Mon 20 Apr 2015

A Plea For Help: Wine Glossary


Do you know your carbonic macerations from your malolatic fermentations? Your dosage from your assemblage or your lees from your flor?

Or are you occasionally forced into the odd bout of head scratching? If you fall into the latter category then not to worry, as we know you’re not alone.


The Society has a wide and diverse membership, which is one of the joys of working here and yet simultaneously one of the challenges faced when communicating about wine. It’s very difficult to gauge the level of wine knowledge of hundreds of thousands of members.

I know from personal experience of meeting members in The Society’s Cellar Showroom and out and about on tastings that many members are extremely knowledgeable about wine with a depth of understanding that many wine professionals would be proud of.

I also know that there are many members who are much newer to wine and for whom the sheer number of terms and technical descriptions can seem more like coming to grips with a foreign language than understanding something as pleasurable as wine.

The Society’s buyers and our dedicated Copy Team constantly strive to make all our wine notes and descriptions as accessible and thorough as possible (quite a task given space constraints in our printed materials and the vast number of wines stocked) however the one size fits all perfect wine note is something as elusive as the snipe illustrated on the label of The Society’s Red Burgundy.

With this in mind and following on from member feedback last year we have decided to include a glossary of terms in The Society’s next List (an online version is already available here) starting from July. Although we will only be able to feature a small selection of terms in the list it is hoped that we can cover the most common ones and point members to our more comprehensive online glossary.

The stumbling block is selecting which terms to include. The people best placed to choose are of course you, the members!

So let us know which phrases have you reaching for the Oxford companion to wine and which terms are enough to drive you to drink! With your help we can compile a list of the most common culprits and feature them in The Society’s quarterly List and convert head scratching time into more pleasurable drinking time!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaigns Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous


  1. Dave Pawson says:

    Fantastic idea – perhaps extend it to the less knowledgeable submitting words for which they would like definitions?

  2. Gareth Park says:

    Hi Mr Pawson,

    Completely agree. The goal is make wine as understandable as possible so all suggestions are welcome.



  3. Steve Bloomfield says:

    I guess Gilly Golden started this off many years ago. But I did find her way of describing wine very helpful. For those who have never heard or read her wine reviews she compares wine to flavours and smells that we would be familiar with. For example she would tend to describe a full bodied red by referring to cherries and strawberries but with a hint of pencil sharpenings. Clearly this can be carried to a ridiculous extent but within reason I find the approach quite helpful.

    • Chris Garrard says:

      Please leave Gilly Golden well alone, she turned an interesting wine program into comedy all those years ago—–I thought/hoped she had ridden off into the winery sunset.

  4. Bill Sanderson says:

    A few more words to describe faulty wines would be useful. I had a bottle from you a month or so back and it wasn’t corked or oxidised, just ‘off’. I’d like to have known what was wrong with it but didn’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to put the unpleasant experience into words.

  5. Bill Lloyd says:

    I’ve never understood the term “lifted”. Or maybe I just never spend enough!

  6. Paul Hughes says:

    What are sulphites and why are they used ?

  7. Roger Mackenzie says:


    this is not a comment on a glossary but on your use of the ‘read more’ facility. I find it most annoying that ‘read more’ means exactly what it says even if the ‘more’ is a couple of words that end a sentence. I suggest that the short form description of a wine should be a précis probably within a set number of words. The ‘read more’ facility should lead to a far more extensive description of the wine. If such a description is not available then ‘read more’ should not appear.

    Offered in good faith as an improvement to a very good web site.

    Regards, Roger Mackenzie

    • Martin Brown says:

      Thanks very much for this, most useful. We’re currently endeavouring to improve product pages to organise information more clearly. Watch this space!
      Martin Brown
      The Wine Society

  8. John Salt says:

    The word ‘reduction’ is frequently used but I’m never sure exactly what it means.

  9. Tim Stockil says:

    Not quite what you are asking for, I know, but I did find it helpful to have some names of wines rendered phonetically, particularly those Hungarian tongue twisters like Cserszegi. I don’t think you are still stocking the wonderfully named Diznocky-something but I seem to remember you used to give its pronunciation in brackets.
    I suppose you could separate tasting notes into “What the wine tastes like – gnat’s wee on a gooseberry”, etc and “How the wine is made – malolactic furmint and carbonic maconnais” and so on and then members could choose the sort of information they find most useful or interesting.

  10. Please tell me what supple means. Most of the wine I drink – good or bad – usually bends.

  11. IAN SKELTON says:

    Gareth, I too have a slightly off the subject request please! I would find it really helpful if the description given in the list provides more detail about the grapes within the wine. For example, the Chateau de Pitray 2011 entry on Page 28 gives the 2 grapes and their proportions but the Society’s own version on the entry above does not. I have rung up the Society on occasion in the past to find out grape types and somebody has always got back to me. [I use the wines in tasting classes]. If the entry always gave the grape varieties it would save members having to bother you all! Thanks for asking!

  12. Alan Prior says:

    Perhaps an explanation of what has happened to the French quality terms I used to know – AOC, VDQS, Vin de Pays, etc.. Looking at a “wine guide” in the shops recently I found a number of other terms, all abbreviated but without illumination – described as “European-Wide” (presumably because of the EU ?)

    Perhaps a Comparison Table?

    Alan Prior

  13. Paul Newby says:

    Excellent idea. Perhaps your list has been available all along and merely needed publicity! There is even more French in there than I would have expected. For example is there really no English equivalent of chaptalisation? Where you have got an English word it would often be helpful also to have the French equivalent. And while you are at it, more German, Spanish, Italian terms would make the list far more useful. For example, chaptalisation = Süssreserve (D) [sorry, the system may fail to show the umlaut here]. Placing baffling French terms like charpenté in their correct position in the English listing would be good. And how about terms such as effeuilles which I suspect may only occur in suisse romande and challenges translators, never mind drinkers?

  14. Brad Thiele says:

    How about a more detailed description of what is meant by “body”? I’ve been told by WS staff in the past that the term “full bodied” is applied to everything above a certain alcohol content. Surely it’s not just about alcohol, right?

  15. Clive Rodmell says:

    How about a definition of ‘closed’ and ‘closing up’ e.g. as in Tim Sykes’s “What to drink this year” article:
    “2008s are still closed”, “the 2010s are closing up”, “2009s … are tending to close up now”
    Does this mean that they are too tannic? In particular, please explain the process of “closing up” – does this mean that wines can be drinkable initially but then turn more tannic before becoming drinkable again with further ageing?

    Also I suggest making the online glossary easier to find – I searched on the website for “glossary” and the search facility found nothing.

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