Wine Glossary | Simply Spanish Wine

Wine Glossary

The language of wine can sometimes be overwhelming. So to make life easier, we've created this list of typical words and phrases you might hear people use when they talk about wine.

We'll keep adding to it over time so that it covers all you need.

ABV

Stands for Alcohol By Volume. In technical terms it refers to the amount of pure alcohol in 100 litres of wine. In most countries it is mandatory to include ABV on wine labels. Most wine is between 12% and 14.5% ABV, but climate change is pushing average temperatures up, which means more natural sugars in grapes, which means potentially more alcohol through fermentation.

Acidity

A key wine tasting term (acidez in Spanish), acidity refers to the tart, sharp or sour tastes caused by the naturally occurring acids in grapes. We normally taste acidity on the sides of our tongue and it can make our mouths water.

Barrel-aged

Refers to wine that has been kept in wooden barrels at the winery before bottling (envejecido en barril in Spanish). Wood is slightly porous, so barrel ageing allows tiny amounts of oxygen to enter the wine, allowing different components of the wine to evolve and more complex flavours to emerge. Barrels come in different sizes (225 litres is perhaps the most common), and are usually made of French or American oak. Related article: Ageing wine

Barrique

Strictly speaking, the term barrique refers to the 225 litre, French oak barrel from Bordeaux which became the standard barrel size from the region in the mid-18th century.  The term is still used, though you’ll also hear it being applied outside France to all manner of wooden barrels.

Bâtonnage

Derived from the French word bâton, or stick, and often written as batonage in Spanish, bâtonnage is the action of stirring up the lees during the winemaking process. It is often used for barrel fermented white wines as it helps to improve the stability of the wine, can help limit the amount of tannin and pigment extracted into the wine from the wood, and encourages extra texture and aroma (see also lees).

Biodynamic

Part of the green farming movement inspired by the ideas of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925). All biodynamic wine growers adhere to organic principles (see below), but in addition believe in a less technology-driven approach to winemaking. A series of herb and mineral based ¨preparations¨ are used in biodynamic vineyards, and key stages like pruning, picking or bottling are reserved for different lunar cycles which are believed to be more favourable.

Blind tasting

A form of wine tasting in which participants are asked to identify wines without knowing their identity. Those taking part are usually asked to identify the grape the variety the wine is made from, where it is from (provenance) and its vintage.

Botrytis

aka Noble Rot. A form of rot, triggered by especially humid, misty mornings, which attacks white grapes and can spoil them. But coupled with sunny, dry afternoons, the rot is halted and the grapes suffused with delicious aromas to create sweet wines. Examples of famous botrytised wines include Sauternes from the Bordeaux region in France, or Tokaji from Hungary.

Budbreak

Sometimes called budburst, this is the moment in the spring when shoots start to emerge from the vine buds signalling the start of the new growing season.

Canopy

Vineyard term which refers to the part of the vine above ground which includes the vine trunk, canes, shoots, leaves and fruit. The term canopy management refers to the practice of pruning the canopy in order to optimise the exposure of fruit and leaves to the sun.

Cap

The layer of grape solids (ie seeds, stems and skin) that floats on the surface of the liquid during fermentation of red wine. The cap needs careful management to keep it moist and submerged to ensure the extraction of phenolics which add colour and flavour to the wine (see phenolics).

Concrete

Increasingly popular material for fermenting, storing or ageing wine (as opposed to stainless steel, wood or clay amphorae, for example). Concrete is a neutral material meaning it doesn’t impart any flavour to the wine, and its good thermal inertia mean it helps keep temperature fluctuations to a minimum.

Concrete eggs

As the name suggests, egg-shaped concrete tanks, usually between 500 and 1,500 litres in capacity, which have become increasingly popular among younger winemakers. The egg shape helps ensure a greater contact between wine and lees, and also encourages convection currents which keeps the wine in motion and reduces the need for bâtonnage (see bâtonnage).

Cooper

Name used to describe the person who makes wooden barrels and vats. The place where wooden barrels and vats are made is called a cooperage (tonnellerie in French; tonelería in Spanish).

Cork taint

Ever poured a glass of wine and found it smelt of wet newspaper or musty basement? Chances are it was caused by cork tint, a fault in wine usually caused when bits of the tree bark used to make corks are contaminated by fungi, mould or bacteria.

Cosecha

Spanish term which means the vintage year when a wine is produced and which is printed on the wine label. Also called añada.

