Vino lingo: The secret language of wine lovers

You can learn a great deal from a book's or a blog's glossary, but some words just don't often appear on official lists.

These are the insider wine terms favoured by oenovores, whether conscious of it or not, to signal to one another that they are in the know.

My favourites, taken from my book How to Drink Like a Billionaire, are as follows:


alcohol agonist: one who zealously protests wines made in a high-alcohol style, contending that such full-throttle wine necessarily lacks nuance and drinkability.

bacchant/e (buh-kant, buh-kant-ee): a drunken reveller.  In Roman mythology, bacchantes were the female followers of the wine god Bacchus.  Often clad in animal skins and toting a large staff, they are depicted in ancient art as frolicking and dancing and dashing through forests with wild, riotous abandon.

bowl grabber: a drinker who holds his or her wineglass by the bowl instead of the stem. It tends to smudge the glass and kill the chill of white wine; your author sometimes qualifies as one.

checklist drinker: those with a mission to taste the trophy-grade, iconic bottles of wine, including top red Burgundy, such as Domaine de Romanee Conti's La Tâche and Domaine Roumier Musigny; white Burgundy Domaine Leflaive Montrachet; Bordeaux, such as Château Latour and Chateau Petrus; Napa cult Cabernet, such as Screaming Eagle and others (related: "label drinker," "trophy hunter").

grape crusader: preachy, strident wine pro who evangelises about a particular wine type or style; the worst of them try to force their taste on you.

pinkie lifter: affected, pretentious wine taster.


point grabber: a consumer who overly relies on the scores of wine critics.

terroir-ist: those for whom the concept of terroir – the idea that the sum of a region's soil, sun, wind, and other environmental conditions give a particular wine a consistently identifiable character – is the all-important factor in determining the worth of a wine (also: "terroir snob").

wine widow(er): the non-oenophilic member of a couple who suffers with his or her spouse's vinous obsession and endures lonely intervals while the seized spouse pores over wine lists at restaurants, peruses inventory at wine shops, and contemplates converting the rec room into a wine cellar.

Unofficial wine types

cougar juice: insipid styles of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay served in oversize wineglasses and favoured by admirers of The Real Housewives and Cougartown. (related: "mummy juice").

dead soldiers: empty bottles saved as a souvenir. The name presumably refers to their dutiful service quenching thirst and also to the fact that their spirits, literally, have departed.

island wine: wine made on Mediterranean islands such as Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Santorini, and Crete, or the Canary Islands; a broader definition might also include islands such as Tasmania, off the Australian coast.

library release: older vintages that a winery has stored and is now selling; an excellent, easy way to taste aged wine (also: "museum release" or "late release").

Rudy wine: wine counterfeited by convicted felon Rudy Kurniawan, aka "Dr. Conti." He would soak labels off old, inexpensive bottles and, in their place, affix fake labels of ultraprestigious wine. In his home, the FBI discovered a workshop dedicated to counterfeiting, including thousands of fake labels, bottles, corks, and stamps. Kurniawan is currently serving ten years in the clink.

shipwrecked wine: wine rescued from the bottom of the sea; often extremely old and able to fetch thousands of dollars at auction, primarily for the excitement of sampling a one-of-a-kind historical specimen, but often tastes no better than seawater with a tinge of fish tank and barnacle.

teeth strainers: super-saturated, high-alcohol red wines such as expansive styles of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec.

unicorn wine: mythical wines lusted over by wine geeks – less a function of price than of scarcity and coolness, though all three factors do converge. Unicorns often gain their aura, like those of certain works of art, from creators who have passed away or retired, such as red Burgundy from Henri Jayer, Cornas (red wine from the northern Rhône) from Thiérry Allemand, and Champagne from Jacques Selosse.

volcano wine: wine made in the soils of a nearby volcano, such as Sicily's Mount Etna, which has garnered much attention for its uniquely minerally reds and savory whites. Other volcanically situated regions include Naples (Mount Vesuvius), Santorini, Madeira, and the Canary Islands.

Linguistic workarounds

Bojo: Beaujolais, the delicious and often-overlooked light red.

chateau cardboard: box wine.

CdP: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the highly respected, spicy red from the southern Rhône Valley.

DRC: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Burgundy's most legendary producer and among the world's most prestigious and expensive wines.

GruVee: Grüner Vetliner, Austria's most famous wine.

Gewürz: Gewürztraminer, the spicy, litchi-tinged wine from Alsace, France.

jero: jeroboam, a large-format bottle that holds an equivalent of six standard bottles; uttered by insiders with gleeful enthusiasm: "Burt brought a jero!"

