Glossary of Wine Tasting Terms

Karen Frazier
Wine expert smelling white wine sample

When you start to explore wine, you'll discover there's an entire category of wine terminology, and this is true of wine tasting as well. Whether you're reading tasting notes and wine ratings from wine experts, visiting wineries and tasting wine yourself, or simply talking wine with other wine lovers, it's helpful to understand the terms that are used in wine tasting.

Glossary of Wine Terms at Tastings

Even before the first bottle is poured, you'll be talking wine as you belly up to the counter. You may hear or use some of these "pre-pour" terms.

ABV

Alcohol by volume, usually listed as a percentage. The average ABV for wine is around 12 percent, although it can range from as low as around 5.5 percent to as high as around 23 percent.

Assemblage

A method of blending wine before bottling.

Barrel Tasting

Tasting wines directly out of the barrel before they've been bottled.

Vintners smelling and tasting red wine in winery barrel room

Blend

A combination of various wines or grapes blended together to make a single wine. For example, a Bordeaux style or Meritage wine blend is a combination of wine grapes commonly found in France's Bordeaux region, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, while a Rhône style blend is a combination of wines commonly grown in the Rhône region, such as a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.

Blind Tasting

Tasting wines without knowing what they are.

Botrytis or Botrytized

Also called "noble rot", botrytis is a fungus that affects grapes used in dessert wines to impart complex and concentrated flavors. A botrytized wine is one that is made with grapes infected with botrytis.

Brix

Written as °Bx; the sugar concentration of a wine defined as 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of wine.

Coupage

A method of blending wine before bottling.

Crush

Breaking the skins and lightly crushing wine grapes to begin maceration.

Fermenting musts the berries in wine

Current Release

All the wines the winery is currently selling from the most recent available vintages.

Dessert Wine

A sweet wine with a high residual sugar content.

Estate Wine

Wines made from grapes grown entirely on the estate.

Fermentation

When yeast converts sugars to alcohol.

Flagship Wine

The winery's premier wine.

Flight

Also called a "tasting flight", this is the group of wines that will be poured during the tasting. Many wineries offer different flight tastings. For example, they may offer tastings of several of their current releases, the may offer an estate wine or premium wines flight, or they may have tastings of library wines, which are aged wines from the winery's best releases in the past.

Fortified

Wine with a distilled spirit added to boost alcohol content. Sherry and Port are fortified wines.

Horizontal

A horizontal is a flight of the same type of wines from the same vintage but different winemakers.

Ice Wine (Eiswein)

A sweet wine made from harvesting the grapes with frost on them; allowing the grapes to freeze concentrates the sugars to make an ice wine.

Non-Vintage (NV)

Wines created from a blend of grape vintages. Sparkling wines, Champagne, and Port are often NV wines.

Oak

Many wines are aged in oak, either in oak barrels or barriques. In a wine tasting, the winemaker may tell you the wine is made in new oak, which has stronger oaky flavors, or old oak, which has milder flavors. They may even tell you the kind of oak, such as French oak or American oak, as well as how toasted the oak is, which will enhance the oak flavors that make it into the wine. Wines can also be unoaked or aged in stainless steel tanks.

Palate Cleanser

A neutrally flavored food, usually bread or crackers, used between tastes of wine to remove the flavors from your palate.

Pour

A noun describing the small amount of wine poured into a glass for tasting. A typical tasting pour is two to three ounces.

Pressing

Pressing is the step in winemaking where the grapes are pressed and the juices extracted from the pulp, skins, stems, and seeds.

Residual Sugar

Measured as grams per liter (g/l), residual sugar is the amount of sugar that remains after fermentation. Dry wines have very little residual sugar (from 0 to about 17 g/l), while sweet wines have around 120 g/l or more of residual sugar.

Seated Tasting

Some wineries offer special seated tastings. At a seated tasting, you'll sit comfortably while servers pour the wines for you and someone from the winery describes their characteristics.

Single Vineyard

A wine made with grapes that all come from the same vineyard.

Solera

A hierarchical system for aging non-vintage Sherry and other types of wines in which the wines are blended and aged in a series of barrels containing multiple vintages of the wine.

Solera

Varietal

The type or variety of grapes used in wine. For example, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are varietals. In the United States, if a wine is labeled as the varietal must contain at least 75 percent of that grape.

Vertical

A vertical is a flight of the same wines from different vintages.

Vintage

The year the grapes used in the wine were harvested.

Terms Describing the Wine's Appearance

During a wine tasting, you will receive a pour of wine in a clear wine glass. The first step is to evaluate the wine's appearance, which has its own set of terms.

Appearance

In general, the term appearance is used to describe the clarity of a wine.

Color

The color of the wine; red, white, blush or rosé, orange, tawny, etc.

Clarity

Held up to the light, it should be clear and not cloudy. Most wines will be clear when held up to a light source. Cloudiness can be a result of improper filtering or decanting and can lend an unpleasant taste or texture to the wine.

Hue

Hue describes the actual color of the wine and will be dependent on the type. Wine comes in all sorts of colors from deep purplish red to golden or silvery.

Depth

The intensity of a wine's color. How easily can you see through the wine? Is it so dark that it is almost opaque or is it watery and easy to look through?

Legs

A wine's legs describes the viscosity; how much it clings to the glass. Swirl the wine and watch the stripes roll down the glass. These stripes are the legs and help show the sugar content of the wine.

Sediment

In some aged wines, you'll see sediment in the bottle and possibly a small amount in the glass. Most wine experts pouring tastings will decant the wine to remove sediment before pouring.

Glossary of Tasting Terms

When you get to tasting time, you'll use or hear the common terms that describe the wine's characteristics.

Tasting Terms Associated With "Off" Wines

Sometimes when you pop a bottle of wine, you'll discover aromas or flavors that aren't very pleasant. These often tell you the wine is "off" or tainted in some way.

Corked

Wines contaminated with cork taint are known as "corked." These wines taste dull and flat, often tasting and smelling of mold, newspaper, or wet dog.

Corkscrew in cork

Dirty

Having muddled flavors.

Foxy

A musky, animal scent or flavor.

Mercaptan

Rotten egg, skunk, or rubber aromas arising from volatile sulphur compounds.

Musty

Smelling like a dank basement or wet dog; often associated with cork taint.

Oxidized

Brownish in color with washed out or overly alcoholic flavors; usually from a wine that has been improperly stored and aged or one that is past its prime.

Vinegary

A vinegar scent that indicates the wine has been spoiled by ethyl acetate; the wine has turned, usually from excess oxidation or over aging.

Other Aromas and Flavors in "Off" Wine

  • Barnyard scents such as dried hay and manure can indicate the presence of Brettanomyces.
  • Rancid dairy smells are associated with Butyric acid.
  • Rotten egg smells may also indicate the presence of hydrogen sulfide.
  • If it smells of sauerkraut, it indicates lactic acid bacteria.

Hundreds of Wine Tasting Descriptions

There are hundreds of ways to describe wine and each person will have a slightly differed experience. Don't let lack of self confidence about whether you are using the right terminology, experiencing the right texture or tasting the right flavor diminish your enjoyment of good wine.

Glossary of Wine Tasting Terms