Wine Vocabulary Cheat Sheet

wine vocabulary

No surprise, the wine world has created its own language.

And some snotty sommeliers like to use every single weirdo wine word to make them feel like they’re in some fancy wine club and you’re not.

Well don’t let them.

The easiest thing to do is pour a glass of wine and listen to this podcast I did a while ago with my dear friends The World Wine Guys, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen. They’re wine instructors, authors and so much fun to hang out with. And the bonus: they broke down all those wine words without using any jargon.

You can listen here.

But in case you forgot your headphones and need to actually read something, I present the “Wine on the Street” vocab cheat sheet.

This list is by no means inclusive and we will continue to add as we come across more bizarre wine words we don’t know. So if you happen to hear something you don’t understand, let me know and I’ll add it.


Basically, everything’s coming together. If someone tells you the wine is balanced, you can bet its damn good.


This is the one of the weirdest wine words to me. They might as well just say it smells like sh-t. No need to be polite. Barnyard = bad. Dump it out.

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When a wine is closed it means it’s just not ready to drink. It could be too young or needs to be in a decanter and get a little air for a bit more.


I love this word. Anything creamy just has to be good. It’s another word for buttery too. You get that creamy, buttery taste from the oak barrels the wine sits in. Many white wines are aged in oak and have that fabulous buttery taste (IMHO of course)


This word is used in a bunch of different ways.  But basically the wine smells like dirt – or leaves. This is not a bad thing though.

Earthy wines smell of mushrooms, forest floor or truffles. This is a positive attribute that you get from older wines, especially, Bordeaux wines.  And Earth scents — like mineral or even rock — sometimes exist in the very finest white and red wines.

Earthy is also used to describe wines that have a finish that tastes similar to green vegetables — like a Cabernet. Again, not a bad thing.


Wines that have intense fruit flavors are said to be jammy. Think of the jam that went on your peanut butter sandwich or the sweetness from a cherry pie filling. Jammy is also be used to describe hints of raisins or prunes.

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This refers to the droplets of wine that slide down the glass after you swirl your wine. Some people call them tears.

It’s actually some crazy scientific phenomenon that can tell you about the alcohol level in your wine. Basically, high alcohol wines have thicker “legs” on the sides of the glass than low alcohol wines.

But these wine legs or tears are not an indication of the quality of the wine.

For the science geeks, they are formed from the glycerin in wine.

And since its scientific, you should not be surprised that NASA has actually written about this. Swear.


It’s basically a wine blended with a bunch of different grapes that are grown in Bordeaux, France.

“Meritage combines ‘merit,’ reflecting the quality of the grapes, with ‘heritage,’ which recognizes the centuries-old tradition of blending, long considered to be the highest form of the winemaker’s art,” according to the Meritage Alliance.


This is a wine made primarily from one grape—like all pinot noir or all Cabernet Sauvignon.


If someone says the wine is velvety, pour it in the tub and get in.

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