Sicilian Culture

The Food & Drink, People, History, Culture, Language, News, Folklore, History, Links, Traditions & More!


Please support this
site by shopping at


The Wine Cellar: Wine Terms To Know
(and some you don't)

It is difficult to become knowledgeable about wine without becoming a wine snob.  Something you do NOT want to do under any circumstances.  But, believe it or not, my favorite wine in the whole world is not listed in this section.  It is good old fashioned home madewine.

Acidic/Acidity: Presence of natural acids from the grapes during fermentation process.  A great example of something very acidic (an extreme example) is vinegar (which is what happens when good wine turns bad).  You obviously do not want your wine to be too acidic, as it makes the wine almost a bit tart.

Aftertaste: The taste that stays in your mouth after swallowing it.  Some also refer to this as a wine's finish, which can be buttery, oaky, spicy, tart, or even acidic.

Age: The period of time that a wine spends maturing to achieve its best flavor and aroma. Wines are aged in a variety of ways from large casks (such as oak or stainless steel) to bottles. Complex wines tend to benefit from aging, whereas simple wines should be drunk when they are young.

Alcohol: Alcohol is the result of fermentation of the grapes.  While most bottles of wine contain 12.5% alcohol (25 proof), some are a little more, some are a little less.  There is in fact a way to regulate how much alcohol content the wine will have.

Almondy: Refers to the taste of some wines.

Amarone: A dry but strong red wine from the Veneto region in Northern Italy.  It is made from a blend of partially dried red grapes.

Amber: A shade of color some white wines turn after oxidation.

Aperitif: Any alcoholic beverage such as Champagne, Vermouth, or white wine that is taken before a meal as an "appetizer". Appellation Controlee (AC): Apellation Controlee is a guarantee that a wine was produced in a specific location by a particular method with approved grape varieties and in controlled quantities. Quality is not guaranteed, but wines designated with the AC are usually of higher quality than those that are not.

Aroma: The smell of a young wine which may later develop into a mature bouquet in fine wines.

Astringency: Sensation caused by excess tannins, which may disappear as the wine ages.

Bacchus: Another name for Dionysus, the Greek and Roman God of Wine.

Balance: The relationship among alcohol, sweetness. fruitness. acidity, and tannin food in a wine. Well-balanced wines have a pleasant proportion of all these elements. A wine's balance may only be realized after some aging.

Barbaresco: Red wine from the Northern region of Piedmont, Italy.  It is lighter than a Barolo and made from Nebbiolo grapes.

Bardolino: A light, red wine which is slightly sweet and produced in the Veneto region of Northern Italy.  Best when young.

Barolo: One of the most highly regarded Italian reds, made from Nebbiolo grapes grown in Piedmont. The wine is dark, full-bodied and high in tannin and alcohol; it can improve over decades of aging.

Barrel:  Generally made from wood and hold approximately 55 gallons. Oak barrels are the most common to age wines and adds to the taste of the final product.

Blending: The primary task of the wine maker where different lots or barrels are blended together to produce the final product for bottling.

Blush Wine: A pink wine produced from grape juice or must from which the grape skins have been removed before fermentation is complete.

Bocoy: A wooden container larger than casks with a capacity of 700 liters.

Body: Generally used to describe the "weight" of a wine in the mouth. Wines can be categorized as light-, meidum-, and full-bodied. A Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of a full-bodied wine; a Sauvignon Blanc is a light- or medium-bodied wine.

Bottle: Glass bottles are the best way to store wine for long periods of time because it does not affect the taste of the wine in any way.  I doubt you will ever see wine come in plastic bottles, and those that come in "boxes" that actually have plastic liners are to be avoided, even for use in sangria.

Bottle Aging: Wine consumes only the oxygen contained in the bottle very slowly and helps refine the wine.

Bottle Sickness: Wines which start to go bad during poor shipment, the condition can disappear in 2-3 weeks if the wine is stored properly.

Bouquet: Various fragrances noted in a glass of wine.

