"For love of everything that is wine"



Make no mistake, there are more wine terms in existence that even the most knowledgeable expert will ever be able memorize. However, that should not mean that we ought not to try and learn some of these words and phrases to better ourselves as wine enthusiasts.

On this webpage, I have done my best to confine terms that I believe to be the most essential for wine enthusiasts to learn. Some of them may be more complicated than others.



  • Clonal (Grape) Selection --- along with harvesting, selecting the most suitable grapes is fundamental for the success of any winery around the world. Associatively, it is imperative that the most suitable 'grape clones' be selected --- this refers to to the strain of the grape that is selected (sort-of like cattle breeding --- example: depending on the climate, some types of sheep [of the same breed] will do better than others). For example, in Burgundy, there are, quite literally, hundreds of different strains of Pinot Noir --- depending on the geography, soil, and climate, some types of Pinot Noir clones will be selected, while others will be ignored.
  • Harvesting --- as any experienced winemaker is all too aware, the most crucial moment in vineyard operations is deciding on the optimum time to begin harvesting the grapes. As a general rule, the best time to begin harvesting is when the acid and sugar levels of the grapes are in as perfect a harmony as possible; this is traditionally measured (at least in modern times) by using a device called a "refractometer," which is used to determine the sugar level of the grapes. It is also a good idea for winemakers to actually taste the grapes for themselves at regular intervals, as instinct of when to pick is almost as important a measuring device as anything technologically available.
  • Irrigation --- the use (or legality) of irrigation generally depends upon a specific wine region (it has just been made legal in Spain). In most parts of France, the practice of irrigation is against the law (the Rhône is a major exception, as quality winegrowing would be virtually impossible without it); in such places as Australia, California, Washington State, and South America, however, its practice is considered an absolute necessity (though in the past several years, severe water shortages in many places has caused some growers to revert to 'dry farming.' For most wine experts and growers, it is probably best argued that irrigation is best practiced only as a necessity (and only in appropriate measures).
  • 'Noble rot' --- otherwise referred to as 'Botrytis cinerea,' a beneficial fungus mould that attacks grapes in late-Autumn, causing the grapes to shrivel up, thus concentrating their sugar levels and remaining liquid contents to become extraordinarily concentrated; the result is the creation of sweet wines of remarkable character and quality.
  • Pruning --- an integral part to proper vineyard management, good pruning techniques are absolutely imperative if the vines are going to produce any grapes capable of generating high-quality wine. For bulk wine around the world in the twenty-first century, most vines are pruned by mechanical contraptions. For high-quality wine, however, human-done pruning is the most essential way to ensure that vines are properly taken care of. Good pruning is, in fact, a unique skill, as only well-trained pruners will know which vine shoots to cut and which leaves to leave on, both of which are essential if good-quality grapes are to be grown.
  • Soil --- for any proper-minded winegrower, expert, or enthusiast, it is essential to recognize that soil is debatably the single most important determinant in making wine --- soil is ultimately the deciding factor in determining what style of wine – either red or white – can (and will) be created by the growers and winemakers. As a matter of course, different parts of the world will offer better types of soil than others. As a general rule, however, the best soils are generally those that provide the conditions for grapes to ripen maturely at an ideal a pace as possible. Associatively, this will depend on the type of region (i.e. 'warm climate' or 'cool climate') where the vines are grown and the type(s) of grapes being produced.
  • Terroir --- perhaps one of the most treasured ideals of French winegrowers, 'terroir' refers to all of the determinate qualities responsible for how a specific wine from a specific place tastes. Ask what this means, and a French winegrower will usually respond by saying that the taste of a wine - or its terroir - is the product of four factors: soil, climate, situation, and human intervention.
  • Trellising --- one of the most simple (and fundamental, as well as aesthetically pleasing) aspects of vineyard management, whereby vines are planted in rows and held up by short poles that are connected to each other by several lines upon which the vines are 'trained' to grow. Proper trellising is essential if vines are to produce healthy, good-quality grapes. In past centuries in many winegrowing regions throughout the world, trellising was not standard practice, as vines were left in a 'bushy' state or strung between trees (or simply grown alongside town walls).
