Wine Glossary


Sensation felt along the sides of the tongue producing qualities like crispness and liveliness when good. When lacking, wine becomes flat or flabby, too much makes a wine too sharp.

Letting wine breathe in a glass or bottle; the process of swirling wine in a glass to allow it to "open up" due to exposure to air.

The flavors remaining in the mouth after the wine has been tasted or swallowed.

Ethyl alcohol, a chemical compound formed by the action of yeast on the sugar content of grapes during the process of fermentation.

Alexander Valley
This northern Sonoma County appellation sits at the top of Sonoma County with the Dry Creek Valley to the west and the Russian River Valley to the south. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay make the best wines.

Alicante Bouschet
Traditionally used as a blending grape for its full flavors and dark color, a few wineries have made varietal bottlings.

Amador County
Best known for the Zinfandel produced there, this Sierra Foothills region sits at 1,500 to 2,500 feet elevation.

American Viticultural Area (AVA)
An official geographical grape-growing area that has been recognized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for its geographic distinctiveness.

The study of grape varieties.

Anderson Valley
This valley contains some of California's most eclectic wines and wine producers. Cool, coastal fog influences this valley, stretching from near the Pacific Ocean east to the mountains separating it from Cloverdale, Hopland and Ukiah.

Describes a wine's clarity, not its color.

A French term that refers to the place where a wine's grapes were grown. In France, appellation has a very strict definition and many rules that apply to its use, while in California those rules are a bit more relaxed. In order to use a specific appellation, it is defined by geographic boundaries based on topography, climate and soil types are receiving government approval. These geographically based appellations are known as American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the U.S. and Designated Viticultural Areas (DVAs) in Canada.

Refers to the pleasant or desirable odor, characteristic of the unfermented grape.

Arroyo Grande
South of Edna Valley on the Central Coast, this very cool region is home to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards.

Arroyo Seco
Not much has been done with this appellation located in Monterey County and best known for Riesling and Chardonnay.

The puckery feel one gets in his mouth when drinking a particularly tannic red wine.

Atlas Peak
High in the Eastern mountains above the Napa Valley is this remote appellation, best know so far for Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

Describes a wine that lacks depth and full flavors.

Describes a wine that is clumsy or is out of balance.


Describes the structure of a wine and usually refers to the level of acidity in a wine.

Describes a wine that is young and less developed than others of its age and type.

Contains all the elements (acid, alcohol, flavors) in appropriate and pleasing proportions.

Describes an oversized bottle equivalent to 12 to 16 750ml bottles.

American tasters have replaced the colorful term “merde” with the more tame “barnyard” when describing the marvelous aromas of decay that distinguish many classic Burgundies.

Few wineries produce wine from this grape anymore, but some see its crisp acidity and berry flavors as distinctive enough to single out and bottle separately.

Barrel Fermented
Describes the practice of fermenting wine in small oak barrels instead of larger wood or stainless steel tanks.

Describes a wine that is strong, round and satisfying.

A basic taste in wine usually associated with excess tannin or stem contact.

Blanc de Blancs
Literally "white of whites," and denoting a white wine made from white grapes. Most commonly used in sparkling wines.

Blanc de Noirs
This term is most commonly used in sparkling wines, where it describes a white or pale pink wine made from red or black grapes.

Describes a wine that is alcoholic and big, but lacks distinctive aromas or flavors. "One dimensional" is similar.

Substance -- an impression of weight -- rather than lightness.

Bottle Shock
This often occurs when a wine has been shaken vigorously after bottling or extended shipping. This action causes the wine to tasted distinctly out of character. Allowing the wine to rest for several days will remedy this condition.

Bottled By
Label language that tells you a wine was likely purchased elsewhere and only bottled by the brand owner.

The smell of a wine derived specifically from vinification and/or aging, as opposed to the fruit aromas by themselves.

Also known as "aeration". Refers to allowing a wine to come in contact with air for awhile before drinking, which can enhance the aromas and flavors (although this point is hotly debated). This can be done in a decanter or in the glass, and an aerator can speed up this process.

Describes a wine that is fresh, youthful and lively.

This is a sign that a wine is mature or may be maturing too quickly. Browning is first noticeable on the edge of the wine in a glass. In a young wine it can be a sign of too much oxidation, while it is acceptable and expected in an older wine as part of the aging process.

Generally used by sparkling wine producers to describe their driest wine.