Breathing:  Allowing a wine to be exposed in the air by uncorking the bottle before serving. Generally, red wines require more breathing time than whites, and naturally too much oxygen is no good either (if you leave it out for days). Sparkling wines do not need to breathe.

Brilliant: Wine that isshining, clean in appearance and has luminous reflections.

Broad: A full-bodied, complex wine with plenty of subtleties.

Brunello Montalcino: The Brunello grape is grown in the town of Montaleino in southern Tuscany.  It produces a full-bodied, rich, powerful, long-lived wines. By DOCG law, the wines must be aged in wood for three and a half years and be released not before their fourth year. Rosso di Montalcino, also produced from the Brunello grape, can be released after one year with no wood aging required.

Capsule: The protective metal or plastic sheath over the cork and neck of a wine bottle. The capsule keeps the cork from drying out and admitting air into the bottle.

Carafe: A glass container frequently used to serve house wine in restaurants.

Caramely: Wines that have been aged for a long time (reserva and gran reserva) and have a rich, burnt sugary flavor.

Carbonated Maceration: Special technique for fermenting red wines in which the whole grape undergoes enzymatic fermentation.

Carbonated Wine: Wine that is artificially injected with carbon dioxide to make it sparkling, obviously this happens in lower qualit wines and should be avoided.

Cask: Wooden cask used to age the wines.

Cellar: In the old days, it was a dark, cool basement, and often the underground part of a house, as it still is for homemade wines.  But now, due to modern technology, we have temperature and humidity controlled rooms which are perfect for aging wines.  You will often see bottles of wine resting on their sides so that the corks do not dry out.

Chacoli: A light, acidic wine made from grapes that were never fully ripened, usually 9% alcohol

Chaptalisation: Addition of sugar to increase the alcohol content of wine.

Character: The combination of a wine's features

Chianti: A fruity, light ruby-to-garnet-colored red from Tuscany (Italy), formerly bottled in a characteristic straw-covered flask. When aged three years or more, it can be called Chianti

Riserva: Made from a blend of grapes.

Chianti Classico: A DOC red from a designated inner portion of the Chianti wine district. TO be labeled Chianti Classico, both the vineyards and the winery must be within the delimited region.

Claret: Fruity, light red wine whose fermentation process includes very slight maceration of the grape skins, best to drink young.

Clean: A wine with no offensive odors or tastes.

Cloudy: A dull, hazy color in wine, more often common in homemade wines once they start to go bad.

Cloying: Overly sweet, and lacking the correct amount of acidity to give the wine balance.

Coarse: As the word might suggest, a rough, and/or unpleasant texture.

Complex/Complexity: Describes the rich variety of bouquet and flavors in one of your finer wines.

Color: While color can simply refer to an attractive wine and how it looks in the glass, it also plays an important role to the variety of wine itself.  Obviously if a chianti is very very light red, almost pink, something is wrong, or if a pinot grigio is more of a brownish color, again, something is wrong.

Cork:  The protector or guardian of a bottle of wine, it is a hard sponge-like insertion which is actually from the bark of the cork tree.  Today, you will see synthetic corks whic some prefer because they are easier to remove and re-insert to a bottle of unfinished wine.  Many are purists and feel that only natural cork should be put in bottles, but there is now a cork shortage.  Additionally, sometimes there is a fungus on the cork which can ruin a bottle of wine (some refer to this as the wine being "corked or corky" as in bad, and/or a person who has had too much wine to drink and is drunk).  While it is very rare corks go bad, (perhaps 1/1000), I personally have never encountered this problem.

Corkage/Uncorking/Corking Fee: Sometimes, (and I imagine a deterrent to stop people from bringing their own bottles of wine into a restaurant that sells wine) a price is charged ($5-25) to "open" a bottle of wine. However, once I was in a cigar lounge (which will remain unnamed) and this place served platters of cheese, fruits, and bar food like individual pizzas, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc., and they wanted $15 to uncork a bottle of wine.  I find this absurd for many reasons.  Their liquor store was attached to this lounge, and right next to their cigar warehouse.  Plus, most sensible people do not spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine (I personally never try to spend more than $10, although it is getting harder, $12 if its a really good, proven bottle of wine in my book).