  • Yield (of grapes) --- refers to the quantity of grapes produced within a specific vineyard site. In the twenty-first century, the attitude of most 'modernist' winemakers is that having lower yields results in higher quality wine; through 'green harvesting,' vines are thinned out in the summertime so that the remaining grapes are not only able to ripen earlier, but also able to retain greater concentration of desired characteristics.
    • This being said, in recent years, some persons in 'the institution of wine' have voiced concerns about ultra-concentrated wines being made from vines with yields that are, in fact, too low. Such persons believe that wines from yields too low can be unbalanced, lacking the proper acidic 'backbone' for proper aging and overall structure. Are they correct? Taste for yourself!


  • Aging --- according to the venerable Hugh Johnson, there are two ways by which a wine can age:
    • (1) the first way a wine can age is through contact with oxygen, otherwise known as 'oxidative' aging --- this occurs when wine is aged in barrels, whereby the contents making up the wine will undergo numerous chemical reactions that will, at least hopefully, result in greater complexity for the wine, itself.
    • (2) the second, and more significant (at least for the consumer), way a wine can age is when it is actually deprived of oxygen --- this is called 'reductive' aging, whereby the wine, once bottled, only has contact with the tiny amount of oxygen that is trapped between the liquid and the cork; over time, this small amount of oxygen will be reduced to nothing, and the wine will experience all sorts of complex chemical reactions. The end result, for wines of high quality, will (at least hopefully) be a product of extraordinary complexity and enjoyment.
  • Barrels, use of --- probably the most familiar term a wine enthusiast will ever hear on how a wine they are drinking had been made. Initially developed for purposes of shipping (not aging) in the Early Middle Ages (c. 300-1100CE), the use of barrels in modern viticulture is ever-increasing. For both red and white wines, putting wine into barrel usually occurs right after the 'press wine' is added to to the 'free run' wine in vat; the amount of time it stays in barrels is usually determined by regional practices (and an individual winemaker's preference). There are several reasons why wine is aged in barrel. Aside from imparting additonal complexity to the wine (such as toastiness, vanilla, and wooden scents), it exposes the wine to small amounts of oxygen --- remember, barrels are not air-tight; this is very important, as it allows the wine to begin the first 'breathing stages' of its life.
  • Chaptalization --- a common term a wine enthusiast might hear when visiting a wine estate or attending a wine show, chaptalization refers to the adding of sugar to a wine during fermentation in order to increase the wine's alcohol content. Chaptalization usually occurs in poor vintages, when grapes were not able to ripen fully on the vines. It is a perfectly legal and often-utilized practice in many winegrowing regions throughout the world (though often subject to certain rules in certain places --- QmP wines in Germany, for instance, cannot be chaptalized). However, when overdone, chaptalization can make a wine so alcoholic in tone that it will ruin a drinker's overall enjoyment of the product (unless they simply wish to get drunk faster).
  • Fermentation --- refers to the process by which the sugar content of the grapes is converted into alcohol; wihout going into overly-complicated terminology, fermentation is accomplished via yeasts present in the grapes (or, more specifically, on the skins). In order for decent-quality wine to be produced, fermentation must be carefully monitored by the winemaker.
    • FERMENTATION FOR RED WINE --- For most good-quality red wine, fermentation is normally conducted at a temperature of around 25-to-30˚C, the temperature range where yeasts are most active; fermentation for red wine usually takes anywhere from a few days to three weeks. It is usually conducted in wooden or stainless steel vats (the former having been used for hundreds of years and the latter having only been mainstream for around thirty years); some producers even opt to use concrete vats.
    • FERMENTATION FOR WHITE WINE --- As a general rule for white wine (at least in the modern era), fermentation is conducted at a relatively cold temperature, usually around 8-15˚C, depending on the region and type of grapes being fermented (heavier types of whites can be fermented at temperatures between 15 and 20˚C); fermentation for white wine usually takes several weeks. It is almost always conducted in stainless steel vats. To make matters more complicated, however, there are some winegrowing regions of the world where it is customary to conduct white wine fermentation inside barrels (such as in Burgundy, France). Suffice it to say, this is a complicated process --- better check with Hugh Johnson or Jancis Robinson!
