Slang, always informal and local and most often amusing, and idioms can be both the delight and the bane of even the best-informed tourist. Whereas learning a new word and the story behind it for a long-time favorite is exciting and fun, missing an opportunity to try something awesome because you didn’t know what was on offer is a real disappointment. These wine slang and idioms of other countries can spice up your wine dialogue!
Like many fields, wine is booby-trapped with jargon. This article aims to decode some of the more esoteric wine-related terms you may hear at tastings or in bars, restaurants and bottle shops.
LEAFY: A quality reminiscent of herbs, which can be a plus in some wines. It can also describe a flaw in others.
Whether you’re out to dinner with clients, celebrating a major milestone, or simply trying a new bottle of wine for the first time, proper pronunciation is essential. Thankfully, you don’t need to sign up for language classes or meet privately with a sommelier (say soh-mi-lee) to master the art of wine ordering. Just check out our list of the ten most common wine terms along with an audible guide so you can say them like a pro.
A wine that tastes green is characterized by grassy, herbal or vegetal flavors and aromas. This is sometimes due to the presence of volatile compounds called methoxypyrazines that evoke the smell of grass and act as a defense mechanism in plants, but it can also be the result of poor vineyard practices. For example, if a vineyard is overly vigorous, it can lead to a wine with a vegetable Pyrazine taste, which can be off-putting to some wine drinkers.
Other examples of green wine include Sauvignon Blanc that has a flinty flavor or a Pinot Gris that is too fruity and acidic. Luckily, as Vinho Verde has gained in popularity, it has led to more experimental vineyards that are producing single varietal, oak-aged versions of the wine that are not green at all. However, many Vinho Verde wines still have a slight tinge of green in their light yellow hues. This is due to the high proportion of Alvarinho, Loureiro and Azal grapes in most white Vinho Verde blends.
Grip is a term that means to grasp or hold something firmly. A good grip is important when playing sports, because it allows you to control the ball more easily.
A wine with a grip is one that has a nice firmness to it, usually due to tannin. This is a quality that many people enjoy in wines, especially red wines.
An acidic wine is a dry, tart or sour wine that has a sharp edge to it on the palate. It can be pleasant in Riesling and Gewurztraminer, but not so much in Cabernet Sauvignon or Port.
Unlike some other wine slang, this is not an insult. However, it is an accurate description of some wines, and can be a turn off to consumers who prefer smoother, more complex wines.
Funky is a controversial term used in wine, with no clear consensus as to whether it refers to a wine that is sour (like lambic or other sour beer), earthy, savory, or mushroomy. The term has been adopted by some anti-snob movement groups, who use it to describe natural wines.
Cooperage is the place where barrels are stored and aged, as well as the winery itself. A bung is a small stopper that sits on the top of a barrel, and can be removed to add wine or siphon off wine. A thief is a tube used to extract a sample from the bung or cooperage.
The term hard wine is used to describe a wine with high concentration of alcohol and tannins. Typically, wines that are hard have a bitter taste and are astringent. A good example is a Cabernet Sauvignon.
When a wine is swirled in the glass, it leaves viscous streams (legs) running down the side of the glass. This is a positive thing and is indicative of a full-bodied wine.
OAKY: Describes the flavor and aroma imparted by the oak barrels or casks that the wine is aged in. This quality can be desirable or undesirable depending on how the wine is treated. Toasty, vanilla, and smoky are positive characteristics, while cedar, lumber and green wood are negative.
HERBACEOUS: Describes the taste and smell of herbs in a wine. This can be a positive characteristic, especially in white wines such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
ROUND: Describes a smooth and rounded feeling on the palate. This feeling is a result of the balance between acidity and sweetness in a wine.
The Old World refers to Europe (Italy, France, Spain and Germany) where there is an ancient tradition of cultivating grapes expressly for wine production. This tradition has been handed down from generation to generation, some of the vineyards having been in family ownership for millennia. These are the regions where some of the best wines in the world are produced. The wines of the Old World are complex and rich in both fruit and structure.
Harmonious is a wine term that describes the way the different elements of a wine come together in perfect harmony. This means that none of the components are too dominant or stand out over any other. A harmonious wine will also have good balance between acidity, tannin and fruit. A harmonic wine will have a complex flavor with a silky texture.
A bung is the top of a barrel that allows wine to be added or removed. It is often used to test the condition of a wine by pouring a small amount into another container. This process is known as decanting.
BOWEL SICKNESS: A temporary condition that can cause wines to have muted fruit flavors and is sometimes caused by bottles being shaken up during shipping. A few days of rest can cure this problem.
BRAWN: A wine that has a tannic, raw quality with aggressive and intense woody flavors. Usually a red wine but can also be found in whites. A branned wine is often described as having a leathery or chewy texture.
Bosbefok – nuts, crazy; a slang word for people who have lost the plot. E.g. I went bosbefok when I saw the damage that mud did to my lovely white sofa! Toad in the Hole – sausages wrapped in Yorkshire pudding batter. Toodle pip – a posh form of goodbye. The examples above have been programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage.
