ABSOLUTE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION Volume of ethyl alcohol consumed, based on converting apparent consumption of wine gallons. Converted at averages of 80 proof (40% alcohol) for spirits, 11% alcohol for table wine, and 4.5% alcohol for beer.
ACETIC Sour, with the smell or sharp taste of vinegar. Too much will make the wine undrinkable.
ACETYLALDEHYDE A naturally occurring ester formed during fermentation. Described as apple, bready, or fresh pumpkin.
ACIDIC Tartness caused by high acid content.
ACIDITY is one of the main components in the structure of wine. The acidity of balanced table wine falls in the range of .6 and .75% of a wine’s volume. The most common acids found are tartaric, malic, lactic and citric. In California it is legal to correct deficient acidity by adding malic, tartaric or citric acid.
ADJUNCTS To save money or add alcohol without adding body (as malt will), the brewer turns to adjuncts. Corn and rice are the most widely used.
AGE The amount of time distilled spirits spend in oak barrels prior to bottling. Time spent in other containers does not add to the product’s age.
AGED TAWNY PORT Tawny port gets its paler color by separating the fermenting juice from the grape skins at an early stage and from longer oak aging. Tawny port is made to accentuate the mellow berry and nut flavors.
ALAMBIC BRANDY Grape brandy made in alambic pot stills using the procedures followed in France’s Cognac and Armagnac regions.
ALBARIZAS The white chalky, absorbent soil of the finest sherry vineyards in Spain.
ALCOHOL CONTENT The statement of alcohol content by volume found on distilled spirits product labels.
ALCOHOLIC Sharp alcohol note associated with beer containing high alcohol levels, i.e. Barley Wine.
AMONTILLADO An aged fino, it has a pale amber hue and a hazelnut bouquet. 16 to 18% alcoholic strength. Recommended as an aperitif, a dinner wine with rich foods like game, or a not-so-sweet after-dinner drink.
ANGEL’S SHARE The amount of a distilled spirit lost to evaporation during the aging process.
APERITIF An appetite-stimulating before meal drink.
APPARENT CONSUMPTION Estimate of the wine gallons of beverage alcohol sold at retail. Based on state excise tax receipts, sales by state stores, shipments by producers to wholesalers or shipments by wholesalers to retailers.
APPLEJACK American brandy distilled from apples.
ARMAGNAC A brandy made from a single distillation in the southeast of Bordeaux, France, in the areas of Gers, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne.
AROMA The perfume of young wines from the fresh fruit of the grape variety before bottle aging.
ASPECT refers to the general topography of a vineyard-which direction the vines face, the angle and height of the slope, and how it interrelates with the climate.
ASTRINGENT Sharp, tart note sometimes called mouth drying.
ASTRINGENT The drying, mouth-puckering taste in red wine caused by a high tannin content. Not bitterness. Astringency usually softens and mellows with age in the bottle.
BAC Blood Alcohol Content. The percentage of alcohol found in the bloodstream at any time.
BAKED Quality found when wine is made from very ripe grapes.
BALANCE A fine harmony and relationship of the wine’s component parts, usually referring to the basic elements of fruit, tannin, acid, etc.
BALANCE The consistency of aroma to flavor to body.
BARLEY A cereal grain which can be converted to malt for making whiskey and beer.
BARREL bbl A unit to measure beer production equal to 31 gallons. A keg is equal to a half barrel.
BARREL FERMENTED identifies wines fermented in oak barrels rather than stainless steel tanks or other vessels. Several varieties of oak are employed, mainly from the United States and France, which contribute flavor components to a wine.
BARREL PROOF A designation of bourbon which has been bottled at cask strength, meaning that no water has been added causing slight variations in alcohol content for each batch bottled.
BATF Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The division of the Treasury Department responsible for the regulation of the beverage alcohol industry.
BITTER Sharp acrid flavor derived from hops.
BLACK Full bodied with a deep velvety smooth taste and a complex flavor.
BODEGAS The wineries where sherries are made and the soleras are aged.
BODY A big wine, the feel of substance in the mouth. A compliment to a wine of robust character and not always desirable if the wine is intended to be delicate.
