Learning about wine is a world all of its own. Some relate it to learning another language. In part, that’s true. It’s a worldly beverage. While the wine world is vast, and region and variety terminology can vary by country, there IS some consistency with wine terms around the world.
Here’s our list of 25 of the most critical wine terms to know. These descriptors were chosen based on use within the wine industry, at wine tastings and the Court of Master Sommeliers. Note that we do not list grape varieties in this article. You can view detailed guides to wine grape varieties here. You can also explore wine regions here.
Top 25 Wine Terms to Know
Note: These terms are not listed in any particular order. You may click through some of these wine terms for more detailed articles.
A reference to soil composition and climate within a particular geographical location that has an effect on how wine grapes grow and what final product they yield.
Acid is a general term used to describe a flavoric nuance experienced when you taste wine. This flavor (and concentration) results from the existence of malic and tartaric acids in wine. Concentrations of these acids vary dependent upon a variety of factors throughout the vinification process.
A sensation experienced as a result of tannins being present within a wine. It’s that feeling of your mouth puckering and your taste buds standing on end.
Polyphenolic compounds that exist within the grape skins, stems and pips. These compounds cause the sensation of astringency in our mouths, and their concentrations vary based on grape variety and wine making process.
5. Alcohol or ABV
Alcohol or ABV (Alcohol by Volume) exists in wine as a result of fermentation. The process by which residual sugar is converted to alcohol thanks to yeast during winemaking.
The degree of “thickness” to a particular liquid. Liquid with a high viscosity is thicker and slower moving (think molasses). Liquid with a low viscosity appears less dense and moves faster (think water).
Refers to wine produced with the idea that individual vineyards are their own living, breathing ecosystem intimately connected to the universe. Biodynamic wines are produced with sustainability and organic practices in mind.
Another term for an oak barrel.
Refers to the streams of fluid you see slowly drop down the inside of your wine glass after you sip or swirl wine.
Think Sparkling Wine. It’s just how the Spanish say it and produced using traditional methods in Spain.
French word for vineyard or winery, most commonly used in the Bordeaux region of France.
A name given by the English to red wine blends produced in Bordeaux.
A French word referring to hillside areas within a vineyard where wine grapes may grow.
Spanish wine term referring to a wine aged in oak for a specific amount of time. According to Spanish wine aging regulations in Rioja, red wines classified as Reserva’s must be aged for 3 years, with at least 1 year being within oak.
15. Gran Reserva
A term synonymous with Spanish wine, Gran Reserva refers to wine aged for a lengthy amount of time both inside and outside of an oak cask. Often for red wine, Gran Reserva’s are aged for a total of 5 years, with at least 18 months being inside an oak barrel. Considered the ‘top tier’ of oak aged requirements in Spain.
16. Decanter or Decantation
An instrument or container (usually glass) within which wine is poured to “open up” or “aerate” the wine while catching any residual sediment before the wine is poured into a glass. Decantation essentially allows the wine to “breath,” as trace amounts of ethanol and acid evaporate and aid in the wine achieving balance.
17. DOC and DOCa
Short for Denominación de Origen, DOC refers to various wine regions throughout Spain that are quality-controlled by a board who oversees and enlists certain wine producing laws and provisions. There are many regions in Spain classified as DOC, but only two dubbed DOCa. Rioja and Priorat in Spain (DOCa – Denominación de Origen Calificada) are considered the two premier Spanish wine growing regions that meet the highest consistency standards of the regulatory Spanish council.
Short for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, AOC refers to specific wine growing regions in France. By law, these regions adhere to sets of laws regulating borders and methods of wine production.
19. Sweet Wine
Wines that have a high content of residual sugar within them following fermentation.
20. Dry Wine
Refers to wines that have a small amount of residual sugar following fermentation. Note that just because a wine may ‘taste’ sweet or dry, doesn’t necessarily make it one or the other. Flavor — particularly fruit-forwardness, can influence our perception. Though experienced wine tasters may be able to taste the difference fairly easily.
A descriptive wine term alluding to how ‘even’ or consistent a wine tastes from the first sip to the aftertaste. Resulting from appropriate concentrations of acid, alcohol, sugar and tannin.
22. New World
Refers to countries that have only recently begun to produce wine on the history-of-wine timescale. Notable New World wine regions include Washington State, California, Canada, Argentina, Chile and Australia. See more about New World wine and wine regions here.
23. Old World
These are the wine growing regions that invented wine. They were around at the beginning of what we know to be wine. Popular Old World wine regions include France, Spain, Italy and the Middle East.
Known to be a very sweet wine, Port is also fortified with additional distilled grape spirit, making it much stronger than your typical wine, and also sweeter. The addition of distilled grape juice can slow or stop fermentation, allowing for residual sugar to remain within the final product. Port appropriately named as it comes from the wine producing region of Douro, Portugal.
Refers to the specific year which the grapes used to make a particular wine were grown.