Skip to content

Glossary of Wine Terms

terrior (terr-wah) * mouth-feel * dry farm * sur lie (soor lee)

What the heck do these words and phrases mean? It can be overwhelming and make you want to throw in the towel and drink Cold Duck for the rest of your life. Ok, do not do that. Learn instead, grow your knowledge and your palate. Here is a glossary with some terms that may help along the way.  Some of these descriptions are culled from the Wine School of Philadelphia dictionary.

Glossary, Descriptions, and Terms

acidity — the liveliness and crispness in wine that activates our salivary glands

balance — a term for when the elements of wine – acids, sugars, tannins, and alcohol – come together in a harmonious way

body — a tactile sensation describing the weight and fullness of wine in the mouth.  A wine can be light, medium, or full-bodied.

bud break – Is the beginning of the annual growth cycle in the spring. In the Northern Hemisphere, this stage begins around March when daily temperatures begin to surpass 50 °F.

complex — a wine exhibiting numerous odors, nuances, and flavors

dry  refers to a wine that lacks residual sugar.  It is incorrectly attributed to tannins that can cause a puckering sensation in the mouth

“Dry farmed” is farming without irrigation or any other purposeful applying of water on the vines. While irrigation may be used to get new vineyards started for about five years, they are eventually weaned off irrigation to survive on their own.  This type of farming produces smaller berries with a greater juice to skin ratio making for more flavorful wines.

finish  — the impression of textures and flavors lingering in the mouth after swallowing the wine. i.e. “a quick finish” or  “a lingering finish”

fruity — a tasting term for wines that exhibit strong smells and flavors of fresh fruit

Malolactic fermentation is the introduction of a specific strain of bacteria into the wine must. This bacteria converts malic acid into lactic acid and CO2. (Yes, the same lactic acid that is in milk.  This fermentation can happen naturally or with an added culture. The result creates a creamy to a buttery texture.

Moelleux – French for soft. In wine, it is a sweet wine that contains less natural residual sugar than sticky wines. This French term can also be used to describe a dry wine whose fat dominates its acidity.

mouth-feel — how a wine feels on the palate; it can be rough, smooth, velvety, or furry

oak/oaky — tasting term denoting smells and flavors of vanilla, baking spices, coconut, mocha or dill caused by barrel-aging

Racking wine is the process of transferring wine or must from one fermenter to the next so as to leave the sediment behind. Most winemakers rack wine because you do not want the wine to sit on excessive amounts of sediment over extended periods of time.

shatter – refers to the phenomenon wherein a grape cluster fails to develop into maturity and un-pollinated flowers don’t turn into grapes.

spicy — a tasting term used for odors and flavors reminiscent of black pepper, bay leaf, curry powder, baking spices, oregano, rosemary, thyme, saffron or paprika found in certain wines

structure — an ambiguous tasting term that implies harmony of fruit, alcohol, acidity, and tannins

sur lie – Pronounced [soor LEE] –  It is the French expression for “on the lees.”

What are lees?  Lees is the coarse sediment that settles at the bottom of the tank or barrel, which consists mainly of dead yeast cells and small grape particles that accumulate during fermentation. Sur lie aging is the process of allowing a wine to sit on the lees in order to extract beneficial textures and flavors.

sweet — wines with perceptible sugar contents on the nose and in the mouth

tannins — the phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, dry, and puckery or parched feeling in the mouth

terroir – pronounced (terr-WAH) – the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.


What do I mean when I say “at the top” and “at the bottom” when smelling a wine?

Aromas that come off the wine linger at different levels in your wine glass. As you smell your wine move your nose around in the glass to get a complete picture of the enticing aromas of a particular wine. First, take a whiff at the top of your glass. Note what you are sensing. Now take a whiff in the lower portion of the glass. You may smell different aromas from the top of your glass then you will in the bottom. Note: If you are serving the wine “too cold” you may not smell anything until the wine warms up.