Wine Tasting Descriptors & Terms List

Wine Tasting Descriptors & Terms List

Have you ever heard a wine tasting term or wine descriptor and wondered what it meant? We’ve got you covered - Select a word from the wine glossary below & boost your wine savvy in no time. 

Acids

Acid gives wine its tartness. Several acids are in the grape before fermentation, and others arise afterward. Acid often makes a wine seem "crisp" or "refreshing” and can play a role in how much your mouth puckers.

Appellation of Origin

You might see this phrase on a wine label. It denotes the place where most of the grapes used in the wine were grown. An appellation of origin can be the name of a country, state, county or geographic region. Federal regulations require that at least 75 percent of the grapes must be grown in the named appellation of origin.

Astringency

The degree of astringency (how much a wine makes your mouth pucker) depends on the amount of tannin a wine has absorbed from the skins and seeds of the grapes. A moderate amount of astringency is desirable-it creates a lovely flavor in many red wine types.

Balance

A wine has balance when its elements are harmonious; when no one part dominates. Acid should balance against sweetness; fruit should balance against oak and tannin; alcohol balances against acid and flavor. When a wine is balanced, the perception in the mouth is one of harmony, with no one element overpowering the others.

Body

This wine descriptor refers to how full the wine feels in your mouth. "Light body" connotes a lean feeling in your mouth. "Medium body" refers to a wine that is richly-flavored, without being too heavy. "Full body" applies to a wine that has a robust, mouth-filling and rich sensation in the mouth.

Bouquet

A wine tasting term that talks to smells that result from a wine's aging process; as wines age, they develop secondary aromas that contribute to a wine’s complexity. Bouquet can also describe a wine's overall smell.

Brix

A standardized scale to measure the sugar content in grapes before fermentation. Most table wines are harvested between 19 degrees and 25 degrees Brix.

Cellar

A storeroom specifically used for keeping wine. Long ago, wine was best kept in underground cellars. Modern methods of insulation and temperature control have transformed the job of storing wine, making it possible for wine "cellars" to be above ground as well. Wine is best stored horizontally in a dark place with minimal temperature fluctuation. The optimal temperature for storing most wines is between 45°F and 65°F. Check out Serving and Storage for more details.

D.O.C.

Abbreviation for the Italian "Denominazione di Origine Controllata." This name on a label means the wine was grown and produced within a certain limited area in a regulated way (specific grape varieties used, growing method, winemaking method, aging, etc.). Various regulations and standards for each Italian D.O.C. are determined by producers within that zone, with oversight from Italy's national wine committee.

D.O.C.G.

Similar to D.O.C., with the "G" standing for "Garantita" or Guaranteed. This certification is also administered by the local producers, but is even stricter than the D.O.C. Traditionally considered the best of the best, the D.O.C.G. classification is reserved for a small portion of all wines from Italy.

Fermentation

Fermentation is the heart of the winemaking process, when sugar naturally present in grapes is transformed into alcohol. Yeast is the catalyst in the conversion and CO2 the by-product.

Finish

This wine term refers to the overall taste that remains in your mouth after you've swallowed the wine; it's the length and pleasantness of the aftertaste. A well-balanced, full-bodied wine tends to have a longer finish, while a well-balanced, light-bodied wine often has a shorter finish.

Legs

Sometimes referred to as tiers, these are the streams of wine that seep down the side of a wine glass after swirling. Indicative of a wine’s viscosity, legs are more pronounced in wines with higher alcohol or sugar levels.

Malolactic Fermentation


A secondary fermentation which can be elected by a winemaker, malolactic fermentation converts harsher malic acid from wine grapes – the same acid found in tart green apples – into softer lactic acid. In whites, this can cause a sensation of buttery aroma or flavor.

Mouthfeel

A wine tasting term used to describe the various sensations — light-, medium-, or full-bodied and various textures — a wine can create while in the mouth.

Nose

A wine tasting term sometimes used as a synonym for the aroma of the wine. The nose of a wine is best sensed by smell just after you swirl the wine in your glass. Check out How to Taste Wine to learn more about the classical process of wine tasting.

Residual Sugar


Often abbreviated to RS, this wine descriptor refers to a measure of the sugar remaining in the wine after fermentation stops. RS is usually measured in grams of sugar per liter or milliliter of wine and indicates how sweet or dry a wine is.

Sommelier


(So-mel-YAY) The French word for wine steward or server and now widely used around the world to refer to wine experts in restaurants or those who have passed sommelier exams or certificates. Many restaurants and wine bars have a Sommelier to assist guests in choosing a wine from the menu.

Tannins

This wine term speaks to the naturally occurring substances found mostly in grape skins, seeds and stems. Tannins give wines a level of bitterness and astringency, often elevating younger wines and giving them structure. Typically associated with red wines, tannins can also be found in some white wines.

Varietal


A wine made from a single grape variety. This includes many popular wines such as Pinot Grigio exclusively made from one grape, but would not include blends and wines made from numerous grape varieties.

Variety

The specific variety (or varieties) of grape from which the wine was made. You might be familiar with many of these: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and, Merlot, are varieties of grapes.

Vintage

The year in which the grapes used to make the wine were harvested.