Crianza

Spanish term for the process of wine ageing, as well as the youngest category for a wood-aged wine. Crianza wines must spend at least 24 months ageing, at least 6 of which must be in barrel (for white and rosé wines, total ageing must be at least 18 months). The rules for Rioja red wines are a little more stringent, with minimum barrel time set at 12 months. Related article: Ageing wine

Délestage

A French term (known as rack & return in English) which refers to the part of the winemaking process when the wine is separated off from its fermentation vessel and then pumped or sprinkled back into it over the cap to keep it moist. Destelage helps the extraction of colour and tannins and also to aerate the wine (see cap).

Demijohn

A large glass jar which typically holds 25 litres of liquid. Often used in the production of Vin Doux Naturel, or natural sweet wine, in France or vino rancio in Spain. Also sometimes referred to as a bonbonne or carboy, or damajuana in Spanish.

Denominación de Origen (DO)

Spain's system for classifying wines is called the Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) system and it's broken down into two broad categories:
  • Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)
  • Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)

The Denominación de Origen (DO) classification sits within the DOP category. DO is the classification given to the bulk of DOP wines in Spain and sits slightly below DOCa/DOQ. The rules are still fairly strict though. For example, wineries have to have been making wine within the area for at least five years before they can join the DO. See also Denominaciones de Origen.

Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ)

Spain's system for classifying wines is called the Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) system and it's broken down into two broad categories:
  • Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)
  • Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)

The Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa or DOQ in Catalan) sits within the DOP category. It's rather like a DO+ category with stricter rules than standard the Denominaciónes de Origen classification on how grapes are grown and how wine is made. For the moment only Rioja and Priorat are classified at this level. See also Denominaciones de Origen.

Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)

Spain’s geographical designation system for wine is part of the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. The DOP system protects registered geographical brands and establishes common rules for producers within a given geographical region, covering things like permitted grape varieties, maximum permitted yields, production methods etc. 
The DOP system in Spain is broken down into two broad categories:
  • Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)
  • Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)
For a winery to be part of the DOP category, every stage of their winemaking has to happen within the designated geographical area, which means that all the grapes have to be grown within the region where the wine is made.
The DOP category is broken down into 4 further subcategories:
  • Vinos de Pago (VC)
  • Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ)
  • Denominación de Origen Calificada (DO)
  • Vinos de Calidad (VC)

See also Denominaciones de Origen.

De-stemming

The process of removing stems or stalks from bunches of grapes. The operation is carried out once the grapes have been picked and arrive at the winery to be processed. Stems contain tannin, and if they are crushed during fermentation they can make the wine taste bitter (see whole-bunch fermentation).

Disgorgement

Degüelle in Spanish. Another stage in the traditional method of making sparkling wine (including Cava). It involves freezing the neck of the bottle so that the sediment sitting inside it solidifies whilst the rest of the Cava remains liquid. The winemaker then pops off the crown cap and the pressure inside the bottle forces the frozen sediment to pop out, leaving behind it clear, sparkling wine.

Dosage

Dosaje in Spanish. The final stage in the sparkling winemaking process in which the winemaker tops up the bottle of a traditional method wine with a dash of wine and sugar syrup stoppering it.

Fermentation

Key stage in winemaking and the process by which naturally occurring sugars in grapes are converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide by the by the action of yeasts. Once the grapes have been harvested, they are brought to the winery, sorted and put into fermentation tanks (in commercial wineries these are often made of stainless steel). Careful temperature-control helps kickstart fermentation. Red wines are usually fermented at 25 – 30ºC, while whites 18 – 20ºC.

Fortified wine

A term used to refer to wines to which spirit - usually grape spirit – has been added, thereby stopping fermentation and increasing the ABV of the wine. Historically, fortification helped stabilise the wine before long sea journeys. The point during the fermentation process at which the spirit is added will determine how much residual sugar is left in the final wine and, consequently, how sweet or dry it is. Lots of wine producing countries make their own versions of fortified wines - in the case of Spain, of course, the most famous is Jerez or sherry, a generic term for a range of fortified wine styles including Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and Palo Cortado.

Fudre

Spanish term for a wooden vat or tonel which is installed in a horizontal position in the winery. Like tinos, they have a larger capacity than barrels and are generally round-bottomed or cylindrical (see tonel and tino).

Gran Reserva

Spanish term for a wine which is reckoned to be from a particularly good vintage and has been aged for a long time. The precise ageing period varies between DOs but in Rioja, for example, which produces some of Spain’s best known Gran Reservas, the wines must spend at least 24 months in 225 litre barrels (known as barricas).

