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The Vi Wine and Food Pairing Glossary

When you start your journey through the world of wine, you encounter numerous terms in a variety of languages that can be hard to comprehend at first. Fortunately, it’s easy to pick up the language of wine as you explore.

The Vi wine glossary is designed to help you on your journey. It covers “A.O.C.” and “Zero-dosage” and everything in between.

Glossary

ABV: Alcohol by volume. This is the measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is in a wine.

Acidity: Acidity creates tartness or freshness in a wine. It's an important component in a wine's make up not only influencing its freshness and how it tastes, but also how long it can age (more acidity = improved age-worthiness). Acidity levels in wine are measured on a pH scale. 7 indicates a neutral pH, while lower values indicate greater acidity. For reference, cola typically has a 2.5 pH while lemonade has 2.6. At the other end of the scale, coffee has 6.7 and water measures as 7. Wine typically registers between a 3 and 4.5.

Aeration:  The process of exposing wine to oxygen soon before drinking it to enhance its bouquet and flavors. The most practical aeration methods are swirling wine in a glass or decanting it into a carafe. Simply uncorking a bottle of wine is not sufficient to fully aerate wine. Also referred to as "letting a wine breathe".

Aging: Storage in barrels, tanks or bottles for a set amount of time to allow wine components to balance out and deepen for complexity. Also referred to as "maturation".

Age-worthy / Cellar-worthy: Refers to a small segment of wines that have the right balance of components to promote years, sometimes decades, of cellaring. These components are acidity, alcohol, tannins, sugar content, and fruit flavors. Age-worthiness begins in the vineyard with meticulous viticulture, and continues in the winery with meticulous winemaking techniques. During maturation, age-worthy wines will do something called "developing in bottle" during which chemical processes occur that help unique qualities unfurl, deepen, and become more complex. Typical examples of age-worthy wines include Burgundy Grand Cru, Gran Reserva Rioja, and top-tier Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The skill and labor-intensive processes that go into such wines account for their higher prices.

Aggressive: A wine is described as "aggressive" when it is too acidic or tannic, giving a harsh profile.

Alcohol: Ethanol. This is the by-product of the alcoholic fermentation process in winemaking.

American Oak: A type of oak wine is aged in. American oak has distinct vanilla and cedar notes, characteristics that infuse a wine's bouquet and flavors.

Ampelographer:  Someone who studies the history and genetic makeup of grapes. The practice is "ampelography".

Amphora: A ceramic vessel usually lined with wax or resin for production aging, and storage of wine. Earliest examples date to 6,999 B.C.  This winemaking vessel is seeing a contemporary revival in some wine regions.

AOC: Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. This indicates a legally demarcated wine-producing area in France that covers specific grapes and production methods. For example, Bourgogne AOC means the grapes have come from around Burgundy and the wine has been made to local production specifications that ensure a particular standard. The AOC system comprises several quality tiers. AOP is also used but rarer.

Appassimento: Italian word that refers to a traditional process of drying grapes after harvest on straw mats before fermentation to concentrate sugars and flavors for richness. Such wines are called "passito" wines and include Amarone and Recioto from northeast Italy.

Appearance: Reference to a wine's clarity or cloudiness.

Appellation: A general way of describing demarcated wine areas. For example, you can refer to wine-producing zones in the US, France, Italy, and Spain as appellations even though each of these countries has a unique, local wine quality tier system.

Aromatic: Describes wines with pronounced bouquets that usually include distinct floral aromas. Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and Muscat are examples of aromatic wines.

Astringent: When a wine tastes harsh or unpleasantly bitter because the tannins are overpowering.

Auslese: Auslese wines are usually off-dry (a bit sweet). This German wine term translates as "selected harvest". Grapes are picked later than the standard harvest time so have more sugar content and richer flavors.

Autolysis: An important chemical reaction in Champagne production that results in creamy bready, brioche aromas and flavors.

AVA: American Viticultural Area. A legally demarcated grape growing area in American wine regions defined by its unique terroir, grapes, and style of wines.

Balance: How harmonious a wine feels and tastes. The components that influence balance are acidity, tannins, sweetness level, fruit, and alcohol. In a successful wine, these features enhance one another, and none dominate.

Barrel: Oak vessel used for fermenting and maturing wine.

Barrique: 225-liter oak vessel used for storing and maturing wines.

Beerenauslese:Beerenauslese wines are high-quality sweet wines. This German wine term that translates as "selected berries". Grapes are picked later than the standard harvest time so have more sugar content and richer flavors. They are also usually affected by Botrytis Cinerea or "noble rot", a deliberately-cultivated fungus that creates rich sweet wines.

