity wine has an “appley”, “berrylike” or herbaceous character. “Fruitiness” usually incorporates the detection of a little extra sweetness as is found in really fresh grapes or berries.

As opposed to “thin” or “thin-bodied”. Fills the mouth, has a winey taste, alcohol is present, the wine has “weight on the tongue”.

Defies precise definition. Appears to be a 1970s cannabis culture derived word sometimes used by N. American west coast winetasting reviewers when describing vegetal/ yeasty/yeastlike aromas so complex that individual identification is difficult. Can have positive or negative connotations depending on context.


Descriptive term for one of the flavors/aromas considered particular to Burgundian style Pinot Noir red wines. Reminiscent of taste and flavor associated with cooked wild duck and other “gamey” meats. Thought to be caused by contamination with “brett” – (brettanomyces strain of yeast). Sometimes referred to as “animale” by french winemakers or “sweaty saddle” by Australians. Considered a major flaw when flavor is overly-pronounced.

Gives a sweet taste on the tongue tip. Higher concentrations are found in high-alcohol and late-harvest wines, leading to sensations of smooth slipperiness giving a sense of fullness to the wine body. Is a natural by-product of the fermentation process.

Grapefruit flavours are characteristic of cool-climate Chardonnays. See citrusy above.

Content has simple flavors and aromas reminiscent of a certain type of fresh wine or table grape. Used by some as adjective alternate for “foxy”.

Slightly vegetal-tasting undertone often part of the overall character of Sauvignon Blanc and certain other grape varietals. European tasters sometimes use the word “gooseberry” to describe this flavor. In minute presence it can enhance flavors. As it becomes more dominant the more it loses appeal leading to unattractiveness.

Strictly applied refers to the taste of wines made with underipe fruit. More loosely used it refers to some white wines, especially Riesling, possessing the greenish colour tint indicating youth; does not necessarily mean the sour and/or grassy taste of unripe fruit content as well.


High acidity and/or tannin content leading to a sensation of dryness in the mouth, a degree of puckery-ness. Useful for detecting young red wines suitable for aging. Characteristic preferred in dry white wines that will accompany shellfish.

Very astringent wines, usually with high alcohol component, often have this rough, rustic taste characteristic. May become more tolerable with aging but also may not be worth the wait.

Refers to wines with slight particulate content when viewed against the light. Occurs most often in unfiltered or unfined wines where there is no need to worry. If the haziness is intense enough to cause loss of clarity however it may indicate a flawed wine.

Most often applied in description of full, warm qualities found in red wines with high alcohol component. Examples are found in the sturdier so-called “jug wines”, some California Zinfandels, lesser French Rhone or Algerian red wines and in the occasional lesser Australian Shiraz.

Adjective used in description of wine with taste and aroma of herbs, (usually undefined). Considered to be a varietal characteristic of Cabernet Sauvignon, and to less extent, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Missing middle between “attack” and “finish”. Caused by too many grapes on insufficiently pruned vines. If very noticeable, called “empty”.

Apples to ripe wines, which, sweet or dry, have a taste or aroma of honey.

Defines a wine high in alcohol and giving a prickly or burning sensation on the palate. Accepted in fortified wines, but not considered as a particularly desirable attribute in Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Positively undesirable in light, fruity wines, (eg: Moselle Rieslings).


Word most often encountered in descriptions of California Zinfandel wines made with Amador County grapes. Refers to the natural berrylike taste of this grape.


Indicates grapes that are picked as late as possible in the season for maximum sugar content.

Somewhat analogous to “vegetal”. Desirable in minute detectable amounts, if adding to notes of complexity in the wine.

More body would be good, sort of thin in the mouth, often too much astringency, sometimes a compliment for certain styles.

Refers to residual yeast and other particles that precipitate, or are carried by the action of “fining”, to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. US winemakers use the term “mud”. Imparts distinctive flavors to the wine depending on type. Derived from French term “lies” as in “sur lies”.

Term used when referring to the liquid rivulets that form on the inside of a wineglass bowl after the wine is swirled in order to evaluate the alcohol concentration present. Usually the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the rivulets appear because of reduced surface tension effects. (Some still cling to the erroneous belief that glycerin content causes these rivulets). Valuable technique when used in “blind” tasting competitions.

Descriptive of a somewhat acidic white wine. These wines contain flavors reminiscent of that fruit. Apart from that, may be well balanced in all other respects, sometimes with a touch of extra sweetness.

How long the total flavor lasts in the back of the throat after swallowing. Counted in time-seconds, known as “caudilie”. Ten seconds (caudilie) is good, fifteen is great, twenty is excellent and fifty is superb. Almost a synonym for “finish”, as in “this is a wine with an long, extraordinary finish”.

Low alcohol and/or sugar. Since about 1981 a wine containing fewer calories per comparable serving than a regular glass of wine has been legally designated as such. Used as a tasting term, “light” is usually a polite expression meaning “watery”.

Almost a synonym for fresh. Implies detection of barely discernible spritzyness. Applies most often to white wines, but some reds also qualify.

Describes impression of wines with high amounts of residual sugar. Adjective almost entirely reserved for sweet dessert wines.


