Produced naturally during FERMENTATION, acetaldehyde is a colorless volatile component with a pungent ODOR. It is an asset in flor-based (see FLOR, Spanish Glossary) wines, such as Sherry, but a detectable amount in table wine is considered a flaw. Also occurs in coffee and ripe fruit.
A negative description for a wine with an unpleasant, sharp, vinegar-like smell and taste. A wine becomes acetic as a result of the presence of acetobacter, a bacteria that causes the natural conversion of wine to vinegar by producing acetic acid in the presence of air. See VOLATILE ACIDITY.
A natural component of wine; responsible for the zesty, refreshing qualities of some, acidity also helps wine to age. Wines with the proper amount of acid relative to their ALCOHOL content are vibrant and lively to drink. Wines with little acid relative to alcohol are the opposite: FLAT and blowsy. Wines with excess acid taste sharp and biting. There are multiple acids in wine, the three most important of which—tartaric, malic, and citric—all come from the grapes. Other acids may be produced during FERMENTATION.
A process practiced in warm wine regions whereby a winemaker adds acid to fermenting wine in order to boost that wine’s low level of acidity. Acidification is legal and widely practiced in many parts of the world, including California. Also called acidulation.
The process of intentionally exposing wine to oxygen to “open up” and soften it. Aeration occurs during the winemaking process, as when wine is poured or racked (see RACKING) from barrel to barrel, but it may also take place at serving time, as when a young wine is poured into a carafe or a decanter or even just swirled in the glass.
The process of intentionally holding a wine for a period of time so that the components in it can integrate and the wine can grow softer and possibly more COMPLEX. Wines are generally aged first in a barrel and later in bottles, since wines evolve differently in each vessel. The length of time any wine is aged is initially up to the producer, though many of the top European wines by law must be aged a certain minimum number of months or years. Most wines worldwide are aged only briefly before release.
A wine opener often used by sommeliers to remove corks that have begun to crumble, as with very old wines. The device does not penetrate the cork, but instead two flat, metal blades are inserted down the sides of the cork and then the device is gently twisted while pulling upward, to remove the cork. It was originally named the Magic Cork Extractor and patented in 1879, but it has been called the Ah-So since the 1960s.
During FERMENTATION, yeasts convert the natural sugar in grapes to alcohol (also known as ETHANOL or ETHYL ALCOHOL) and CARBON DIOXIDE. The riper the grapes, the more sugar they contain and the higher the potential alcohol content of the wine will be. Wines with low alcohol (German rieslings, for example) are LIGHT-BODIED. Wines with high alcohol (many California chardonnays) are FULL-BODIED and almost CHEWY. When a high alcohol wine has too little FRUIT and a low ACID content, it tastes out of BALANCE and gives off a HOT or slightly burning sensation in your mouth.
The percentage of the ALCOHOL content by volume in a wine must, by United States law, appear on every wine label. However, because alcohol can be difficult to measure precisely and because wineries often need to print their labels before they know the exact alcohol content, the percentage stated on the label need only be accurate within 1.5 percent as long as the amount is not more than 14 percent. If greater than 14 percent, it must be accurate to within 1 percent. For example, a wine labeled 12 percent alcohol by volume may contain anywhere from 10.5 to 13.5 percent alcohol.
The science of identifying and classifying grapevines according to their physical properties, such as the size, shape, and contours of their leaves, petioles, shoots, and grape clusters, as well as the color, size, seed content, and flavor of their grapes. French scientist Pierre Galet introduced modern ampelography in the 1950s and it remained the main system for identifying grapevines until the advent of DNA typing in the 1990s.
An earthenware vessel used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to store and ship wine. An amphora was oval in shape, with two large handles at the top for carrying and a pointed bottom so that the vessel could be pushed into the soft earth where it would remain upright. Amphorae range in size from that of a milk can to a refrigerator. Plural amphorae.
A quality-control test number (the AP number) signifying that a wine has passed official analytical and taste tests. It appears on every bottle of quality German wine in the category of QUALITÄTSWEIN BESTIMMTER ANBAUGEBIETE (QBA) or QUALITÄTSWEIN MIT PRÄDIKAT (QMP).
A method utilized in the Veneto region of Italy whereby wines are made by first spreading the grapes on mats or leaving them to hang in cool lofts in order to raisinate and concentrate them. The dry wine amarone is made this way, as are sweet wines labelled recioto (as in recioto di Valpolicella).
In general conversation, the word appellation is often used simply to indicate the place where the grapes for a given wine were grown and subsequently made into wine. Technically, however, the word has much broader significance and importance. For this we must turn to the French for whom the full term is Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, often abbreviated as AOC. France’s AOC regulations have become the world’s model for laws that define and protect geographically named wines, spirits, and even certain foods. For any given wine, the AOC laws stipulate, among other things, the precise area where the grapes that make the wine can be grown, the grape varieties that the wine can be made from, the permissible YIELD, aspects of VITICULTURE, such as PRUNING and irrigation, the minimum alcoholic strength of the wine, plus various details of how the wine can be made. For a given French wine to carry an appellation, it must meet all of the criteria set down in the AOC laws. Multiple appellations can exist within a larger appellation. For example, Margaux is an AOC within the AOC Haut-Médoc, which itself is an AOC within the larger AOC Bordeaux. The AOC laws evolved progressively, beginning in the 1930s. Today, most European wine-producing countries have similar, fairly stringent systems that define and govern the wines produced. In the NEW WORLD, including the United States, regulations defining the geographic boundaries of wine-producing areas are more recent. While New World regulations may specify the boundaries of a given place such as the Napa Valley, they rarely specify or regulate details, such as grape varieties, permissible yields, or how the wine can be made. See also AVA.
A term broadly used to describe a wine’s smell. Technically, however, the smell of any wine is divided into the aroma, the smell that derives from the grapes, and the BOUQUET, a more complex smell that a wine acquires after AGING.
A positive description, indicating that a wine has a pronounced AROMA. Some VARIETAL wines, such as muscat and gewürztraminer, are well known for being especially aromatic, often having SPICY and/or floral (see FLOWERY) scents.
Astringent describes the dry, raspy MOUTHFEEL of a wine with a considerable amount of unripe TANNIN. Astringency can also be provoked by certain foods, such as unripe walnuts or unripe persimmons. Excess astringency is unpleasant and causes the mouth to pucker.
The term for shriveled grapes that have been attacked by the beneficial mold BOTRYTIS CINEREA. More commonly, however, you’ll encounter aszú as part of the name of Hungary’s most famous wine: Tokay Aszú. Luscious and honeyed, Tokay Aszú is to Hungary what Sauternes is to France—a renowned sweet wine that is both difficult and expensive to make.
A category of wine made in Austria, in Burgenland. Ausbruche (the plural) are slightly more opulent than BEERENAUSLESEN, and must be made from overripe, BOTRYTIZED and/or naturally shriveled grapes.
Plural auslesen. Literally, “select harvest.” A level of full ripeness according to the traditional German system. In the Modern VDP system in Germany, denotes a wine with significant sweetness.
The decomposition of spent yeast cells. When a wine is left SUR LIE, or on the LEES, it remains in contact with the spent yeasts that performed the FERMENTATION. As the yeasts’ cell walls collapse, enzymes start to break down the cells themselves, producing mannoproteins and polysaccharides that are released into the wine. These impart an extra dimension of flavor, texture, VISCOSITY, and complexity.
The acronym for American Viticultural Area. An AVA is defined as “a delimited grape growing region, distinguished by geographical features, the boundaries of which have been recognized and defined.” On United States wine labels, such place names as Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Columbia Valley, and so on are all AVAs. There are now more than 203 AVAs in the United States.
Italian wine estate—this term, sometimes abbreviated Az. Ag., often appears on Italian wine labels, along with the actual name of the wine estate, when the grapes were grown on that estate, and the wine that was produced there as well.
Negative term used when a table wine’s AROMA and/or flavor seems overripe, caramel-like, or even burnt. Poorly made table wines allowed to get too warm or to become oxidized often taste baked (see OXIDATION). For certain wines, such as Sherry and Madeira, however, some “bakedness” is considered appropriate and positive, especially when combined with the wines’ tangy nuttiness.
Literally “opening of the harvest”—the official date when harvest can begin. Growers can choose to begin harvest anytime after the ban des vendanges but not before it. A ban des vendanges is mandatory in some (but not all) AOCs, including Champagne and Burgundy. Within a given area, the ban des vendanges differs depending on the grape variety and location of the vineyard.