    • USE OF STEMS IN FERMENTATION --- On the whole, each individual winemaker generally has his or her own opinion on the merits of including stems with the grapes during the fermentation process. For red wines, the use of stems is generally kept to low levels (if any), as it takes up lots of room in the vat, as well as lowers the potential alcohol level and adds undesired atringent notes; on the other hand, they do help keep the grapes aerated and the overall acidity (believe it or not) of the wine a bit lower. For white wines, stems are usually included as a matter of course, as they not only make for much better 'press wine,' but also allow for a much more balanced end product.
    • THE 'CAP' DURING RED WINE FERMENTATION --- As red wine ferments in the vat, the grape skins (along with other solids) will float to the top (hence, the nickname 'cap'). However, in order to achieve the best fermentation possible, it is essential that these solid matters be kept submerged. Over the past several decades, all sorts of ingenious methods have been invented for keeping the 'cap' submerged, from simply pushing it back to the bottom of the vat with long poles to fitting a grille in the middle in the vat to prevent the cap from actually floating to the top. However, the most common method today is called 'pumping over,' whereby a hose is placed at the bottom of the vat and pumps the liquid over the 'cap' at the top (this is usually done at least a couple of times a day).
    • 'RESIDUAL SUGAR' DURING WHITE WINE FERMENTATION --- not to bruise the ego of any wine enthusiast, but this is a concept most people fail to understand. In every white wine (except for those that are totally dry, such as Pinot Grigio from Italy), there remains sugar left over after the fermentation process that the yeasts had not converted to alcohol (*remember, it is the yeasts that are responsible for the conversion of sugar into alcohol during fermentation*). This residual sugar is a most prominent feature in German QmP wines, as it is an integral part in the ability of a wine to age --- the residual sugar in the wine operates as a sort-of 'natural preservative,' the complexities on which it is unneccessarily complicated to elaborate.
  • Malolactic fermentation --- refers to a sort-of 'secondary fermentation' that occurs in the spring of the following year (in other words, a good several months after initial fermentation). It is a natural, desirable process (specifically for red wines) that occurs as a result of warmer seasonal temperatures --- in modern wineries, the process of malolactic fermentation is now controlled by the winemaker, who simply raises the temperature of the cellar to around 20˚C. For red wines, the purpose of malolactic fermentation is to reduce the acidic content of the wine and increase its complexity. The process by which this occurs is rather complicated; in a nutshell, it has to do with natural (or artificial) bacteria becoming active in the wine, causing it to give off carbon dioxide.
  • Vats, use of --- for a good many centuries, winemakers would use large wooden vats in which to conduct the fermentation process. However, in modern times, most winemakers have replaced their wooden vats with ones made of stainless steel. The advantages for using stainless steel are quite numerous. Not only are they more long-lasting and easier to clean, they can also be used not just for fermentation but also for blending, aging, and storage (the very latter of which is absolutely crucial if a large winery is to operate at a profitable capacity). Then again, as shown in the image above, concrete vats may be also used.


  • Blind tastings --- a method of impartially evaluating wines, whereby a glass is sampled without knowing the name of the estate (or perhaps even the grape varietal or the wine region from which it is derived); a challenging way to increase one's understanding of different types of wines.
  • 'Cool/warm climate' --- exactly as it sounds, this term refers to the type of climate where wines are grown. In terms of overall proportion, most of the world's wines are grown in warm climates (the most prominent 'warm climate'  winegrowing nations being Italy, Spain, Portugal, California, Chile, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa), as it allows for grapes to mature more easily on the vines; on the other side of the spectrum, the best 'cool climate' wines are generally recognized to come from the more northerly winegrowing regions of France, as well as Germany, Austria, Canada, Tasmania, and New Zealand.
  • 'Corked' --- a term that one wants to hear about a wine as little as possible, it refers to wine that has been tainted by a bad cork; most often, a wine that is 'corked' will taste almost mouldy, musty and/or soapy: a corked wine can also smell of cardboard; the cause of a bad cork usually has to do with fungus growing inside the cork that escaped sterilization at the facility where the cork had been made.