Distinctive brown color in wine due usually to period of air exposure. Regarded as synonym for “oxidized”. Originates from the taste/appearance of fortified Madeira wines.

Secondary fermentation occasionally detected in bottled wines. Its action converts the naturally occurring Malic acid into Lactic acid plus Carbon Dioxide gas. Reduces total acidity by this action. Since the gas is contaminated with undesirable odors, if it remains trapped in the bottle it becomes a minor fault unless allowed to dissipate. Malolactic fermentation is a commonly used technique for reducing the sharpness of cool climate Chardonnays and the Lactic acid component gives an admired “creamy” or “buttery” texture.

Describes the odor of Sulphur Dioxide gas, described by some as similar to the smell of “burnt matches”, found in minute amounts very occasionally trapped in bottled white wines. Dissipates with airing or decanting.

Lacks “body” and “depth”. Has definite feeling of flavor dilution. Seems to occur in some select varietal wines vinified from grapes subjected to late season rain, although there are other explanations as well.

With much body as though you could chew it. The reference is to lean meat, so indicates less body present than “fleshy”.

Wines possessing intense flavors which seem to affect every sensory nerve in the mouth. Usually slightly high glycerin component, slightly low acid.

A wine that displays unpleasant “mildew” or “moldy” aromas. Results from improperly cleaned storage vessels, moldy grapes or cork.


Not the fleshy sense-organ/projection on the human face. Is near synonym word for “aroma” and includes “bouquet”. Strictly applied it refers to the totality of the detectable odor, (grape variety, vinous character, fermentation smells), whether desirable or defective, found in a wine. One would speak of a mature wine as having, for example, “varietal aromas, flowery bouquet and hint of vanilla oak combining to give a balanced nose”.

The sense organs of the human nose can be educated by the use of purchased odor comparison kits known by such names as “Le Nez du Vin”, “Component Collection” or “Winealyser”. These can sometimes be obtained at the various Home Wine Makers mail suppliers (etc.) around the country.

Indicates young, immediately drinkable wine – (eg: “nouveau Beaujolais”).

Table wines that have been exposed to air display this aroma which resembles that of certain sherry wines. Considered a flaw by some in red wines, but a desired flavor component in certain white wines by others, (eg: Chardonnays with extended “lees” contact in the fermentation vessel).


The taste or aroma of freshly sawn oak. A wine, especially a red, is considered as correctly “oaked” when the “nose” carries a bare whiff of vanilla aroma. Sometimes oak flavors overpower other component wine flavors in which case it is considered overoaked. Oak flavor is introduced from contact with storage barrels made from that wood. New oak barrels contribute stronger flavor to a wine than older storage barrels. The “oaky” components encountered include “vanillin”, and so-called “toasty”, “charred” or “roasted” elements. “Vanillin” comes from the character of the hardwood. The three others derive from the “charring” of the barrel that occurs from heating the broad iron rings which hold the barrel staves in place after contraction and the flaming of the interior.

Describes the vaguely fat, slippery sensation on the palate in contact with the combination of high glycerin and slightly low acid content. Mostly encountered in high quality Chardonnays and late harvest sweet wines.

Some bottled cellar-aged red wines possess the peculiarity that, when the cork is first pulled and the wine poured, the full flavors do not immediately make an appearance. However, after the passage of several minutes in an open glass goblet, the wine develops unsuspected flavor characteristics that can verge on the sublime. This phenomenon is referred to as “opening-up”. Conversely, these flavors can disappear just as fast in just 30 minutes, leaving a subsequent impression of a flat, stale, “over-the-hill” and/or mediocre wine.

A grape precondition necessary for making certain styles of Californian Zinfandel wines. Left on the vine to dry in the sun, certain grape varietals will develop the desirable “raisiny” character and concentrated sugar necessary for making specialty wines such as the Hungarian “Tokay”.
Term almost solely applied to “spicy” wines, such as Gewurztraminer among the whites, or the red Rhone Syrah and Australian Shiraz wines. Is a component which can almost be described as pungent in quality, being reminiscent of anise, cinnamon etc.

Synonym for “floral”. Implies also a degree of extra residual sugar.

Less than “fat”, but otherwise nearly a synonym.

Even less balanced than a “hearty” or “sturdy” wine. The sole impact is one of high alcohol and “body” character. Little or no acid/tannin content. An everyday red wine, similar to a french “vin ordinaire” country wine sold by alcohol content, can be an example.

Close to being a synonym for BRAWNY.

A wine with slight residual gas in it. Usually attractive in light young whites, but in reds it is often a sign of refermentation in the bottle or bottling of the wine prematurely.

Overripe, sun-dried grapes can induce an undesirable pungent quality into table wines; sometimes compared to “the taste of dried prunes”.

Synonym for ASTRINGENT.


Traditional method of wine clarification. Sequential transfer of wine to several containers, each transfer leaving behind some particulate matter.

Sharp acidity usually found in young white wine (i.e. Italian Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc)

Mildly rich flavor due to excessive heat in the growing area which dries out grapes still on the vine. Considered a fault in most dry table wines.