Used to describe a wine—usually a white—that has undergone FERMENTATION in small oak barrels as opposed to in more neutral large casks, cement vats, or stainless steel tanks. Fermentation in a small barrel can impart a richer flavor and creamier texture to some wines, though these characteristics may be acquired at the expense of the wines’ FRUIT. To mitigate against too intense a barrel-fermented character, winemakers can use older barrels, and/or ferment only a portion of the wine in barrels and then BLEND this portion with wine that has not been barrel-fermented.
The scale used in France and much of the rest of Europe for measuring sugar in grapes and, hence, their ripeness. Other scales for measuring sugar include BRIX (used in the United States) and OECHSLE (used in Germany).
Plural beerenauslesen. Literally “berry select harvest.” A level of considerable ripeness and sweetness in both the traditional and modern German systems. Beerenauslesen have often been the product of at least some botrytized grapes.
A type of light clay, mixed into wine to clarify it by removing tiny suspended protein molecules that can cause a hazy appearance (see FINING). As the bentonite settles, it absorbs and carries the particles suspended in the wine along with it to the bottom of the vessel. The clear wine is then racked off the settled material.
One of thirty-nine official districts. Germany’s thirteen wine regions (ANBAUGEBIETE) are officially broken down into thirty-nine bereiche (the plural of bereich), which in turn are broken down into GROSSLAGEN, which are broken down into EINZELLAGEN.
A harsh flavor in wine, often derived from stems and seeds that have been carelessly or inadvertently crushed along with the grapes. Bitterness can also be caused by unripe grapes or unripe TANNIN. In certain big red wines, a slight bitterness is considered a positive nuance, just as it would be in a good espresso.
Literally, “white from blacks.” A golden Champagne or SPARKLING WINE made from black (noir) grapes. (The French refer to red grapes as black.) It is possible to make a white wine from red grapes because the juice and PULP of red-skinned grapes is white. Blanc de noirs are usually made from pinot noir, but pinot meunier may be used in some cases. Very few Champagne houses produce blanc de noirs Champagnes. The practice is more common among makers of Californian sparkling wines.
To combine two or more lots of wine in hopes of enhancing flavor, BALANCE, and/or complexity. Often these are wines from different grape varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot, for example. However, blends may also be made up of wines that come from grapes grown in different soil or microclimates, wines that come from vines of different ages, wines from different CLONES, or wines made by different winemaking methods (some aged in one kind of oak, some in another, for instance). Virtually all Bordeaux wines and Champagnes are blends, as are wines from France’s southern Rhône Valley and numerous other wines from elsewhere around the world.
The perceived weight of a wine in your mouth. The perception is dependent on ALCOHOL—the higher the alcohol content, the more FULL-BODIED the wine. As a point of reference, consider the relative weights of skim milk, whole milk, and half-and-half. Light-bodied wines feel like skim milk, medium-bodied ones like whole milk, and full-bodied ones like half-and-half.
A large glass jar used for storing small lots of wine. Bonbonnes—which hold 6.6 gallons—are typically used when the producer does not want the wine to be influenced by oak flavors or by oxygen.
Once spelled bouse, the word booze comes from the medieval Dutch word Büsen, meaning “to drink excess.” Bouse dates back almost one thousand years, to medieval English, but was most commonly used in the sixteenth century by unsavory characters—thieves and beggars—before becoming used more frequently as general slang.
A beneficial fungus, also known as noble rot, which is necessary to produce many of the world’s great sweet wines, including Sauternes. In certain years, when the degree of humidity is just right, Botrytis cinerea will attack grapes, covering them with a gray mold. The mold lives by penetrating the grapes’ skins and using up the available water in the juice. This concentrates the sugar, flavor, and ACID so that a COMPLEX wine of exceptional sweetness can be made. Botrytis is unique in that, unlike other molds, it produces flavors that harmonize with the flavors of particular grapes.
Initially, the amount glass bottles held was not consistent. From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century bottles held anywhere from 16 to 52 ounces. Today a standard wine bottle holds 25.36 ounces (750 milliliters). Restaurants generally pour five to six glasses of wine from a single bottle.
The process of allowing a wine to rest for a considerable period of time (usually years) in a bottle. Wines that have been bottle aged taste more mature, and their flavors can become so integrated that it’s no longer easy to identify such specific fruit flavors as lemon, raspberry, or cherry. Bottle aging adds to the complexity of a wine (see AGING).
A temporary condition that occurs following the bottling process, during which wine is exposed to large amounts of oxygen as it is transferred from barrels or tanks to bottles. A wine with bottle sickness, sometimes called bottle shock, can temporarily taste FLAT, dull, or out of BALANCE. The condition usually goes away in a few weeks, occasionally after months.
A type of restaurant in Lyon, France, known for serving traditional Lyonnaise dishes, which are heavy on meat and fat. The goal of a bouchon is not haute cuisine but a friendly and personal atmosphere. There are about 20 certified bouchons in Lyon, although many more proclaim themselves to be. Bouchon also refers to a stopper for the mouth of a wine bottle, most often a sparkling wine, as it prevents the bubbles from escaping.
The small node on a grapevine shoot that carries within it the grape clusters for the year to come. In the early spring, these buds open, allowing the frail green SHOOTS and tiny clusters to emerge.
An inexpensive and quick way of making SPARKLING WINE. The bulk process, also called the Charmat method, involves placing wine in large, pressurized tanks for its SECONDARY FERMENTATION. In an alternative, and far more expensive, method, known as the MÉTHODE CHAMPENOISE, the secondary fermentation takes place inside individual bottles.
Literally, wine not in a bottle. Wineries of all types, sizes, and levels of quality buy and sell wines in bulk. Some sell all of their production that way. Most large producers buy significant amounts of bulk wines from other wineries and then BLEND, bottle, and distribute those wines under their own labels. Small, prestigious wineries, however, may also sell small amounts of high quality wine in bulk to producers who will use it to enhance their own wines. In harvest years when the size of the crop is small, the prices for bulk wine go up.
In the southern Austrian countryside, this is the name for a rustic restaurant that elsewhere is called a HEURIGE. A buschenschenk is easily identified by the buschenschenk (also the name for a swag of fir branches) tied to its doors.
A vine that is free-standing with no trellis system. In other words, it looks like a bush. Bushvines are also known as “head-pruned” vines and “goblet-trained” vines. Many of the world’s oldest vines are trained in this manner.
Curiously, the word butler is thought to have derived from the term bottler. From the time of the Middle Ages through the mid-18th century, the English upper classes bought wine in barrels and then transferred it into bottles that sometimes carried a family seal, crest, or other private marking. In a significantly large and wealthy household, it was one of the food service tasks of the head servant to monitor the wine cellar, filling glass bottles as needed for the dining room. Thus the “bottler” from the Old French bouteillier (bottle bearer) became, in time, the butler.
The French term for stones or pebbles left behind by ancient rivers or glaciers. Although it can seem next to impossible, vineyards exist in soils composed mainly of such stones, including, in the U.S., the Rocks District of Milton Freewater, an appellation near the town of Walla Walla, Washington.
A vine SHOOT (or stem) that has turned from green to tannish-brown and has become hard and fibrous. Shoots turn to canes in the fall in order to withstand the oncoming winter. A vine’s canes will ultimately be pruned back, usually in the late winter. See PRUNING.
The crusty layer, up to two feet or more deep, of grape skins, pulp, stems, and seeds that rises and floats on top of the juice during a red wine’s FERMENTATION. The cap must be kept in contact with the juice by one of several methods. It may be frequently PUNCHED DOWN into the juice, or the juice can be PUMPED OVER, that is, drawn up from the bottom of the tank and then showered over the cap. As a result of being punched down or pumped over, the ALCOHOL in the fermenting juice can extract COLOR, AROMA, flavor, and TANNIN from the cap. In addition, if the cap is not broken up and kept wet with the juice, it dries out and becomes a haven for bacteria that will ultimately mar the wine.
The molded plastic, bimetal, or aluminum sheath that fits over the cork and top part of the neck of a wine bottle. Historically, capsules were made of lead to keep animals and bugs away from the cork. Today, lead is banned because of potential health risks.
Along with ALCOHOL, the gas carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product of FERMENTATION. Sometimes the small amounts of CO2 remaining in a wine make it slightly SPRITZY. If fermentation occurs in a closed vessel, such as a bottle, the CO2 becomes trapped in the wine and will ultimately form bubbles.