Corkscrew: A device used for removing the cork from glass bottles.

Crisp: Refers to a white wine with good acid balance that is fresh and lively.

Crown: The shape made by the bubbles of a good sparkling wine or cava when they reach the top of the glass.

Cryomaceration: A procedure in the production of white wine that holds the skins and the crushed grapes at extremely low temperature prior to fermentation in order to enhance the fruit and other flavors.

Decant: To gently pour and serve a wine in order to not disturb the sediment and qualities of the wine.

Delicate: A wine that has light flavor, fragrance and body.

Dessert Wine: Wine that is generally sweeter, with several layers of flavor.

Developed: Wine that has undergone modifications over a period of time.

DOC (short for Denominazione Di Origine Controllata) Italy's regulatory wine system set up in 1963.  The laws protect the quality of the wines by specifying geographical limits, grape varieties, alcohol levels, top yields per acre, and aging requirements for particular wines.

DOCG (short for Denominazione Di Origine Controllata E Garantita) A step above DOC in Italy's regulatory wine system. Represents the highest level of quality among Italian wines.

Dry: Wines are usually noted as dry, or sweet, with varieties in between. Dryness is a function of the residual sugar in the finished wine and the more dry the wine, the less sugar it has. Most of your table wines are dry.

Earthy: The taste that soil imparts to grapes and is passed on to the wine.

Elegant: A distinguished wine with good lineage, harmonious in color and aroma, balanced on the palate, with a good bouquet and the right period of aging.(Tasting term)

Enology: The study of wine and wine making. Also spelled Oenology.

Envero: Time of the year when grapes acquire color.

Fermentation: The process whic occurs when yeast changes the sugar in grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Finish: The flavor left in the mouth while a wine is being swallowed. Finish can often be harsh, hot, acidic, smooth, soft, or elegant.

Fleshy: Full, oily, rich wines which produce a sensation of thick body on the palate.

Flinty: A stony taste in wines.

Floral/Flowery: Wines pleasant in aroma, reminiscent of the perfume of some flowers.

Fortified: Wines that are made stronger by adding brandy.

Fragrant: Wine that is very aromatic and flowery, full of scent & smell.

Frascati: A fruity, golden white wine from the hills around Rome, it can be dry or sweet.

Fresh: A white or rose wine with a good balance between alcohol and acidity.

Fruit Wines: Made by the fermentation of fruits other than grapes, include cider and perry, best consumed within a year of bottling.

Fruity: Wines with fruit aromas

Full-bodied: A robust, intensively flavored with which is usually high in sugar and/or alcohol content.

Generic Wines Wines made from a variety of grapes but do not use the varietal grape names, most common are your jug wines (Gallo, Livingston Cellars, Carlo Rossi, etc).

Generoso: Special wine with an alcoholic content between 17-23%.

Gran Reserva: Name given to wines which have been aged for a long time in oak barrels and the bottle, at least 3 years of aging.

Grass/Grassy: A term used more for white wines, and as the term might indicate, a subtle taste of grass or greens, and is nice and refreshing 

Green: A young wine that has not developed enough to balance out the acidity.

Hard: A wine that has not aged enough to achieve a proper balance.

Hectare: A metric unit of measure equivalent to 2.471 acres.

Hectoliter:  100 liters or 26.4 US gallons.

Herbaceous: Wine with the flavor and aroma of herbs.

Hybrid: Grapes that are bred from more than one grape variety to improve the flavor or hardiness of the wine.

Iodized: Aroma and taste of iodine found in some of the wines produced near the sea. e.g. at Jerez or Sanl.

Jug Wine:  Called "jugs" because of the larger shape/size of the bottle.  They are simple, economic wines favored by the old times/old school Italians, but not of very high quality or taste.  A "Chianti" from a jug can often taste more like a rose wine.  Again, for with simple meals at home, not to impress dinner guests or a date.