  • 'Cult (or Trophy) Wines' --- refers to wines that sell for ridiculously-high prices at both public auctions and private stores; wines of this type are usually made in very small amounts and are most often found in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, and Australia; people who buy these wines are usually collectors and investors (or just plain rich people).
  • Decanting --- refers to the pouring of wine from out of its bottle and into a clear serving vessel; the purpose of decanting is generally to allow the wine to 'breathe' --- in other  words, to expose the liquid to oxygenation in order to make the wine seem fresher and more vibrant; another reason for decanting is to rid the wine of as much sediment as possible; while there is much debate on exactly what wines are best to decant (as well as actually how they should be decanted), for most wine enthusiasts, decanting such old wines as Bordeaux and vintage port – usually a few hours ahead of time – is standard practice.
  • Futures --- refers to the buying of wines (such as Bordeaux and Burgundy) before they are bottled, not dissimilar from a broker speculating on commodities; this practice (at least in theory) allows wine-consumers to buy wines at prices that are cheaper than what they will become several years later when they are actually bottled and subsequently put on merchants' shelves.
  • 'International grapes' --- refers to grape varietals that are grown all over the world in large quantities; for reds, this generally includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petit Verdot; for whites, this generally includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Muscat, and Gewürztraminer.
  • 'Judgement of Paris' --- famous wine tasting held in 1976, which pitted the best French Bordeaux red wines and best Burgundy white wines against the best of California; surprising to everyone who participated (especially the French judges), many of the Californian wines came out on top; a rematch was held in 2006, and Californian wines again took top honours.
  • 'Master of Wine' (MW) --- extremely prestigious title bestowed upon people who have successfully completed an extraordinarily intensive wine-training course at the Institute of Masters of Wine, located in London, England; since 1957, only 257 people around the world have ever received this title --- see their website for more information.
  • 'Noble' grapes --- traditional term used to describe grapes that have long been known as being capable of producing high-quality wine, such as (among others) Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Mourvèdre, Malbec, Carmenère, Nebbiolo, Corvina, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Grenache, Touriga Nacional, Gamay, Zinfandel/Primitivo, and Pinot Noir for reds, and (among others) Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sémillon, Grüner Veltliner, Muscat, Chenin Blanc, Furmint, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Gewürztraminer for whites --- see List of Grape Varietals for more details.
  • 'Old World' and 'New World' --- a simple term used to differentiate wines that come from Europe, North Africa, and Asia from those that come from the Americas, South Africa, and Oceania; most wine stores (and individuals' personal cellars) tend to divide and display their items along these lines.
  • 'Second Wine' --- a term that refers to the 'second best' wine of a particular estate; a term often used in such places as Bordeaux, California, or Australia --- this wine will usually be cheaper than an estate's 'premier wine,' as well as will be able to be drunk at an earlier date.
  • Sommelier --- best defined as a person who is an expert on wine; such persons are usually servers at higher-end restaurants, managers of cellar inventories, and advisors on food-and-wine pairings; in modern times, a sommelier is also expected to compete with his or her peers in 'blind tastings' for both prestige and personal satisfaction.
  • 'Super Tuscans' --- a term (more like a nickname) used within the past twenty years to describe Italian wines (i.e. those made in Tuscany) that do not fall under the government-issued D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. labeling system; wines that earn this nickname are those that do not contain purely local Italian grapes, but 'international' varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; as a result, many of these wines are often considered superior to the wines that only use local Italian grapes (such as Sangiovese).


  • Bordeaux --- arguably the most prestigious winegrowing region in the world; located in mid-southwest France, Bordeaux produces some of the world's most expensive and sought-after wines; though top estates can sell their wines at ludicrous prices, many lesser estates in the past several years have been struggling to market their wines because of competition from 'New World' wine-producing countries. Regardless, when a wine enthusiast hears the name 'Bordeaux,' his or her eyes almost always light up in anticipation of something great.