More accurately called semicarbonic maceration, carbonic maceration is a type of FERMENTATION in which bunches of uncrushed grapes are placed whole inside a closed tank. The weight of the bunches on top crushes those on the bottom, releasing juice that ferments in the standard manner. For the intact bunches on top, however, fermentation takes place inside each grape, leading to an extremely juicy style of wine. Carbonic maceration is used extensively in Beaujolais, where it heightens the wine’s already grapey flavor.
The raised glass logo or emblem embossed on a bottle of wine, most often found on the wines from the region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A cartouche is added to a wine bottle by pressing a mold filled with molten glass to the already-finished bottle. The word cartouche comes from the oval symbol used in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to indicate that the name written within the oval was a royal name.
The name for Spanish SPARKLING WINE made by the Champagne method (MÉTHODE CHAMPENOISE). Cava is a specialty of the Penedès region of north central Spain near Barcelona. The two largest cava producers, Freixenet and Codorníu, each produce far more sparkling wine by the Champagne method than any Champagne house makes.
The addition of cane or beet sugar to wine MUST before or during FERMENTATION in order to increase the total amount of sugar and hence raise the potential ALCOHOL content. Chaptalization is legal and widely practiced in many cooler northern European wine regions, where cool vintage years in some years lead to grapes that aren’t fully ripe and, in turn, to wines that are thin and lacking in BODY. By increasing the alcohol content of such wines, the winemaker can make them fuller bodied and therefore make them seem more substantial. Chaptalization is not permitted in many warm wine regions, including California, where it is not needed but could be used to produce cheap wines high in alcohol but with virtually no flavor.
A building where wine is made and around which vines grow. Despite the images most of us have of palatial estates such as Bordeaux’s regal Château Margaux, a château can be as humble as a garage. The names of most Bordeaux estates are preceded by the word château, though the word is used infrequently elsewhere in France and never in Burgundy, where the roughly equivalent term would be DOMAINE.
A term for mouthfilling, FULL-BODIED wines, chunky and viscous enough to seem almost chewable. Certain grape varieties such as zinfandel produced in very warm areas like Amador County, California, often take on a chewy character.
The British often call red Bordeaux claret. The word comes from the French clairet, which originally referred to a light red wine (to distinguish it from Port). Today, of course, the top red Bordeaux are anything but light in color or in body.
An official designation, referring to the heart of a DOC zone—by implication, the classic or best part. In Chianti, the classico zone is so highly regarded that it has a DOC of its own—Chianti Classico.
The noun “clone” refers to plants of the same species that have identical physical characteristics. The DNA of a grapevine is not stagnant, so in Nature, clones change and evolve as the result of natural genetic mutations taking place over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. A grape variety may have many clones (like pinot noir), or relatively few (like sauvignon blanc). Two different clones of the same grape variety may taste remarkably different. Clone is also a verb. In viticulture, “to clone” means to propagate a group of vines from a “mother” vine that has desirable characteristics. These characteristics may include qualities such as resistance to certain diseases, berry size, and/or flavor attributes.
Refers to a wine that seems to have considerable potential, yet its AROMAS and flavors are temporarily muted. A wine can be closed in for a variety of reasons. Two common ones: it’s young or it’s densely concentrated and needs time and/or oxygen to open up. In the first instance, the closed in wine may need additional BOTTLE AGING before it opens up; in the second case, pouring the wine into a carafe or decanter and giving it an hour or so to breathe will help.
Descriptive term, not necessarily negative, for a wine that looks hazy rather than brilliantly clear. A wine can be slightly cloudy because it has not undergone FINING or filtration (see FILTER). Some wines, however, are cloudy as the result of faulty winemaking.
A type of FERMENTATION that takes place in a vessel that can be cooled, usually a stainless steel tank. Because cool fermentations are slower and more gentle than those that occur at warm temperatures, they help preserve the wine’s fresh FRUIT AROMAS and flavors. Many light- and medium-bodied white wines are cold fermented.
A common winemaking technique whereby harmless TARTRATE crystals and small protein molecules are intentionally precipitated out of the wine. This is done by quickly chilling it. Unstabilized wines sometimes become hazy or form snowflakelike crystals, which are odorless and tasteless but look a bit unnerving.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of wine, color is derived primarily from grape skins. White wines vary from pale straw to greenish yellow to yellow-gold amber; reds from garnet to crimson to brick red to lipstick red to purple. While the color of a wine is a tip-off to its variety (zinfandel is usually purplish in color, for example) and an indication of its age (white wines get darker as they get older; red wines get lighter), color is not a predictor of a wine’s flavor or quality.
A small village that is often an APPELLATION. In Bordeaux, the communes of Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Julien, and St.-Estèphe are famous appellations. Communes are also the lowest level of administrative division in France, and as such, are the equivalent of incorporated cities in the U.S.
Describes a multifaceted wine with compelling nuances and character. Importantly, in a complex wine, the multiple aromas and flavors reveal themselves subsequently over time. Thus, a complex wine is unknowable in one sip. All great wines are complex.
Large, egg-shaped, concrete vessels used to ferment white wine. There are distinct advantages to using concrete eggs instead of oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. The oval shape of the egg helps create a vortex causing the wine to roll in circular arcs, assuring a thorough active fermentation. The concrete itself holds heat well, so the warmth created by fermentation is not quickly dissipated, and the wine doesn’t experience wide temperature swings. Lastly, concrete is porous like wood, which allows for the gentle introduction of air, which softens the wine.
A type of labeling whereby small appellations within a large appellation must also list the large appellation on the label. The Napa Valley, for example, passed a conjunctive labeling law in 1989. As a result, when a Napa Valley winery lists Stags Leap District, or Oakville, or Rutherford (or any of the other 13 appellations within the valley) on its label, it must also add the words “Napa Valley.” The intent of conjunctive labeling is to guard against small appellations becoming more prominent than the region within which they lie. By comparison, there is no conjunctive labeling law in Bordeaux. Indeed, no First Growth Bordeaux has the word “Bordeaux” on its label.
Local governing body that enforces wine policy for a given area, including the boundaries of the area, the grape varieties permitted, maximum YIELD, and so forth. Every Spanish wine region with a DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN has a Consejo Regulador.
The general term for containers used to store wine. Small barrels, large wooden casks, and stainless steel tanks are the most common kinds of cooperage, but containers made from concrete, fiberglass, and glass are also employed. In California, one of the newest forms of cooperage are CONCRETE EGGS which have been used by high end wineries for a decade.
A term used to describe a wine that smells like a wet dog in a basement or, sometimes, like wet cardboard. Wines become corked when certain bacteria in the cork cells interact with minute amounts of chemical residues that may remain in corks or wine bottles after they are cleaned. A corked wine has a defective AROMA and flavor, although it will not harm the drinker. Corked wine cannot be predicted. Any wine regardless of its quality or price can be corked.
The failure of grapes to develop after flowering occurs. Weather conditions during the spring such as clouds and cold temperatures, wind, rain, and high temperatures can cause the flowers to stay closed or drop off the vine, and therefore not become fertilized. Each flower represents a potential grape and vines that experience coulure, sometimes called “shatter” in English, often have irregular bunches that are missing grapes.
Deep chalk pits in Champagne used by Champagne houses to age Champagne. Originally dug by the Romans in 300 AD to source stones for building the city of Reims, these cold, dark, humid chambers are as deep as 60 feet underground and are shaped like a pyramid, with the bottom of the pit being the widest.
The word Crémant is used for French sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region, but nonetheless still made using the traditional Champagne method of second fermenation in each bottle. Important examples include Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant Bourgogne, and Crémant de Loire.
Literally nursery, criadera refers to a layer of Sherry casks, all of which contain wine of approximately the same age and blend. Multiple criaderas—sometimes more than a dozen—make up a SOLERA.
The basic-quality wine produced by each BODEGA. Crianzas are considered every-night drinking wines. They are less prestigious, less costly, and aged for shorter periods than RESERVAS or GRAN RESERVAS. While national law stipulates that crianzas must be aged for a minimum of six months in oak barrels, each DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN or DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN CALIFICADA can set higher standards. In Rioja, for example, a crianza must be aged for at least two years, one of which must be in oak barrels.
A grape created by fertilizing one genetic variety of grape with another genetic variety that belongs to the same species. While a cross may be the result of breeding, most crosses occur spontaneously in nature. Within the European species VITIS VINIFERA two highly regarded man-made crosses are scheurebe (riesling x silvaner) and pinotage (pinot noir x cinsaut). A cross is different than a HYBRID.