Hazy is a great word that can describe many different things. It can refer to a sky that is foggy, misty, or smokey. It can also be used to describe a wine that is cloudy or not clear. A hazy wine can have a lot of flavors and aromas that are similar to orange juice or other tropical fruits. Hazy wines can also be very fruity and have a lot of acidity.
Another way to use this word is to describe a beer that has a lot of flavor and is very cloudy or hazy. Hazy beers are often brewed with yeast and grains that are not completely crushed. This can lead to a lot of different flavor profiles and textures in the beer. Hazy beers are usually very juicy and have a lot of flavors that are similar to orange juice or other tropical fruit. They can also have a lot of acidity and a low bitterness level.
Some wines can be hazy due to excessive tannin or oak. They can also be hazy because of poor storage conditions or a tainted cork. Some of these wines have an off-putting moldy newspaper or musty aroma and taste and others are lacking in complexity, balance, harmony, and finesse. To help prevent hazy wine, it is recommended to decant the wine. This process helps separate the sediment from the liquid and can be done by slowly pouring the wine into a new glass.
Hearty derives from the English word heart, and as a metaphor it refers to something that has your full attention or is warmly enthusiastic. It can also be used to describe food or a welcome greeting, but idioms that use it tend to emphasize its wholesome or cheerful qualities: a hearty meal, a gratifying swig of wine, a rousing round of applause.
A hearty wine is typically robust, full-bodied and well-structured; it will be firm on the palate but also soft in the mouth, thanks to tannin or high acidity. It will have a pleasant, lingering finish, indicating that the wine was crafted by an experienced hand.
In terms of grape varieties, a hearty wine will be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, or with Zinfandel. It may also contain Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. A good hearty wine will be complex, with a range of fruit flavors and hints of spice.
When choosing a wine, you should consider its aroma, palate and finish to decide which one will suit you best. If you aren’t quite sure where to start, you could try a Covid-19 locktail or a vin de paille (a wine made from marrow). Or you could try a Pinot Noir with a hearty dose of oak. Or perhaps a vintage with a hearty amount of herbaceous character. And if you’re really adventurous, you could try a Methode Champenoise.
English-Speaking Regions of the Globe
English is spoken across the world by a plethora of different peoples and cultures for different ends. Indeed, it is often the language of science and business shared by speakers and writers for whom it is a second-, third-, or –fourth language. English’s prominence in many countries with strong heritages of international migration and very different histories also fosters a diversity in its dialects that can be a real challenge for a world traveler.
North America Wine Slang
Giggle-water (1926), giggle-juice (1939): Any kind of alcohol, but most often champagne.
Smash (1959): Wine
Speedball (1926): A glass of wine fortified with additional spirits, e.g., brandy
Dago red (1906): Wine of inferior quality, especially of Italian origin
Red ink (1919): Cheap red wine
Red biddy (1928): A mixed drink made from cheap red wine and methylated (or denatured) spirit
Great Britain and the Commonwealth Wine Slang
Pink-eye (1900): Inferior wine
Bombo (1942): Cheap wine, often fortified
Fourpenny dark (1955): Cheap wine that was originally served in a miniature mug with a handle
Plonko (1963): Someone with a taste for cheap wine
International Wine Terms
One for the road (1943): A drink taken before leaving
Fizz (1864): Champagne
Bubbly (1920): Short for the earlier and now obsolete “bubbly water”
Don’t pour new wine in old bottles: You should not try to force something new and different into an established and longstanding context.
Sweet is the wine, but sour is the payment: Actions have consequences
What is the wine slang in foreign languages?
The meaning of some food and drink idioms and expressions is quite transparent when translated literally. For example, “when the wine is in, wit is out” means “alcohol impairs cognition.”
Wine, alcohol, and their effects are so central to many cultures’ eating habits, communities, and economies that they pop up in conversations in unexpected ways that an outsider can have difficulty following.
Twee rye spore loop, literally “walk in two lines”: To be drunk
dēnghóng-jiǔlǜ, literally “lanterns red, wine green”: feasting and pleasure-seeking
French Wine Slang
Cuver son vin, literally, “to cover their wine”: to sleep off the effects of immoderation of any kind
Mettre de l’eau dans son vin, literally “to water their wine”: to let anger dissipate
Idioms of German
Einen Kater haben, literally “to have a tomcat”: to be hungover
Italian Wine Sayings
Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono, literally “there is good wine in small bottles”: bigger isn’t better.
Il vino fa buon sangue, literally “good wine makes good blood”: an apple a day keeps the doctor away
Spanish Wine Sayings
Con pan y con vino se anda el camino, literally “with bread and wine the road is walked”: life is better with food, friends, and family
Mesa sin vino, olla sin tocino, literally “table without wine, pot without bacon”
Ayto, John (Ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Slang. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Kingsbury, Stewart A. and Kelsie B. Harder (Eds.) A Dictionary of American Proverbs. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.