Word normally used to describe a flavor perception found in tawny brown, wood-aged and heated fortified wines such as some “Madeira”. Refers to the peculiarly blowsy overly-ripe fruit aroma, analogous to overipe bananas, admired in Port-style fortified wines but considered a fault in dry table wines where the detectable presence of oxidized components is frowned on for the most part.

Term for well-balanced wines. Mostly refers to reds, such as Zinfandel, that normally turn “powerful” in the barrel. Almost a synonym for “elegant”.

Percentage, by weight or volume, of the unfermented grape sugar in a bottled wine.

Giving a full, rounded flavor impression without necessarily being sweet. Richness supplied by alcohol, glycerin and oak vanilla nuances in dry wine. The sweeter wines qualify for this adjective if also characterized by ripe, fruity flavors.

Refers to edge of wine surface as seen through a “ballon” (goblet) style wineglass held at an angle of about 30-40 deg. from the vertical and viewed against white piece of paper or cloth using natural light. Used in evaluation of wine age. In “blind” tasting is about the only way to get an informed perception about the probable life and/or condition of the wine from that date on.

Favorable adjective bestowed when the varietal characteristics of the grape are optimally present in a well balanced wine. Ripe-tasting wines tend toward being slightly more fruity and sweet than otherwise normal wines.

Vigorous, full with a lot of heart, a big scaled wine.

Smell of Hydrogen Sulfide gas in wine. Thought to be a characteristic imparted by certain yeast strains. A decided flaw.

Flavor/texture is coarse. Acidity and/or tannin are predominant and unpleasant.

Describes flavors and tactile sensations giving a feeling of completeness with no dominating characteristic. Almost the same as fat, but with more approval. Tannin, acid and glycerin are sufficiently present but appear as nuances rather than distinct flavors.


One of the basic taste sensations detected by the receptors in the human tongue.

Excess acid predominates, disturbing the otherwise balanced flavors.

Normal, everyday, well-vinified table wine of straightforward character.

Some use the word in the same sense as the smell/flavor that separates smoked (anything) from ordinary (anything).
Refers to aroma contributed by the charred oakwood in barrels. It can have a variety of impressions – (eg: such as the remains of a burnt-out fire). Needs a variant, such as “wood-smoke” or “barbecue smoke” or “sooty” to fully convey the meaning.

Generally has low acid/tannin content. Also describes wines with low alcohol content. Consequently has little impact on the palate.

Almost a synonym for ACIDIC. Implies presence of acetic acid plus excess acid component. (Is also one of the four basic taste sensations detected by the human tongue).

Almost a synonym for “peppery”. Implies a softer, more rounded flavor nuance however.

Considered a fairly minor fault stemming sometimes from the onset of a brief secondary malolactic fermentation in the bottle. Consists of pinpoint carbonation typically released when the bottle cork is pulled. Frowned on more if occurring in white wines vinified to be dry.

Wine with lifeless, stagnant qualities. Usually found in wines that were kept in large vessel storage for an excessive length of time.

Mouth-feel and aroma applied to many non-oaked white wines. Duel meaning due to it fermentation in steel and its almost metallic flavor.

Describes a _set_ of perceptions that seem to indicate a relatively young white wine fermented from ripe, but not overly so, grapes under cold fermentation conditions. Classic examples are made from Chardonnay grapes in the Chablis region of France. Wines from the Carneros region of the Napa Valley in California are sometimes so described as well. High acidity coupled with a tactile, mouth-filling sensation that has a cleanly “earthy” flavor characterize this type of wine.

Term for overall flavor. Used to suggest complete impression of the wine. Needs a modifier in order to mean something – (eg: “brawny” etc).

STURDY (see HEARTY above)

The style is distinctive and characteristic of the grape(s) used. Carries a connotation of briskness or jauntiness. Commonly used to describe an Australian or New Zealand wine.

Term often used for young reds which should be more aggressive. More lively than an easy wine with suggestions of good quality. The near synonym “amiable” is also sometimes employed but does not quite emphasize the extra connotation of “leanness” implied.

Refers to one of the four basic tastes detected by the sensory nerves of the human tongue. In the description of wine taste-flavor the term “sweet” is almost always used as an identifier denoting the presence of residual sugar and/or glycerin. Wine aromas require a descriptive term to identify the source of the perceived sensation – (eg: “ripe”, “lush”).


A naturally occurring substance in grapeskins, seeds and stems. Is primarily responsible for the basic “bitter” component in wines. Acts as a natural preservative, helping the development and, in the right proportion, balance of the wine. It is considered a fault when present in excess.

Descriptive term used when comparing odor detected in the “nose” of a wine with similar odor retained in a memory trained by the use of a comparison kit of scent essences. Such kits include tar, apricots, mushrooms and other flavoring essences isolated from wines.

Synonym for “acidic”.

Refers to the basic sensations detectable by the human tongue. Current scientific opinion defines these as “sweet”, “salty”, “sour”, “bitter” and “MSG” (Monosodium Glutamate) flavors all registered by the tongue taste receptors. The traditional view of the tongue having four distinct surface zones to register those tastes has recently been revised by a report of new research discoveries (ie. see “Nature” magazine, April 5, 2000).