  • Cava --- Spanish sparkling wine, made in the 'Traditional Method,' but on an absolutely gigantic scale. Localized in the Catalonian winegrowing region southwest of Barcelona, Cava has become an extemely popular type of sparkling wine, recognized for offering excellent value for one's cash. It is usually made from three grapes: Macabeo (the dominant grape), Parellada, and Xarel-lo. However, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also being used in increasing proportions.
  • Champagne --- perhaps the most famous of all 'wine terms,' Champagne is a sparking wine produced in a region of the same name, which is located in northeast France (around the beautiful early-Medieval town of Rheims).
    • Because of international labeling laws, onlysparkling wine that is produced in the actual region of Champagne may have the name 'Champagne' printed on the label of the bottle! Moreover, only wine that is made from the Champagne region may have the term 'Méthode Champagnoise' written on the label (which simply refers to the actual method by which sparkling wine is made in Champagne), whereas other sparkling wine producers around the world can only use 'Méthode Traditionelle' (Traditional Method) on their labels (even though it means exactly the same thing as Méthode Champagnoise).
    • Champagne is traditionally a blend of three grapes: Chardonnay (for finesse), Pinot Noir (complexity), and Pinot Meunier (fruit).
  • Chianti --- one of the most famous wines to come out of Italy, Chianti (which is made in central Tuscany --- its heartland is in the D.O.C.G. of Chianti Classico) is a type of blended wine, the grape varietals being Sangiovese (which is the predominant grape), Canaiolo, along perhaps with small quantities of such 'international grape varietals' as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; before 2006, makers of Chianti were also obliged to include small quantities of white grape varietals in the blend, such as Trebbiano and Malvasia.
  • Icewine --- Otherwise known as Eiswein in German, icewine is an especially sweet dessert wine made from grapes that have been frozen solid on the vine. Such grapes produce juice of exceptional sweetness and concentration, and only in very small amounts. As one would expect, only winegrowing regions in especially cold climates can make this type of dessert wine. Generally speaking, Riesling is the most famous white grape used for making icewine.
    • In places where quality icewine is produced (such as Canada, Germany, and Austria), there are strict rules for which wines may be called 'ice wine' on their labels. In Canada, harvesting for ice wine may only begin after November 15, and then only when temperatures have dropped below −8 °C (17 °F) for an elapsed period of time.
  • Port --- a fortified wine produced in the Portuguese winegrowing region of the Douro (located in the north). The most famous fortified wine in the world, Port is made from several blended grapes (the most important being Touriga Nacional) that are – during the half-way point of the fermentation process – added to barrels partly filled with brandy. High-quality Port is customarily served (after dinner) from a decanter. Like Champagne and Sherry, only fortified wine produced in the actual Douro region of Portugal may have the name 'Port' printed on the label of the bottle, in accordance with international labeling laws – though such countries as Australia continue to disregard this regulation.
  • Sauternes --- a sweet-wine appellation in south-central Bordeaux, famous for producing sweet wines (made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grape varietals that have succumbed to 'noble rot') of unique character and aging ability. Sauternes are usually drunk either as a dessert wine or as an aperitif; quality of vintage wines determined by the ability of grapes to succumb to 'noble rot.'
  • Sherry --- a fortified wine, the name of which comes from the town of Jerez in Andalucia, Spain. Sherry is made from three different grapes: Palomino (for dry Sherry), Moscatel, and Pedro Ximénez (the latter two for sweeter types of Sherry). In a nutshell, Sherry is made up of a series of blends from many vintages that have gone through a process called the Solera System, which is a 'fractional' system of blending: wine from the latest vintage is transferred to the one-year-old vintage, wine from the one-year-old vintage is transferred to the two-year-old vintage, and so forth. This process goes on until the final (oldest) vintage is reached; the oldest vintage will then be bottled (but not all of it, because there still has to be wine left over to keep the Solera System going)! Through this process, wines from the younger vintages are said to take on the characteristics of the older vintages. Like Port, only fortified wine produced in the Jerez winegrowing subregion of Spain may have the name 'Sherry' printed on the label of the bottle --- though such countries as Australia (and even Canada) continue to disregard this regulation.
