Follow us on

About AJ's
Current Specials
Butcher's Corner
Seafood Grotto
Wine Cellar
Floral & Gifts
Farmer's Market
Grocer's Corner
AJ's Patio

turning B.Y.O.B.
into OMG.


Wine Terminology

Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée; (AOC or AC)
[ah-pehl-lah-SYAWN daw-ree-JEEN kawn-traw-LAY]

Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, which means "Appellation of Controlled Origin," is sometimes shortened to Appellation Contrôlée and abbreviated as either AOC or AC.

The French initiated the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system in 1935 as a means of safeguarding the more quality-conscious winemakers, vineyards, and areas from unethical producers who were taking advantage of the better-known names.

Although the French AC system can't guarantee the quality of a producer's wine, it can control most of the elements that go into making it. This is accomplished by the demanding criteria necessary for qualifying as an AC.

These criteria fall into the following seven categories:
  • the land — acceptable vineyard acreage is precisely defined based on centuries of recorded usage and issues such as the land's soil, configuration, and altitude;
  • the grape varieties — defined for each geographic area and based on historical data, clarifying which varieties perform well in particular soils and climates;
  • Vitacultural practices — this category considers such things as the number of vines per hectare, pruning techniques, and fertilization methods;
  • permissible yield — because large yields decrease the grapes' quality, and one way to improve caliber is to restrict the crop, maximum yields are established for each AC;
  • alcohol content — all ACs must guarantee a minimum alcohol level, which means that the grapes must reach a certain ripeness (sugar content), which in turn ensures flavor, although in some areas it's legal to add sugar (chaptalize) to reach the required alcohol level;
  • winemaking practices — each AC has regulations regarding winemaking procedures, usually based on historical practices that have produced favorable results;
  • official tasting — since 1979 tasting panels sample all wines that apply for AC status. Wines that meet all seven of these criteria are entitled to use the phrase Appellation Contrôlée on their labels; not following these regulations disqualifies a wine from AC status.

In the wine world, the traditional definition of aroma is the simple, fruity smell of the grape variety. Today's broader definition combines a wine's varietal fragrance plus any changes that develop during fermentation and aging. The traditional difference is that a young wine will show its varietal aroma in a more pronounced way. However, in a mature wine — where some of the grape's intrinsic fragrance has been replaced by other characteristics — the smell transmutes into a bouquet.

Back to Top

Austere; Austerity
A tasting term used to describe wine that's somewhat hard and lacking in fruit and richness. Such austerity is usually due to excess tannins, sometimes acid. It's most often found in young, immature wines and will sometimes soften during aging.

The process of fermenting wines in small barrels instead of large vats or stainless steel tanks. The barrels are usually made of oak and are about 60 gallons in size, although larger ones are used occasionally.

Even though barrel fermentation is more expensive and less controllable than fermentation in larger tanks, it's thought to imbue wine with rich creamy flavors, delicate oak characteristics, and better aging capabilities. On the downside, this technique contributes to some loss of fruit flavor.

Barrel fermentation is usually associated with white wine grapes like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, although occasionally chenin blanc and sémillon are processed this way.

Blanc de Blanc

French phrase meaning "white wine from white grapes." The term originated in France's Champagne region to describe champagne made entirely from Chardonnay. Blanc de blancs are usually light and delicate.

Back to Top

Blanc de Noir(s)
[blahn (blahngk) duh NWAHR]

The French term meaning "white wine from red grapes." In particular, the phrase blanc de noir is used with those champagnes that are made entirely from the Pinot Noir grape.

Blanc de noirs are produced by quickly removing the skins from the juice after the grapes have been pressed. This technique prevents the pigment in the grape's dark skin from transferring too much color to the wine. These wines may vary in hue from pale pink to apricot to salmon; seldom are they clear or "white."

Body; Bodied
The perception of texture or weight of a wine in the mouth, which is a combination of elements including alchohol, extract, glycerol and acid. A wine with a rich, complex, well-rounded, lingering flavor is considered full-bodied; one that's watery or lacking in body is called light-bodied or thin; a medium-bodied wine ranks in between.

Back to Top

Botrytis Cinerea
[boh-TRI-tihs sihn-EHR-ee-uh]

Also called noble rot, this beneficial mold develops on grapes under certain environmental conditions. When carefully cultivated, botrytis causes the grape to shrivel, concentrating and intensifying both sugar and flavor. In addition, the acid levels remain high, which prevents the resulting wines from being cloyingly sweet.

Most winemakers are exhilarated when noble rot descends on their grapes because it gives them fruit from which to make very elegant, intensely flavored dessert wines.