BOTTLED BOND Distillers can withhold paying the excise tax until the product is shipped to retailers. Only straight whiskey can be bottled in bond and must be aged in “bonded” warehouses for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof.
BOTTLED IN BOND A tax designation for whiskey that has been produced in one distillery in one year, bottled at 100 proof and stored in a Treasury Department-bonded warehouse. No excise taxes are paid until the whiskey is shipped from the warehouse.
BOUQET The fragrance before tasting formed by the oxidation of fruit acids and alcohol in bottled wine, derived from bottle aging. Bouquet is distinct from the wine’s aroma, the aroma referring to the smell of the wine, derived from the grape.
BOUQUET The aroma associated with the beer. Examples might be “floral” or “hoppy” etc.
BRANDY A spirit usually made of grapes with no specific origin or rules for distillation. Brandy can be made anywhere, but cognac comes only from the Cognac region in France.
BRILLIANT A wine of very high clarity.
BRIX refers to the American system used to measure sugar content of grape must. On labels, Brix expresses the degree of ripeness in terms of sugar levels at harvest, normally in the range of 20 degrees to 25 degrees.
BROWN GOODS A term for brown distilled spirits.
BUTTS The oak casks sherries are stored in. Each one holds about 132 gallons.
CARAMEL Burnt sugar or roasted barley used for coloring.
CASK CONDITIONED ALE Instead of filtering their beer, forcing CO2 into it for carbonation and pumping beer out of the keg with more CO2, makers of cask conditioned ale keg their beer, and allow the yeast to create the carbonation. The beer is then pumped out of the keg by hand at the bar.
CAVA This is the Denomination of Origin for sparkling wines produced by the traditional method, that is to say, that the secondary fermentation takes place in the same bottle in which it is sold. The cava demarcated region is in several zones, the most important which is Catalonia. The others are Aragon, Navarre, La Rioja, Castile-Leon, Extremadura and Valencia. The Cava Denomination should not be confused with other denominations that might be associated with the provinces in which cava is produced. The minimum aging period for cava wines is 9 months in the bottle, though many spend between 18 months and 3 years, and a few up to 5 years.
CHARACTER Positive and distinct taste characteristics giving definition to a wine.
CHEWY is jargon to describe a rich, heavy, tannic wine.
CITRUSY describes a wine with the aroma and flavor constituents reminiscent of citrus fruit. Many white wines from colder climates, likeMonterey Coast chardonnay, have this quality.
CLARITY Swirl the whiskey and let it settle. Is it crystalline, bright, or opaque?
CLEAN A well made wine, old, as well as a young, with no “off” smell or taste.
COGNAC A brandy distilled with the double distillation process from white wine made of grapes grown within the legal limits of the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments of France, north of Bordeaux, which is aged in oak casks.
COLOR Examine the depth of amber against uncolored light. Do the tones resemble walnut, mahogany, amber, copper, bronze?
COMPLEX describes a wine that displays a variety of aroma and flavor elements. Generally indicates a wine of exceptional quality.
CONGENERS Trace flavoring agents, including fusel oils, esters, tannins and acids, produced during fermentation which contribute to the characteristic taste, aroma and body of various distilled spirits. They are vaporized along with the alcohol in distillation above 190 proof and developed and expanded during the aging process.
CONTROL STATES The 18 states in which a government monopoly exists for off-premise sales of distilled spirits (or distilled spirits and wine) at retail, wholesale or both. Beer generally is sold in private outlets, as is table wine, in many of these states.
COPITA A small, short stemmed, tulip-shaped glass that’s perfect for enjoying sherry. If you don’t have copitas, use regular wine glasses but fill them just half way.
CORKY Indicating a moldy, off-taste from a defective cork.
CREAM SHERRY A blend of oloroso and a sweet varietal wine made from the Pedro Ximenez white grape. Rich, creamy, and definitely for dessert. Alcohol strength is 17 to 19%. Best savored at room temperature.
CRIADERAS The rows of butts that contain the youngest wines in the soleras system.
CRIANZA DE FLOR The natural yeasts that grow on the surface of finos and manzanillas and protect them from oxidization while they’re aging.
CRIANZA This term is reserved for wines aged in the wood and bottle for at least 2 years, 6 months of which must be in oak casks. (Note: in several regions the minimum time in cask is 12 months.)