Translated in English as “growth,” the word cru can mean a vineyard or an estate, usually a superior one, that has been classified geographically or by reputation. A classified cru is known as a cru classé. Within any given classification (such as those in Bordeaux and Burgundy), there are Premiers Crus (first growths), Grands Crus (great growths), and so on. The word is the past participle of the French verb croître, meaning to grow.
Used as a verb, “to crush” means to break the grape skins so that the pulp oozes out and fermentation can more easily begin. As a noun, crush is the general term used for all of the steps, including harvesting, that take place just prior to FERMENTATION.
A method of making fortified base wine for inexpensive Madeiras that involves heating the base wine in large vats fitted with serpentine-shaped, stainless steel heating coils very slowly over a period of 3-6 months.
The wine from a selected barrel or vat (the term is derived from the French cuve, meaning “vat”). In Champagne, however, the word cuvée is used to describe a blend of wines. A Champagne cuvée is often made up of different varieties of grapes, or grapes from different vineyards plots, or both. The term prestige cuvée is used in Champagne to refer to a house’s most expensive and prestigious wine. Dom Pérignon, for example, is the prestige cuvée of Moët & Chandon.
Districtus Austriae Controllatus, or protected Austrian declaration of origin. Instituted in 2001, this system organizes Austrian wine into regions with specific laws on which grapes are allowed to be grown and other viticultural and winemaking regulations. It was modeled after France’s AOC system in an effort to increase quality and put the focus on terroir.
Wines that are sold and drunk very young. The most famous of these is Beaujolais Nouveau, although dozens of French wines are allowed by law to be sold the year the grapes were harvested. Not to be confused with EN PRIMEUR.
The act of pouring a wine (generally an older wine) off any SEDIMENT or deposits that may have precipitated out and settled in the bottle. Sometimes the term is used to describe the action of pouring a young wine into a decanter or carafe to mix it with oxygen and open it up, but this is more correctly called AERATION.
With European wines, the decision to place a wine in a category that is lower in status than seems appropriate given the quality of the wine. European wines may be declassified for a variety of reasons. In France, for example, wines that do not meet the strict requirements of AOC laws are declassified, usually to TABLE WINE.
General term for a wine that is sweet and, as such, could accompany, or be, dessert. In the United States, such wines often fall into the category of LATE HARVEST. There are many ways of making dessert wines. Two of the world’s most famous dessert wines, French Sauternes and German trockenbeerenauslesen, are the result of grapes that are infected with the noble rot BOTRYTIS CINEREA.
German table wine, the humblest category of wine. Although the ALCOHOL content, acidity level, and origin of grapes are all controlled by law, Deutscher wein is usually so light, it’s often just a step above water. The term Deutscher means “of Germany.” Absent that designation, the wine may be a “Euroblend” based on grapes may come from one of several other EU countries.
Diacetyl is a buttery-tasting compound that is a by-product of malolactic fermentation, the process in which beneficial bacteria turn sharp-tasting malic acid in wine to softer lactic acid. Chardonnays that have gone through malolactic fermentation often have noticeable diacetyl. Butteriness in chardonnay does not come from oak; although many wine drinkers assume this is the case.
A negative description of wines with chemical or microbial “off” odors and flavors usually resulting from faulty winemaking. The implication is that something is present in the wine that shouldn’t be.
Referred to in French as DÉGORGEMENT (see French glossary), this is the process used in during the making of Champagne or SPARKLING WINE by which yeasty sediment is removed from the bottle after the second bubble-forming FERMENTATION.
The difference in temperature from the coolest point in the morning to the warmest point in the afternoon. A large difference between these two temperatures is ideal for wine growing regions as it allows the sugars to ripen during the heat of the day while the natural acids are preserved thanks to the coolness of the night. In regions such as central Spain and Mendoza, Argentina, the diurnal temperature fluctuation can be as much as 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The degree of sweetness of the LIQUEUR D’EXPÉDITION, which is used to top up Champagne before its final corking. The dosage is what determines whether a Champagne will be BRUT, EXTRA DRY, DEMI-SEC, and so on.
Commonly used to describe any wine that doesn’t contain significant grape sugar. Technically, a dry wine is one fermented until less than 0.2 percent of natural (RESIDUAL) sugar remains. A wine can be dry and taste FRUITY at the same time.
A description for a wine that temporarily has little taste. This can be a wine, usually white, that is served so cold that it tastes as though it’s not altogether there. Or it can be a wine, usually red, in an awkward stage of its development when it tastes neither full of fruit and young, nor mature. Why some wines go through dumb phases is not fully understood. Parallels with people seem obvious.
Used to describe a wine, the AROMA or flavor of which is reminiscent of the earth. It usually refers to flavors that evoke soil or the forest—moss, dried leaves, bark, mushrooms, and the like. The term is sometimes extrapolated to include the pleasant, sensual aromas of the human body.
Slightly sweet, a term usually applied to Szamorodni, the type of wine made in Tokay from vineyards where the grapes have not been sufficiently affected by BOTRYTIS CINEREA to make Tokay Aszú. Szamorodni may be slightly sweet or dry (SZÁRAZ).
The official name for an individual vineyard site. There are 2,658 of them in Germany. Germany’s 13 wine regions are officially broken down into 39 BEREICHE, which in turn are broken down into 167 GROSSLAGEN, which are broken down into einzellagen, the plural of einzellage.
A rare and especially intense DESSERT WINE made by pressing frozen grapes that have been left hanging on the vine into midwinter, sometimes February. (Eiswein carries the vintage date of the main harvest year, so even if, for example, eiswein grapes were harvested in January 2015, the bottle would carry the vintage date 2014). When eiswein grapes are harvested in late winter, they are gently pressed while still frozen, so that the ice is separated from the remaining concentrated, very sweet, high-acid juice. Because of their ACIDITY, eiswein are usually less unctuous but more vibrant than BEERENAUSLESEN or TROCKENBEERENAUSLESEN. Eisweins age for decades and are extremely expensive.
A method of buying, wherein the wine is bought before it is released. Also known as buying futures. Buying wine en primeur allows collectors to be more certain of securing given wines. The wines most likely to be sold en primeur are Bordeaux wines from top châteaux.
Literally, “in an unrefined state.” The name of fino or manzanilla Sherries drawn from barrels in the spring when the flor is thickest, then immediately bottled—usually unfined and without stabilization. En rama Sherries are extremely fresh and vivid and last mere months because they are so fragile. The equivalent of drinking Sherry directly from the cask, en rama Sherries are extremely rare on the commercial market.
Historically, an enoteca was a wine library, a place where bottles of wine were displayed. Today, the word enoteca is also used to indicate a wine bar where a curated collection of wines is available for tasting. The most famous enoteca in Italy is the Enoteca Italiana in Siena which was once a de Medici fortress.
Designation which indicates a “First Class” vineyard, similar to the designation “Premier Cru” in Burgundy. The designation used by the 200 plus members of the VDP. The term Erste Lage generally appears on the neck label. See VDP.
An old term meaning “First Growth.” Used before 2006 in the Rheingau for high-quality dry wines made from riesling and pinot noir. Today, used less frequently as producers adopt VDP terms instead.
Exact definitions of estate bottled differ depending on the country from which the wine comes. In the United States, the term may be used by a winery only if 100% of the wine came from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery, and both the land and winery must be in an authorized viticultural area. The winery must produce 100% of the wine, age it, and bottle it at the winery. While the winery and vineyard must be within the same viticultural area, the parcels do not need to be contiguous.
The step in the process of making Madeira that involves heating the wine. Depending on the quality of the Madeira being produced, there are several estufagem methods. The most basic involves placing the FORTIFIED base wines in containers that are then heated to an average temperature of 113°F (with a maximum temperature of 131°F allowed) for three to six months. To make the very finest Madeiras, however, the containers may be placed in a warehouse attic, which builds up tremendous heat thanks to the intense Madeiran sun. There the Madeira-to-be may be left for twenty years or more.
A descriptive term for the texture of a FULL-BODIED wine with saturated fruit. Although being fat is generally considered a positive wine trait, being flabby is not. A flabby wine is a fat wine that lacks acidity so that it seems gross and unfocused.
An unofficial term used in Germany as a synonym for halbtrocken or half-dry wines—defined as less than 1.8% residual sugar. Wines called feinherb usually still taste extremely DRY because of the high corresponding ACIDITY in German wines.
Also known as primary fermentation, the process whereby yeasts convert the natural sugar in the grapes into ALCOHOL and CARBON DIOXIDE. The alcohol will remain a constituent of the wine that results, but in most cases, the carbon dioxide will be allowed to escape as a by-product.
