We are a huge fan of the astrophysicist (and host of the Cosmos television show) Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. My husband and I were fortunate enough to see him speak at the Colorado School of Mines in our home town of Golden, Colorado a little while ago. Perhaps the most memorable part of a very memorable lecture was when he explained that physicists / cosmologists are the only profession who don’t use bizarre and overly complex jargon to make them sound smarter than they actually are. As he explained, what do physicists call black spots they observe on the sun? “Sun Spots.” What do physicists call the big red spot one sees when looking through a telescope at Jupiter? “The Big Red Spot.” What do physicists call the most important concept in physics, the start of our universe where the entire universe exploded from an area smaller than the head of a pin? “The Big Bang.” Compare these terms to the most important term in all of microbiology, the building block of life. What do they call it? “Deoxyribonucleic acid.” See – physics terms make sense, other science terms, not so much.

After watching that lecture, we thought to ourselves – we need to do this for wine. It’s not that the words to describe wine are as long as deoxyribonucleic acid. (Yes, except for the Italian words, which make “deoxyribonucleic acid” sound short.) It’s just that many people who are into wine like to use jargon as an exclusionary tool. After all, they call the smell of the wine “the nose;” why not just call it the smell? They call the aftertaste “the finish.” Can’t we just call it the aftertaste? I understand I’ll never be able to actually change these terms into common sense ones, but I hope I can translate some wine terms as simply and easily as Dr. Tyson translates complex physics principles into layman’s terms. So here goes:

Wine Term:What it Means:

Wine locations and type of wine:

Old WorldWine made in Europe
New WorldWine made anywhere but Europe
First GrowthSee Premier Grand Cru Classe
Premier Grand Cru Classe A wine you cannot afford (unless you are Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Cult Wine A wine you also cannot afford (unless you are Neil deGrasse Tyson)
California Cult Wine A wine you certainly cannot afford (unless you are Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Wine making:

Alcoholic fermentationYeast eating sugar and pooping out alcohol
Residual SugarWhat yeast would call 'leftovers'
MacerationDunking (think of a tea bag as you make tea)
BotrytisGross fungus that makes yummy wine
TerroirWhere the grapes grow
Malolactic fermentationWhere apple tasting acid turns into butter tasting acid
WinemakerA god (don’t forget, a winemaker does turn (grape-juicy) water into wine)

Wine labeling:

This Wine Contains Sulfites Meaningless. (All wine has sulfites.)
Mise en Bouteille au Château Meaningless. Technically it means “bottled at the Château,” but all Bordeaux wine must be bottled at the Château by French law.
Denominazione di oringine controllata (DOC)Italian government approved wine
Denominazione di oringine controllata garantita (DOCG)Also Italian government approved wine
Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)Italian wine not approved by the government (so likely better than the government approved wine)
VintageYear (the grapes were grown)
ChâteauMeaningless, only a marketing term (unless you’re buying me one…)
ReserveMeaningless, only a marketing term

Types of wine:

BlancSee white wine
Red WineWine that is a purple color
White WineWine that is a yellow color
Rosé Wine that is a pink color
Wine CoolerType of wine only people under the legal age like to drink
SangriaWine made from the crappy wine your friends bring over
Cooking wineWine you would never drink. Also wine used to make Sangria.
Boxed wineWine you should be embarrassed to drink. Also wine used to make Sangria.

Wine bottles and accessories:

Waiter’s FriendWine bottle opener
CorkscrewWine bottle opener
Au soWine bottle opener that is really hard to use
MagnumA big bottle of wine
DecanterVery expensive glass flower vase that can also hold wine

Wine tasting:

TanninsDry mouth
CorkedSmells bad, tastes bad
Full bodyLots of alcohol
HotToo much alcohol
LegsWine rolling down your glass
VinegarBad wine

Other terms:

SommelierWine chooser
Bottle ShockA shaken bottle (or the name of a very bad movie)
ProofHow drunk you’ll get from drinking this wine
Vintage of the CenturyIn Bordeaux - 1927, 1945, 1959, 1961, 1970, 1982, 1990. Sorry Dr. Tyson, wine people don’t understand the mathematical difference between one year and seven years

P.S. Neil, if you’re reading this, the next time you’re back in Colorado, we’d love to meet you and have you over for dinner. (Do you like crab cakes?) After a little cyber-stalking (Wikipedia) we saw that you are into wine. Spoiler alert – we too are into wine. We’d be so honored to have you over that we’d open up whatever wines you choose from our cellar to have with dinner – even our prized 1908 Madeira or 1942 Château Doisy Daëne.


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