Horizontal tasting

A form of wine tasting in which participants taste and compare a selection of different wines all from the same vintage (see vertical tasting).

Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)

Spain’s geographical designation system for wine is part of the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. The DOP system protects registered geographical brands and establishes common rules for producers within a given geographical region, covering things like permitted grape varieties, maximum permitted yields, production methods etc. 

The DOP system in Spain is broken down into two broad categories:

  • Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)

  • Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)

For a winery to be part of the DOP category, every stage of their winemaking has to happen within the designated geographical area, which means that all the grapes have to be grown within the region where the wine is made.

For IGP wineries, only one of the production stages has to take place in the area, and only 85% of the grapes have to come from the area where the wine is made.

Unlike the DOP category the IGP category isn't subdivided. Instead, all wines that sit within this category are labelled Vinos de la Tierra.

See also Denominaciones de Origen.

Lees

The name for the dregs or sediment leftover at the bottom of the tank after fermentation (lías in Spanish). Lees are made up of dead yeast cells and all the bits and pieces from the grapes like pulp, and bits of stem and skin. In white winemaking, wine is often left in contact with the lees to help give extra structure, body and creaminess to the wine. Sometimes this process is enhanced by a process called bâtonnage, a French word which refers to the action of regularly stirring the lees.

Magnum

A large bottle size with capacity for 1.5 litres of wine, or twice the size of a standard 75cl wine bottle. Magnums are generally considered to be the optimum size for ageing fine wines, as they help slow down the ageing process but are not so large as to be unwieldy.

Master of Wine (MW)

A person who has passed the exams held by the Institute of Masters of Wine, the wine trade’s most prestigious and demanding professional qualification. The exams cover all aspects of the wine trade from the vineyard through to marketing and sales and also include a blind tasting where candidates are asked to identify up to 12 wines from anywhere in the world (see blind tasting);

Minerality

Imprecise but increasingly fashionable term in wine-tasting circles. Minerality tries to transmit the idea that when you drink a wine, you can almost taste the land and soil the grapes were grown in, even if scientists are clear there can’t be a direct connection between the taste of the wine and the mineral elements in the rocks that sit under a vineyard. All that being the case, it can still be a helpful term when describing wines that are less about mature fruit, and are more direct and...well, mineral!

Natural wine

Refers to wine produced naturally – ie with no additives either in the vineyard or the winery. Natural winemakers follow sustainable, organic or biodynamic agricultural practices. While some critics accuse natural wines of being unstable – the lack of additives means bacteria and yeasts can remain in the wine and change it significantly even after bottling - they have become popular in recent years with younger drinkers. There are various natural wines "styles", including the so-called pet nat sparkling style, or orange wine, essentially a white wine made like a red wine with prolonged contact with the grape skins (hence the colour).

New World

The group of winemaking countries not encompassed by Europe and the Mediterranean basin, so essentially the Americas (North & South), South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Noble Rot

See botrytis.

Non-vintage

The term refers to blended wines, especially Cava, Champagne or other sparkling wines, which are made from grapes produced in several different vintages. Often abbreviated on the wine label to NV (see vintage).

Oak

Oak, or roble in Spanish, is the most popular wood for making barrels for ageing wine. Coopers (barrel makers; tonelleros in Spanish) like oak because it is hard and strong but relatively easy to work with, and good at holding liquids. There are lots of different species of oak, but generally in Spain you'll find wines have been aged in America or French oak (or sometimes a combination of the two).  Related article: Ageing wine

Old World

In wine-speak, the term refers to Europe and the Mediterranean basin, and is used in contrast to New World (see above). In terms of winemaking practices, it’s hard to generalise and the sector is evolving all the time, but in general, Old World wines have traditionally attached more importance to terroir whereas New World winemakers have focused more on grape variety (reflected in how the bottles are labeled, either geographically or highlighting eg "Chardonnay" or "Sauvignon Blanc").

Organic

Refers to wine made from grapes produced by organic viticulture and made according to standards for organic winemaking. There is no single global standard; precise rules vary from country to country. Although here in Europe we do have a common set of rules to help us. The key rule is that organic wine must be made from grapes grown naturally (ie no man-made, chemical-based compounds like fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides or herbicides), and any additives in the winery (eg sulphur, which can be used to protect and preserve the wine) are strictly controlled. Look out for the EU organic logo on wine labels, it’s stars in the shape of a leaf.