Today's classic usage for the term bouquet is the complex fragrance that develops in a wine through fermentation and aging, specifically bottle aging.

A descriptive term used for wines (generally young ones) with a fresh, fruity character.

Back to Top

An adjective used to describe a wine of superior clarity, which is usually accomplished through intense filtering.


Named for A. F. W. Brix, a nineteenth-century German inventor, the Brix scale is a system used in the United States to measure the sugar content of grapes and wine. The Brix (sugar content) is determined by a hydrometer, which indicates a liquid's specific gravity (the density of a liquid in relation to that of pure water).

Each degree Brix is equavalent to 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of grape juice. The grapes for most table wines have a Brix reading of between 20° to 25° at harvest. About 55 to 60 percent of the sugar is converted into alcohol. The estimated alcohol that a wine will produce (called potential alcohol) is estimated by multiplying the Brix reading by 0.55. Therefore, a 20° Brix will make a wine with about 11 percent alcohol. The Balling scale was a comparable measurement procedure that has since been replaced by the Brix system.


A term applied to the driest Champagne and other Sparkling Wines. Brut wines are drier (contain less residual sugar) than those labeled "extra dry." Extra Brut denotes a wine that's extremely dry, sometimes totally dry.

Back to Top

A descriptor used to describe the smell and, sometimes, flavor of melted butter in a wine, most often Chardonnay.

Carbonic Maceration
[kar-BAHN-ihk mas-uh-RAY-shuhn]

Also called macération carbonique, this technique is used during primary fermentation to produce light red wines with low tannins, intense color, and fresh, fruity flavors and aromas. Such wines — like French Beaujolais — should be consumed early.

The carbonic maceration process begins by dumping whole bunches of freshly picked, uncrushed grapes into large vats filled with carbon dioxide and, if native yeasts are undesirable, a good wine yeast. In this process, the bottom grapes are crushed by the weight of the grapes above them, and fermentation begins with the exuded juice.

This beginning fermentation develops more carbon dioxide gas, which envelops the upper layers of uncrushed grapes and blocks air exposure that normally would occur. Soon, fermentation begins within the whole grapes, and they begin to ooze more juice. Finally, the whole batch is pressed, and fermentation is finished in a standard way.


Chaptalization is a practice that is used when grapes do not fully ripen, resulting in low levels of natural grape sugars. During fermentation sugar is converted into alcohol, with low level of natural grape sugars, standard alcohol levels can not be attained.

Through the process of Chaptalization sugar is added to the grape juice or must (the pulp and skins of the crushed grapes) prior to or during fermentation, during which all sugars will convert to alcohol and maintain the required levels of alcohol. This process can only be utilized in growing areas where the governing allows.

Back to Top

Charmat; Charmat Process
[shar-MAH, shar-MAHT]

A bulk method for making Sparkling Wines developed around 1910 by Frenchman Eugène Charmat. The Charmat process involves faster and less expensive production techniques using large pressurized tanks throughout production. These interconnecting tanks retain the pressure (created by the production of carbon dioxide during fermentation) throughout the entire process.

For many winemakers, the Charmat process replaces the expensive methode champenoise technique of secondary fermentation in bottles, thereby enabling them to produce inexpensive sparkling wines. Charmat wines can be good but are usually not as esteemed as méthode champenoise sparkling wines.

Cigar Box
A characteristic of some wines reminiscent of cedarwood, most often found in the bouquet of fine red wines, such as those from Bordeaux and some California Cabernet Sauvignons. A cedarlike quality can also be detected in some oak-aged white wines. The term cigar box is synonymous for cedar.

Clone; Cloning

In vineyard parlance, a clone is a plant that has been propagated asexually, usually by cuttings or by grafting. Cloning is done to reproduce plants with the distinctive traits of its "mother" plant such as high productivity, disease resistance, and/or better adaptability to environmental conditions.

Back to Top

Complex; Complexity
Complexity is a hallmark of quality in a wine. A complex wine is one with multiple layers and nuances of bouquet and flavor. Its myriad elements are perfectly balanced, completely harmonious, and eminently interesting.

Corked; Corky
Terms used to describe a wine that's been affected by a faulty cork. This characteristic is caused by a chemical compound (2,4,6-Tricloroanisole-246-TCA) that humans can perceive at levels as low as 30 ppt (parts per trillion).