Biodynamic: Biodynamic is a holistic, ethical, and ecological approach in the vineyard that involves working in tandem with movement of the moon and planets and use of "preparations" made from herbs, manure, and minerals. Vineyards with official biodynamic status have Demeter certification.

Black Grapes: A standard term for red wine grapes.

Blend: When one or more grape varieties are combined to create a wine. A blend wine can also be made from the same grape but from different vineyards and even vintages.

Blind Tasting: Tasting a wine without knowing its identity with the objective of an unbiased assessment of its qualities.

Bodega: Spanish term for wine estate. Also called "Casa".

Body: A term to describe the weight of a wine in the mouth. Wines fall into light-, medium- or full-bodied categories.

Bouquet: The aromas that you detect when you swirl and sniff your glass of wine. Depending on the wine, the bouquet can include: Fruits (fresh, cooked, preserved); Herbaceous aromas; Herbal; Spice; Stone; Dairy; Oak; Bread, cake, pastry; Confectionary; Savory; Nut; Gasoline; Coffee, chocolate, mocha; earth. Most wines have simple aromas while top-tier wines that are suitable for maturation in the winery and cellaring after their release, have complex bouquets. Also referred to as "the nose".

Box Wine / Bag-in-Box Wine: Wine packaged in a cardboard box. A plastic bladder with a spout is filled with wine and packed into a cardboard box. Used for mass-produced wines as an alternative to bottles.

Brut: French term translating as 'bone-dry'. Used for sparkling wines, especially Champagne.

Brut Nature: The driest Champagne or sparkling wine with 0 to 3 grams per liter of residual sugar. Also called Zéro Dosage.

Buttery: Description of melted butter and toasted oak aromas and flavors in a wine. Also refers to a smooth, rich texture. Commonly associated with oak-aged Chardonnay.

Carbonic Maceration: A winemaking method used when the aim is a light-bodied wine with a pure and fruity profile. Whole grape bunches are placed in tanks pumped with carbon dioxide, triggering fermentation inside each grape as opposed to crushing fruit for external fermentation. Creates kirsch, bubblegum, and clean fruit flavors. Commonly associated with Beaujolais Nouveau.

Cépage: French word for grape variety.

Château: French word for wine producer often used in Bordeaux.

Complex: Description for wine displaying numerous aromas, flavors, and nuance.

Cru Classé: Top-tier vineyard in Bordeaux as designated by the prestigious 1855 Classification.

Cuvée: Term often used in Champagne production meaning special blend of wines.

Clos: French word for walled, usually top-quality vineyard.

Corked / Cork Taint: The description of a wine fault that creates moldy paper and musty flavors.

Côte: French word for "slope", appearing in many wine appellations.

Crianza: A level in Spain's wine quality categorization. Red Crianza must age for two years including a minimum of 6 months in oak.

Decant: Practice of pouring wine from a bottle into a glass container to remove sediment and allow aeration.

Dessert Wine: Sweet wine.

Domaine: French word for wine producer, often used in Burgundy and the Rhône Valley.

Dry Wine: Red or white wine where alcoholic fermentation has completed, leaving no residual sugar in the wine.

Demi-sec: French term translating as 'medium-dry'. Used for sparkling wines, especially Champagne.

Dosage: A wine and sugar mixture used in Champagne production that determines sweetness level.

DAC: Districtus Austriae Controllatus. A demarcated grape growing area in Austria defined by its terroir and style of wines.

DO: Denominación de Origen. A demarcated grape growing area in Spanish wine regions defined by its terroir and style of wines.

DOCa: A higher level of Spanish DOC. Very few wines have DOCa status in Spain.

DOC: Denominazione di Origine Controllata. A demarcated grape growing area in Italian wine regions defined by terroir and style of wines.

DOCG: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. A demarcated grape growing area in Italian wine regions defined by terroir and style of wines. Stricter than DOC.

Dolce: Italian term that translates as "sweet."

Doux:  French term translating as 'sweet'. Used for sparkling wines, especially Champagne.

Élevage: French word meaning "bringing up" referring to the making, aging, and bottling of wine.

Eiswein: Wine with concentrated sweetness made from frozen grapes left on the vine through winter. Produced in Germany, Canada, and Austria.

Enologist: A person who studies the science of wine, or enology.

Estate: Land with vineyards.

Estate-Bottled: Wines made and bottled from vineyards owned or leased long-term by a winery. Can indicate consistency and quality in wine production from vineyard to winery.

Extra Brut:  French term translating as 'dry'. Used for sparkling wines, especially Champagne.