Synonym for “legs”.

French language term for all the characteristics of the vineyard site thought to be imparted to a particular wine. It is a term that includes geographic, geological, climatic and other attributes that can affect an area of growth as small as a few square metres.

Opposite of “full-bodied”.

Other, similar descriptors are “caramel” and “toffee”. Some also add spicy flavours, such as “cinnamon” or “cloves”.

Descriptive term, used by some, to describe a flavor component resembling the taste of raw tobacco leaf in the finish of certain red wines. Seems to mainly apply to Cabernet Sauvignons from Bordeaux, France or the Napa region of California. “Cigarbox” is a common term often used as a near synonym especially if a cedar-wood note in the aroma is detected. (Non-smokers may have trouble with this word and its implication).

Usually implying too much tannin.


Resulting flavor when grapes that failed to reach optimum maturity on the vine are used in the vinification process.

Opposite of “filtered”. However, does not exclude other clarifying processes such as “fining” etc.

Opposite of “fined”, but does not exclude other clarifying processes such as “filtering” etc.

wines for special occasions

Best Wines for Your Special Occasion

Certain wines and foods are meant for each other. Consider the following when serving wine at your special occasions.

Wines for Weddings

cakeWhen the subject of weddings come up, visions of meaningful wedding toasts and wonderful, bubbly Champagnes often come to mind. But which Champagne should your offer at your wedding? What about the best wedding wines to serve and savor on your special day? If you are a Wine Lover and are hoping to incorporate your passion for the vine into your big day there are plenty of unique and creative options to do just that!

A Marriage of Food and Wine

For starters, consider what flavors, styles and varieties of foods you will be serving at the reception, then you can with the selected foods to bring the unique flavors out the best. If you are planning on serving several types of wine in addition to champagne you may consider a combination of whites and reds.

The ever popular Chardonnay, the wine world’s current favorite white wine, or a cool crisp Riesling would more than fit the bill for the white wine category. As for red wines to consider, Cabernet Sauvignon is always a party hit for red wine drinkers, or for those who prefer a softer red with more versatile food-pairing options, a Pinot Noir would be a perfect pick. Last, but not least, you may consider serving a few bottles of White Zinfandel (I can hear you, hard-core “real” Wine Lovers groaning), but the fact is White Zinfandel has a following and many of those followers find themselves at wedding receptions!

The Toast

Wine-themed Wedding Favors

Fun wine wedding favors will help to celebrate your big day with family and friends. You can find everything from wine goblet placecard holders to heart-shaped wine bottle stoppers. You can even pick your own wine and wedding wine labels at Signature Wines. These wines are ideal for guest favors or for reception decor and pouring.

Best Wines for Your Thanksgiving Feast

holiday winesWith Thanksgiving quickly approaching, there is no better time to start planning your dinner menu and selecting wines to complement your feast. Historically, the week before Thanksgiving is a great time to buy wine as many wine merchants will run specials on preferred wines.

The big question – which wine or wines to go with the variety of tastes, textures and aromas that uniquely present themselves on Thanksgiving day? Should you choose one wine to carry you through appetizers to desserts – a tough request, but certainly doable. Or should you choose several wines to accent different components of the meal and cater to a variety of guests’ palates? The choice is entirely up to you, but here are some options to get you started.

From appetizers, to white and dark turkey meat, mashed potatoes, yams, herb-filled stuffing, cranberry relish, pickled this and peppered that, all the way to pumpkin or pecan pie – is there truly a single wine that can take you seamlessly from start to finish? The art of pairing wines with food is largely a matter of personal preference, but some tried and true Thanksgiving wines are Pinot Noir and Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel for red wine lovers and Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, Gewurztraminer for those who prefer white wines. Typically wines that offer a light-medium body and present themselves with lower tannin levels and less complexity are better suited to the vast array of flavors they are meant to complement.

Best White Wine Options

  • Sauvignon Blanc – a crisp white wine that is noted for its earthy, herbaceous flavors – a prime candidate specifically for turkey and herb-filled stuffing.
  • Viognier – a white wine with low levels of acidity and characterized by light floral flavors often surrounded by delicate touches of peaches and pears.
  • Riesling – a white wine that may either be bone dry or fairly sweet, excellent with any dishes that may have a bit of spice to them.
  • Gewurztraminer– another white wine that may present itself dry or sweet, depending on the style. This wine has a zestiness that allows it to pair nicely with side dishes that may have a bit more kick to them, but also settles well with a variety of dessert options.

Top Red Wine Options

  • Pinot Noir – this red wine is a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. It is easy going enough to complement just about any flavor you can throw at it.
  • Zinfandel – a red wine that ups the intensity from a Pinot Noir, but still maintains a balancing effect on many traditional side dishes. This would be a great pick for those looking for a heartier wine with deeper flavors.
  • Syrah/Shiraz – another red wine that picks up the intensity and flavor, yet graciously handles the cornucopia of flavors in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The peppery notes will accent a flavorful helping of stuffing as well as both the white and dark turkey meats.
  • Beaujolais Nouveau – a light, fruity red wine that goes very well with turkey and all of the fixings. This wine is released from France on the third Thursday of November, just in time to highlight your Thanksgiving feast!

