Mastering Italian Wine: A-Z Dictionary for Decoding Wine Labels

By: Genevieve Mc Carthy / Last updated: January 4, 2024

A-D

Abboccato – slightly sweet
Acerbo – tart, “green”
Acescenza – volatile wine
Aceto-vinegar, usually made with a wine base
Aglianico – ancient red grape is grown in the Campania region of Italy (south of Naples)
Alcool – alcohol
Amabile – off-dry (semi-sweet)
Amaro – bitter
Annata – a vintage year
Appassimento – the practice of drying grapes before pressing them to concentrate sugar and extract for the “Passito” style of wines such as Vin Santo
Asciutto – bone dry
Azienda – (Agricola, agrarian, and vitivinicola)- all terms used to describe a vineyard or estate that grows all or most of its grapes to be bottled under its own labels (not sold off in bulk)
Barbera – semi-classic grape commonly grown in the Piedmont region and most of northern Italy
Barolo – top Piedmont red wine, made with the Nebbiolo grape
Barrique – the Bordeaux term for a 225-liter wine barrel used to age wines
Bianco – white (wine)
Botte – wine Cask or Large Barrel. Usually made of oak, but sometimes also made of chestnut wood, Slovenian oak is quite common in Italy, particularly in Tuscany.Botticella – small wine cask
Bottiglia – BottleBrunello di Montalcino – top Tuscan red wine, made with a clone of Sangiovese
Brut – dry (used for sparkling wines such as Franciacorta DOCG)
Cantina – cellar, winery
Cantina Sociale – co-operative winery
Caraffa di Decantazione – decanter
Carato – synonym of barrique, it refers to a small wine barrel (usually the 225-liter barriques)
Casa Vinicola – wine house or merchant (“commerciante)” who bottle wines made with other cellar’s wines
Cascina – – farmhouse, wine estate
Castello – castle
Cerasuolo – cherry colored rosè wine from Sicily
Chiaretto – rosè wine from Garda
Classico – the historic core of a DOC demarcated zone (such as Chianti Classico)
Consorzio – a consortium of producers that sets standards and promotes wines of a certain appellation or region.
Cortese – Cortese is the white grape used to make Gavi in Piemonte
Corvina – is a red grape used with two other grapes, Rondinella and Molinara, to create the light red regional blends known as “Bardolino” and “Valpolicella” wines in northeast Italy. Also called “Corvina Veronese”
Cru – French term used internationally to mean the wine estate’s best vineyards
DOC – an acronym for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata” (controlled place of origin), indicating details about where the wine comes from, the grapes used, and how it was produced (down to the viticultural techniques).
DOCG – an acronym for “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” (controlled and guaranteed place name), which entails the same as DOC but with stricter rules
Dolce – sweet
Dolcetto – dry wine red grape, predominately grown in northern Italy (Piedmont especially)

