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Common Wine Terms

21 Wine Terms to Master

Hearing words like "tannins" and "oxidation" may make you feel like you're back in chemistry class, but they're oh so important to the wines we enjoy on the regular. Don't let them intimidate you, though — getting familiar with wine's most common terms can be as easy as pouring a glass of red at the end of a long day. Brush up on these words, and you'll be moving past "sweet" and "dry" in no time so that when you go wine tasting again, you'll be the pro with all the insider knowledge.

  • Acidity: The bitter or sour flavors that a wine gives off.
  • Aeration: The act of exposing wine to oxygen to let it "breathe" and mix with air. This is meant to open up the wine's aromas and soften up the flavor.
  • Appellation: A specific geographic region where a wine comes from.
  • Balance: The state in which a wine has equal parts bitterness, acidity, sugar, and alcohol.
  • Blend: When a wine is made from more than one grape variety.
  • Body: How heavy or full wine feels in the mouth. Wine is often described as light-, medium-, or full-bodied.
  • Bouquet: Not related to flowers, this refers to smells that come from aging wines.
  • Decanting: Moving wine from one container to another to allow it to "breathe."
  • Earthy: A smell or taste related to the earth, such as soil or forest.
  • Fermentation: The process where yeast turns grape sugars into alcohol.
  • Horizontal tasting: Tasting wines from different wineries (typically from the same region) that were produced in a specific year.
  • Lees: Solids left at the bottom of a container after fermentation that can include yeast cells, seeds, and skins. If left as is, they can contribute to the flavor and smell of the wine.
  • Must: Unfermented juice from the grape.
  • Oaky: A tasting term that refers to the flavor of oak. Common comparisons are to vanilla, nutmeg, or toast.
  • Oxidation: A reaction that occurs when grapes or wine are overexposed to air and turn brown or taste flat.
  • Tannins: Compounds that give wine its bitter or dry flavor. They typically come from grape skins, stems, or seeds and can help preserve red wines.
  • Tartaric acid: The main acid in grapes that adds flavor and can help with preserving a wine. It's also responsible for "wine diamonds" that form on corks and look like crystals.
  • Varietal: A single variety of grape.
  • Vertical tasting: A tasting where guests try the same wine (from the same winery) that was made from multiple vintages.
  • Vintage: A vintage wine doesn't always mean old — it's one made from grapes that were all (or mostly) produced in a single year. A nonvintage wine comes from grapes that were harvested over two or more years.
  • Yield: The amount of wine or grapes produced in a vineyard.
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