Used to describe the smell or flavor of melted butter, usually related to toasty oak. It can also be a reference to a smooth texture.


Cabernet Franc
One of several grapes that make up the traditional Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Franc is gaining acceptance as a varietal wine in California. Cabernet Franc is lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, making a bright pale red wine and contributing finesse and a peppery perfume to blends with more robust grapes. Depending on the growing region and style of wine, additional aromas can include tobacco, raspberry, and cassis, sometimes even violets.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red wines not only in California, but also around the world. The primary grape in the greatest red wines from Bordeaux in France, Cabernet makes big, intense and delightfully complex wines in California.

California Shenandoah Valley
Zinfandel is the star in this Sierra Foothills region. Not to be confused with the Shenandoah Valley wine region in Virginia.

Carbonic Maceration
Fermentation of whole, uncrushed grapes caused when their weight breaks their skins, eventually leading to a breakdown of grape skins.

Only a few wineries bottle varietal Carignane these days, but this grape's claim to fame is its history as one of the major components of California jug wines.

Carmel Valley
Located in Monterey County, southwest of the town of Carmel, this appellation skirts the mountains as it runs inland. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the best varieties produced here.

This appellation, also called Los Carneros, sits at the southern end of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. This is a very cool climate region where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have emerged as the best varieties here and are used in both still and sparkling wines.

Cat Pee Notes from the Litterbox:

American tasters have replaced the colorful term “merde” with the more tame “barnyard” when describing the marvelous aromas of decay that distinguish many classic Burgundies, we have fully embraced “cat pee” to describe a distinctive aroma in many Sauvignon Blancs. According to Gregory del Piaz, “It’s pretty accurate! Some wine contains a particular sulfur compound: p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one. It’s found primarily in the Sauvignon family of grapes: Cabernet and Blanc. In Cabernet Sauvignon, it contributes to the blackcurrant aromas of the wines. With Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand, it contributes, well, mostly cat’s pee.”

The smell of cedar usually associated with Cabernet Sauvignon and similar blends aged in French oak.

Cellared By
Indicates that the wine was purchased from another source and bottled by the winery on the label.

Central Coast
This large appellation includes several distinct appellations and several coastal counties from the south end of the San Francisco Bay Area to nearly Ventura in the south.

Chalk Hill
Taking its name from the chalky, volcanic soils, Chalk Hill sits between the southern Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley to the west.

This is a single-winery appellation in the Gavilan Mountains near Pinnacles National Monument east of Soledad.

Inglenook was the lone champion for this variety for many years. Some of the wines made from this grape were interesting, but not great. Virtually no Charbono plantings remain in California.

Anyone who has had even the briefest exposure to wine has heard of Chardonnay. Chardonnay clearly produces the finest white wines in California -- the best are rich, full with much tropical fruit and oak.

Chenin Blanc
Most of the acreage devoted to Chenin Blanc in California is in the Central Valley and most of the production from those vineyards has traditionally gone into jug wines. Chenin Blanc is arguably the most versatile of all wine grape varieties. Crisp, dry table wines, light sparkling wines, long-lived, unctuous, nectar-like dessert wines, and even brandy are all produced in various areas of the wine world, all of chenin blanc.

Chiles Valley
This is part of the Napa Valley appellation even though it is located to the east of the main valley.

Located in the vast delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, this area is best known for Chenin Blanc.

Describes a wine that is refreshing, and agreeable -- without off-putting flavors and/or aromas.

Clear Lake
Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon do well in this region. The local wine industry thrived here at one time years ago; several producers now keep the tradition alive.

A group of vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated asexually from a single source.

Describes a wine that has character and depth, but these qualities seem masked at a particular stage in its development.

Describes a wine that is well-balanced with all its expected components in place.

Describes a wine that has many different aspects or dimensions to it in terms of flavors, aromas and color.

An increasingly common condition caused by a tainted cork, "corkiness" is noticeable by a musty, moldy aroma and a harsh, bitter flavor with a dry aftertaste.

The time in the harvest season when the grapes are picked.


The process by which wine is poured carefully from the bottle into another container (a decanter) to remove sediment and aerate the wine before drinking.

Describes a wine that has a unique overall character.

A wine with no perceptible taste of sugar.

Dry Creek Valley
This valley, located north of the Russian River Valley and west of the Alexander Valley seems to be a mecca for Zinfandel.