La La's: collective term for the renowned Côte-Rôtie vineyards of La Mouline, La Landonne, and La Turque of the northern Rhône Valley. Controlled by winery E. Guigal (Ghee-GAL), they make complex, Syrah-based, single-vineyard reds that rank among the Rhône's most expensive.

OWC: original wooden case; collectors will sometimes pay a premium for wine that comes in the box that the wine was originally packaged.

pét-nat: pétillant-naturel, a simple and trendy style of bubbly.

Savvie: common slang in New Zealand and Australia for Sauvignon Blanc.

stickie: an Australian term for dessert wine.

Poetic terms

angel's share: the vapor trail of Champagne that escapes when you open it, as if you were donating that portion to the spirits above; also used generally for the alcohol (such as whiskey) that naturally evaporates from oak casks during the production process.

brambly: cute but inexact descriptor for a woodsy, berry-herbal character, often used for Zinfandel and sometimes for Pinot Noir and reds from the Rhône Valley (related: "bramble-edged").

bricking: short for "bricking on the rim," which is when an aged red gradually turns from red to the reddish-brown color of bricks. "That Barolo showed moderate bricking."

fantasy name: a name that the winery makes up in addition to or instead of the name of the place where the grapes are grown or the type of grape used; can carry symbolic value, or signify an inside joke. Examples include Bonny Doon's Le Cigar Volante, Napa's Opus One, and the super Tuscan called Sassicaia.

field blend: multiple grape varieties mingled together on the same parcel of land, rather than the typical case of being planted in separate vineyards; old-fashioned method that is relatively rare because of the chaos caused by different grape types ripening at different times; despite drawbacks, sometimes employed to produce a wine with a back-to-nature mystique, not unlike someone refusing to shave the hair down there

garrigue (gah-reeg): mellifluous French term for "herbes de Provence", that is, juniper, rosemary, and other resinous herbs. It often describes red wine grown near the Mediterranean coast. Its inexactitude makes it virtually unchallengeable and makes you sound like Yeats.

heroic viticulture: grape growing that happens on fearsomely difficult terrain, often super-steep slopes that are too precipitous for management by machines; not recommended for those with achy backs or fear of heights; occurs in regions such as Spain's Ribera Sacra and Priorat, and Douro in Portugal, and the Valais area of Switzerland.

palate fatigue: a loss of concentration and judgment that happens when wine pros taste too many wines at one sitting; can be be staved off somewhat by frequent sips of water, nibbling crackers, and using a spittoon (related: "olfactory fatigue," which can be diminished by sniffing coffee beans or even one's forearm).

Rutherford dust: airy-fairy, Fleetwood Mac–ish term for a quality some vintners notice in wines from the prestigious Rutherford area of Napa Valley. Some say it connotes a fine-grained, powdery texture often detected in the Cabernet Sauvignon from there, while others say that it's a general term for the specialness that the Rutherford terroir imparts to wine from grapes grown there. Wineries said to make wine with a Rutherford dust quality include Beaulieu Vineyards, Rubicon Estate, Quintessa, and Staglin.

soupçon: twee way of conveying a trace of a certain quality in wine. It is best used to satirize wine geeks, like the movie Sideways did when it had the wine-obsessed Miles describe a wine "like the faintest soupçon of, like, asparagus and just a flutter of a…like a…nutty Edam cheese."

Spatial phrases

drinking window: an estimation of the time frame that an age-worthy wine is said to be in its prime for drinking; can span years or sometimes decades; creates angst for collectors trying to time when to drink their best stuff.

length: the persistence of a wine's aftertaste. "That Cabernet is wine of unbelievable length." (modifiers: "short," "persistent," "enduring," "eternal".)

monopole: elegant French term for a vineyard controlled by one winery rather than shared by several producers, as is often the case in Burgundy. The famous vineyard La Tâche is a monopole of the winery Domain Romanée-Conti.


allocate: how an elite winery doles out its best wine to favoured stores and restaurants. To get their hands on "allocated wine," somms and merchants often have to agree buy some of the winery's less exalted wine.

evolve: how a wine changes in your glass after your pour it, or how an ageable wine progresses through the years.

show: how a wine tastes or is drinking at a particular tasting; it can "show" well or poorly.

throw: when a wine sheds clumpy deposits as it ages, it is said to "throw" or "throw off" sediment.

turn: a wine that has gone bad or lost its vitality. "That Cabernet has turned."

This extract was taken from Mark Oldman's third wine book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire: Mastering Wine With Joie de Vivre, from Regan Arts.