Wine Vocab – Know the Lingo

Ever gone to a wine tasting and wondered what the heck the salesmen was talking about when they dropped words like terroir, vintage, or tannins? What if you haven’t experienced a ‘Jammy’ or ‘acidic’ wine? Never fear! We at Half-Past are more than happy to be your translators!

Check out this epic graphic from our friends at with some common terms you might hear: (They also have a wonderful article on this same topic that you should read: Click Here! )

*p.s. Terroir is pronounced ‘tear-woh’ or ‘tear-woar’*********


But wait there’s more!

ABV: Literally ‘Alcohol By Volume’  and is listed as a percentage on all bottles.

Aeration: “Letting the wine breathe.” Wine once opened needs a bit of airtime for all of the flavors to “wake up.” Some use aeration devices like aerators or decanters/carafes to help the wine have access to oxygen but an easy way is to pour a glass and calmly wait. Some wines like deep red blends need almost 3 – 6 hours before all the flavors become pronounced. If you like these wines then a decanter or carafe is a good investment.

AOC:Appellation d’Origine Controlee – French wine law standards and regulations. If the wine has this label on the bottle it means the wine meets the french wine law standards.

Appellation: the geographic location or region of where the wine grapes in the bottle were grown and harvested.

AVAs: American Viticultural Area – the areas/ regions in the USA that grow grapes for wine and produce wine.

Bouquet: The smell of wine which can be specific to the winemaker’s style or production.

Brut: The dry style of Champagne or bubbly wine – Check out our post on Bubbly wine to know specific terms that apply to sparkling wines. Click here! 

Cru: The french wine vocab word for a region of quality wine grapes. You will see this term on french wine bottles to convey the wine quality.

Cuvee: refers to the quality grape blend in the juice used to make the wine. Usually means that the wine is made from a blend of grapes that was highly scrutinized so you know it will be great quality.

DOC: Italian wine laws that dictate wine quality and standards (nearly all European wine making countries have there own version of ‘AOC’ or ‘DOC.’ DOCG appears on only the best Italian wines because the G stands for Guarantee. 


Fermentation:  When the yeast reacts with the sugar in the wine to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is the magical formula that turns grape juice into wine!

Fortified Wine: Regular wine that has been enhanced by adding spirits. This means the wine has extra alcohol and is meant to be served in smaller portions than the typical 5oz glass. Examples: Sherry, Madeira, Port, and many dessert wines.

Grape Must: Literally smashed grapes. Grape juice that is still sitting with its stems, grape skins, and seeds. It’s like grape mash before they strain the juice or the winemaker won’t strain the juice to add grape skin color to the wine.

Hectare: metric unit that translates to 2.471 acres. This is how the industry measures the size of vineyards.

Hectoliter: metric unit that translates to 26.42 gallons. This is how the industry measures wine produced by each vineyard/producer.

Meritage: A great quality American red blend wine that is meant to mimic the grape blend and style of a French Bordeaux red blend. Grapes in this blend include: Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.

Minerality: The presence of sulfur compounds and minerals in the wine. This makes a wine taste ‘earthy,”chalky,’or just plain rock-like. Don’t be turned off by this though because wines with this trait have amazing flavor profiles on the palate.

Noble Rot/Botrytis cinerea: This is a special mold that grows on grapes. This mold makes the grape skins more porous (it makes small wholes in the grape skins) which makes the grape juice more concentrated because the water of the grape evaporates in the sun. These moldy grapes are then made into wonderful sweet wines like Sauternes.

American Oak vs European Oak: 

*Wine can be aged/fermented in large Oak barrels. These wooden barrels add flavors and sometimes more tannins to the final wine* 

American Oak: tends to add flavors of coconut, vanilla, or even a ‘woody’ flavor. This oak can be almost half the price of European Oak.

European Oak: tends to add flavors of vanilla, winter spices like cloves, and again a wood-like sensation.

“Oaky” – Oaky wines, like most Chardonnays,  in our experience make a wine taste buttery, rich, and intense. It’s almost like an overwhelming wood flavor if done wrong. Oak and wine balance is like an art and some winemakers do it better than others so keep tasting new wines!

Toasted Oak- Winemakers can choose to ‘toast’ their wine barrels before adding in the grape juice. They torch the wood until it looks like bread toast. Toasting can range from light toast to straight up charred. This can give the wine flavors of caramel, spices like cinnamon, coffee, and smoke.


Oxidation: When wine meets oxygen or air. For our science lovers, this event means a chemical reaction starts to take place in the wine (Which is why cork-care and wine storage is SO important). In simple terms, wine that gets too much air slowly to turns to vinegar. However, don’t confuse this word with aeration. 

Residual Sugar: It’s just it sounds. Leftover sugar that remains in the wine after it is done fermenting. *If an wine is ‘DRY’ then there is no sugar left in the wine.*

Sediment: Residual organic particles found in the bottom of wine bottles as the wine ages. That is why we DO NOT drink the last few sips of any older/well aged bottle of wine. It will be bitter and sandy. 

Varietal: The species of grape found in the wine. Examples are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.

Vinified:  The process of wine being created by the fermentation of grapes


We hope this glossary helps you to navigate the wine world with ease! Let us know if there was a word we left out or a topic that you need clarification on.


*Wine Sign image credit to Nan Palmero

*Wine rack image credit to Joe Bowen




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