DECANTING The process of aerating and/or filtering wine such as vintage port by pouring it out of the bottle through a fine filter into a decanter in order to remove the natural grape sediment that rests on the bottom of each bottle.
DELICATE Applies to wines that should be light, usually white, young and fresh.
DEPLETION A case of product shipped from the distributor to the retailer.
DEPTH describes a wine with flavors that fill the mouth completely.
DIACETYL Buttery/butterscotch note associated with young beer or bacterially infected beer.
DIMETHYLSULFIDE Creamed corn flavor and aroma.
DISTILLATE The concentrated clear liquid obtained from distillation.
DISTILLATION The most important part of the process. Fermented wort is boiled in a pot-still where the spirit is separated from the water as a vapor and collected as it condenses back to alcohol.
DRY A clean, nonlingering, nonsweet finish.
DRY Without sweetness, measurable by degrees of sugar; not “sour”.
EARTHY Often associated with grapes grown in heavy soils. It is the smell and imaginary taste of fresh earth.
EAU DE VIE Literally translated as “water of life”, this term refers to a clear distillate of fruit or grape wine.
ELEGANT Well balanced, with finesse, a truly fine wine.
ESTERY Fruit-like aromas created during fermentation, ranging from apple to banana. In low levels, esters are desirable; high concentrations are considered off flavors/aromas.
ETHYL ALCOHOL The principle form of alcohol found in beverage alcohol products.
EXCISE TAX levied on commodities and services. The federal excise tax on distilled spirits is $13.50 per proof gallon. License and control states levy excise taxes on distilled spirits on the basis of wine gallons, liters or value. Taxes make up 44% of the price on a typical bottle of spirits.
FAT describes a wine where the level of acidity is lower than the perceptible level of sweetness, or alcohol.
FERMENTATION The process whereby yeast consumes sugar and produces alcohol, carbon dioxide and assorted “beer” flavors and aromas. Both beer and wine are fermented beverages. Distill beer, you get whiskey; distill wine, you get brandy.
Fermentation The sugars in the wort are then converted into alcohol via a fermentation process which takes place, with the addition of yeast, in a fermentation vessel.
FILTERING removes yeast cells and other particles from wine after fermentation. Occasionally, press juice is filtered before fermentation to clarify it.
FINING removes suspended elements in a wine by introducing various items ranging from powdered clay to egg whites. The fining agents precipitate to the bottom of the tank or barrel taking the suspended elements with them, and are subsequently removed from the wine.
FINISH is the tactile and flavor impression left in the mouth after swallowing. Critical to assessing the quality of a wine. In the finest wines, the finish should be long and lingering.
FINISH What sensations linger after you sip the whiskey? Is it harsh, smooth, dry, sweet, spicy?
FINO Pale, straw-gold colored wine; it’s light, fresh and bone dry with a slight almond nose. Serve it chilled. It’s perfect with tapas, as an aperitif, or as a dinner wine with seafood or chicken. The alcohol content is 15 to 17%.
FLABBY Too soft, or flat, lacking acidity, without character.
FLINTY Dry, clean, sharp, steely, often used to describe Chablis.
FLOWERY Appealing to the fragrance of a wine, almost flowerlike, used to describe many Gewurztraminers.
FRESH Young, lively and clean.
FULL A full-bodied wine, the feel and sensations of wine in the mouth, rich in fruit flavors.
GLYCERINE is a by-product of fermentation found in most wines. It is most noticeable in higher alcohol and late harvest wines, giving a smooth tactile impression.
GOLD OR DARK Aromatic and full-bodied in taste, gold or dark rum has a deep, mellow flavor.
GRAIN NEUTRAL SPIRITS Spirits distilled from any material at or above 190 proof that lack distinctive taste, color or aroma. They are used for blending with straight whiskey and for making gin and vodka.
GRAIN SPIRITS Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain and stored in oak. The characteristics imparted by storage differentiate grain spirits from grain neutral spirits.
GRAN RESERVA This term is used exclusively for red and claret wines that have aged for at least 24 months in oak casks followed by at least 36 months in the bottle. For white and rose wines, the minimum period is 48 months of which a minimum of 6 months must be in fine wood.