Extra-Dry/ Extra-Sec: French term translating as 'off-dry' or delicately sweet. Used for sparkling wines, especially Champagne.

Fermentation: The process in the winery of turning grape sugars into alcohol. Also referred to as alcoholic fermentation.

Fifth Growth: Term for the fifth-level of classification for a château's wines in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

Filtering: Process of removing large particles from a wine by flushing it through a filter before bottling.

Fining: Process of removing fine particles from wine for a clear appearance before packaging.

First Growth: Term the top classification for a château's wines in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

Fourth Growth: Term for the fourth-level classification for a château's wines in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

Finish / Length:  The aftertaste of a wine. Generally, the longer and more complex the finish, the higher quality the wine.

Fortified Wine: A wine with a high alcohol content or ABV (typically up to 22%) owing to the addition of neutral spirits or brandy. An example is Port.

French Oak: Traditional, prestigious wood used for wine barrels used for red and white wines.

Frizzante:  Italian term for lightly sparkling wines.

Garrigue: French term for aromatic blend of herbs and earth. Commonly used in wines from south of France.

Grand Cru: French term for wine produced from top-level vineyards.

Grand Vin: An estate's best wine. Quality may vary as this is not a legal vinicultural term.

Gran Reserva: Highest level in Spain's wine quality categorization. Red Gran Reservas are only made in best vintages with a stipulation of five years of aging including a minimum of two years in oak.

Grosses Gewächs (GG): German term for dry, single-grape wines from top vineyards. Made with strict production rules.

Hand Harvest: When grapes are picked manually. Indication of superior-quality wine.

Harvest: The process and time of picking grapes manually or with a machine. In the northern hemisphere, harvest is typically from September to October and, in the southern hemisphere, from March to April but can be extended beyond these months. French: "vendange", Italian "vendemmia", Spanish "vendimia".

Indigenous / Native / Ambient Yeast:Naturally occurring (as opposed to cultured yeast) used in winemaking to create a more unique wine profile.

Irrigation: Reference to different methods of watering vines, a practice that is strictly controlled in some regions. "Dry-farmed" means there's no irrigation and vines have to dig deep for water sources resulting in rich, high-quality fruit.

Joven: A level in Spain's quality categorization hierarchy indicating an unaged wine meant for drinking on release.

Kabinett: Kabinett wines are high-quality German dry to off-dry wines.

Late Harvest: Rich wines made from very ripe grapes picked late in the harvest season. Fruit has intense flavors and higher sugar levels. The French term is "Vendange Tardive".

Lay Down/ Cellaring: The term for placing wines built for further maturation in a cellar so they can develop a deeper, more complex profile.

Lees: Sometimes called "fine lees", these are dead yeast cells that result from fermentation. Some wines are matured on lees to add texture and aromatic / flavor complexity to a wine. The French term is "sur lie".

Lees Stirring: During winemaking, the process of stirring lees after alcoholic fermentation to increase a wine's flavor and texture complexity. The French term "bâtonnage" is commonly used.

Legs / Tears: The viscous drops of wine left on the side of a glass after swirling. The presence of Legs is primarily related to alcohol content and is generally not an indicator of wine quality.

Malolactic Fermentation / MLF:Secondary fermentation that takes place after alcoholic fermentation when wine tartness is softened.

Mature: Point at which a wine has developed optimally and is ready to drink.

Méthode Traditionnelle: Prestigious and complex, double-fermentation method of making Champagne, Crémant, Cava, and Franciacorta. Also referred to as "Traditional Method", "Metodo Classico" (Italy), "Cap Classique" (South Africa).

Mousse: Bubbly foam on head of sparkling wine.

Mouthfeel: The sensation of a wine in the mouth (silky, smooth, harsh, etc).

New Oak: The first time a barrel is used for aging wine. New oak is costly and prestigious and has a greater impact on a wine's tannins plus flavors of cedar, toast, spice, and vanilla than old oak. Barrels can be used numerous times. Such vessels are called "second fill", "third fill" etc.

New World: A term denoting non-European wine regions and wines like Argentina, Australia, California, Chile, South Africa, and New Zealand.

Noble Grapes/ Varieties: Classic grapes from Old World wine regions that have proven to make exceptional wines internationally. White grapes include Chardonnay, Gerwürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscat. Black grapes include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Non-Vintage (NV): A blend wine produced with stored base wines from different vintages. This process helps a winemaker maintain a house style across time. Much Champagne is Non-Vintage.

Oak: Wood used in barrels made for wine aging. Commonly-used oak is French, American, and Slovenian. Oak adds structure and aromas/ flavors and is expensive. Addition of oak chips is a cheap method for mass-produced wines.

