A to Z Wine Terminology

Do you want to expand your knowledge of French wine? Have you always wanted to know what an Appellation is or where Beaujolais is? We’ve assembled a comprehensive list of French wine terms that we’re continuously adding to!

Acidity - There is a natural element of acidity in all wines and grape varieties. Acidity is a key element to a wine longevity and it’s often perceived as the sharpness of a wine. 

Alcohol - It is the result of fermentation where the sugars contained in the grapes turn into alcohol. The percentage of alcohol within a wine is a measure of its concentration of ethanol. 

Alsace - A French wine region located in the North East of France near the German Border, which is most famously known for producing dry and sweet wines made from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris grapes.

AOC/AOP - Is an abbreviation for Appellation d’Origine Controlée or Protegée, a controlled term of origin for French agricultural products such as wines, liqueurs, spirits, cheeses and butters.

Appellation  - In this context, an appellation is a legally defined and protected area in which wines are grown.

Aroma - Refers to the distinct, pleasant smell of a wine in this context, which can be grouped in different families like Flower, Earth, Spice or Vegetable for example.

Balance - When speaking of balance in relation to wine, balance means the level of harmony between acidity, tannins, fruit, oak and other elements in a wine. All about wine is a matter of balance.

Barrel Fermented - If a wine is barrel fermented this is referring to the winemaking process in which the wine fermentation has been made in wood barrel, quite often made of oak.

Barrique - The French term for barrel or cask and it refers to the very specific capacity of 225 litres or 59 gallons.

Bâtonage/Pigeage - the French term for lees stirring, a process to mix the whole content of the tank (juice, solid particles, dead yeast…) in order to obtain a consistent wine in terms of flavour, color and aromas. 

Beaujolais - A red wine produced in the Beaujolais region located in the North of Lyon and made from Gamay grapes

Beaujolais Nouveau - The most popular vin de primeur, which is fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale on the third Thursday of November, just a few months after the harvest.

Blanc de Blancs - Champagne-making process can include up to 3 grapes variety: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red) and Pinot Meunier (red). Blanc de Blancs, means literally white from whites and is the name given to white Champagne or sparkling wines made exclusively from white grapes. 

Blanc de Noirs - Champagne-making process can include up to 3 grapes variety: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red) and Pinot Meunier (red). Blanc de Noirs, means white wine made from red grapes. Generally used for Champagne it’s also right for white sparkling wines made exclusively from red grapes.

Blend - In the context of wine, the term blend is used when two or more grape varieties juice are combined together after individual fermentation.

Body - a tasting terminology referring to the weight and texture of the wine on the palate. As a result, wines are often referred to being light, medium or full-bodied. 

Bordeaux - A city in South-West France, which is a famous wine region renowned for producing various red and white wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Bordeaux is the home region for some of the most famous Châteaux like Latour, Margaux, Cheval Blanc or Petrus.

Botrytis - Botrytis Cinerea or more commonly called noble rot, is a beneficial fungus which causes grapes to shrivel and sugars to concentrate. It is used to produce sweet wines.  

Bouquet - a tasting terminology referring to the sum of a wine’s aromas or how a wine smells as a whole. 

Breathe - We let the wine breathe by opening it. Oxygen and air will come in contact with the wine, which will lead to aerate it and enable to open up the wine in term of aromas.

Brettanomyces - A common default for a wine. It’s a form of yeast, also known as bretts that infects some wines and beers that can alter the entire bouquet and aromas of a wine. It is not always noticeable and not always considered as a fault.

Brix - the scale used to measure the level of sugar by weight in unfermented grapes. 

Brut - A French term used to describe the level of sweetness in sparkling wine and is the most common level. According to the scale of sweetness, after Brut comes Extra Sec, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux. Extra-Brut is used for Sparkling with no added sugar

Burgundy - A French wine region in eastern France. Red wines are made of Pinot Noir or Gamay - for Beaujolais wines - and mostly Chardonnay for white wines. The most famous AOC in the regions are Chablis, Gevrey-Chambertin, Pommard, Chassagne-Montrachet, Volnay, to name just a few.

Cap - The solid elements of grape such as the bits, skins or stems that stay at the top of the juice into the tank. The cap elements give the wine its color, tannins and aromas. 

Cabernet Franc - A red grape variety planted in the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and North-East Italy. This grape is typically used in combination with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Bordeaux or for single varietal wine in the Loire.

Carbon Dioxide - A by-product of fermentation, unless producing a sparkling wine, winemakers will ensure the majority of carbon dioxide is removed from the wine prior to bottling. 

Carbonic Maceration - A winemaking technique where grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide heavy environment prior to crushing; it produces wines with very low tannins like in the Beaujolais region.

Cabernet Sauvignon - The most planted red grape variety in the world and originating from Bordeaux. This grape variety is typically used in combination with Merlot for Bordeaux wines and for single varietal wines in California or Australia

Chablis - A French AOC located in the North of Burgundy. The region only produces white wines from Chardonnay of a very specific style due to its unique terroir and climate.

Champagne - The French region producing the sparkling wines called Champagne. The AOC has a very strict geographic border and the name can only be used for the wines produced in the area.

Chaptalisation - In winemaking, chaptalisation is the process of adding sugar to increase alcohol content levels.

Chardonnay - A white grape variety originating from Burgundy and widely planted in various wine countries from the UK to New Zealand. It is also the only white grape used to make Champagne and the single varietal Champagne called Blanc de Blancs.

Château - A Château is the French terminology for a “castle” or “country house”, an estate with its own vineyard. Most commonly used by Bordeaux wine producers, it refers to a place where the wine is made.

Chenin Blanc - A white grape variety originating from the Loire valley and producing dry or sweet white wines as well as sparkling wines. It is also widely planted in South Africa.

Claret - A British term used since the 12th century for a red Bordeaux wine. It comes from a traditional French word “Clairet” which means a wine produced anywhere among Bordeaux vineyards.

Cold Stabilisation - In winemaking, is the process to keep tartaric acid crystal from forming after the wine has been bottled. It consists in decreasing the wine temperature under 0° during several weeks then filtrate it to extract tartaric crystals. This process enables to adjust wine quality and stabilise wine color.

Color - The color of the wine given essentially by grapes skin, it’s often a key identifier of the age and the quality. For example, red wines will turn brownish/tawny with age and white wines will grow darker in color. 

Cooperative - A cooperative is a winery owned by multiple grape growers or winemakers.

Corked - Term used when a wine suffers from a specific fault where a cork has been tainted by trichloroanisole which adds a wet cardboard aromas and flavour to the wine.

To be continued...