GRAPEY A wine that tastes like fresh grapes, such as Muscat, Johannisberg Riesling.
GRAPPA An Italian eau de vie made from the stems, pulp, skins and seeds left over from grapes pressed for wine.
GRASSY The smell of grass or new mown hay. Often describes Sauvignon Blanc.
GREEN Unripe, unbalanced acidity, raw taste.
HARD Severe flavor from high tannin and/or acid. Often mellows with time.
HERBACEOUS refers to the taste and smell of herbs. It is prominent in cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sauvignon blanc based wines.
HOPS The flower of a climbing vine, brewers use hops to give beer its characteristic bitterness, flavor and aroma. Hops also have a positive effect on beer’s clarity, foam stability and shelf-life. Common hop varieties include Cascade, Clusters, Fuggles, Goldings, Hallertau, Saaz, Tettnang and Willamette.
HOUSE STYLE Indicates a champagne firm’s trademark style (also called “non-vintage brut”). Champagne is a blended wine, which means most champagne is made up of several different vintages. In a “house style” champagne, the firm seeks to provide consistency and a recognizable taste from year to year.
HUSKY Grassy note which is derived from the husk portion of the malt used in brewing.
KENTUCKY BOURBON A designation that can only be assigned to bourbons which are distilled and warehoused for at least one year in Kentucky.
LBV The common abbreviation for “Late Bottled Vintage” Porta port bottled within four to six years of the harvest which does not need decanting, made for immediate enjoyment while retaining Vintage port characteristics.
LICENSE STATES States in which private individuals can obtain licenses to sell distilled spirits at wholesale.
LIGHT Lacking in body, color or alcohol, but pleasant.
LIGHT OR SILVER Subtle flavor and delicate aroma.
LIQUEUR Also known as a cordial – an alcoholic beverage made of fruit or herbs/seeds sweetened with a sugar syrup.
LIVELY Young, fruity wines with a little CO2.
LOW WINE The liquid created from the condensation drawn off vapors created during distillation. It has an alcohol content between 45% and 65% and when redistilled allows the alcohol to reach even higher levels of concentration with fewer impurities and unwanted flavors.
MADERIZED Flat, oxidized smell, past its prime, and has acquired a brownish tint.
MALOACTIC FERMENTATION is a secondary fermentation occurring in some white wines and the majority of reds. This process is used to convert malic acid into a softer lactic acid. It contributes complexity and softness to most reds, and in whites it imparts a buttery quality.
MALT Barley that’s been allowed to germinate, thereby converting its endosperm into starch. Brewers then convert that starch into fermentable sugars via mashing.
MALT Refers to the malted barley from which the whisky is produced.
MALT Sprouted or germinated barley used in making beer and distilled spirits. It is also referred to as barley malt.
MALTING The malting process begins by soaking barley in water until the grain begins to sprout. This germination process is then arrested by removing the barley and drying the grain over a heat fueled by peat. The resulting product ismalted barley, known to the distiller as ‘malt’.
MALTY Rich malt flavor, generally as beers become heavier they also become more malty.
MANZANILLA A fino that comes only from the coastal town of Sanlecar de Barrameda. Its salty tang is attributed to the town’s sea breezes. Serve it chilled as an aperitif or with seafood, especially shellfish. The alcohol content is 15 to 17%.
MARQUE The French word for “label”, with the sense in English of “type” or “style”.
MASH Ground malt or any other material used in the fermenting process that is soaked and then cooked in water to convert starches to sugar.
MASHING The process of activating enzymes in the malt to convert starch into fermentable sugar. The brewer draws off the sugary liquid and boils it with hops to create wort unfermented beer.
MASHING To complete the conversion of starch into sugars, the malt is mixed with warm water. The liquid drained from this mix is wort.
MATURATION The spirit is then matured in oak barrels. The legal minimum is three years, but distilleries usually allow the whisky to mature much longer.
MELLOW Mature with softness, no rough edges, properly aged.
MERITAGE represents the most expensive white or red wines from a California winery which incorporates a blend of varietals, traditionally used in the Bordeaux region of France.