Literally, “a flask,” but more often the word fiasco is used to describe the bulbous, straw-encased Chianti bottle that was a fixture of the bohemian lifestyle in the 1960s in the United States. (Memory lane, right, Boomers?). Chiantis sold in fiaschi (the plural) were usually quite cheap. Plus, the bottle doubled as a candle holder once the wine was drunk. If fiaschi make a comeback, remember, you heard it here.
An old method of viticulture whereby different grape varieties are planted within a single vineyard. The grower then harvests all of the grapes at the same time and ferments them together. Thus, the final blend of the wine is based on the percentages of the varieties in the vineyard. If about 20% of the vineyard was planted with syrah, then the final wine will be composed of about 20% syrah. Before the 20th century, most blended wines were based on field blends. Today, vineyards (or at least blocks within a vineyard) tend to be planted with a single variety. The grower can then harvest that variety when it is optimally ripe and ferment it separately, in order to evaluate it before using it in the final blend.
Known in French as selection massale, a field selection is made up of a group of clones within a given vineyard. When a grower wants to create a new vineyard using field selection, he takes cuttings not from one mother vine (which would be a single clone) but rather from a series of different “mothers” in the vineyard, hoping to replicate the clonal diversity of that site.
A filter is a porous membrane or other device used to remove selected particles from a liquid. In winemaking, a filter can be used to remove yeast cells and bacteria from the wine. Winemakers may filter a wine extensively, not at all, or to any degree in between. Some critics contend that some wines are filtered excessively, thereby stripping them of positive flavors and textures.
Used to describe a wine with elegance and BALANCE. The term implies that the wine is polished and sophisticated. Hearty, rustic country wines would not be described as having finesse, while a well-made Champagne or top white Burgundy might be.
A process of softening the texture of a wine by adding one or more protein coagulants, such as gelatin, egg whites, or ISINGLASS, to the wine. The coagulant attaches itself to tannin molecules, then settles to the bottom of the container, carrying tannin along with it. Fining can also be done to clarify the color of a wine, as when BENTONITE, a clay, is used to remove unwanted particles suspended in the wine which are making the wine appear hazy.
The impression that a wine leaves in your mouth even after you have swallowed it. A finish may be almost nonexistent, fairly short, or extremely long. It may be smooth and lingering, or rough and choppy. A finish may also be dominated by one component in the wine, such as ALCOHOL (a HOT finish), ACID (a tart finish), or TANNIN (an ASTRINGENT finish). A great wine, as opposed to a good wine, always has a pronounced, very long, lingering, well-balanced finish. In some judgings, officials actually measure the length of time that the wine can still be tasted after it has been swallowed.
The word fleshy is used to describe wines with a certain plumpness and rich core of fruit. Fleshiness is associated with certain varieties like merlot—especially when it’s ripe. In blends that combine merlot and cabernet sauvignon, merlot is often said to “put flesh on cabernet’s bones.”
Literally flower, a layer of yeast cells that forms naturally on top of manzanilla and fino Sherries as they age in the cask. Flor acts to prevent OXIDATION and also contributes a unique flavor to the wine.
A wine, such as Sherry or Port, that has had its ALCOHOL content increased by the addition of distilled grape spirits (clear brandy). Most fortified wines contain 16 to 20 percent ALCOHOL BY VOLUME.
An odd descriptive term (having nothing to do with foxes, or sex appeal, for that matter) for the wild, candylike aroma and flavor associated with wines that come from native American grapes of the Vitis labrusca species, such as Concord. The flavor is derived from an ester, methyl anthranilate.
It might seem like the term front plate refers to the front of the mouth, but front palate, mid palate, and back palate are temporal terms—that is, they indicate time. So the “front palate” is comprised of the flavors, aromas, and textures you experience in the first few seconds after you put the wine in your mouth. Mid palate is what you experience a few seconds after that. And back palate are the sensations, flavors, and aromas at the end of the experience, right before you swallow or spit.
A catchall term for the pronounced flavor or AROMA that comes from the wine grapes themselves. Wines are generally most fruity when they are young. In addition, certain VARIETAL wines (gewürztraminer, gamay, zinfandel) seem more fruity than others.
Having pronounced weight on the palate. Full-bodied wines are to LIGHT-BODIED wines as half-and-half is to skim milk. All other things being equal, the higher a wine’s ALCOHOL content, the more full-bodied it will seem.
A type of large, rolled stone that is commonly found in the soils of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The stones and rocks which range from fist-size to the size of a small pumpkin, are the remnants of ancient Alpine glaciers. The stones not only retain heat and hasten ripening but also protect the ground from becoming parched and dry by helping hold moisture in the soil.
A French term first used in Bordeaux in the 1990s, the word garagiste refers to an innovative (possibly renegade) professional winemaker without much financial capital, who began making small lots of fine wine in his/her garage or in another humble venue (like an industrial park). Garagistes are now at work all over the world. The term is generally used approvingly.
Used in reference to Portuguese still wines, the word garrafeira indicates a wine of especially high quality. But the word also means wine cellar or bottle cellar (from the Portuguese garrafa—bottle). In addition garrafeira is a style of Port, albeit a rare one. Rich and supple, garrafeira Ports are usually from a single outstanding year and are aged briefly in wood and then a long time—as many as twenty to forty years—in large glass bottles. After aging, the garrafeira is decanted and transferred into standard 750 milliliter bottles and sold.
When a wine pro describes a wine as “earthy,” the characterization can mean several different but related ideas. One of the permutations of earthiness is what the French call garrigue. Garrigue is the aroma (and by suggestion, the flavor) of the dry, sun-baked earth, combined with the scent of wild resinous plants such as thyme, rosemary, and lavender. In Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon along the sunny French Mediterranean, the smell of garrigue often permeates the air, the wine, and even the foods.
A category of inexpensive wine that has been given a general name that is not controlled by law. In the United States, terms such as “chablis,” “rhine,” “sherry,” and “burgundy” are all considered generic terms because they are not controlled by United States law. Note that, in Europe these are stringently defined terms. Thus, any inexpensive blended wine in the United States may be called “chablis” even though the wine itself will bear no resemblance to its namesake.
Ghost winery is a nickname for a dormant, deserted winery. Although the California wine industry is thriving today, at the turn of the 20th century, the combined hardships of Prohibition, phylloxera, and the 1929 stock market crash caused many wineries to be abandoned. At one time, there were nearly 100 ghost wineries in the Napa Valley alone. Most of those are now once again in operation.
Also called glycerol, glycerine is a colorless, odorless, slightly sweet, oily substance that is a minor by-product of FERMENTATION. Though often commented on by tasters, glycerine probably makes no more than a negligible contribution to a dry wine’s viscosity, and it is not responsible for a wine’s so-called “legs” or “tears.” The wines with the highest glycerine levels are sweet botrytized wines. In these wines, glycerine may contribute slightly to the wine’s sweetness and unctuous feel.
To splice one grape species (say, vinifera) onto another species (say, rupestris). Grafting makes it possible to grow, say, chardonnay (which belongs to the species vinifera), onto a Native American species ROOTSTOCK. Without the ability to graft, many of the great vineyards of the world would have long ago succumbed to the insect PHYLLOXERA.
A BODEGA’s top wine, produced only in excellent years and then subject to lengthy AGING. Though national law stipulates that red gran reservas must be aged two years in oak barrels, each DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN or DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN CALIFICADA can set higher standards. In Rioja, for example, red gran reservas must be aged for two years in barrel followed by three years in bottle, and in practice, many Rioja producers exceed even that.
A member of a particular association of about thirty of the longest-established Champagne HOUSES. The Syndicat de Grandes Marques is devoted to upholding a written charter of high standards in the production of Champagne.
A clear brandy (EAU-DE-VIE in French) made by distilling the POMACE left over after MUST or wine is pressed. Grappa di monovitigno is a grappa from a single grape variety, such as moscato or picolit. Because grappas made this way have a subtle suggestion of the aroma and flavor of the original grapes, they are considered superior.
A flavor in wine generally associated with those of grass, moss, or vegetables. Also a flavor found in wines made from underripe grapes. A certain amount of greenness can be characteristic of, and therefore positive in, some varietals like sauvignon blanc. With most red varietals, however, obvious greenness is considered a fault.
A term used by members of the VDP in Germany to indicate a vineyard that is of the highest quality. The term roughly corresponds to the Burgundian term Grand Cru. The term Grosse Lage will appear on the neck label. See VDP.
One of approximately 167 collections of vineyards. Germany’s 13 wine regions are officially broken down into 39 BEREICHE, which in turn are broken down into 167 grosslagen (the plural of grosslage), which are broken down into more than 2,658 EINZELLAGEN.
