Twin Cities Wine Tasting with John Glas
Host your own wine tasting with John Glas

Wine Terms


Five Important Wine Terms Activity

Ranked in order of Importance

1.  Vintage

Without a good vintage,  Chateau Petrus will not garner the $5,000 plus a bottle at an auction.

2.  Terroir

French for "soil" but means slope, amount of sunlight, precipitation, temperate, etc.

3.  Appellation

In the US the best appellations are in California, Oregon and Washington State.  Napa Valley is the most famous example of an appellation.  It is a designated wine growing area.

4.  Grape Variety

Chateau Petrus is made of Merlot however we all know there are plenty of bad merlot wines available for much less.

5.  Country

France is the number one producer of wine in the world however not all parts of the country could make a great wine.



Wine Terms

Acid- Naturally found in grapes.  The hotter the region the lower the acid levels in the wines.  There are several other factors that affect the acidity levels in the wines.

                  Too high- The wine will be tart

                  Too low- The wine will taste flat

Aftertaste (Finish) - After the wine is swallowed the flavor that lingers in your mouth.  The best wines will have massive finishes.

Aging- Most wines don’t improve with aging.  Just the more expensive wines from regions such as Burgundy and Burgundy.  The other wines that need to age are Brunellos and Barolos from Italy.

Alcohol Content- Stated on all bottles in percentages via the law.  Whites tend to be lower percentage then most reds.

Appellation- A designated growing area governed by rules and regulations established by each individual country.  An example of an appellation is Napa Valley or Sonoma County.  The goal of having appellations is to keep quality up.

Aroma (Nose) - The fragrance that the wine gives off.  There are 100s of aromas wines may exhibit.

Astringent- An unpleasant trait of a wine.  The wine will give off a dry, harsh taste from high levels of tannins.  Cotton ball mouth is a term I use for this.

Backbone- Wine with a balance of alcohol, acidity, and tannins.  A backbone is common amongst the best wines in the world.

Balance- What all wines strive for.  When the fruit, acidity, alcohol and tannins are in perfect harmony without one overpowering the other.

Barnyard- Not my favorite smell from a wine however some people seem to enjoy it.

Big- Rich and full-bodied.  The 2003 Tim Smith Shiraz fits the bill here.

Blanc- French for white.

Body- Texture or weight in the mouth.  Vintage Port will be full bodied while a cheap Pinot Grigio will be considered light.

Bordeaux Blend- The three most common grapes blended together are Merlot, Cabernet and Cabernet Franc.

Bouquet- Same concept as Aroma or Nose but usually reserved for the finest of wines.

Brett- Spoilage of yeast that produces a barnyard aroma.  Can be caused by bacteria infected barrels.  Some people enjoy Brett.

Buttery- The taste or smell of butter.  Used to describe Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Carbonic maceration-  A technique used during fermentation to create wines with low tannins, a fruit forward style and dark color.  Whole clusters are dumped into a vat and the weight of the grapes above crush the ones below starting fermentation.  The carbon dioxide gas rises and is blocked from transmitting into the air by the above grapes.  The whole batch gets pressed and fermentation is finished the standard way.  You will see this technique in the wines of Beaujolais.

Cassis- Black currants.  Mostly used to describe Cabernet.

Cedar- Common characteristic in fine red wines.

Champagne- Home of Champagne and has the legal rights to the term.  No one in the US or the rest of the world can call their Sparkling Wines Champagne.  These are the top Sparkling Wines in the world and can be label as NV or Vintage.   It is also a city in France.

Cherry-  Common characteristic of Cabernet.

Chewy-  Wines that are dense and you can actually feel like you are eating them.  Almost always referred to reds but some Chardonnays will exhibit this quality.

Clarity- Describes a wines appearance.

Closed- A disappointing occurrence.  Some better wines will be closed which means they are going through a phase where they are not showing well.  Often times aging will take care of the problem but no one can predict how long to age them.

Color- The least important of the five step tasting process unless it is really looking off.

Complexity- This occurs with the best wines.  They will have several descriptors on the nose, taste, and finish.  Very few wines achieve great complexity.

Corked- This happens when the cork in the bottle is infected prior to bottle and it is infected with TCA (Trichloroanisole).  The wine will have an unpleasant odor and is undrinkable.  Wet cardboard is often a descriptor of a corked bottle of wine in regards to smell.  A fine wine shop will take the bottle back and replace it.

Crisp- Used to describe a wine with higher acidity but doesn’t overwhelm you.  A good quality among white wines.

Cult Cabernets-  Wines that cost in the hundreds of dollars and are limited in production.

Decanting- When you pour the wine into a decanter to allow it to breath allowing the aromas to intensify due to contact with air.

Depth- A good quality that means there is a lot going on with the wine.  Great depth might have many layers of flavors.

Developed- Refers to older wines in regards to its drinking window.  Under developed expensive wines is not enjoyable.

Dry- Refers to a wine that isn’t sweet.  Almost all the sugar has been converted to alcohol via the fermentation process.  Wines that are sweet are usually in the dessert style.

Earth- A damp soil nose descriptor.  It is very common in red wines.

Eucalyptus- Mint aromas.


Faded Color- Loss of color which is not a good trait.

Fermentation- The conversion of sugar into alcohol through yeast. 

Finish- The aftertaste of a wine.  A great finish is an experience you need to experience.