See "Closed".


Edna Valley
Chardonnay is the star in this very cool (temperature-wise) region south of San Luis Obispo.

El Dorado County
Grapes grown here are at some of the highest elevations in California -- some as high as 3,000 feet. Most varieties are grown here, but Zinfandel is the leader.

Describes a wine that is generally medium bodied, with great balance, and tremendous harmony of all components.

The science and study of winemaking.

En Tirage
(French) Refers to time a sparkling wine has rested in the bottle in contact with the yeast sediment from the secondary fermentation.

Estate Bottled
Used on a label to describe a wine made from grapes either owned or controlled by the winery.

Extra Dry
A common term used in Champagne and sparkling wines to describe a wine that is actually very sweet.


Describes a wine that has mouthfilling flavor and texture.

The process by which sugar is converted by yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide and by which grape juice becomes wine.

Zinfandel is king in this appellation in the foothills bordering the California Shenandoah Valley.

The process of removing particulate matter from wine after fermentation. Most wines are filtered after fermentation for both clarity and stability.

Describes a wine that possesses smoothness, intrigue and elegance.

A technique used for clarifying wine.

The aftertaste of a wine -- can be simple and short or long and very complex.

Describes a wine that is soft and lacking acidity.

Describes a wine that has the characteristic aromas of flowers.

An attractive floral aroma, particularly desirable in certain white wines.

A wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition of brandy or neutral spirits. The most common examples are Ports.

French Colombard
This is the most widely planted grape in California and almost all of it goes into jug wines.

Describes a wine that displays lively, clean and fruity flavors.

Ripe-tasting flavors that remind one of various fruits. Most common in young wines. Not to be confused with sweetness.


This grape is made in a range of styles in California from dry and light to very sweet, complex dessert styles. Elsewhere in the world, Gewurztraminer makes some of the finest wines from the Alsace region of France.

A descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc that can either be pleasant and delicate or overdone.

Grapes seem unripe or the wine especially herbaceous or grassy.

Green Valley-Sonoma
Green Valley-Sonoma is located at the southwestern end of the Russian River Valley. It is a very cool appellation, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominating for use in still and sparkling wines.

Planted widely around the world, this variety is probably best known for its part in some of the best wines from the Rhone region of France. In California it is also used as a blending grape and increasingly in some delightful rose wines.

Grown, Produced and Bottled By
This term on a label means that each step of the process from grape growing to bottling was handled by the winery on the label.

Guenoc Valley
Guenoc Winery is the sole resident of this appellation at the southern end of Clear Lake.


Half Bottle
Holds 375 milliliters of wine.

Describes the texture of a red wine that usually has high acidity or tannin.

Describes a wine that is attractively high in alcohol.

The taste and smell of herbs, desired in wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and to a lesser degree, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Describes a wine that lacks a satisfying middle (or core) set of flavors.

Usually refers to a wine that is high in alcohol.

Howell Mountain
High in the eastern mountains overlooking the Napa Valley is the town of Angwin (originally a Seventh-Day Adventist settlement) and the Howell Mountain appellation. Grapes were grown here as early as the late 1800s, but today's efforts are epitomized by the rugged nature of the region. The soils of this area are mostly well-drained tuff and volcanic rock. Water retention is poor, producing vines with low vigor and deep roots. These conditions are ideal for growing grapes that are small, tightly clustered and powerfully concentrated, for intense fruit flavors in the wines.


A large bottle equivalent to eight 750ml bottles.


A large bottle equivalent to four to six 750ml bottles; also called a double magnum.

Johannisberg Riesling
Also known as White Riesling, this is the grape responsible for the greatest German wines. In California, it makes a wide variety of styles from dry to sweet.


Knights Valley
This small valley is tucked between the Alexander Valley and the Napa Valley.


Lake County
This is a political boundary that contains appellations such as Clear Lake and Guenoc, and is very occasionally used on a label.

Late Harvest
When used on a label it describes a wine made from grapes picked later than normal and at a higher sugar level than normal.

Describes a wine that is firm and muscular in feeling as opposed to soft and fleshy.

Refers to the viscous rivulets of wine that ease down the sides of the glass when the wine is swirled.

Describes a wine that smells and tastes fresh and vibrant, usually describes a wine that will last.