Pasificación

Spanish term which refers to the process of drying grapes in the sun in order to dehydrate the fruit and boost the levels of natural sugar. Used especially with the Pedro Ximénez grape in places like DO Montilla Moriles to make sweet wines. Traditionally, the area of the vineyard where the grapes are dried is called la pasera.

Phenolics

Chemical compounds which occur in large numbers in grapes, especially in the stems, seeds and skins, and affect the taste, feel and colour of wine. There are dozens of phenolics present in wine, including tannins which help give a wine structure and age.

Phylloxera

A plant disease, caused by a yellow aphid of the same name, phylloxera kills vines by attacking their roots. It came originally from the USA, helped by the growing trade in imported plants for European gardens, and ran riot through French vineyards in the 1860s, destroying an estimated 2.5 million hectares of vine. The disease was eventually controlled when growers realised that they could graft vines onto American, phylloxera-resistant rootstock (the bottom part of the plant that sits in the earth).

Pruning

A vineyard term, called poda in Spanish, which refers to the cutting off of the unwanted vegetative part of the vine canes during the winter months. Pruning is important – it influences the final yield of a plant by controlling the number of buds that can burst and produce grape bunches, and also helps mould the shape of the vine which can make all vineyard operations that much easier.

Pumping over

Similar to délestage, pumping over involved pumping the must out of the bottom of the fermentation vessel and returning it directly at the top to sprinkle and moisten the cap. The aim is to stop the cap drying out and encourage the extraction of colour and tannin (see cap);

Punt

The indentation or dimple in the bottom of wine bottles. A throwback to the times when glass bottles were blown by hand and pushing up the bottom of the bottle helped increase stability.

Racking

Stage in the winemaking process in which the wine is pumped or siphoned off from the sediment or lees in one vessel or container and moved to another for aeration or clarification.

Reserva

Another Spanish wine ageing term, reserva wines can only be released four years after the harvest. In other words, a full three years of ageing is stipulated, of which 12 months must be in an oak cask (or, specifically, a 225 litre barrica if we are talking about wines from Rioja). Related article: Ageing wine

Riddling

Rima in Spanish. An important stage in the traditional method of making sparkling wine (including Cava), which involves gradually turning the bottle upside down so that all the sediment from the secondary fermentation collects in the neck.

Secondary fermentation

Fermentación secundaria in Spanish. An integral part of the sparkling winemaking process, secondary fermentation is designed to get gas under pressure into a still base wine. This is normally done by adding a mixture of sugar and yeast to the base wine, a process known as tirage.

Sommelier

The smart French word for a wine waiter, although in smarter restaurants in addition to advising diners on wine and food pairings, his or her role can include things like devising the wine list, working with the chefs to devise new food and pairings, or even sourcing and buying the wine. While there is no fixed route to becoming a sommelier, the Master Sommelier Diploma qualification is so demanding it has only been awarded to about 300 candidates since the late 1960s when it began.

Tannin

Bitter, astringent compounds which are found naturally in lots of plants, and designed to make them unpalatable so predators don’t eat them before they are ripe (taninos in Spanish). Tannins in wine can come from the grape seeds, skins and stems, or from wood barrels if they have been used to age the wine. Tannins create the drying sensation in your mouth when you drink a wine, and they can vary by grape variety and winemaking method. For example maceration, or the amount of time red wine spends in contact with its skins during winemaking, can influence how much tannin is leached into the wine.

Terruño

A Spanish term which, when used in wine circles, is very similar in meaning to the French term terroir, which refers to the total natural environment where vines are grown. This includes everything related to the soil, from soil type – clay, slate, alkaline, acidic etc – to the orientation of the plot; the macroclimate in the immediate vicinity – temperature, rainfall etc – as well as the actual microclimate in the vineyard itself. There is a lot of debate in wine circles about the influence of terroir in wine, with some arguing that it has an important role to play given that wines made in the same area and in a similar way can often end up very different in terms of quality and style.

Tinaja

Spanish word for a large, clay or earthenware vessel, similar in shape to the Roman amphora, traditionally used for fermenting and storing wine. Tinajas are making a bit of a comeback in certain areas of Spain like Castilla La Mancha or parts of the Levante coast, where winemakers appreciate their neutrality (ie they don’t impart any aromas to the wine inside them) and their capacity for micro-oxigenation which is somewhere between stainless steel, which doesn’t allow any oxygen to pass through it, and wooden barrels which are more porous.