Another apt consideration if you are looking for a single wine to serve this Turkey day is a sparkling or rosé wine. Both provide a capable go between for those that are not firmly camped in either the red or white wine trenches. If you are considering a sparkling wine you may choose one labeled as “extra dry” – which will offer a touch more fruit flavor than a brut. As for rosé wines, a drier selection will be the most versatile for pairing with virtually any part of the Thanksgiving feast. Keep in mind that if you are hosting 5 or 50 guests this Thanksgiving that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to offer a lovely selection of wines. There are many well-received, well-rated value wines that you can obtain for $10 or less.

Wine Suggestions for Christmas Dinner

holiday winesChristmas dinners are a great time to try new wines with favorite recipes of old. Will it be ham, turkey, goose or prime rib? Looking for wine options to complement your holiday meal? Look no further, here is a terrific selection of versatile whites and reds that are sure to enhance your Christmas gathering. Christmas dinner may be the largest family gathering of the year. To make your gathering extra special here are several wonderful wines varietals to get you started.

Wines to Serve with Ham
Reds: Beajolais Nouveau , Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
Whites: Riesling and Gewurztraminer

Wines to Serve with Turkey
Reds: Pinot Noir , Zinfandel , Syrah/Shiraz, Beajolais Nouveau
Whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, Gewurztraminer

Wines to Serve with Goose
Reds: Zinfandel , Red Burgundy
Whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

Wines to Serve with Prime Rib
Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz


A Few Hints to Start Your Matchmaking

Like a good marriage, wine and food were meant for each other. Each enhances and strengthens the experience of the whole. So why is it so daunting to try to pair foods with wines? Rumor has it that there are hefty laundry lists of rules and regulations that require strict adherence in order to obtain the perfect wine and food pairing.
Grab a pen and paper to write down rule #1.

Rule #1 states that there are NO rules when matching your favorite wines with your beloved recipes, sure there are hints and popular, even “famous” matches, but ultimately the best match is what pleases your palate. It is truly personal preference. That said, here are some hints to help you determine what might be palate pleasing for you personally.

Flavor Interactions

First let’s consider flavor interactions.

You are only able to detect four distinct flavors with your tongue: sweet, sour, salty and bitter; while your nose is able to decipher over 200 different aromas. Between the combination of sensory uptakes from both your tongue and your mouth you are able to experience a vast array of flavor characteristics and nuances. As you begin to pair wines with foods, keep in mind that the flavors of the foods can both contradict and compliment wine selections, and both can be good. For example, a sweet Riesling can make a bag of salty chips taste even more appealing by contrasting the saltiness while yielding some of its intrinsic sweetness, or when paired with a rich dessert like cheesecake the sweetness of the wine would likely mellow in flavor due to the overriding influence of the cheesecake.

Heavy vs. Light – Next, consider whether a dish is “heavy” or “light” in nature, the difference between a meal consisting of steak and potatoes or one that tends toward a chicken and vegetable stir-fry. In general, most people seem to prefer heartier foods paired with fuller-bodied red wines and lighter fare to be complimented by more delicate white wines. Again, these are preference generalizations, a place to start and then experiment with your own combinations. Some tend to find it easier to remember red wines with red meats and white wines enhance white meats.

Other Factors to Consider – Other factors to take into account when looking at pairing potentials is the foods acidity. Acidic foods, like a Greek salad or lemon-based sauce work well with wines that share an acidic undertone (Pinot Grigio for example). While foods that lean to the sweeter side, like a chicken apple salad, tend to pair well with wines that are just a bit drier than the food they are to compliment (for example an off-dry Riesling).

Whatever match you make with foods and wines, enjoy the adventure, and don’t get too caught up in the rumored regulations. Make a note of pairings you’ve enjoyed for future reference and keep mixing and matching to learn how each component offers influences, be they subtle or strong.

What is your favorite wine for special occasions? Why? Leave your suggestions below. 

tips on serving and enjoying wine

Tips for Serving and Enjoying Wine

Many customs have accompanied wine drinking through the years. None of them are meant to be intimidating or stuffy. They are just practices intended to enhance the enjoyment of wine.

  • “White wine with fish and red wine with meat” is more customary than culinary.
  • Red wines are served at room temperature, while white wines, roses, and champagnes are served chilled.
  • The stronger the food, the stronger the wine. The lighter the food, the lighter the wine.
  • Wine loves air, which revives its sleeping flavors. It is recommended to open the bottle about an hour before consumption and let the wine “breathe”. This ages it a year or so, and allows its flavors to mellow.
  • A bottle of wine has to be handled carefully, with the minimum movement possible. Remember, wine likes to sleep, only to awaken in your mouth.
  • Red wine bottles do not need to be cleaned or dusted before opening. They are opened on a hard surface. White wines, rose, and Champagne bottles are opened in ice buckets.
  • Red wines corks are sniffed to make sure the wine has not spoiled, which gives the cork an unpleasant smell. It is not necessary to smell white and rose wine corks since the wine was refrigerated and the cork will not smell.