Livermore Valley
Once a thriving viticultural area, the suburban sprawl surrounding the nearby San Francisco Bay has all but erased this appellation. Wente Bros. and Concannon continue to make wines here.

More wine comes out of the area around Lodi than many whole regions in California. More and more of the wines produced here are carrying the Lodi appellation rather than the California appellation that has traditionally been applied.


Made and Bottled By
Requires that the producer fermented a minimum of 10 percent of the wine in the bottle.

This term comes from the mature dessert wines called Madeira. In a wine, this term describes a brownish color and slightly sweet, nutty character.

A large bottle equivalent to two 750ml bottles.

Probably the least interesting of the Bordeaux blending grapes, a few California wineries are making interesting varietal bottlings from Malbec.

Malolactic Fermentation
A natural secondary fermentation that occurs in most wine to convert the sharper malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This process adds complexity and character to most wines.

This grape produces a full-bodied white wine in California, although it is not widely planted. The grape's origins are in Rhone Valley of France where it is usually blended with other varieties such as Viognier.

McDowell Valley
McDowell Valley is located in the easternmost part of Mendocino County east of Hopland.

Describes a wine with enough substance and flavors that it feels like you could "chew" it.

Mendocino County
A political boundary that takes in the northern most appellations of the North Coast.

Describes a very unpleasant smell of old sulfur, found mainly in very old white wine.

A term recently invented to describe Bordeaux-styled red and white wines produced by California wineries.

Probably the most popular red wines in California history, Merlot is known to just about anyone who likes red wine. In California, Merlot is known as a softer, smoother version of Cabernet Sauvignon. In France, it is one of the most important ingredients in Bordeaux.


Napa Valley
Napa Valley is California's most famous wine region and one of the world's most widely recognized names in fine wines. The valley runs roughly north to south from Napa to Calistoga and contains many sub-appellations of note. These include Spring Mountain, Stags Leap, Mount Veeder, Oakville, Diamond Mountain, Rutherford, and many more.

While a newcomer to California, this grape produces the great Barolo and Barbaresco wines of Italy.

A large bottle holding as much as 20 750ml bottles.

Term used to describe the combined aroma and bouquet of a wine.

A style of light, fruity, red wine bottled and sold as soon as possible after the fermentation process.

Describes a wine that has been exposed to excess air. A positive characteristic in some wines like Sherry.


This district, located in the Napa Valley around the town of the same name, is best known as the home of the Robert Mondavi and Opus One wineries, among others. Cabernet Sauvignon is the king here.

Describes a class of aromas or flavors associated with oak barrels or casks.

Describes a wine that is slightly sweet.

Describes a wine that has been exposed too long to air.


Paso Robles
Highway 101 bisects this Central Coast region, best known for Zinfandel and Syrah and located around the city of Paso Robles.

Petite Sirah
A deep, spicy wine, Petite Sirah has long been used as a blending grape as well as a standalone variety.

Tiny aphids or root lice that attack the roots of Vitis vinifera grapes.

Pinot Blanc
Similar to Chardonnay in flavor and structure, Pinot Blanc has a small but loyal following. Excellent examples come from Chalone, Etude and Steele.

Pinot Noir
This is the grape behind the great red wines of France's Burgundy region, and now increasingly a more serious contender to Cabernet Sauvignon's quality crown in California. Pinot Noir in California is best in cooler climates like the Carneros and the Russian River Valley.

Produced and Bottled By
When used on a label this phrase indicates that the named winery crushed, fermented and bottled at least 75 percent of the wine.

In short, the origin and history of a wine. Provenance is an important consideration when purchasing expensive and aged wines, since improper cellaring can damage the bottle's contents.

Describes highly tannic and very dry wines.


Describes the practice of moving wine from one container to another for aeration or clarification and leaving sediment behind.

A large bottle holding the equivalent of six 750ml bottles.

Residual Sugar
Describes unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine.

Describes a wine that is full bodied, intense and vigorous.

Describes a wine that is mouthfilling and smooth; similar to "fat" but more pleasing.

Russian River Valley
Fast becoming one of the finest areas for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California, this cool, damp region straddles the Russian River from just south of Healdsburg past Santa Rosa as it bends west toward the Pacific Ocean.

This central Napa Valley district is one of the most famous Cabernet Sauvignon districts in all of California. Beaulieu Vineyards and the Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery are the anchors at the center of the town of Rutherford with other famous producers close by.


