Here are a few basic wine terms you may run across as you start to explore.
Old World – Wines from European countries such as France, Italy, Spain, etc.
New World – Wines from outside of Europe such as USA, Australia, Chile, etc.
Appellation – A specific name based on a geographic location that a wine producer/grower can become authorized to use on their label if they follow the production guidelines of that specific appellation (examples include: Chianti Classico DOCg, Bordeaux AOC, Rioja DOCa, Champagne AOC, etc.). In some European countries, they don’t always put the types of grapes used in the wine on the label, so the way to know what grapes are in the wine is by knowing which grapes are allowed by the appellation on the label.
AVA (American Viticultural Area) – The American equivalent of an appellation, based on a geographic location and recognized for a heightened level of quality (such as Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, etc). Note: AVA production guidelines generally aren’t quite as stringent as European appellations are.
Fortified wine – A wine which has had a spirit added, generally resulting in a higher alcohol level (examples include: Sherry and Port).
Still wine – Wine that doesn’t have bubbles.
Sparkling wine – Wine with bubbles (captured carbon dioxide which dissolves into the wine)
Traditional Method / Methode Traditionale – A process for making sparkling wine in which a second fermentation (which adds the bubbles) takes place in the bottle that will ultimately go to market. (This method is most famously used in Champagne, and also in Cava and a variety of other sparkling wines). Wines made this way will be indicated on the label.
Tannin – A compound found in grape skins (as well as seeds and stems) that adds a distinctive mouth-drying sensation to a wine.
Lees – Dead yeast. Sometimes winemakers will allow their wine to age for a period on the spent dead yeast (“sur lie”) to soften the wine, add body and sometimes even impart flavors such as toast, dough, etc. (for example - Champagne is a wine famous for being aged “sur lie”.)
Brut – The driest category of Champagne and some other sparkling wines. Brut wines are actually drier than “dry” sparkling wines (which are also called “sec” in France).
Trocken – The German word for “dry”. A good way to find dry Riesling is by looking for “Trocken” on the label.
Sulfites (SO2) – A compound which is used in almost all wines as both an antioxidant and antibacterial agent to preserve freshness and protect flavors of wine. In addition to being added by winemakers, a small amount of sulfites occur naturally during the fermentation process.
ABV (Alcohol By Volume) – The percentage of alcohol in a wine (or beer, or spirit) to give you an indication of how strong it is. This must be listed on wine labels by law.
Vintage - The year that the grapes used to make the wine were harvested. Vintages can be an important indicator of quality, especially if the wine comes from a region with weather which varies greatly from year-to-year like Burgundy, France.
Non-Vintage - A blend of wines made from grapes harvested in different years. (Champagne is often non-vintage, with wines from different years blended to create a consistent "house style" with each bottle produced.)