Kosher Wine: A wine traditionally made from Concord grapes and under the supervision of a Rabbi, as it is the Jewish law.

Lacrima Christi:  Literally translates to "Tears of Christ", it is a pleaseant white wine which comes from grapes grown on the fertile volcanic slopes of Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano in Southwest Italy near Naples.

Lambrusco: A  very lightly naturally carbonated dry to sweet red wine from northern Italy by grapes of the same name.

Late Harvest: Wine made from grapes that are picked very ripe.  Late harvest wines are very sweet and are usually served as dessert wines.

Leather: The aroma of some red wines thanks to their reducing aging in the bottle.

Lees: dregs or sediments that settles at the bottom of a bottle or container

Legs: The streams that run down the sides of a glass when swirled, it indicates a rich, full-bodied wine.

Lively: Winehigh in acidity with a crisp, fresh flavor. Also used for sparkling wines with a pleasant bubble.

Maceration: Soaking of the grape skins in the must which is fermenting.

Macroclimate: Climate scale, also called Regional Climate

Madeira: The process which white wine becomes flat and dark due to excessive aging or poor storage.

Madre: Sediment left at the bottom of a barrel.

Magnum: A larger bottle of wine containing double the amount.

Manzanilla: High-alcohol wine.

Marc: Residue left after the pressing of the grapes.

Marrying: The blending of two or more wines in a cask to yield a wine with better characteristics.

Marsala: Italy's most famous fortified wine produced in Sicily.  It usually contains 17-20% alcohol and often rivals sherry.  

Maturity: The stage in the aging of wine that has developed all of its characteristic qualities to perfection.

Mead: A wine common in medieval Europe which is made by fermenting honey and water.

Medium-Bodied: A wine with weight and texture on the tongue.

Mesoclimate: A term of climate scale that is intermediate between regional climate (Macroclimate) and the very small scale (Microclimate).

Microclimate: The climate within a small, defined area which can dramatically affect the character of the wine produced there.

Minty: A nice aroma in some aged red wines.

Mistella: Mixture of wine alcohol and must.

Must: Mixture of grape juice, stem fragments, grape skins, seeds and pulp prior to fermentation

Negociant: A shipper or wine dealer.

Nose: Term used by wine enthusiasts to describe the smell of a wine.

Oak: Wood used for the construction of barrels, it imparts flavors and tannin to wines during the barrel aging process.

Oenology/Oenophile The science, study or love of wine.

Organic Wine: Wine processed from grapes free of chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

Oxidation: Generally occurs in young and fruity white wine and turns them flat and brown in color, common in homemade wine.

Pale: Describes wine of low intensity.

Palo Cortado: Scarce wine which is a cross between an the perfum of amontillado and the taste of oloroso.

Piguant: The sharp taste found in a light wine.

Pinot Nero/Pinot Noir: Dark red wine

Promace: The skins, seeds, pulp, and stems left in the fermenting vat or cask after wine making, often used to make Italian grappa, and is served after dinner as a digestive.

Prickle: Presence of tiny bubbles in some young wines.

Proprietary/Proprietaire: Wine with a name originating by a specific winery or proprietor.

Raisiny: Wines made from overripe grapes, similar to smell/aroma of raisins (raisins are made from dried grapes)

Red: Basic wine category for those wines made with black grapes and fermented with the grape skins ranging in color from bright cherry to bluish-black.

Reserva: Wine aged 3 years or more.

Resinous: Resin aroma, generally desirable.

Rich: Full-bodied wine with good flavor and bouquet.

Robust: A strong, powerful wine (usually red).

Rose:  A pink wine produced from grape juice or must from which the grape skins have been removed before fermentation is complete.

Rough: An immature wine which is not smooth in taste.

Round: Mature, full-bodied wine which is smooth, graceful.

Sangria: Great in the summer, it is a cheaper wine flavored with fruit (peaches, oranges, apples).

Sasa: Sweet wine high in sugar.