High levels of this compound produce an unmistakably putrefying odor and flavor that many compare to that of moldy, wet cardboard or newspapers. At moderate levels, a corked wine takes on a musty quality; at low levels, it seems austere and lacking in fruit. Wine professionals estimate that 3 to 5 percent of wines are ruined because of bad corks, which is why research is proceeding rapidly for an acceptable synthetic cork.

Back to Top

A term used in California and other parts of the United States referring to the time when grapes are harvested and crushed to make wine.


Term derived from the French cuve (which means vat) that denotes the "contents of a vat." In France's Champagne region it refers to a blended batch of wines. In Champagne the large houses create their traditional (and very secret) house-style cuvées by blending various wines before creating the final product via méthode champenoise.

A deluxe version is often referred to as cuvée speciale; Vin de Cuvee refers to wine from the first pressing. Outside Champagne the term cuvée is also used for still wines. It may refer to wines blended from different vineyards, or even different varieties.

Occasionally, the word cuvée followed by a number is used to identify a specific batch of wines blended separately and distinctly from others. Some French producers, notably those in Sauternes, identify their best wines with the term, Tête de cuvée.


Decanting is done either to separate the wine from any sediment deposited during the aging process or to allow a wine to breathe in order to enhance its flavor. When decanting an older wine, care should be taken not to disturb the sediment.

A wine basket (also called cradle or Burgundy basket) can be used to move the bottle in a horizontal position from where it was stored to where it will be decanted. This position keeps the sediment from disseminating throughout the wine. If such a basket isn't available, stand the bottle upright for an hour so that the sediment can settle to the bottom of the bottle.

Once the foil and cork are removed, gently wipe the mouth of the bottle. Then begin slowly pouring the wine into a decanter, placing a strong light (a candle is charming, but a flashlight is more practical) behind or below the neck of the bottle. The light lets you see the first signs of sediment, at which point you stop pouring.

Back to Top

[DEHM-ee sehk]

A French term meaning "half dry," used to describe a sweet Sparkling Wine.


The step where sediment is removed during the méthode champenoise process of making fine Sparkling WInes. In a prior step called remuage, sediment slowly collects around the cork (the bottle is positioned upside down). The neck of the bottle is then placed in an icy brine or glycol solution, which causes the neck's contents (mainly sediment) to freeze into a solid plug.

During disgorging the cork (or cap) is removed, and the pressure in the bottle causes the frozen plug of sediment to pop out. The procedure is followed by the remaining méthode champenoise steps including adding the dosage, topping off the bottle with additional wine and recorking it. The French term for this process is dégorgement.

The unofficial term late disgorged is used on some wine labels to indicate that a Sparkling Wine has been aged longer than normal bottlings and, through this longer aging, absorbed more flavor from the lees.


A syrupy mixture of sugar and wine (and sometimes Brandy and/or citric acid) that's added to Champagne and other Sparkling WIne. A dosage is used in a couple of ways. A bottling dosage (dosage de tirage or liqueur de tirage) plus yeast is added to a Cuvée (a blend of still wines) in order to cause a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

A shipping dosage (dosage d'expédition or liqueur d'expédition) — usually sugar plus some of the same wine that's been reserved for this purpose — is added to a wine immediately prior to final bottling to increase its level of sweetness.

The percentage of sugar in the shipping dosage determines the degree of sweetness in the final wine. Depending on this level of sweetness, Sparkling Wines are described as Brut, Extra Dry or Extra-Sec, Sec, Demi-Sec or Doux (very sweet).

Back to Top

A term that describes wine that isn't sweet; its French counterpart is Sec. In a fully dry wine, all the sugar has been converted to alcohol during fermentation. A medium-dry wine has a small amount of residual sugar, but not enough to prevent the wine from being enjoyed with a meal. A wine with the barest hint of sweetness is referred to as Off Dry.

An aroma or flavor evocative of damp, rich soil. The term is generally used in a positive sense, unless the characteristic is too pronounced.


The science or study of viniculture (making wines). One who is an expert in the science is called an enologist or enologue. Also spelled oenology.

Estate Bottled
The words on a wine label indicating that 100 percent of the grapes in the wine were grown in the winery's own vineyards, or from vineyards (in the same appellation) controlled by the winery through a long-term lease. Furthermore, such wines must be vinified and bottled at that winery. The term château bottled has a comparable meaning.

Extra Dry
The term "extra dry" (or extra sec) appears on Sparkling Wine labels to indicate that a wine that is fairly dry, but with some residual sugar. Extra dry sparkling wines usually contain 1.2 to 2 percent sugar, making them sweeter than Brut but drier than Sec, Demi-Sec or Doux.