Also called a girasol, Spanish for “sunflower,” gyropalette is a piece of equipment used in the production of sparkling wine made by the traditional method (where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle) like Champagne. To remove the yeast sediment (lees) left in the bottle, riddling (aka remuage) is performed. This machine automates the riddling process for bottles.
Literally, half-dry—defined as less than 1.8% residual sugar. The term is used in Germany, but rarely in Austria. Wines labeled halbtrocken usually still taste extremely DRY because of the high corresponding ACIDITY in German wines. The term feinherb is often used as a synonym.
When used to describe a wine with flavors or AROMAS slightly reminiscent of herbs, herbal is positive. Good sauvignon blanc, for example, is considered slightly herbal. When herbal flavors become extreme, they are often described as herbaceous, a quality some wine drinkers like and others don’t. Herbal is different than VEGETAL, a term used negatively to describe a wine with a dank green OFF ODOR.
In Austria, a rustic type of restaurant often attached to a winemaker’s home. Traditionally, all of the food at a heurige is made from scratch by the winemaker and his family. Similarly, the wine offered (which is also referred to as heurige) is the winemaker’s.
A modern hogshead, quite a bit larger than a small barrel, holds 79.25 gallons (300 liters). Winemakers use hogsheads when they want the wine to be less stamped by oak, as may be the case with such delicate varieties as sangiovese and pinot noir.
Refers to a wine with a level of ALCOHOL that is out of BALANCE with its ACID and FRUIT. The impression of excessive alcohol produces a slight burning “hit” at the top of the nasal passages and on the palate.
As used in the Champagne region, house refers to a producer who sells Champagne under its own brand name. The grapes may come from its own vineyards, from independent growers, or most often from a combination of the two. Such firms as Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, and Taittinger are all referred to as houses.
A new grape variety developed by breeding two or more genetically distinct varieties from different species. When the hybrid is a cross of a European species (VITIS VINIFERA) grape and a grape from any one of several American species, it is referred to as a French-American hybrid. These hybrids were developed by French plant breeders after the massive PHYLLOXERA infestation in the late nineteenth century, but are now banned in most French appellations. Well-known hybrids include Baco noir, villard blanc, and seyval blanc, all of which are grown in the eastern states of the United States.
The word ice is usually used along with the word wine, as in ice wine (or eiswein). But ice can be used alone, as in “Riesling Ice.” A wine that is described simply as “ice” is made from grapes frozen artificially. By contrast, all ice wine globally must be made from grapes frozen naturally on the vine. Ice wine is usually expensive—often costing over $100 for a half bottle. By contrast, wines simply labeled ice can cost as little as $20 a half bottle.
A scale created to indicate how dry or sweet a riesling tastes. Created by the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) in 2007, the chart (which appears on the back label of many riesling wines globally) shows a spectrum from dry to medium dry to medium sweet to fully sweet. It then pinpoints where that wine falls. The IRF scale is based on sophisticated technical guidelines, including the ratio of sugar to acid in the wine. Wines with very high acid, for example, may still taste dry even though they have some amount of residual sugar.
A gelatinous material, obtained from—get ready—the air bladders of sturgeon and other fish. Isinglass is sometimes used in fining wine to clarify and/or soften the texture of wine. Happily enough, it’s removed before bottling.
The word jammy is usually used to describe a wine with a dense, concentrated berry aroma or flavor, as with jam itself. Jammy wines often also have a thick, mouthfilling texture. Full-bodied, red zinfandel is often described as jammy.
A level of ripeness indicating that the wine was not completely ripe according to the traditional German system. Light and fresh, kabinett wines (especially rieslings) are drunk by Germans as every-night wines. The dependable presence of kabinett wines in a family’s kitchen cabinet gave these wines their name.
Acronym for Klosterneuburger Mostwage. In Austria, the KMW scale is used to measure sugar in grapes and, hence, their ripeness. In Germany, sugar is measured in OECHSLE; in France, in BAUMÉ; and in the United States, in BRIX.
A shallow stone or cement trough in which grapes are trodden by foot (usually for several hours) in order to crush them and mix the skins with the juice. Treading grapes by foot, an ancient method, is still widely practiced in Portugal, where many wineries have ancient lagares.
A Spanish term, literally, “tears.” Lágrima also refers to a wine made from free-run juice without any mechanical pressing. Likewise, the Italian “Lacryma” is incorporated in the name “Lacryma Christi,” (tears of Christ) which is the name of a celebrated wine produced on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Campania, Italy.
As the term suggests, a wine that comes from grapes picked after the normal harvest and therefore containing a greater percentage of sugar. Late-harvested wines may also be infected with the noble rot, BOTRYTIS CINEREA. DESSERT WINES are usually late harvested.
The remnants of yeast cells and bits of grape skin that settle to the bottom of the container after FERMENTATION is complete. Leaving the fermented wine in contact with its lees (SUR LIE), rather than removing the lees right away, often adds complexity and nuance. See AUTOLYSIS.
The term refers to all of the appellations of Bordeaux that are on the left side of the Gironde River as it flows out to the Atlantic Ocean. The main grape variety used for Left Bank wines is cabernet sauvignon. Many famous communes are on the Left Bank, such as Margaux, St.-Julien, Pauillac, St.-Estéphe, Graves, and Sauternes.
Also known as tears in Spain and cathedral windows in Germany, legs are the rivulets of wine that have inched up the inside surface of the glass above the wine, then run slowly back down. Myth has it that the fatter the legs, the better the wine. This is not true. The width of legs is determined by the interrelationship of a number of complex factors, including the amount of alcohol, the amount of GLYCEROL, and the rate of evaporation of the alcohol and the surface tension between solids and liquids. But the most important point is this: Legs have nothing to do with quality. It is irresistible to point out that wines—like women—should not be judged by their legs.
Harvest. Harvest dates generally range from September to December, according to the variety of grape, weather conditions, and the kind of wine being produced. One exception is eiswein which can be harvested in January of the year following the main harvest.
Semi-sweet. The term used to describe German wines with discernible sweetness. Lieblich wines therefore are those that taste sweeter than HALBTROCKEN (half dry). They can have up to 4.5% residual sugar (45 grams per liter).
The term that describes a wine that has very little weight on the palate. A light-bodied wine literally feels light in your mouth, while a FULL-BODIED wine feels just the opposite. Light-bodied wines are low in ALCOHOL.
The wine added to the Champagne bottle after DISGORGING to top it up. The liqueur d’expédition is often made up of wines reserved from previous years and it contains some sweetness (known as the dosage).
CARBONIC MACERATION, as it is referred to in English, is a type of FERMENTATION in which uncrushed grapes are placed whole into vats that are then closed. As the weight of the grapes on top crushes grapes on the bottom, juice is released and fermentation begins. This in turn releases the gas CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2), which causes other grapes to ferment, in effect, within their skins. Carbonic maceration is commonly used to ferment fruity red wines for early drinking, typically in Beaujolais and sometimes in the Loire.
A term for a wine that has been subject to a long period of oxidation and heat. The best-known example is Madeira, from which the term maderized comes. Table wines should not be maderized. See OXIDATION.
This process has nothing to do with primary FERMENTATION since it does not involve yeasts or the production of ALCOHOL. Rather, malolactic fermentation is a chemical conversion of ACID instigated by beneficial bacteria. During the process, the sharp malic acid in grapes is converted to softer lactic acid. As a result, the wine tastes less crisp and more creamy. During malolactic fermentation, the by-product DIACETYL is created, giving the wine a buttery character. Malolactic fermentation can either occur naturally or be prompted by the winemaker. All red wines go through malolactic fermentation, rendering them more microbially stable. White wines may or may not. If the winemaker wants to achieve a soft MOUTHFEEL in the white wine, then malolactic fermentation is induced. If he or she prefers to retain dramatic, snappy acidity, then malolactic fermentation is prevented, usually by the use of SULFUR.
The French term for an EAU-DE-VIE made specifically by distilling the POMACE (grape skins, stems, and seeds) left over after pressing, not by distilling wine. Marc is generally a slightly more powerfully flavored spirit than eau-de-vie.
An ancient method (literally mass selection) of establishing a new vineyard or replanting an old one by selecting numerous older vines throughout an existing vineyard, propagating them and planting them. Mass selection can help to maintain the consistency of style of the wine from a particular vineyard. The opposite of massale selection would be to replant a vineyard using specific clonal material from a nursery.