METHODE TRADITIONAL (Formerly destiganet Methode champenoise) The classic method and most labor-intensive and exacting way of producing sparkling wines which originated in the Champagne region of France.
MOUTHFEEL The body of a beer, ranging from thin to heavy.
MUST is crushed grapes or juice ready to be fermented, or in the process of fermenting.
NOSE Add water and mix well. Inhale deeply. You may detect a wide variety of aromas, such as clover, vanilla, honey, oranges.
NOSE Referring to qualities of aroma and bouquet.
OLOROSSO Full bodied, amber colored, mature wines. Their alcoholic strength can be up to 20%. Usually medium dry, but some are sweet and are best served as after-dinner drinks.
OXIDIZED Cardboard, paperlike note. Associated with beer that has had oxygen introduced into it after fermentation has completed.
OXIDIZED Having lost its freshness from contact with air. Off-taste.
PALATE To judge body, take a sip and leisurely roll it around in your mouth. How does it feel on your tongue? Is it silky, assertive, spicy, delicate? Take anther sip and judge the flavor. Is it strong, woody, mellow, well-balanced?
PALE CREAM SHERRY A blend of fino and Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel wine. It can be served slightly chilled as either an aperitif, or better, as an after-dinner drink.
PALO CORTAD0 This unique sherry is usually described as tasting like an oloroso but with an amontillado nose. Like an oloroso, it develops with little or no flor yeast. Alcohol strength is about 17 to 23%.
PHENOLIC Medicinal/bandaid flavor or aroma.
PORT A sweet fortified wine from a delimited district along the Douro River in Portugal.
PREMIUM/SPECIALTY Specially aged and blended, they include the cognac-type rums and specialty flavors such as spiced rums.
PROOF A measure off the amount Of alcohol in distilled spirits. Proof is twice the percent age of alcohol by volume.
PROOF GALLON Standard measure of liquid volume, 128ounces, containing 50% ethyl alcohol by volume (100 proof).
RACKING is the most traditional way of clarifying a wine by transferring the wine from one container to another, leaving behind solid matter.
RESERVA There are two types of standard for the use of this designation. Red wines must age for a minimum of 36 months in the wood and bottle, at least 12 of them in oak casks. For rose and white wines, the minimum period is 24 months, 6 of them in oak casks.
RIPE wine usually has rounded flavors tending to be a bit rich, almost sweet. Ripeness is the most desirable state for grapes to reach prior to fermentation, balancing sweetness, acidity and flavor maturity achieved in the vineyard.
ROBUST A big and full wine.
ROUGH Insufficient age.
ROUND Well-balanced, mature wine, without harshness.
RUBY Resembling in color a clear red jewel, as in young red wines.
RYE WHISKEY Whiskey made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye.
SCOTCH On the label indicates the whisky was distilled and aged in Scotland.
SHARP Excessive acidity.
SIMPLE wine has a straightforward character with little or no nuances of flavor.
SINGLE BARREL A premium bottling in which all of the whiskey comes from the same barrel.
SINGLE MALT An unblended Scotch whisky that is the product of a single distillery.
SINGLE Whisky was made in only one distillery (i.e., it has not been blended with whisky made elsewhere). Single-malt whiskies are formed, more than any other spirit, by their environment.
SKUNKY Aroma and flavor associated with light struck beer. Mercaptan which smell like skunk spray.
SMALL BATCH A premium line of limited production, blended for consistency from a limited number of barrels.
SOFT Mellow, without roughness or hotness to the throat.
SOLERA SYSTEM The system that guarantees uniformity and consistency in sherry. Casks are stacked according to age and when a portion of the oldest wine is drawn off, the next oldest is blended into the remainder in the cask, and so on up to the top casks, or criaderas, containing the youngest wine.
SOLERAS The butts containing the oldest wines.
SOUND A well-made wine, no defects, well-balanced.
SOUR MASH A technique of fermentation that uses part of the previous distillation in the new batch of fermenting mash. This method adds consistency from one batch to the next.
SOUR VINEGAR A wine that is spoiled, unfit to drink.
SPRITZY Pleasant, slightly sparkling wine caused by a very slight secondary fermentation or the addition of carbon dioxide. Found mostly in young wines.