Back to Top


The soluble and nonsoluble substances that contribute to the body, flavor, character and color of a wine. Wines made from grapes that provide heavy extract are usually described as full-bodied, and have dense, concentrated flavors and dark (for the type), opaque colors.

A positive descriptor sometimes used for wine that, although concentrated, rich and high in glycerol, has low to average acidity. The impression on the palate is full and fat. A wine with almost the same qualities, but not in the same concentration, might be referred to as plump. If a fat wine lacks too much acidity, it becomes insipid and is referred to as flabby. A sweet wine that's fat can be overwhelmingly unctuous.


The natural process that turns grape juice into wine, fermentation is actually a chain reaction of chemical responses. During this process, technically called the primary fermentation, the sugars in the grape juice are converted by the enzymes in yeasts into alcohol (55 to 60 percent) and carbon dioxide (40 to 45 percent).

In addition, fermentation generates minor amounts of numerous incidental by-products that affect the aroma and taste of wine including acetaldehyde, acetic acid, ethyl acetate, glycerol, and alcohols other than ethanol. One of the potential problems winemakers must avoid is a stuck fermentation. This occurs when the yeast stops converting the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, thereby prematurely leaving undesirable residual sugar in the wine.

As more is learned about fermentation, techniques are evolving to manage the process in order to produce optimum wines. For example, managing the temperature during the fermentation — cooler temperatures (45° to 60°F) for white wines, warmer temperatures (70° to 85°F) for heavier red wines — leads to superior wines.

Red wines are usually fermented with their skins, seeds, and pulp to extract color and tannins — something not desirable in white wines. Yeast strains are also being experimented with to determine which ones work best for different wines under various conditions. Many winemakers believe barrel fermentation adds flavor and complexity to some white wines. Carbonic maceration is a specialized fermentation process for producing light fruity red wines.

Back to Top

Field Blend
The practice of planting a single vineyard with several grape varieties that will make up a single wine. Rather than picking and processing each variety separately and then blending them together, the grapes are all picked and crushed together. This method was practiced in Europe and was quite popular in California at one time, although it's not much in evidence today.

A step used by some winemakers to clarify wine just prior to bottling. The purpose of filtering is to remove yeast cells and other microorganisms that could spoil the wine, as well as any remaining sediment that would keep it from being crystal clear (which is what most of the public expects). The wine is pumped through one or more various filters including those made of cellulose, pads coated with diatomaceous earth, or especially fine membranes.

Today's modern winery has filters so fine that they can remove infinitesimal particles. When such fine filters are used, the process is called sterile filtering. Some winemakers argue that this precise filtering extracts flavor and character that the sediment lends the wine.


A winemaking process that removes microscopic elements such as protein particles that would cloud the wine and phenolic compounds like tannins that could cause bitterness and astringency.

The most frequently used fining agents are activated carbon, activated charcoal, bentonite, casein, egg whites, gelatin, isinglass, nylon, and polyvinyl poly-pyrrolidone (PVPP). When added to wine, fining agents capture suspended particles by absorbtion or coagulation, causing them to settle to the bottom of the container.

Once the particles sink, the wine can be racked, filtered, or centrifuged to separate it from this sediment. In addition to clarifying wines, various fining agents can also be used to remove color from white wines, deodorize wines with an off odor, and reduce acids.

Back to Top

The final flavor and texture impression that remains on the palate after a wine is swallowed. The finish is part of a wine's overall balance. A distinctive, lingering (or long) finish is the ideal. A wine with a weak or nonexistent finish is considered lacking.

A wine tasting term used to describe an aroma and flavor reminiscent of flint striking steel. A flinty characteristic, which the French call pierre-à-fusil, comes from grapes grown in certain soils. It's found in extremely dry white wines such as certain French Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc and is considered a positive trait.

Fortified; Fortified Wine
Initially used as a method to preserve some wines, fortification is the addition of brandy or a neutral spirit in order to boost a wine's alcohol content. Fortified wines generally have between 17 and 21 percent alcohol. Some of the better-known examples are Port, Sherry, Madeira, Malaga and Marsala.

Sensory term used to describe the smell of freshly cut grass or hay, a characteristic found in some Sauvignon Blancs. This quality is sometimes referred to as green. Too much grassiness is considered detrimental.

Back to Top

Term used in several ways — to describe a very young wine that's not ready to drink, to describe a wine made from underripe grapes, or, sometimes to indicate a grassy quality. It generally suggests a wine with high acidity and a lack of fruity richness.