Tino/Tina

Wooden vats, or toneles in Spanish, used for fermenting or ageing wine which are installed vertically and are usually either cylindrical or slightly cone shaped. They are larger than barrels, with a capacity that normally varies between 1,000 - 20,000 litres.

Tirage

Early stage of the sparkling winemaking process (including Cava) in which a mixture of sugar and yeast is added to the blended base wine in order to provoke a secondary fermentation (see secondary fermentation).

Tonel

Generic Spanish term used historically to describe any wooden vessel or vat used for fermenting or storing wine.

Tonelería

Spanish word for cooperage, or the place where wooden barrels and vats are made (see cooper).

Traditional method

Método tradicional in Spanish. The term refers to a more meticulous approach to making sparkling wine which involves a secondary fermentation taking place inside each individual bottle (as opposed to the so-called tank method). Both Champagne and Cava are made using the traditional method (see secondary fermentation).

Varietal

A varietal is basically another word used for a grape variety or simply a type of grape. For example Tempranillo, Garnacha and Bobal are all varietals. The word is also used to describe a wine that is made from a single variety of grape. In this sense you will sometimes see the term "varietal wine" used so it's clear that it is the wine and not the grape being referred to.

Vendimia

Spanish word for harvest, or the point at which grapes are picked in the vineyard and transferred to the winery;

Vendimia tardía

Spanish term literally meaning ¨late harvest¨ and which you’ll often find on the label of sweet dessert wines. Wines made from late harvested grapes are sweet because the grapes have dehydrated that much more and the naturally occurring sugars are more concentrated.

Veraison

From the French word véraison. Vineyard term to describe the midpoint in the development of grape berries when the ripening process begins. During veraison, the colour of the grape skins changes, and sugars and volume increase while acidity decreases.

Vertical tasting

A form of wine tasting in which participants taste and compare a selection of different vintages of the same wine (see horizontal tasting).

Vin Doux Natural (VDN)

A French term, literally translated as Natural Sweet Wine, which refers to a style of wine popular in various winemaking regions, especially the appellations of Banyuls or Rivesaltes in Roussillon in France. The wines are made using the so-called mutage process, which involves adding alcohol to arrest fermentation and stop grape sugars turning into alcohol. The final wine is therefore stronger and sweeter than table wine.

Vino Rancio

Spanish term used to describe wine that has gone through a period of oxidative ageing (crianza oxidativa) in which it is deliberately exposed to oxygen, and often heat too, to encourage new, more complex nutty flavours to develop. Particularly popular in Valencia and Catalunya where it is known as vi ranci.

Vinos de Calidad (VC)

Spain's system for classifying wines is called the Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) system and it breaks wine regions down into two broad categories:

  • Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)

  • Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)

Vinos de Calidad is one of four subcategories under the DOP category. VC vineyards operate at the entry level of the DOP system. These wines meet the minimum DOP requirements and are usually where vineyards will sit for an initial 5 years before graduating to DO classification. See also Denominaciones de Origen.

Vinos de la Tierra (VT)

Spain's system for classifying wines is called the Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) system and it breaks wine regions down into two broad categories:
  • Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)
  • Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)

Vinos de la Tierra, or VT for short, sits within the category of Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP) wines. Unlike the DOP category, the IGP category isn't broken down into subcategories, so all the wines that fall under this category are labelled Vinos de la Tierra. VTs tend to cover much bigger geographical areas than DOPs. So you'll get wines labelled VT Castilla y León, or VT Castilla, for example, which cover very large parts of the country. See also Denominaciones de Origen.

Vinos de Pago (VP)

Spain's system for classifying wines is called the Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) system and it breaks wine regions down into two broad categories:

  • Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP)
  • Indicación Geografica Protegida (IGP)

Vinos de Pago is one of four subcategories under the DOP category. It is used for single estate wines, made in a very specific geographical area with shared soil and climate characteristics, and which are effectively awarded their own appellation or DO. The word pago is a Spanish word for vineyard. See also Denominaciones de Origen

Vintage

The year an individual wine was made or its growing season (see non-vintage).

Whole bunch fermentation

A traditional form of winemaking in which grapes are not destemmed before fermentation. The practice is especially popular in Burgundy, and increasingly among winemakers in warmer climates or hotter vintages who believe the stems can help increase a wine’s freshness (see destemming).

Wine & Spirit Educational Trust (WSET)

The world’s leading provider of wine courses and education for trade professionals and consumers alike. The WSET’s headquarters are in London but they impart classes globally through a network of franchises. People normally study for the WSET’s Diploma before they start the Master of Wine course (see Master of Wine).