Floral- A sensation found in certain wines.

Foil-  The foil seal on sparkling wine or table wine.  A foil cutter will cut it off perfectly but a knife works well to remove it also.

Fortified Wines- One of the 3 types of wines available to consumers (Sparking and Table Wines are the others.  These wines are higher in alcohol content at about 20%.  With the higher alcohol content you end up sipping these.  Types of fortified wines are Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Muscat.

Fruit Forward Wines- Wines that feature fruit in the nose and taste of the wine.


Gamey- The smell of wild birds.

Glassware-  Different types of glassware are used for different styles of wine.  Yes it does make a difference in the wine experience to have the proper glassware.

Glycerol- A wine that feels smooth in your mouth.

Grassy- Fresh cut grass characteristics found in Sauvignon Blancs

Hard- A wine with intense tannins.

Health Benefits- The benefits from drinking red wine are endless.  Many organs of the body function better with a glass or two of red wine every day. 

Heavy- A wine with high alcohol content in relationship to its acidity.  Not a positive trait.

Humidity- Wine should be stored at an 80% humidity level to ensure long term storing.  90% of all wine made is meant to be drunk within a year so long term aging is not an issue however don’t store bottles in direct sunlight.

Hot- Refers to wines with high alcohol.  There will be a burning sensation in the mouth and throat.

Jug wines- Wines that are cheap and usually of low quality.

Leather- A nose of new leather.  Common with big reds.

Legs- A coating on the inside of the glass after swirling.  The legs slide down the glass and the easier they are to see the higher the alcohol content and richer the wine might be.

Light- Color descriptor of a almost clear wine or one that has little taste.

Long- Refers to the finish.  A fine wine will have a long taste in your mouth after swallowing.


Meniscus- The rim of a wine in the glass.

Metallic- Unpleasant odor that is a result of contact with metal.

Methode Champenoise-  The traditional method of making Champagne/Sparkling Wines.

Mineral- A common characteristic of wine especially Sauvignon Blancs.

Musky- An earth component featuring spice.

Musty- Not a good quality that is often from unclean barrels.

New World- Areas of the world such as the US, Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa which have not been producing quality wine for centuries.

Nose- The wines odor.  Can be simple to complex.

NV- Non Vintage

Oak- Oak character is from the barrels some wines are aged in.  French or American oak are used.  Vanilla is also associated with being aged in oak.

Oak barrel- Great wines are all oak barreled which adds complexity to the wine.

Old World- Areas of the world such as France, Italy, Portugal, Spain that have been producing great wine for thousands of years.

Overripe- When grapes have been left on the vines too long.

Oxidation- Unwanted exposure to air prior to bottling.

Pepper- Common trait of Syrah/Shiraz.  White pepper from the Northern Rhone and Black pepper from Australian Shiraz.

Perfume- Used to describe intense aromas from some white wines.

Pruney- Not a good term that describes wines that have been on the vine too long.

Pruning-  This is done for more expensive wines to allow for a more ripe grapes and a stronger root system.

Rich- A wine that is full and balanced with intense flavors.

Refined- A wine of high quality that is in balance.

Round- Full bodied wine.

Short- A wine with a short finish.  Not a good quality.

Silky- A wine that is incredibly smooth.

Simple- A wine that is not complex but is still considered good.

Smoke- A characteristic from the soil or oak barrels.

Soft- A wine that is balanced.

Sour- Refers to a wine that is spoiled and turned to vinegar.

Sparkling Wine-  What the rest of the world calls it.  Champagne is what it is referred to from the Champagne Region of France.  The 2 primary grapes to make Sparkling are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The wine goes through a second fermentation to achieve the bubbles you see in the glass when opened. 

Spice- Common characteristic that could be considered pepper, cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg.

Sweet- Refers to taste and is common with wines of higher sugar levels.

Table Wine-  All wine that is not Fortified or Sparkling.  Table wine can be $2 a bottle up to thousands of dollars per bottle.

Tannins- Found naturally in all wine grapes.  Reds such as Cabernet and Shiraz have higher levels of tannins then Sauvignon Blanc.  The tannins help red wines age and the tannic structure comes from the skins, seeds, and stems.

Terroir- French for “soil.”  In the wine world terroir is all about the soil, climate, slope, altitude, position of the sun, water drainage, etc.  The Europeans take terroir very seriously and quality will very greatly from one plot of land to the next.

Thick-  Wines that are almost heavy in the mouth.

Thin- Watered down and not a desirable trait.

Tobacco- Common characteristic of Cabernets and Merlots.  Detected in the nose.


Unripe- Wines that are made from grapes that were picked to soon. 

Vanilla- Common characteristic in wines that are aged in oak.

Vegetal- Not a good characteristic if it is dominate in the nose and taste.

Vintage- Vintage.  A much better product in regards to wine.  NV (non vintage) is common with Champagne and rarely used on a table wine label.  Avoid any table wine that does not have a vintage as it will be bad.

Wine- Fermented grape juice.

Wine Cellar- A storage unit that is usually temperature controlled.  All serious collectors have a wine cellar of some type to make sure the wine is stored at the right temperature and humidity level.

Woody- A wine aged in a barrel too long.

Young- Used to describe wines that are fresh, light and fruity.




Wine has just surpassed beer and liquor as the most popular alcoholic beverage.

Wine is the most complex beverage in the world!



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