  • Tokaji --- world-famous sweet wine, made in northeast Hungary, made from three Hungarian grape varietals that have succumbed to 'noble rot,' Furmint, Hárslevelü, and Muscotaly. While the actual process by which Tokaji is made is rather complicated, the level of quality is usually most accurately measured by its level of sweetness, graded on a scale from one-to-six puttunyos (there are also several designations of sweetness higher than this).


  • 'Classics Catalogue'--- a premium-end wine catalogue that comes out around six times a year through 'Vintages,' which can be found in most L.C.B.O. outlets, as well as online; because most of the items on offer are of ultra-premium quality, prices can be extremely high (though actually quite reasonable when compared to shops around the world --- I know this from experience); many of these products are also in high demand (especially those that have received high points from critics), so do not be surprised if the wine(s) that you order are sold out! --- website: www.vintages.com
  • 'Discontinued items' --- like the phrase sounds, this term simply refers to products (such as wine or beer, for example) that are no longer carried under the 'General Listings' section of L.C.B.O. stores; typically, an item will be 'discontinued' if there is not a big enough market for it to be financially viable to carry --- other times, an item might be 'discontinued' simply because there is no longer enough shelf space for it!
  • 'General Listings' --- refers to wines and other alcohol products carried by L.C.B.O. outlets on a regular basis (in other words, these are products that are easily obtainable at practically all L.C.B.O. stores).
  • Licensees --- Licensees (a term, as far as I know, that is only used in Ontario) refers to people that operate such establishments as restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and catering companies; if registered, these places may purchase their wines at a small discount from both L.C.B.O. outlets and private agencies --- thus, if you ever see an individual at a large L.C.B.O. outlet with several cartloads of alcohol, chances are that he or she is a licensee (I just wouldn't want to be behind him or her at a checkout line)!
  • L.C.B.O. --- Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a government-owned distributor of alcohol throughout the province of Ontario; often subject to controversy becauses it holds a virtual monopoly over all alcohol sold throughout the province; selection of wines varies from outlet to outlet, though overall choice of wines is astounding; as the L.C.B.O. is the largest importer of wine in the world, prices are extremely reasonable --- website: www.lcbo.com
  • 'Portfolio tastings' --- wine tastings that are put on by a specific wine agency; in order to be kept informed of these tastings, one must either be a member of the 'wine press' or an actual past buyer of an agency's wines; anyone can purchase from an agency --- the best way to learn more about an agency is to attend local wine events.
  • Private agencies --- wine companies (other than the L.C.B.O.) that import/sell wine; because of Ontario government regulations, these companies are only permitted to sell wine, at minimum, in cases of six bottles (see Interesting Liquor Laws); while some agencies might sell some of their products at L.C.B.O. outlets, many of them will have items not offered by the government's liqour-selling monopoly; arguably, the best way to learn about these agencies is to attend public wine tastings (such as the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo), as many will have booths there to display their wares --- for a list of Toronto wine agencies, click here.
  • 'Product consultants' --- certified purchase-advisors at L.C.B.O. stores; dressed in white shirts, most are exceptionally knowledgeable, possessing detailed information on practically all products carried at L.C.B.O. outlets.
  • V.Q.A. --- refers to the Vintners Quality Alliance of Ontario (and British Columbia). Founded in 1988 at the behest of Ontario winegrowers, the VQA is a government-mandated body (at least it has been for some time now) designed to ensure the integrity of wines produced by Ontario wineries (British Columbia has adopted something similar), such as proper sanitation of winemaking, appropriate labeling, and 'acceptable overall quality' of wines produced, as well as ensuring 'regionality' of what is in the bottle. Recently, the VQA undertook an extensive study of vineyard sites on the Niagara peninsula; there are now twelve different Designated Viticultural Areas (DVAs) in Niagara --- watch for them on wine labels! --- website: www.vqaontario.com
  • Wine Rack --- a set of 'independent' wine stores located throughout the province of Ontario (more seem to be being opened in supermarkets), featuring Canadian wines of varying quality (though it has gotten better in recent years); one positive note is that the people who work at these stores are generally very friendly and helpful --- website: www.winerack.com


Email me at julianhitner@hitnerwine.com


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