Sediment: Fine deposits which may develop in some aged wines. May require that the wine be decanted before drinking.

Separation: Involves emptying the cask to separate the wine from the remains of the grapes.

Skin: The outside of the grape.

Smooth: Wine that is silky and rich in glycerin.

Soave: A straw-colored dry white wine from around Verona in Italy's Veneto region. A semisweet, fruiter version, Recioto di Soave, is made from partially dried grapes.

Soft: A delicate wine with a slight fruitiness. It can also refer to a lack of balance in more robust wines.

Solera: The lowest row in the tiers of barrels where wines are aged, used for the oldest wines. Also a system of breeding which consists of improving young wine with the addition of older wine. The aging system used for the generoso wines of Jerez.

Sommelier: Person in a fancy restaurant who is responsible for serving wine.

Sour: Spoiled wine with a vinegar-like taste (vinegar happens to be wine that has gone bad).

Sparkling: Wine containing bubbles of carbon dioxide which is a byproduct of fermentation.

Split: 6-ounce bottle of wine, you will see them most often on airplanes and/or trains.  You can also buy a 4 or 6 pack of them in liquor stores which are great for picnics, or when you go to a casual dinner where you can bring your own wine, especially if the person you are dining with does not drink (rather than open/leave/waste a whole bottle).

Stained: A white wine that has a slight pink hue due to being in containers that had previously used for red wines.

Stalk: The green part of the vine that supports the grapes.

Stave: Worked wood that forms the structure of the barrel.

Stemmy: Smell and taste of certain wines, reminiscent of the vine, particularly the green stalks.

Still Wine: Wines without carbon dioxide bubbles.

Straw: Used to describewhite wine with a color like straw.

Strawberry: Fruity aroma which appears in certain red or rose wines and some ports.

Stripping: Separating the stalks, etc., not what happens when you are drinking wine at a bachelor party.

Structure: The make up of wine, its acidity, alcohol, tannic content, etc.

Superiore: Wine with a higher content of alcohol, and sometimes aged longer

Tannic/Tanin: Used to describe wines which are not balanced and where tannins overpower the fruit and other elements.

Tart: Overly acidic wine.

Tartar/Tartaric Acid: Crystals or crystallization in some white wines..

Tastevin: A small saucer-shaped cup used by wine stewards for tasting wine.

Tears: Oiliness left in the glass by a wine rich in alcohol, sugars and glycerin.

Thief: A syringe used for taking wine samples from the hole in a barrel.

Thin: A wine that is light-bodied which lacks flavor and generally light in color..

Tobacco: An aroma which is noticeable in some mature wines.

TUN:  A very large cask for storing wine, some holding up to 300,000 bottles worth of wine.

Valpolicella: A light, semi-dry red from near Verona in Italy's Veneto region typically best when you drink it while young.

Vanilla: Aroma and/or flavor of vanilla, characteristic of wine aged in oak.

Variety: Type of grape with specific characteristics -- all grape varieties belong to the same species.

Varietal Wines: Wines that are named after the grape from which they are made (Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio). California law states the varietal grape must be at least 75% of the wine.

Velvety: Smooth, plesant and silky sensation in the mouth often used to describe red wines.

Vine: The main stem from which the grapes grow.

Vinifera: The family of European wine grapes from which the world's finest wines are made.

Vinification: The art of transforming grapes into wine

Vino: Italian for wine (as if you had to ask!)

Vintage: The year that the grapes were picked or harvested for the making of wine. Dates are always (or should be) shown on the label.  Often in jug or generic wines omit the date and we joke and say "ah yes, that was a very good week for wine"

Vintner: A craftsman who makes wine.

Woody: Wine aged too long in a cask or aged in a cask and/or inferior wood.

Yeast: A single-cell microorganism on the skin of the grapes that causes fermentation. .

Yema:  The juice strained without pressing or any pressure at all.

Young: Wine that is not sufficiently aged.

© Copyright 1999-2002 (MCMXCIX) Cristaldi Communications Web Design, Hosting & Promotion - - February 25, 2002