Food & Wine Matching

PizzaDoes it matter what wine is served with a particular food or dish?

First of all it is important to take into account personal taste. If a particular combination pleases you then it is the right choice for you.

The principal reason for food and wine matching is to enhance the overall experience of a dish or meal by pairing it with a wine that will complement it. Think about strawberries and cream, how when combined they are more delicious than when eaten separately, even though they are tasty foods individually.


What should I think about when matching wine with food? 

Remember it is a matter of personal taste, so choose combinations you find particularly pleasing.
Many wine styles evolved to complement the cuisine of the region, and so this is a good starting point for finding a food and wine combination.

Have fun, be brave and experiment. Many excellent combinations have been discovered this way.


Where can I find some food and wine matching suggestions?

For food and wine matching ideas, inspirations and suggestions go to our Food and Wine Matching pages.


Is there such a thing as a safe bet food and wine pairing?

Some food and wine combinations work so well that they are truly marriages made in heaven. For example:

  • Sauvignon Blanc with asparagus
  • Champagne with oysters
  • Pinot Grigio with parma ham and melon
  • Red Bordeaux with roast Lamb
  • Beaujolais with roast pork
  • German Riesling Kabinett with sushi


Are there foods that are impossible to match with wine?

Listed below are foods which are very difficult or impossible to match well with wine. In these instances all you can do is find the best possible match, or better still limit the amount of that particular food. For example, horseradish spoils the flavour of wine so take a small serving rather than great dollops of horseradish sauce with your Roast Beef.

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Capers
  • Cheese
  • Chilli
  • Chocolate
  • Eggs
  • Fennel
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon/Lime
  • Olives
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Truffles
  • Vinaigrette
  • Yoghurt


Guide to Food and Wine Matching

To achieve the best match it is necessary to analyse the basic components in both the wine and the food. The principal is to try to balance them so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other.

The main elements to consider are:

  • Weight
  • Flavour Intensity and Characteristic
  • Acidity
  • Salt
  • Tannin
  • Sweetness

Weight – try to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. Rich, heavyweight foods, like red meat casseroles need full-bodied wines. Normally it is powerful Red wines that are the favoured choice but it is the weight of the wine, not the colour or flavour, which is the most important consideration. Hence a full-bodied White wine is usually a better match with meat than a light-styled Red wine.

Lightweight food like poultry and fish are complemented by more delicate wines. Whilst a White wine is the instinctive choice light, low-tannin Reds also work.

Food and wine pairingsFlavour Intensity and Character – flavour intensity, although similar to weight, is not the same thing. A big bowl of boiled pasta or potatoes without a dressing or sauce is heavy in weight but light in flavour. As opposed to red or green bell peppers which are lightweight but very flavoursome. The same goes for wines; the Riesling variety makes lightweight, intensely flavoured wines whilst Chardonnay makes heavy (full-bodied) wines that are lightly flavoured.

Quite often it is not the dish’s main ingredient that is the dominant flavour. In a creamy chicken curry the sauce will be heavier and fuller flavoured than the chicken. In this instance you need to match the wine to the sauce.

The flavour characteristics of some foods and wines are very similar and consequently they make good combinations:

  • Fruit-based desserts can be matched with the “grapey” flavour of the Muscat variety.
  • Spicy dishes can be matched with Gewurtraminer, a variety often described as spicy. (Spicy wines may have white or black pepper, cloves, ginger, allspice aromas and flavours for example.)
  • Cream or butter sauces go well with wines that have been fermented in new oak barrels. Oak imparts vanilla-scented, buttery, creamy flavours to the wine.
  • Delicately flavoured wines like Italian Whites and Muscadet complement shellfish and seafood.

Acidity – food and wine can both have acidity. Tomatoes, citrus and green apples are high-acid foods. Certain grape varieties naturally produce high-acid wines, Muscadet for example. Wines from cool climates will have more acidity than those from hot climates.

When vinegar or lemon juice is used as a condiment you will need to find a high-acid wine to complement it. A classic example is Champagne served with smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon.

High-acid wines are also used to cleanse the palate when eating oily food. Even without the lemon, smoked salmon is made more palatable when the Champagne cuts through the natural oiliness of the fish.

In Italy where many dishes are made with lots of olive oil you will find the majority of their Red wines have noticeable acidity and so complement the regional dishes perfectly. The wines’ acidity matches the acid characteristic also found in the tomatoes whilst cutting through the olive oil.

Salt – salt is not a flavour you will find in wine. Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness, Parma Ham and Melon is a classic example. The same thing can be achieved with wine; Sauternes, a very sweet dessert wine from the Bordeaux region, is a famous match with salty, Roquefort cheese.

It is unusual to want a sweet wine with a main course and because salt clashes with tannin (it makes tannin seem more bitter) in this instance it would be better to select a low-tannin wine.

Salt works with acidity, an example of this would be salty nibbles served with Champagne before a meal.

For a dry wine to work with salty food it should have low tannins and noticeable acidity. It is easier to find White wines with these characteristics than Reds, but there are some Red wines to fit the bill, Beaujolais is a perfect example.