Grown, Produced, and Bottled by
Label term that is another way of indicating that a wine is estate bottled, meaning that the grapes are grown at the winery's vineyards or vineyards controlled by the winery and that the wine is vinified and bottled at the winery.

Wine tasting term generally applied to lively, robust red wines that are high in alcohol.

Herbaceous; Herbal

A wine tasting term for wines that smell of fresh herbs (such as basil, oregano, and rosemary), which can vary, depending on the wine. Sometimes this quality also is sensed on the palate. A herbal characteristic can be a varietal trait in some Cabernet Sauvignons, as well as Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs. Unless this quality becomes overpowering or turns vegetal, it's considered desirable.

Back to Top

Late Harvest
A wine term referring to wines made from grapes picked toward the end of the harvest (usually late fall) when they are very ripe. Such grapes have a higher sugar content (minimum of 24° Brix), particularly if they've been infected with botrytis cinerea, a desirable fungus that shrivels the grape and thereby concentrates the sugar.

The terms Select Late Harvest and Special Select Late Harvest refer to wines made from grapes picked with higher sugar-content minimums — 28° and 35° Brix, respectively. A high Brix measurement can translate to a sweet wine, to a wine that's high in alcohol, or to one with both characteristics. Generally, Select Late Harvest and Special Select Late Harvest wines have a residual sugar content, some ranging as high as 28 percent.

Late harvest wines are noted for their rich, deep, honeyed flavors and are customarily served after the main course, often with dessert or with cheeses such as Roquefort. The most popular grapes used for these Dessert Wines are Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.


The heavy, coarse sediment that accumulates during fermentation and aging. Lees primarily consists of dead yeast cells and small grape particles. In most cases this sediment is separated from the wine through racking. Sometimes the wine is left in contact with the lees in an attempt to develop more flavor.

After a glass of wine is swirled, it often leaves a coating on the inside of the glass that separates into viscous-looking rivulets called legs or tears. These legs slowly slide down the glass, returning to the wine's surface. Legs generally indicate a wine that's rich and full-bodied. Very wide legs are referred to as sheets.

Back to Top

The length, also known as persistence, of a wine is measured (in seconds) by the amount of time its bouquet and flavor linger after swallowing. The longer it lingers, the finer the wine.

Made and Bottled by
Term that means a minimum of 10 percent of the wine was fermented at the winery — the other 90 percent can come from other sources. This designation does not generally indicate the quality implied by the phrase produced and bottled by, where at least 75 percent of the wine must be fermented at the winery.


A wine tasting term for an over-the-hill wine that assumes a Madeira-like character — an undesirable trait in Table Wine. Maderization, which occurs primarily in white and Rose wine, is generally caused by oxidation (exposure to air), often combined with overly warm storage. It's characterized by a heavy, stale smell and flavor reminiscent of overripe apples.

The color of maderized wine takes on a brownish tinge. The French term for the same condition is maderisé. A comparable English term is sherrified. Though the term maderized is often used synonymously with oxidized, the latter doesn't infer warm storage.

Back to Top

Malolactic Fermentation

A biochemical reaction, sometimes called secondary fermentation, where bacteria converts malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide-no alcohol is produced. Because lactic acid is milder than malic acid, wines that undergo this process become softer and smoother.

In addition, malolactic fermentation produces diacetyl (or biacetyl), which resembles the smell of heated butter and adds complexity to wine. Malolactic fermentation is a positive event in some cases, and most high-quality red wines and some white wines (including white Burgundies and California Chardonnays) undergo it.

On the downside, the fruitiness of wines undergoing this process is diminished, and sometimes off-odors can result. Many white wines need malic acid's higher acidity to retain their crisp, lively character, and some are too delicate to withstand the potential off-odors that might be introduced.

Many winemakers now encourage malolactic fermentation for some batches of their Chardonnay while inhibiting the process in others, thereby giving the final blend improved complexity while retaining fruitiness and higher acidity.


Instituted in 1989, the term Meritage is a certification mark registered with the U.S. Department of Trademarks and Patents. It was coined in 1988 by a group of vintners who sought to establish standards of identification for a category of American blended wines made with traditional Bordeaux grape varieties.

The name Meritage (a compound of the words merit and heritage) was chosen from over 6,000 entries in an international contest held by these vintners.

The purpose of The Meritage Association is to help identify quality American wine blends that, because they're not made with at least 75 percent of a single variety, can't use the variety name on the label. This forced many producers of excellent wines to either use generic names (like Claret or Red Table Wine) or proprietary names (like Insignia from Joseph Phelps Vineyards). Both practices caused great confusion in the marketplace.