STILL WINE A wine without bubbles; with a minimum of 9% alcohol.
STRUCTURE is associated with the components in a wine responsible for tactile sensation; acid, glycerine, alcohol and tannin.
SULFIDIC Sulfur note, rotten eggs, or “pondy”. Naturally occurring byproduct found during fermentation.
SULFITES are a derivative of the element sulfur, widely used in winemaking, though most wineries keep their applications down to a minimum. Sulfur may be sprayed in the vineyard as a preventive against disease and pests. Sulfites may be used in the winery to clean and sterilize equipment, to kill off bacteria that could harm the wine, to prevent browning in the juice, to inhibit native yeasts on the grapes, or to guard against spoilage at bottling. Sulfites are also a natural by-product of fermentation, and most wines contain very low levels of added sulfites. By law, any wine with sulfites higher than 10 ppm must state “contains sulfites” on the label.
SULPHURY A disagreeable odor of sulphur. If the smell does not disappear after pouring, it indicates the wine is faulty.
SWEET High residual sugar content.
SWEET MASH The method whereby only fresh yeast is used for fermentation.
SWEET Sweetness can be desirable in some beers, however too much is most likely due to an incomplete fermentation.
TANNIN is the astringent, puckery substance in red (and a few white) wines, not to be confused with acid. It is derived from grapeskins, pips, as well as the wooden casks in which wines are aged. Tannin serves to naturally preserve the wine from oxidation and is a primary component in determining a wine’s structure.
TART Sharpness caused by too high acidity.
TASTING VOCABULARY Here are some words commonly used to describe flavors and aromas that can be found in bourbons; banana, clover, lemon, peach, blackcurrant, earth, maple syrup, plum, burnt sugar, grain, mint, smoldering wood, caramel, grass, new-mown hay, vanilla, cereal, hazelnut, nutmeg, violet, cherry, honey, oak, walnut, cinnamon, leather, orange zest, woody.
TENNESSEE WHISKEY Similar to sour mash bourbon, Tennessee whiskey includes an extra step in the production process-the distilled spirit is filtered through maple charcoal in large, wooden vats before aging in order to remove impurities.
TETE DE CUVEE A French phrase which means the “head” or best of the cuvees or blends. A firm will put extra care into producing their top-of-the-line champagne. Grapes are carefully chosen and sorted. Most houses will use only the first pressing of the finest grapes, which gives the best juice, in the tete de cuvee.
THIN Lacking in body and alcohol, watery, will not improve with age.
VANILLIN An extract from exposure to oak, smells like vanilla.
VARIETAL CHARACTER refers the combination of aromas and tactile impressions typically offered by a particular grape variety.
VEGETAL refers to the smell and taste of wines that are reminiscent of plants and vegetables.
VELVETY The soft mouth feel of an excellent wine, silky texture.
VENECIA A deep, narrow cup with a long, slender handle; it’s used to draw sherry from the cask.
VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE Made from wines of one single vintage. These champagnes often have a different “personality” than the house style, but are only produced in years that merit being singled out for above-average quality. In French: millesime.
VINTAGE CHARACTER PORT A superior non-vintage ruby porto which is richer in flavor due to the addition of some vintage-caliber wine to the blend. Also known as “reserve” port.
VINTAGE/UNDECLARED VINTAGE A vintage port is “declared” by the port firm two and one half years after the harvest. This allows time to assess the wine’s potential to become the highest quality of port known as “Vintage Port”. If the wine does not meet these exacting standards, it is generally crafted into a different style of port wine.
VITIS VINIFERA is the name of the species of grapevine responsible for producing grapes that make the world’s best wines.
WHITE GOODS A term often used to describe clear spirits such as vodka, gin, rum and tequila.
WINE GALLON Bulk or Liquid Gallon Common measure of liquid volume containing the standard 128 liquid ounces, regardless of alcohol content.
WOODY Undesirable odor and flavor from too long contact with wood.
YEAST This one-celled fungus not only produces alcohol and carbon dioxide; it also results in a host of other flavors and aromas (among them, fruity and flowery smelling “esters”) that make beer taste like beer.
YEASTY Young wine tasting of yeast, as in fresh bread; wine still in barrels. A characteristic of many Champagnes.