Most picture Napa when they think of California’s world-famous, award-winning wines, but the entire state’s coast is filled with wineries that students living in both San Diego and San Francisco have the opportunity to visit. When you go wine tasting,  you will hear specific wine-related words: here is some wine vocabulary you need to know before your next trip to one of California’s many wineries.

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Wine tasting vocabulary for English learners

Vocabulary for the Grape-growing and Wine-making Processes


This word is both a noun and a verb, and it is associated with the time that the grapes are ready to be removed from the vines.

  • During the harvest, we employ many extra workers. (noun)
  • We will harvest the grapes soon. (verb)


When grapes are harvested, we say that they are “picked,” “hand-picked,” or “picked by hand.” Of course, machines can also be used, but most wineries choose to hand-pick their grapes.

  • All of our grapes are hand-picked.


In English, the word “age” can be used in several different ways: in the world of wine, it is often a verb meaning “to let something get older.”

  • These wines are aging.
  • We will age these wines for two years.
  • These wines have been aged for four years.


Wine is often aged in a wooden barrel. The barrels are typically made with wood from the oak tree.

  • Our wines are aged in American oak barrels.
  • These wines are aged in French oak barrels.


“To crush” or “press” something is to apply pressure. This breaks the skins of the grapes and allows the juice to run out. This juice will eventually be wine!

  • After the grapes are harvested, they are crushed in a large machine.
  • Our grapes are pressed to release the juices.


This bacteria is what allows the grapes to turn into wine.

  • We add yeasts to the wine, but sometimes there are already yeasts on the grapes, so we do not have to add too much yeast.

Notice that “yeast” can be a count or a non-count noun. The above example uses both.


Once the yeast is added, this bacteria eats the sugars in the grape juice, and turns them into alcohol. This process is called “fermentation” and the verb is “ferment.” The adjective/past participle is “fermented.”

  • Fermentation takes place shortly after we add the yeast.
  • After the juice has fermented, we filter it. 

To bottle something

To bottle something is to place it in a bottle.

  • Our wines are bottled after they are filtered.


The cork is the top of the bottle. Cork is a type of tree. Sometimes, corks are made from plastic. They are called plastic corks.

  • I like the design on this cork. 
  • I can’t remove the cork! 

Sometimes, the wine bottle does not have a cork. It has a screw-cap or a screw-top. This does not mean that the the wine is lesser quality: in fact, screw-tops are a great way to ensure that your wine does not go bad, because often a cork with a little bacteria will create a bottle that is bad.

To cellar something

When we let a wine age, we often use the word “cellar” as a verb.

  • I think we will cellar this wine for a while. It isn’t ready yet.

We also use the term “lay (the wine) down.”

  • We need to lay this one down for a while.

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Vocabulary to Describe Wine Flavors and Aromas


Even though the word “acidic” seems negative, acidity in wine can actually be a very good thing! Acidity means that the wine pairs well with many foods.


If a wine smells like cardboard (the material that boxes are made of) then it is corked. The bacteria from the cork caused the wine to go bad.


There are many types of fruits that you can smell or taste in wine. This is a very general term: usually, it is followed by a description of which fruits you smell or taste.


A wine has a body? When we talk about the body of a wine, we mean if the wine feels heavy or light.


Jam is the delicious cooked and preserved fruit that you spread on toast. It can also describe wines that have a lot of dark fruit and sugar. Wines from California are often jammy: try a Zinfandel and you will see what we mean!


Tannin is a bitter flavor that many red wines have. It is similar to the flavor of a very strong tea.

  • This wine is very tannic. (adjective)
  • This wine has many tannins. (noun)


If a wine is too old, then it has “turned.”

  • We were excited to open the wine from 95, but we found that it had turned.

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Are you interested in going wine tasting while you are studying English in San Francisco or San Diego? Check out our article on taking a Road Trip to Napa, or read former CISL student Roman’s experience on his trip wine tasting. San Diego students: check out Temecula, which is just an hour from San Diego and offers wine tasting at beautiful wineries. In our article Road Trip to Palm Springs, we suggest a stop in this town!

Not a fan of wine? San Diego and San Francisco have some excellent local beers: check out the large-production, but high-quality Sierra Nevada Brewing Company if you are in SF: SD students, click here to read our article about the rich beer culture in San Diego. Cheers!

Cover photo from St. Francis winery. All other photos from