To be designated as Meritage, a wine must meet the following standards:

  • It must be a blend of two or more Bordeaux grape varieties — for red wines these are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Gros Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and St. Macaire, and for whites they're Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle and Semillon (no more than 90 percent of any single variety may go into a Meritage wine);
  • It must be the winery's best wine of its type;
  • It must be produced and bottled by a U.S. winery from grapes that carry a U.S. appellation; and
  • Its production is limited to a maximum 25,000 cases per vintage.

Wineries that are approved for the Meritage designation may use it in various ways on the label. They may simply use the term Meritage or use Meritage in conjunction with their own proprietary name (as with Cardinale from Kendall-Jackson Vineyards), or they may use only their proprietary name.

Back to Top

Méthode Champenoise
[may-TOHD shahm-peh-NWAHZ, may-TOD shahm-peh-NWAHZ]

The traditional method of making Sparkling Wine developed in France's Champagne region. This process consists of taking various still wines and blending them to make a Cuvee that represents the style of a winery or champagne house. A complex Cuvée can consist of as many as thirty to forty different wines.

Once the various wines are blended in large blending vats, a bottling dosage (also known as dosage d'tirage or liqueur d'tirage), a syrupy mixture of sugar and wine (and sometimes brandy and/or citric acid), is added along with special yeasts. The Cuvée is then immediately bottled and corked. The sugar (in the bottling dosage) and the yeast cells cause a secondary fermentation to take place in the bottle.

This results in the creation of additional alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, which gives the wine its effervescence or "sparkle." During this secondary fermentation, pressure in the bottle builds up to 90 to 110 pounds per square inch (psi). If less bottling dosage is used in the Cuvée, there will be less pressure, which will result in a lightly sparkling wine style called Cremant. Such wines have slightly more than half the pressure of a regular bottling.

Sediment is also thrown off during the second fermentation and is removed through the steps of riddling (or rémuage) and disgorging (or dégorgement). Just before final bottling, a shipping dosage (dosage d'expédition or liqueur d'expédition), sugar, and some of the same Cuvée (reserved for this purpose) is added.

The percentage of sugar in the shipping dosage determines the degree of sweetness in the final wine. From dryest to sweetest, sparkling wines are classified as Brut, Extra Dry (or extra-sec), Sec, Demi-Sec or Doux. Once the final handling is complete and the bottles are recorked, the final pressure in a standard bottle ranges from 60 to 90 psi (approximately 6 atmospheres). The words "méthode champenoise" are used only on labels of wines that use this method.


French for "merchant" or "dealer," used in the wine world to refer to a person or firm that sells and ships wine as a wholesaler. The extent of the role played by this middleman has expanded over time. Traditionally, négociants bought, matured, sometimes blended, and then bottled and shipped wine. Over time, the role expanded to include purchasing grapes and making wine.

Some labels may contain the phrase négociant-éleveur, indicating the merchant played a more extensive role in producing the wine. In some transactions there is another middleman — a courtier or "wine broker," who helps establish the price paid by a négociant to a small producer.

Back to Top

A general term referring to the olfactory sense of wine. Some wine experts use the word nose to describe an extremely intense bouquet.


The French term for "new" that, when applied to wine, refers to one that is very young. Because of the influence of France's Beaujolais Nouveau wines, this word has taken on a meaning relating to this particular wine's style — light, fruity, youthful, and lacking aging potential. These nouveau wines are almost always released shortly after harvest. Many of them are made using carbonic maceration, a fermentation technique designed to enhance their intensely fruity yet light-bodied characteristics.

The term nouveau is also used in the United States. Italians call this style of wine novello or Vino Novello.

A term used for some wines, such as Sherry or tawny Port, that have a crisp, nutty (usually hazelnut or walnut) characteristic. Full-bodied Chardonnays sometimes also have a very subtle nutty trait. An overt nutty trait in table wine is considered a flaw.

A wine tasting term describing a toasty, vanilla flavor and fragrance in wines that have been aged in new oak barrels. An oaky characteristic is wonderful in the proper balance. Exaggerated oakiness, however, can overwhelm a wine's other components and is considered undesirable.

Off Dry
A tasting term for a wine that has the barest hint of sweetness.

Back to Top

A standard used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a liquid on a scale of 0 to 14. A pH greater than 7 represents alkalinity, 7 denotes neutrality, and less than 7 indicates acidity (the lower the number, the higher the acidity).

The pH measurement represents the intensity of the acid, whereas titratable (total) acidity measures the volume of acid. The desirable pH range for table wines is approximately 3.0 to 3.6. As the pH level drops below 3.0, the wine becomes unpleasantly sharp; above 3.6 and it becomes flat and flabby.