Fresh strawberriesTannin – tannins cause your gums to pucker and dry when you drink wine. They are usually detected in Red wines because tannin comes from the grape skins and stalks and they are not used in White wine-making. Wines made from different grape varieties vary enormously in tannin content, some varieties being naturally low in tannins and others high. Cabernet Sauvignon has very thick skins and so makes very deeply coloured, high-tannin wines.

Wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins (your saliva is full of protein molecules and this is why your gums pucker and dry when drinking tannic wines). Lamb is a good example of a food with a high-fatty protein content which when eaten coats the mouth with fat. If you then drink a tannic Red wine the tannin molecules attach themselves to the protein molecules and strip them from your mouth, leaving it feeling refreshed and cleansed and ready for the next mouthful.

Sweetness – sweet foods make dry wines seem over-acidic and tart. The general rule of thumb is to serve a wine at least as sweet or sweeter than the food being served.

Many sweet wines have a good level of acidity, Sauternes and Côteaux du Layons are good examples. This makes them a very good match for rich foods like pâté. The acidity will cut through the fat in the pâté and the wine’s sweetness will complement the richness of this food.

As mentioned previously, sweetness also balances salt and so sweet wines are classic companions of blue cheeses e.g. Port with Stilton.

What are some of your favorite wine and food combinations? List them in the comments. 

champagne facts

Facts on Champagne

Sparkling wine and champagne are often used to celebrate special occasions.

Champagnes and sparkling wines are treated somewhat differently than other wines:

  • The grapes are grown and fermented the same as with any other wine.
  • After fermentation, the wines are aged for about five months.
  • The wine is bottled with extra yeast and sugar. The bottles are capped to allow for a second round of fermentation, which lasts for about a year.
  • The wine is aged for one or more years after the second fermentation.
  • The yeast is removed through riddling, whereby the bottle is placed upside-down and rotated one-eighth of a turn every day. The dead yeast cells settle into the neck of the bottle.
  • The neck of the bottle is frozen in an ice/salt water bath and the cork is removed. The pressure forces the frozen plug of dead yeast cells out of the bottle. This process is called disgorging.
  • A mixture of white-wine brandy and sugar (dosage) is added to top off the bottle.
  • The bottle is corked and wired to secure the high pressure inside.

Champagne Explained

Understanding the venerable sparkling wine from France

GrapesThe Champagne province made still wines until the 18th century, when Dom Perignon revolutionized the process to produce the present-day sparkling wine known as Champagne (a little production of red, white and rose non-sparkling wines is still made).

When it comes to rules, the wine makers of this area set their own. A Champagne bottle is the product of grapes brought from the villages surrounding the main two cities Reims and Epernay. It is a blend of different wines from different years; furthermore, pink Champagne could be the result of red and white wines mixed together. Yet the result of these irregularities in winemaking is the divine wine that no happy occasion is accomplished without.

The main two grapes used are the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, and Champagne can be made from each separately or both together. The Blanc de Blanc Champagne (white from white) is a result of only white grapes, usually the Chardonnay, and is considered the best. The Blanc de Noir, made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grapes, comes next and is followed by the Millesimes, which are the Champagnes made exclusively of wine from an excellent year and carry that year on the bottle. Then come the rest, which are still of excellent quality, because no expense is spared in making Champagne.

Champagne can be Brut (very dry), Extra Sec or Extra Dry (dry), Sec (semi-sweet), or Demi Sec (sweet). The Champagne region is part of the A.O.C. system, yet sometimes it is not mentioned on the bottle.

While Champagne is sometimes sold in larger containers like magnums (equivalent to two bottles), jeroboams (four bottles), or even balthazars (sixteen bottles), and the biggest mabuchodonosor (twenty bottles), it is best in the single bottle or magnum. When sold in larger sizes, it is literally taken out of the bottles and magnums and poured into the lager vessels. This operation may affect the quality of the Champagne.

Champagne is ready to drink when it is released. It is unnecessary to age it.

Brut and Extra Dry Champagne are pleasant as aperitifs. Sec and Demi Sec make fine accompaniments to desserts and are usually drunk after dinner. The famous French repas au Champagne suggests that Champagne is equally good throughout the meal.

What is your favorite kind of champagne? Tell us in the comments below. 

Wine 101

Wine 101

The basics of enjoying and understanding wine.

Each of us is evolving in our personal cultural experience. Perhaps you too have come to the place where you’re ready to experience more adventure as a connoisseur. There is culture in wine. It can be found in the ritual of drinking it, appreciating the craft of the winemaker, and in the wine’s stimulation to our taste buds. And now, let us pursue the pure taste enjoyment of wine.

When we drink wine, our taste buds are stimulated in a unique way and the alcohol has a calming effect on the brain. Human taste has four components: sweetness, saltiness, acidity and bitterness. The acidity and sweetness in wine are the two factors that balance together to produce a pleasant sensation on our sense of taste. We taste the acidity with the middle of the tongue and sweetness with the tip of the tongue.