Old Vines: Prestigious term referring to vines that yield concentrated, top-quality fruit. There is no legal age specification but vines that are 35 or older are generally labeled "Old Vines". On French wine labels, the term is "Vieilles Vignes".

Old World: European wine-producing countries and regions.

Off-Dry: Reference to a still or sparkling wine with barely-perceptible sweetness.

Orange Wine: White grape wines made with a red winemaking method. This means extended grape skin contact during fermentation and/or maceration for extraction of color and tannins. This leaves an orange tint in the wine and creates honeyed, ripe fruit flavors. This winemaking technique dates back millennia and is experiencing a renaissance today.

Organic Wine: Wine produced from grapes farmed and vinified without artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. Each country has its own organic certification body.

Oxidized: When wines have had harmful levels of oxygen exposure that results in unpleasant aromas and flavors and a change in color. Some wines, for example, sherry, benefit from a small, controlled amounts of oxidation.

Palate / Mouth: The taste of wine and also the parts of the mouth where taste buds are located.

Pétillant: French term for gently sparkling.

Phylloxera: Tiny insect that feeds on roots of Vitis Vinifera (broad term for European vines) and causes deadly infections. Phylloxera wiped out European vineyards and the wine industry as a whole in the 19th century. American vines are widely immune from phylloxera.

Prädikatswein: German wine quality classification system that comprises six sugar content levels, producing wine from dry to luscious.

Premier Cru: A top-tier wine from good-quality vineyards. In Burgundy, it's the second highest-quality level after Grand Cru.

Reserva: Second-highest level in Spain's wine quality categorization. Red Reservas must undergo at least three years of aging including a minimum of one year in oak.

Residual Sugar: Sugar that remains unfermented in a wine.

Rosado / Rosato: Respective Spanish and Italian terms for rosé wine.

Sec: French term translating as 'dry'. Used for sparkling wines, especially Champagne.

Second-Growth: Term the second-level classification for a château's wines in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

Secondary Fermentation: Stage in sparkling wine production that creates bubbles. Only Champagne and traditional method sparkling wines undergo this step.

Single-Vineyard: Wine produced from fruit harvested from one vineyard. This term is an indication of superior quality.

Spätlese:  Wines are usually off-dry (moderately sweet). This German wine term translates as "late harvest". Grapes are picked later than the standard harvest time so have more sugar content and richer flavors.

Spumante:  Italian term meaning "sparkling wine".

Structure: The "build" of a wine, related to balance of acidity, tannin, sugar, and alcohol.

Sulfites: Compound that occurs naturally in winemaking and vintners use to sterilize winery equipment and to preserve wines. A very small amount remains in bottle and, in the US, has to be declared on a wine label.

Sommelier: A professional with extensive wine knowledge and/or a wine diploma found in the hospitality sector.

Tannin: Wine compounds that leave a dry and bitter feeling on the palate. Tannins are found in grape skins, stems, and oak barrels and are an essential component for structure and aging potential.

Terroir: The soils, climate, altitude, sun exposure, and other natural elements that create a unique environment for vines and create a distinct wine profile.

Third Growth: Term the third-level classification for a château's wines in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

Trocken: German term meaning "dry".

Tank / Charmat Method: A less costly and faster way of making sparkling wine, for example, most Prosecco.

Tenuta: Italian term for wine estate.

Transfer Method: A shortened, less expensive, and less esteemed "traditional method" in sparkling winemaking production. Labeled as "bottle fermented" rather than "traditional method".

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA):Top-tier, very sweet wines. This German wine term translates as "dry berry selection". Grapes are affected by Botrytis cinerea or "noble rot", a deliberately-cultivated fungus that creates rich sweet wines.

Varietal: Another word for "grape variety". Also commonly used on New World labels of wines made from one grape.

Vinification: Technical term for "winemaking process".  

Vigneron / Vintner: French for winemaker and/or grape grower.

Vintage: A specific year of harvest. Vintage can vary significantly from year to year, impacting the quality and character of the wine.

Viticulture: The discipline of grape growing.

Vitis Vinifera: European grapevine species that makes the majority of the world's wine.

White Grapes: A standard term for white-wine grapes.

Yeast: A microorganism that converts grape sugars into alcohol. Ambient or natural yeast is more prestigious in winemaking than commercial yeast.

Yield: A vineyard's productivity. In wine descriptions, "low yields" indicates superior quality.

Young: Fresh, crisp wine made to be consumed within a year of release.

Zéro Dosage: The driest Champagne or sparkling wine with 0 to 3 grams per liter of residual sugar. Also called Brut.