Even though the volume of acidity might be in the proper range, if the pH is too high or too low, the wine won't be well balanced. Low pH also deters bacterial growth (which translates to better aging) and helps wine keep its color. Winemakers use pH, along with other factors such as grape ripeness and volume of acid, to help determine the resulting wine's potential quality.


A tiny aphidlike insect that attacks the roots of grapevines. Phylloxera sucks the nutrients from the roots and slowly starves the vine, creating a dramatic decrease in fruit. It doesn't affect the taste of the resulting wine but, eventually, replanting is required. Unfortunately, new vines do not produce the same quality fruit until they mature, which can take 8 to 10 years or more.

Phylloxera vastatrix (its Latin name) is thought to be indigenous to the eastern United States, and the thick, strong, native American rootstocks are reasonably resistant to this parasite. Much more vulnerable to phylloxera is the vitis vinifera rootstock — a species native to Europe and Central Asia and responsible for a majority of the world's wine production.

In the 1860s vine cuttings from the eastern United States transmitted phylloxera to Europe, and eventually most of the vineyards in France and many in other parts of Europe were totally devastated. The parasite eventually spread, causing grave problems in California and other parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The solution was to graft vitis vinifera vines to native American rootstocks, a remedy that worked for the better part of a century. However, in the early 1980s a new strain of phylloxera — Biotype B — attacked California vineyards.

It appears that a rootstock called AxR #1, used primarily throughout California's Napa and Sonoma Counties (and in other parts of California) wasn't resistant to this new phylloxera strain. Although AxR #1 had some vitis vinifera in its makeup, experts at the University of California at Davis originally recommended it because it produced much higher yields than other rootstocks and appeared to be phylloxera-resistant.

Chile is one of the few places that phylloxera has never invaded, and many of the vineyards are planted on vitis vinifera rootstock.

Produced and Bottled by
This phrase indicates that the named winery crushed, fermented, and bottled a minimum of 75 percent of the wine in that particular bottling. The phrase, however, does not mean that the winery grew the grapes.

Back to Top

The process of siphoning off the clear juice from the sediment that has fallen to the bottom of the container either naturally or with the help of fining agents. During the winemaking process, racking can occur three or four times before the wine is clear. After racking, some wines are also filtered prior to bottling to remove any remaining minuscule particles.

Residual Sugar
The natural grape sugar that is either unfermented at the end of the fermentation process or added back into the wine, as with a dosage added to a Sparkling Wine.

In some cases there is so much natural sugar that fermentation can't complete its process, as is the case with some dessert wines like Germany's Trokenbeerenauslese.

In other instances, fermentation is purposefully arrested by adding a soupçon of sulfur dioxide, which inhibits the yeast, or by adding alcohol (as is done with fortified wines), which raises the alcohol to a level (15 to 16 percent) above which the yeast cannot work.

Dry wines may have little residual sugar (0.1 to 0.2 percent), semisweet wines usually range from 1 to 3 percent, and Late Harvest wines may range as high as 28 to 30 percent. Residual sugar is sometimes referred to as reducing sugar.

A wine tasting term depicting wines that have an opulently full and balanced complement of intense flavor, fruit, alcohol and extract.

A wine tasting term similar in meaning to big, describing wine that's full-bodied, round, and full of fruit — in short, a big mouthful. This term is more apt for red wines than for white.

Round; Rounded
In the world of wine tasting, a well-balanced, mellow, full-bodied wine is sometimes referred to as round, its flavor rounded. The term is similar to fat.

In wine tasting, the term structure refers to a wine's architecture — its plan — which includes all the main building blocks of acid, alcohol, fruit, glycerol and tannins. It's not enough, however, to say that a wine simply has "structure" (which all do). The term should be clarified with adjectives such as inadequate or strong; one can also refer to a wine as well structured.

Back to Top

A wine tasting term for well-structured wines that are harmonious, soft and velvety — in short, extremely pleasing.

Sur Lie
[soor LEE]

The French expression for "on the lees." Lees is the coarse sediment, which consists mainly of dead yeast cells and small grape particles that accumulate during fermentation. Winemakers believe that certain wines benefit from being aged sur lie.

Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc wines are thought to gain complexity if aged in this way for a few months. This happens as a matter of course with Sparkling WInes made via méthode champenoise because the second fermentation occurs in the bottle where the wine is aged (sometimes for up to 10 years) until the lees are disgorged.