Wines with excessive acidity taste harsh, those with insufficient acidity taste uninteresting and their flavor does not linger in the mouth long enough. Tannins contribute to the relationship of bitterness on the tongue. If you’ve ever chewed into grape seeds, then you’ve tasted the dry bitterness of tannin. Wine with too much tannin is unpleasantly bitter. The right level of tannin has an effect of bringing all the flavors together with a good “grip” in the mouth. The various fruit-like flavors detectable in wine contribute nuances to the sweetness we taste. It’s fun trying to detect different fruit characteristics, such as berries, plums, apples, pears…

Our other senses are involved as well. Our sight enjoys the color and our sense of smell enjoys the fragrances. Much of a wine’s character is revealed only through the aroma it exudes. This adds richly to the dimensions found in wine.

Grape Varieties

There are many species of grapes, but most of the world’s wine is made from the Vitis vinifera family, of European origin. Wine grapes have various unique, signature characteristics. Check out the following varietal grapes:

Popular Red Varieties

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Grenache
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Sangiovese
  • Syrah (Shiraz)
  • Tempranillo
  • Zinfandel

Popular White Varieties

  • Chardonnay
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grüner Veltliner
  • Pinot Blanc
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Semillon


Wine grapesHow Wine is Made

Wine grapes, Vitis vinifera, grow easily in any temperate to warm climate. A solution of sugar and water develops in ripe grapes and the skins easily allow the growth of natural yeasts. In the fermentation process, these single cell organisms consume the natural sugar and change it into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. This rather simple process has been observed and used for thousands of years in human culture. In the past hundred years or so, technology and new ideas from winemakers have played an ever-increasing role in the making of wine. It’s becoming more and more a science and an art.

Here are the basic principles of winemaking. The grapes are either harvested by hand (this is best), or with mechanical harvesters. Exposure to air should be kept to a minimum at all stages of the process. Sometimes powdered sulfites are sprinkled on the grapes prior to crushing to prevent too much reaction with the air. The fermentation usually takes place in open vats. Several processes may be employed to give the wine clarity: fining and filtration for example. Shortly after fermentation has ended, the wine is transferred to a settling tank where filtration and other clarification techniques may be used.


The Differences Between Red Wine and White Winemaking

There are significant differences between red wine and white wine production. Basically, red wine is the outcome of crushed, fermented grapes. White wine is the outcome of fermented grape juice (that is, no skins or meat of the fruit). Blush wines, out of interest, are made from red grapes that are made into wine as though they were white grapes. The red grape skins add a bit of color and nutrients to the juice being made into blush or rosé, leaving a slight blush of red in the wine.


Red Wine

All grapes contain the same kind of green fruity-meat, but red grapes have red skins and in the winemaking process, there is a considerable amount of color, flavors and tannins that are imparted to the final product. After crushing, the red grapes, skins and all, sit in a fermentation vat for a period of time. Picture a huge plastic bin with a mixture of crushed grapes and juice with a layer of crushed wet skins on top. The skins tend to rise to the surface of the mixture, forming a layer on top. This top layer is frequently mixed back into the fermenting juice (called must). After fermentation has stopped, about one to two weeks later, the new wine is drawn from the vat. A bit of “free run” juice is allowed to pour and then the remaining must is squeezed, yielding “press wine”. The wine is clarified and then transferred to oak aging barrels so that it may mature. When the winemaker considers the wine ready, it is transferred to bottles and labeled.


White Wine

Right after picking, white grapes are put into a crushing machine. In the process, the skins are separated from the juice, an important difference over the red wine process. Some adjustments are sometimes made to the acid or sugar levels at this stage (the addition of sugar is called “chaptalization”). The clarified juice is then ready for fermentation.

Yeast is then added to the juice for fermentation. Before long the white grape juice becomes white wine. At this point, some further tinkering is usually called for: filtering, and perhaps the addition of sweeter juice to round out the flavor. The wine is then aged by storing in oak or stainless steel containers, and after a few months, it is bottled.


Grape Classifications

For the purpose of wine making you can classify grapes into three distinct groups:

Native Wild Grapes (Vitis Muscadinia): These are grapes such as Muscadine (Scuppernong), Fox and Frost grape. They are extremely sharp tasting due to their high acid content and have a strong assertive to pungent flavor and aroma. They are also lower in sugar than other grapes. This class of grape can be distinguished from others by the fact they do not grow in clusters, but rather, as separate berries.
Native Wine Grapes (Vitis Lambrusca): These are grapes such as Concord, Catawba, Niagara and Delaware. They are indigenous to the North American continent. While their flavor and aroma are not excessive like that of the wild grapes, their acidity level can be a little on the high side making the juice slightly too sharp tasting. Their sugar level is also much higher than that of wild grapes.
European Wine Grapes (Vitis Vinifera): These are grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Chardonnay and many others that were brought over from Europe. Hybrid grapes such as Reliance, Foch, Chambourcin and Vignoles are also considered to be in this group. Only on occasion are these grapes too sharp or acidic in flavor and their sugar content is generally higher than that of native wine grapes and much higher than that of wild grapes.


What are some of your favorite wine 101 basics? Leave your comments below.