The Urdu word mazedar is used to describe the idea of wanting to experience something over and over again. The word is often applied to food, and is said to describe the magical essence of a food’s flavor. Often, the (insufficient) one-word translation is: yummy. The idea of a flavor being so gravitational that you want to experience it again and again is a concept that anyone who has tasted a great wine immediately understands. So, thank you, Urdu. (Urdu, by the way, is a form of Hindustani and is the language of Pakistan).
The thin edge of wine at the top; the meniscus forms a kind of ring where the wine touches the inside of a wine glass. By tilting the glass at a forty-five degree angle and looking down at the meniscus, you can get an idea of a wine’s age. The lighter the meniscus, the older the wine. For example, if a cabernet is young, its deep garnet color will extend from the core of the wine all the way through the meniscus to the inside wall of the glass. If the wine is significantly older, however, the core will be deep in color, but the meniscus will be significantly lighter.
A United States trademarked designation, adopted in 1988 by the Meritage Association, for California wines that are a blend of the varieties of grapes used in Bordeaux. A red Meritage might be made up of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. A white Meritage would be a blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Meritage wines are usually moderately expensive and are often given fanciful proprietary names. Such wines as Opus One, Insignia, Cain Five, and Magnificat would all qualify as Meritage if their producers chose to have them so designated. Producers may choose not to use the term Meritage even if their wine meets the qualifications.
A play on words, merroir combines the idea of terroir with mer—the French word for sea. Oysters, for example, grow in many different merroirs. As such, the flavor of any given type of oyster is highly influenced by the environmental conditions of the waters in which it grows. Since oysters clearly reflect their provenance (merroir), many experts believe they taste best with wines that also reflect their provenance (terroir), such as Chablis.
The labor-intensive method used to make Champagne and other fine SPARKLING WINES. In this method, the wine undergoes a SECONDARY FERMENTATION, which creates the bubbles, in its individual bottle rather than in one large cask or vat.
A process winemakers use to add oxygen to wine in a controlled fashion. Adding oxygen changes the chemistry of the wine and depending on the timing of the introduction can have several different effects. Microoxygenation is most commonly used to assist fermentation, accelerate maturation—similar to aging wine in barrel for a longer period of time—and minimize vegetal characters.
A viticultural problem caused by abnormal pollination, millerandage results in differently sized berries within one bunch. (The berries are affectionately known as hens, chicks, pumpkins, and peas). Getting the berries to ripen evenly can therefore be difficult. And the yield of the crop is also reduced, although smaller berries can increase the quality of the wine.
Monastery; several Greek wine estates are located in former monasteries, and several Greek monasteries still produce wine. The word monastiri sometimes appears on the labels of TOPIKOS OENOS wines.
Meaning “muzzle” in English, a muselet is the wire cage that holds a Champagne or sparkling wine cork firmly in place. The muzzle is important when it comes to safety. Even though most people quickly remove it first, the muselet should actually not be removed before the cork is eased out. Rather, it should be removed with the cork at the same time.
The term musque refers to an especially aromatic version of a grape variety. (The word “musk” is an ancient term for perfume). The best example is sauvignon musque which is more floral and fruity than its sister sauvignon blanc. Though sauvignon musque is still relatively rare, plantings are on the rise in California. Already many of the best sauvignon blanc wines are blends of sauvignon blanc with sauvignon musque.
An individual or firm that buys grapes and/or ready-made wine from growers and/or cooperatives. The négociant then blends, bottles, labels, and sells the wine under its own brand or name. The first négociant houses were established in France around the time of the French Revolution. The sudden profusion of peasant growers who were inexperienced in sales created the need for firms that could bottle and sell the production from many small properties.
A descriptive term encompassing all of those wine-producing countries that do not belong to the OLD WORLD. The most important New World wine producers are the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Chile. By extension, New World techniques generally refer to modern viticultural and winemaking methods that rely heavily on science. Avant-garde, Old World wine producers are often said to use New World techniques.
When applied to Champagne, a blend of wines from different vintage years. (A more correct term would be multivintage). The majority of Champagnes are nonvintage. By comparison, most still wines today carry a vintage.
A descriptive term for the toasty, woody, and vanilla smells and flavors contributed to wine during its FERMENTATION and/or AGING in oak barrels. The newer the oak barrel, the greater the potential for the wine to have a pronounced oaky character. Often (but not always) the longer the wine is left in oak, the greater the oaky influence. A wine that has an oak flavor that dominates all natural fruit flavors is considered over oaked.
The panoply of smells that may emanate from a wine. These include a whole range of fruits and berries (apple, lemon, peach, apricot, cherry, raspberry, cranberry, plum, and so on); plus flowers (honeysuckle, rose, violet, geranium, and so forth); plus assorted other smells reminiscent of the earth, yeast, beer, leaves, herbs, vegetables, mushrooms, truffles, straw, wet wool, caramel, pepper, spices, nuts, oak, wood, meat, game, mold, cigar boxes, dust, mint, pine, eucalyptus, olives, fusel oil, and rubber boots.
Scale used in Germany to indicate the ripeness of grapes. Developed in the nineteenth century by the physicist Ferdinand Oechsle, Oechsle measures the weight of the grape juice or MUST. Since the contents of the must are primarily sugar and ACIDS, the must weight is an indication of ripeness. According to traditional German law, ripeness categories are based on Oechsle levels that are specified for each grape variety and wine region (meaning they can change region to region). For example, for a riesling wine in the Mosel to be considered a SPÄTLESE, it must have 76 degrees Oechsle; in the Rheingau, a riesling must have 85 degrees Oechsle to be a spätlese. These adjustable levels reflect the fact that in some very cold regions like the Mosel, ripeness is harder to achieve.
As applied to wine, Old World refers to those countries where wine first flourished, namely Western or Central European countries and others ringing the Mediterranean basin and in the near East. Old World techniques, by extension, refer to ways of growing grapes and making wines that rely more on tradition and less on science. The Old World is usually talked about in contrast to the NEW WORLD. Wine producers in the New World, however, are often fond of saying that they employ Old World techniques as a way of establishing that their wines are made at least in part by traditional methods.
The process of perceiving smells. In order to smell things—that is, in order for olfaction to occur—humans use two separate sensory areas. The first is the nasal cavity. Aromas smelled via the nose are said to occur by orthonasal olfaction. The other area is at the cavity at the back of the palate. Aromas perceived this way—retronasally—happen as a result of wine first being warmed in the mouth and mixed with saliva.
The process of exposing wine to air, which changes it. A little oxidation can be positive; it can help to soften and open up a wine, for example. Too much exposure to air, however, is deleterious. It can make a wine turn brown and take on a tired flavor. When too much exposure to air occurs, the wine is described as oxidized.
Term commonly used for a single estate. In 2003, the government of Spain also gave the term a legal definition and status, incorporating it into the official denominación system. Thus, in addition to Spain’s DOs DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN and DOCas DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN CALIFICADA, there exists the status DO Pago. These are denominations of origin awarded to just a single estate considered exemplary. So, for example, the estate Dominio de Valdepusa has its own DO Pago called Dominio de Valdepusa. Many Spanish equate a DO Pago to a French Grand Cru. As of 2012, there were about 10 DO Pago estates in Spain.
Pét-Nat is a contraction of the French term pétillant-naturel (natural sparkling). Pét-Nat wines are sparklers made in the “ancestral” method whereby the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, without the addition of secondary yeasts or sugars (as would be done when making a sparkler by the Champagne method). The result is a cloudy, rustic bubbly that can smell pretty funky (sometimes appealingly so; sometimes not). Pét-Nat sparklers can be white, rosé, or red and are usually stoppered with a crown cap (just like beer). Because of the way they are made, the sparklers have highly unpredictable flavors. Hard to say if that’s good or bad.
One of the characteristics certain rieslings have is what is commonly called “petrol”—a potent, distinctive aroma that some wine drinkers love, and others hate. Petrol is caused by trimethyldihydronaphthalene—TDN for short. Several research studies have found that TDN is up to six times more likely to occur in riesling than in other varieties. One of the leading factors responsible for the molecule’s formation is too much sun exposure on riesling grapes as they grow. As a result, top riesling growers are always careful to allow leaves to slightly shade riesling clusters.
A measure of the strength of the relative acidity versus the relative alkalinity of wine (or any liquid) on a logarithmic scale of 0 to 14. The lower the number is below 7 (the neutral pH of water), the greater the relative acidity. Winemakers consider the pH of a wine in relationship to other factors (ALCOHOL, TANNIN, EXTRACT, and the like) to determine if the wine is in BALANCE. As grapes mature, plotting the change in the pH of their pulp is a way of determining ripeness.
