Wine Terminology


Wine tasting doesn’t have to be hard or complex, it should be easy and fun! Here in Iowa, we’re all about truly enjoying the experience of tasting wine and sharing it with friends, not getting hung up on stereotypes or snobbery. Iowa wineries are famous for offering an incredibly relaxed atmosphere that you can feel comfortable learning about and tasting our wines. You’re sure to learn something new or maybe even discover your new favorite wine!

Always remember that the best wines are the ones that YOU enjoy! Don't worry, we’re here to help you out with some commonly used wine terminology so you can kick back, relax and enjoy Iowa wine.


Acetic. Sour vinegary odor; volatile acidity, too much can make wine undrinkable.

Acid. Sharp, tart effect of the green fruit of young wine on both the nose and tongue.

Aftertaste. Relates to how long one can smell and feel the wine in the mouth after it is swallowed. Common terms are "short", "lingering", and "long".

Age. Length of time a wine has existed, often taken as a sign of quality, however, "old" wines are not always "good" wines, and some wines do not improve as they age.

Aroma. Perfume of fresh fruit - diminishes with fermentation and disappears with age to be replaced by the bouquet.

Astringent. Rough-puckery taste sensation caused by excess tannin, especially in young wines. It diminishes with age in bottle.

Balanced. Having all natural elements in harmony with not one characteristic standing out.

Big. Full of body and flavor, having a high degree of alcohol, color and acidity.

Bitter. Self-descriptive by the drinker, but could be a sign of inferior treatment during the wine making process such as excess stems left during crush or metal contamination.

Body. Term used to describe how the wine feels in the mouth. The feeling is caused by dissolved solids in the wine. A wine may be "light-bodied", or thin as opposed to "heavy-bodied", or thick.

Bouquet. Encompasses all smells found in a wine, including aromas from the grape varietals and winemaking characteristics like oak or buttery flavors. Often referred to as the "nose" by wine judges.

Brilliant. Bright and sparkling, as opposed to dull and cloudy.

Clean. A well-constituted wine with no offensive smell or taste.

Clarity. Wine should have a clear color, should not have cloudiness or visible particles or sediment left in the bottom of your glass.

Cloudy. Unsound condition of a hazy-dull looking wine.

Cloying. Too much sweetness and too little acidity.

Coarse. Rough texture, little elegance.

Color. Wine reflecting proper color of variety; e.g. Vidal Blanc should not be brown, Marquette should be a deep purple.

Corky. Disagreeable odor and flat taste of musty cork.

Crisp. A wine with refreshing acidity.

Depth. Rich, lasting flavor.

Dry. Completely lacking sugar or perceived sweetness, not to be confused with bitterness or sourness.

Earthy. Distinctive taste that the soil of certain vineyards gives to their wines.

Estate-Bottled. Wine that is made, produced, and bottled by the owner.

Fermentation. The process by which grape juice is made into wine. Finish. Taste that wines leave in the end, either pleasant or unpleasant.

Flabby. Overly soft, almost limp, without structure. In white wines, this is often due to high pH levels.

Flat. Dull, unattractive, low in acidity in sparkling wines: wine that has lost its sparkle.

Flinty. Steely, dry wine, with an odor, and flavor reminiscent of gun flint.

Flowery. Flowerlike bouquet, appealing to the nose.

Fortified Wine. A wine that has additional neutral grape brandy that raises the alcohol content, such as a dessert wine.

Foxy. Pronounced aroma and flavor in wines from native American grapes found usually in grape juices and jellies.

Fruity. Aroma and flavor from fresh grapes found usually in young wines.

Full. Having body and color, often applied to wines that are high in alcohol, sugar and extracts.

Green. Harsh and unripe with an unbalanced acidity that causes disagreeable odor and raw taste.

Hard. Tannic without softness or charm, can mellow with age.

Harsh. Excessively hard and astringent, can become softer with age.

Hydrogen Sulfide. Disagreeable odor reminiscent of rotten eggs - if the smell does not disappear after pouring wine, it’s an indication of a faulty product.

IWGA. Iowa Wine Growers Association, a nonprofit member-based organization founded in 2000, dedicated to the growth of the wine and grape industry in Iowa.

IQ or IQWC. Iowa Quality Wine Consortium, which is a voluntary program designed to increase the quality of wines made in Iowa.

Light. Usually young, fruity, acidity and a little carbon dioxide.

Loess Hills District. The Loess Hills District is Iowa's newest American Viticulture Area (AVA), named after the unique type of Loess soil and located in western Iowa.

Long. Leaving a persistent flavor that lingers in the mouth, often a sign of quality. Refers to the finish of the wine.

Made and bottled by.

Label statement on U.S. produced wine that indicates at least 10% of the wine has been produced by the bottler.

Musty. Disagreeable odor and flavor caused by storing in dirty casks, barrels or cellars; moldy.

Nose. The term used to describe the bouquet and aroma of wine.

Oxidized. Having lost freshness from contact with air. In white, color appears brown.

Residual Sugar. An indication of how dry or sweet a wine is.

Ripe. Full tasting of ripe fruit without a trace of greenness.

Sharp. Excessive acidity, a defect usually found in white wines.

Short. Leaving no flavor in the mouth after initial impact.

Smoky. Self-descriptive of particular bouquet.

Smooth. Of silky texture that leaves no gritty rough sensation on the palate.

Soft. Suggests a mellow wine, usually low in acid and tannin.

Spice. Definite aroma and flavor of spice from certain grape varieties.

Style. The characteristics of the grapes and the wine.

Sulphur Dioxide. A substance used in winemaking as a preservative.

Sweet. Having high content of residual sugar either from grapes themselves or from added sugar or from the arrested fermentation.

Table Wine. In the United States, this is defined as any wine with less than 14% alcohol content.

Tannic. Mouth-puckering taste of young wines particularly reds, too much tannin makes wine hard, but also preserves it longer, whereas aging in the bottle diminishes the tannin levels.

Tannin. A natural compound that comes from the skins, stems, and pips of the grapes and also from the wood that wine is aged in.

Tart. Sharp, with excessive acidity and tannin, may be necessary to give long-lived wines their long life.

Thin. Lacking body and alcohol, too watery to be called light, and will not improve with age.

Upper Mississippi River Valley Region. Largest American Viticulture Area (AVA) in the U.S., which spans across four states, including Iowa on the eastern side.

Varietal Wine. Wine labeled for the variety of grape from which it was predominantly or entirely made. An example would be Brianna, Frontenac or Concord in Iowa, or Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet in California.

Velvety. Mellow red wine with smooth, silky texture leaving no acidity on the palate.

Vintage. 95% of grapes are harvested in the same season in order to be labeled with a vintage year.

Watery. Thin and small without body and character.

WEIGGA. Western Iowa Grape Growers Association. The WeIGGA has been serving the Western Iowa/ Eastern Nebraska community since 2000. The association is a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers and was established to help rebuild the Grape and Wine Industry of Western Iowa.

Woody. Odor and flavor of oak due to long storage in barrels.

Yeasty. Smelling of yeast such as in fresh bread.

wineNicole Eilerswine, education