Muscadet wines from France's Loire region occasionally have the phrase mis en bouteille sur lie on the label, which means the wine was bottled from barrels where the lees were not drained (although the sediment has fallen to the bottom of the barrel). These wines have a creamy, yeasty flavor and a touch of carbon dioxide, which gives a slight prickling sensation on the tongue.

Tartaric Acid
The principal acid in grapes and is a component that promotes a crisp flavor and graceful aging in wine.


One of the by-products of tartaric acid is tartrates, also called potassium bitartrate, cream of tartar, and tartar. These small, innocuous crystals can appear in wine unless removed through the cold stabilization process. Tartrates aren't harmful and only impact the wine visually.


French for "soil" and used in the phrase gout de terroir ("taste of the soil") to refer to the earthy flavor of some wines. When French wine producers use the term terroir, it not only includes reference to the type of soil (chalky, claylike, gravelly, sandy), but also to other geographic factors that might influence the quality of the finished wine like altitude, position relative to the sun, angle of incline, and water drainage. In the United States, wine producers use the term microclimate to encompass the same considerations.

Back to Top


A wine tasting term describing a wine in which the taste and smell have the characteristics of fresh or cooked vegetables, particularly bell peppers and asparagus. Some grape varieties — such as Cabernet Sauvignon — have a degree of vegetal character to them. However, a strong vegetal quality is unpleasant and not a desirable trait.


The study or science of making wines. One who does so is called a viniculturist.


Term that describes both the year of the actual grape harvest and the wine made from those grapes. In the United States, the label may list the vintage year if 95 percent of the wine comes from grapes harvested that year. If a blend of grapes from 2 years or more is used, the wine is called non-vintage or NV.

Some Champagne and Sparkling Wine producers are using the term multi-vintage to describe wines made from a blend of two or more years. The multivintage designation is to reflect the fact that the vintners are purposefully blending cuvees from different years to achieve a superior house style.

Although it's often assumed that a vintage wine is one of superior quality, that's not necessarily true. Some vintages are simply considered better overall than others. That's because the quality of the harvest varies from one year to another.

In addition, an individual wine may be better or worse than others of a particular vintage because of the originating vineyard's microclimate or because of the winemaking process it underwent.

An excellent year for a growing region translates to a generally superior quality, which means there are more choices for fine wines of that vintage. So consumers should view a vintage year only as a general guideline. In the end, each wine must be judged on its own merit.

Back to Top

Vinted by

Occasionally seen on labels, this phrase has no legal or established significance. In general, it means "made by."

Viticultural Area

A region where grapes are grown.


The cultivation of grapevines, or the study or science of grapes and their culture.

Vitis Vinifera
[VEE-tihs vihn-IHF-uh-ruh]

The vine species that produces over 99 percent of the world's wines today. It is native to Europe as well as East and Central Asia, but it has been planted all over the world. There are estimated to be thousands of varieties of this species, some of the best known being Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel.

Volatile Acidity
Also called simply VA, volatile acidity is as much a part of wine as body temperature is in a human. A balanced amount of VA is necessary for aroma and flavor but, just as a fever indicates a problem in man, excess volatile acidity in wine signals trouble.

VA can be caused by several acids, even though its primary source is acetic acid, and is the result of bacteriological infection through oxidation during winemaking.

In quantities of less than 0.05 percent, volatile acidity doesn't affect a wine's quality. At higher levels, however, VA can give wine a sharp, vinegary tactile sensation, which is caused by acetic acid. In wines with excessive volatile acidity, the acetic acid is accompanied by ethyl acetate, which contributes a sweet, vinegary smell.

Extreme volatile acidity signifies a seriously flawed wine. Such a wine can be referred to as volatile.

Back to Top


A living, microscopic, single-cell organism. Wild yeast spores are always floating in the air. It was in 1857 that France's famous microbiologist Louis Pasteur discovered that fermentation was caused by yeasts. During fermentation, yeast converts food (in the form of sugar or starch) into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Modern winemakers carefully choose the yeasts they use in combination with different varieties of grapes. Various yeasts have specific properties and are better suited for particular winemaking styles.

All terminology can be credited to:
© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on THE WINE LOVER'S COMPANION, by Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst.

At AJ's
AJ's Events

Celebrating 30 Years of Spectacular Summer Wines
View our 2016 Wine List

AJ's Events

Rosé - Fresh, Complex & Perfectly Pink
View our Rosé Wine List

AJ's Events

AJ's Wine Cellars also offer over 350 imported and domestic craft beers
Ask one our experts to assist you in making your selection