E-M

Enoteca – Wine shop or Bar
Enologo – enologist (winemaker)
Enotecnico – winemaking technician
Ettaro – – hectare (2.471 acres)
Ettolitro – hectolitre (100 liters), the technical standard used to measure wine volume
Etichetta – wine label
Fattoria – farm and/or estate. Usually suggests a number of small wine/olive oil estates and working farms (called “poderi”)
Fiasco – the classic Chianti bottles from the ’70s, covered in straw and symbol of low quality!
Frascati – light white wine that comes from the Lazio Region
Freisa – medium-bodied red grape used to make still, sweet, and frizzante wines in Piemonte
Frizzante/ Frizzantino – slightly sparkling. Not fully sparkling or “spumante”.
Frutti di Bosco – “forest fruits,” referring to wine flavors like blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Grappa – Italian digestive made from the pomace of grapes. It can be aromatic and flavored. Grechetto – the white grape
Grechetto is the main grape used to make Orvieto in Umbria
Governo – Tuscan practice (called “Governo all’uso Toscano) of drying late-harvested grapes to add to the fermented wine, setting off a secondary fermentation to enrich body, color, and flavor
IGT – an acronym for “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” (typical place name), referring to wines that can come from a large variety of grapes from one geographic area. Popular with emerging wine producers, especially experimental ones
Imbottigliato – bottled (“all’origine” implies estate bottled)
Invecchiato – aged
Liquoroso – fortified wine
Madre – the “mother,” or “matrix,” which is residue from earlier vintages, left in barrels to guide the transformation of musts into wine (such as “Vin Santo”)
Malvasia – is an ancient grape cultivated in Europe for two millennia! There is a white Malvasia and a red Malvasia. Malvasia Nera is grown in Puglia, in Southern Italy. Malvasia is one of the two white varietals allowed in DOC Chianti. Malvasia is also a main ingredient in the Roman Frascati.
Marchio – brand name
Maso – a vineyard holding in Trentino
Metodo Classico – champagne method, where the 2nd fermentation takes place in the Bottle, and wines rest in “pupitres” until their “degorgement.”
Millesimè/ Millesimato – can be used for sparkling and still wines, indicating the year of vintage.
Muffa Nobile – noble rot (Botrytis cinerea)

N-Z

Nebbiolo – the black grape used to produce rich Barolo and Barbaresco wines in Piemonte
Nero – black
Passito / Passita – used to refer to partially dried grapes, and also the sweet unctuous wines are made from them. Tuscan Vin Santo is an example of a Passito.
Podere – small farm or estate- in Tuscany, a Podere is usually part of a larger “Fattoria.”
Produttore – producer
Recioto – wine made from partly dried grapes in the passito style. Usually sweet and strong.
Rosato – rosé wine
Rosso – red wine
Sangiovese – the main red grape varietal used in Tuscany
Sans année – (abbreviated as S.A.) – a French phrase used in Italian winemaking to mean “non-vintage.”
Scelto – means “selected,” referring to certain DOC wines
Secco – dry
Semisecco – off-dry, medium-sweet. Used when referring to sparkling wines, mainly
Soave – white wine from the Veneto
Solaio – refers to the loft where the grapes drying to make Passito wines are kept. In Tuscany, it is also referred to as a “Vinsolaio.”
Spumante – literally means “foaming,” referring to sparkling wine
Superiore – is a classification term that denotes a DOC or DOCG wine that meets standards above the norm (longer aging, special single-vineyard, etc.)
Super Tuscan – a term coined by English-speaking wine journalists to refer to the new high-quality styles of wine that emerged in Tuscany in the ’70s, which were using amounts of international varietals (Cab sauv, Merlot, etc), thus initially denying them quality wine status for breaking local laws.
Tenuta – Farm or wine estate
Terroir – a French term that defines the harmonic relationship between vineyard site, soil, climate, and grape variety
Tonneau – Bordeaux term for 900-litre barrels. In Italy, it also means 550-litre barrels.
Uva – grape
Vecchio – “old,” used to describe some DOC wines (“invecchiato” means “aged,” and “stravecchio” means very old.)
Vernaccia – white grape varietal, used in San Gimignano
Vinacce – grape skins, seeds, and pulp left after the must or fermented wine has been pressed. This is the base used to make grappa.
Vigna/ Vigneto – vineyard
Vignaiolo/ Viticoltore – grape grower who cultivates grapes for wine production
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – top red wine from Tuscany, made with a clone of Sangiovese called Prugnolo Gentile.
Vino Novello – “new” wine, meaning young wine- to be drunk within a year of bottling and produced using carbonic maceration
Vin Santo – “holy wine,” this delicious wine is made from grapes dried after the harvest and kept in small barrels in “Vinsantaia” (aging rooms), where seasonal heat and cold are essential to the extended fermentation process. Read more
Vite – vine
Vitigno – vine or grape variety
Vivace – “lively,” used to refer to the slight sparkle in some wines
Zuccheri Residui – residual sugar

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Genevieve Mc Carthy

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