A large bottle holding the equivalent of 12 750ml bottles.

San Benito County
A political boundary rarely used on labels with the exception of Calera. Located east of Monterey County.

Santa Barbara County
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the stars of this region, containing many appellations of note, including the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys.

Santa Cruz Mountains
This region, high in the mountains of Santa Cruz County, is home to Ridge Vineyards and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards.

Santa Maria Valley
This region in the south Central Coast is increasingly known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Santa Ynez Valley
Stretching east from near the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara County, this valley is home to many familiar producers.

Sauvignon Blanc
More and more each year, Sauvignon Blanc (also called Fume Blanc) gains strength as a less-pricey alternative to Chardonnay. The wines made from this grape range from fruity and forward to barrel fermented and oaky. The varietal identity of Sauvignon Blanc is typically similar to grass, bell-pepper, or grapefruit in nature.

Semillon, which has traditionally been part of the dry Bordeaux white blends as well as the incredible sweet wines of Sauternes, produces a dry complex white wine in California. As in France, it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc.

Sierra Foothills
This is a region that covers several counties in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Many wineries dot this region and Zinfandel is the predominant grape.

Smooth texture.

Describes an aroma and a flavor obtained from aging in oak casks; applies to both white and red wines.

Describes a wine that is low in acid or tannin.

Sonoma Coast
This is a large appellation stretching from north of Green Valley-Sonoma, through the Russian River area to Carneros.

Sonoma Mountain
This small appellation is home to several prestigious vineyards. Located to the west of Glen Ellen and to the southwest of Kenwood, Sonoma Mountain is producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Sonoma Valley
This valley is located at the southern end of Sonoma County and is one of the state's oldest wine regions.

A common descriptor for many wines, used to describe such aromas and flavors as anise, cloves, mint and pepper.

Spring Mountain District
Grapes have been grown in this mountain wine region in the hills west of St. Helena for more than 100 years. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay are notable here.

St. Helena
This is the wine capitol of Napa Valley, located just about midway between the city of Napa and Calistoga. Several prominent wineries are located here.

Stags Leap District
The Stags Leap District is located along the eastern edge of the Napa Valley and is one of the finest locations for Cabernet Sauvignon in the state.

Bracing, with intense mineral character. Usually a white-wine characteristic.

Wines fermented too long with the grape stems sometimes pick up an unpleasant astringent aroma and flavor.

A collection of characteristics that describe a wine.

Often used to describe young red wines that might be expected to be more aggressive.

Sur Lie
(French) The technique of aging wine in contact with the sediment of dead yeast and grape particles (lees) from the fermentation.

Traditionally the grape behind the highest-quality red wines from the Northern Rhone Valley in France, Syrah is coming on strong in California. Known for dark, inky, spicy, peppery wines, these are gaining popularity all over California.


Chemical compounds in the skin, stems and seeds of wine grapes that affect the taste, color, mouthfeel and aging potential of a wine, as tannins are a natural preservative. Tannins can add bitterness and astringency -- the puckering, drying sensation in the mouth.

Describes the sharp taste of acidity in wine.

Harmless crystals of potassium bitartrate that can form in wine especially when a wine is chilled for extended periods of time.

Describes a wine lacking body and depth.

Refers to an aroma and flavor that originates from the oak barrels in which wines are aged and also a character that is present in some sparkling wines.



Describes the smell and flavor in some wines that resemble various vegetables and plants.

Describes a smooth, silky texture in a wine.

Describes a wine that is young and lively.

The science or study of grape production for making wine.

This term (literally "winelike") is applied to wines that lack distinct varietal character.

Vintage Date
Indicates the year wine was made. In order to carry the year, the grapes must be at least 95 percent from the stated year.

Vinted By
Use of this term on a label means that the winery purchased the wine in bulk from another winery and bottled it.

Traditionally this term was used to describe a wine merchant; today it is colloquially used to describe wine producers and winery proprietors.

Another Rhone grape making a strong foothold in California, this white grape produces floral, spicy and in many cases very complex wines.

The cultivation, science and study of grapes.




Enzymes necessary for the fermentation of grape juice into wine.

York Mountain
This is a cool, single-winery appellation that is located between Paso Robles and the ocean in the Central Coast.

Not yet mature or at its peak -- still developing.


Probably one of the most widely known grapes in California, Zinfandel has been a part of California winemaking for more than a century.