Wine 101

Wine has been a part of the human experience for several millennia. Wine making has traveled from Egypt and Greece to Europe and the Americas. Wine is produced by fermenting grapes and some wines are made by fermenting other fruits. Wines are typically differentiated by their color; red, pink, or white and the alcohol content of wines vary from about 10 to 14 percent. The appelation of origin will be listed on the bottle indicating what country or region the grapes were grown.

Learn more about your favorite types or varietals.

Wine Terminology

Acid - An aspect of taste in a wine. Sometimes described as sour or tart. Proper acidity provides crispness and life to the wine.

Angel's share - is a term for the portion (share) of a wine's volume that is lost to evaporation during aging in oak barrels.

Appellation - is a geographical-based term used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown. The rules that govern appellations are dependent on the country in which the wine was produced.

Balance - Harmony or "being in tune" among the various components of wine, fruit, tannins, alcohol and acidity.

Body - The texture and weight of a wine. The more substantial and flavorful a wine tastes, the more body it has.

Bordeaux - The most important wine region in France. Wines from this area are called "Bordeaux". Red wines from Bordeaux are primarily blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. White wines from the region are usually blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Botrytis – commonly called noble rot, is a mold that causes grapes to lose nearly all of their water content. Wines made from botrytis-affected grapes are generally extremely sweet.

Bouquet - The array of aromas in a wine.

Bottle variation - is the degree to which different bottles, nominally of the same wine, taste and smell different.

Bottle-shock or Bottle-sickness - is a temporary condition of wine characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile wines) are shaken in travel. After several weeks the condition usually disappears.

Box wine or wine cask - is a wine packaged in a bag, usually made of aluminum PET film or other plastics, and protected by a box, usually made of standard corrugated cardboard. The bag is sealed by a simple plastic tap, which is revealed by tearing away a small perforated panel on the box, and used to dispense the wine.

Brut -  Refers to dry Champagne or Sparkling Wine. The authorities in the Champagne region of France use this term to denote added sugar.

Cava - Sparkling Wine from Spain.

Chablis - White wine from the Chablis area of France. Made from Chardonnay grapes.

Champagne - An important region of France, most known for its production of the only sparkling wine that can truly be called Champagne. The méthode champenoise was invented there.

Chewy - A way of describing especially thick texture and/or tannins in red wine.

Complex – When describing wine, this is a positive term referring to lots of different flavor and aroma components in a wine.

Cork taint - is a broad term referring to a set of undesirable smells or tastes found in a bottle of wine, especially spoilage that can only be detected after bottling, aging and opening. Though modern studies have shown that other factors can also be responsible for taint – including wooden barrels, storage conditions and the transportation of corks and wine – the cork is normally considered to be responsible, and a wine found to be tainted on opening is said to be "corked".

Cuvée - is a French term used on wine labels to denote wine of a specific blend or batch. The word originates from the French word cuve meaning "vat".

Dessert wines - are sweet wines typically served with dessert, such as Sauternes and Tokaji Aszú. Despite the name, they are often best appreciated alone, or with fruit or bakery sweets.

Dry/Off Dry - Little or no sugar = "dry", slightly sweeter = "off dry".

Fruit - A key quality in wine; the winemaker's goal is to capture the true essence of the varietal.

Green harvest - is the removal of immature grape bunches, typically for the purpose of decreasing yield. This practice is most often used to produce fine wine. By removing the tiny, immature grapes while they are still green, the vine is induced to put all its energy into developing the remaining grapes.

Ice Wine - is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, so the result is a concentrated, often very sweet wine. In the case of ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards.

Late harvest - is a term applied to wines made from grapes left on the vine longer than usual. Late harvest is usually an indication of a sweet dessert wine such as late harvest riesling. Late harvest grapes are often more similar to raisins, but have been naturally dehydrated while on the vine.

Malolactic -  Often used in the making of Chardonnay; an additional fermentation that turns malic acids into lactic acids.

Microoxygenation - is a process increasingly used in winemaking to "smooth out" wine and make it more palatable or more marketable (or both).

Natural wine - is wine made with as little chemical and technological intervention as possible, either in the way the grapes are grown or the way they are made into wine. The term is used to distinguish such wine from wine which is 'organic' in the sense of having been 'made from organically grown grapes', but which is subject to technical manipulation in the winemaking process.

New World wines - are those wines produced outside the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe and North Africa, in particular from Australia, Argentina, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.

Oak - Wine is often aged in oak barrels to add that distinctive "oaky" flavor.  The process can add a hint of vanilla and butter to whites and tobacco, coffee or simply "oak" flavor to reds.

Oenophiles - are also known as a wine aficionados or connoisseurs. They are people who appreciate or collect wine, particularly grape wines from certain regions, varietal types, or methods of manufacture.

Old vine - is a term commonly used on wine labels to indicate that a wine is the product of grape vines that are notably old. However, in France, the U.S., and most countries, it has no legal or even generally agreed upon definition.  Grape vines can grow for over 120 years.

Reserve wine - is a term given to a specific wine to imply that is of a higher quality than usual. Traditionally winemakers would "reserve" some of their best wine rather than sell it immediately, coining the term.

Sauternes -  An elegant sweet dessert wine from Bordeaux France. Also the name of the commune within Bordeaux. The main grape varieties in this wine are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.

Sommelier - is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all facets of wine service. Often referred to as a wine steward.

Sparkling Wine - is a wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it making it fizzy. The carbon dioxide may result from natural fermentation or as a result of carbon dioxide injection.

Straw Wine - or raisin wine, is a wine made from grapes that have been dried to concentrate their juice. The classic method dries clusters of grapes on mats of straw in the sun.

Table wine – In the US the term is used as a legal definition to differentiate standard wine from stronger fortified wine or sparkling wine.  In the European Union it is meant to designate the lowest quality level of wine produced, one that qualifies for neither an appellation nor even a broad regional designation.

Tannin - This taste sensation comes from seeds, stems and skins of grapes, imparting a "pucker" to the taste as well as complexity and structure.

Terroir - was originally a French term in wine and coffee used to denote the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon them. It can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place" which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product.

Ullage - refers to the unfilled space in a container of liquid.  The unfilled air space at the top of a bottle of wine is essential to allow for expansion of the contents as the temperature changes.

Varietal - describes wines made primarily from a single named grape variety.

Vineyard - a plantation of grape-bearing vines, grown mainly for winemaking, but also raisins, table grapes and non-alcoholic grape juice. The science, practice and study of vineyard production is known as viticulture.

Variety - Refers to a specific type of grape that when made into wine becomes a varietal, as in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Chardonnay.

Vinifera - Premium wine grapes

Vintage – refers to a wine made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown in a single specified year. In certain wines it can denote quality.

Winery - a building or property that produces wine, or a business involved in the production of wine, such as a wine company. Some wine companies own many wineries. Besides wine making equipment, larger wineries may also feature warehouses, bottling lines, laboratories, and large expanses of tanks known as tank farms.

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