A group of chemical compounds occurring naturally in all plants. In wine, phenols are derived from grape skins, stems, and seeds, as well as from oak barrels. Among the most important phenols are TANNIN, COLOR pigments, and some flavor compounds, such as VANILLIN. Depending on their chemical structure, some phenols are known as polyphenols.
A small aphid-like-insect that attacks the roots of vines belonging to the species VITIS VINIFERA. Phylloxera slowly destroys the vine by preventing the roots from absorbing nutrients and water. Native American vines, such as those belonging to the species VITIS LABRUSCA or Vitis riparia, tolerate the insect without adverse consequences. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, a phylloxera epidemic swept through Europe and eventually around the world. By the time a remedy was discovered, millions of acres of vines had been destroyed. That remedy, still the only known solution, was to replant each vineyard, vine by vine, with native American ROOTSTOCKS, then graft VITIS VINIFERA vines on top.
In Victorian England, where a pipe of Port was commonly given to a newborn child as a gift, a pipe held 141.13 gallons (534.24 liters). Today the volume pipes hold ranges from 145.29 gallons (550 liters) to 166.42 gallons (630 liters), depending on the country they come from and whether they are used for maturing or shipping a wine. Pipes commonly contain Port, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, or Cognac.
The mashed-up, solid residue of skins, stems, seeds, and pulp that is left over after grapes are pressed. Pomace is often simply spread on vineyards where it decomposes. Or more enterprisingly, it can be distilled to become grappa (in Italy), marc (in France), or eau-de-vie (in the U.S. and France).
In the 1980s, the California-based wine consulting and management company of Gomberg, Fredrickson & Associates established a hierarchy of wines according to price. The hierarchy includes four levels of premium wine—Popular Premium ($3-$7), Mid Premium ($7-$10), Super Premium ($10-$14), and Ultra Premium ($14-$25).
To press means to exert pressure on grapes to extract their juices. A press is a device used to do that. There are many kinds; one of the simplest and oldest is the hand-operated wooden basket press. A more modern press—the bladder press—is essentially a horizontal tank with an inflatable membrane running through its middle. As the membrane swells, it gently squeezes the grapes against the side of the revolving tank. Grape bunches can be put whole into a press, but more often, they are crushed and the stems are removed first.
Literally, first class. A Latin designation used by the Hungarians since around 1700 to indicate a Tokay vineyard of first-class stature. The Tokay Aszú wines produced from grapes grown in such a vineyard would by extension be considered top flight.
Literally, “capturing the sparkle,” a term for the secondary fermentation in Champagne. The secondary fermentation takes place inside each individual bottle. It is this secondary fermentation that creates Champagne’s bubbles.
A term found on some NEW WORLD wine labels for which there is no legal definition. Sometimes a wine labeled private reserve is truly special and of high quality (such as Beaulieu Vineyards’ Georges de Latour Private Reserve). Other times, however, the phrase is simply a hackneyed way of marketing an ordinary wine. Similar terms include proprietor’s reserve and grand reserve.
Around 1700 two Tokay vineyards were given this designation, which means chosen for the royal table. These vineyards, Csarfas and Mézes Mály, ranked above those designated PRIMAE CLASSIS.
A term found on U.S. wine labels, indicating that not less than 75% of the wine was fermented at the address on the label, and that the wine was bottled at that address. See VINTED AND BOTTLED BY.
The removal of living canes, shoots, leaves, and other vegetative growth. Vines are usually pruned in winter when the plant is dormant (and thus less susceptible to diseases that could infiltrate the vine via the pruning wounds). Pruning is generally severe. About 90% of the previous season’s growth is removed each year. Pruning keeps vines manageable and affects how the vine will grow in the following year. Thus, pruning can be used to regulate the size and quality of the next year’s crop. Pruning is usually done by hand with shears, but mechanical pruners do exist to speed up pruning in large vineyards, especially in countries like Australia where agricultural workers are in short supply.
A process during the FERMENTATION of red wine in which the juice is pumped from the bottom of the container to the top and then sprayed over the CAP of skins to break it up and keep it wet. By trickling through this mass of skins, the juice picks up even more COLOR, flavor, and TANNIN. Pumping over also helps prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria that might spoil the wine or create off flavors.
Modern puncheons, commonly used for wines like sangiovese that don’t benefit from a lot of wood contact, come in two sizes: 79.25 gallons and 132.08 gallons (200 and 500 liters respectively).
The opposite of PUMPING OVER, this process accomplishes the same goals. During punching down, the CAP is pushed down with a paddle into the fermenting grape juice. Punching down, despite its name, is a gentle process.
The indentation found in the bottom of most wine bottles. The punt may be shallow or, as in the case of Champagne bottles, quite pronounced. The punt adds stability to the bottle by weighting the bottom and strengthens the glass at its weakest point.
The traditional basket in which ASZÚ grapes were gathered. The word puttony has given rise to puttonyos, the manner by which the sweetness of Tokay Aszú is measured. Tokay Aszú wines are labeled from two to six puttonyos; the more puttonyos, the sweeter the wine.
More correctly known by their long name methoxypyrazines, pyrazines are the compounds in grapes that can cause a powerful green bell pepper aroma and flavor. Pyrazines are especially prevalent in sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. They can be greatly reduced by exposing grapes to more sunlight as they ripen. Unripe sauvignon blanc or cabernet can have pyrazine levels off the charts. Extreme pyrazine levels are generally considered a defect in a wine, although moderate pyrazines are a hallmark of some types of wine—New Zealand sauvignon blanc for example.
A broad category of basic everyday wine under German law. QbA wines must come from one of the official 13 wine-growing regions (Anbaugebiete), and the region must be shown on the label. QbA wines are made from grapes that have attained only a low level of ripeness, though there must be at least enough sugar in the grapes to produce a wine with 7% alcohol by volume. Chaptalization (adding sugar to the unfermented grape juice to boost the body and final alcohol level) is permitted and often used. QbA wines range from dry to semi-sweet.
Translated as “quality wine with specific attributes,” this is the top level of German wines. In the traditional German system, QmP wines prominently display a ripeness level on the wine label (from kabinett up to trockenbeerenauslese) and a sweetness level, from dry (trocken) to extremely sweet. Unlike QbA wines, QmP wines may not be chaptalized. QmP wines must be produced from allowed grape varieties in one of the 39 subregions (bereich) of one of the 13 wine-growing regions, although it is the region rather than the subregion which is mandatory information on the label.
Literally farm. In Portugal, the word quinta is used to refer both to a specific vineyard and to a wine estate. Quinta do Noval, for example, is the name of a highly regarded wine estate in the Douro region. Ports known as single vintage quinta Ports come from grapes grown on a single estate in a single year.
After a wine has SETTLED, solids and bits of grape particulate matter (yeast cells and bits of grape skin) sink to the bottom of the barrel. The wine must then be racked, which means pumping or siphoning off the clear wine on top from the solids below. The clear wine is racked into a clean barrel. Racking also aerates a wine.
A descriptive term for a wine (generally a red) that tastes slightly like raisins because the grapes were overripe when picked. A small bit of this quality can add an interesting nuance to the wine, but too much is a flaw.
A word indicating the wine is sweet (as in recioto di Soave and recioto di Valpolicella). To make a recioto wine, the grapes are left for months to dry and raisinate, usually on mats or shelving in cool, dry lofts (a process called appassimento). In Italy, the general term for wines made from intentionally raisinated grapes is passito. The word recioto comes from “recie” in the Venetian dialect, meaning ears—a reference to the little lobes or “ears” on a grape cluster that usually get very ripe because they are the most exposed to the sun.
The RIDDLING (rotating and tilting) of Champagne bottles to concentrate yeast sediments in their necks. Riddling is done by hand in A-shape frames called pupitres or by a computerized machine called a gyropalette.
A wine produced only in excellent years. Though national law stipulates that red reservas must be aged for one year in oak barrels, each DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN or DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN CALIFICADA can set higher standards. Red reservas from Rioja, for example, must be aged for a minimum of three years, one of which must be in barrel. Many Rioja producers nonetheless exceed these requirements.
Many producers the world over make a reserve wine in addition to their regular offering, the reserve being of higher quality (theoretically) and higher price (dependably). In the United States, a reserve wine may be a selection of the best lots of wine from grapes grown in the best vineyards, and/or it may be a wine that has been allowed to age longer before release. But since the term reserve is not actually defined by United States law, an embarrassing number of producers use it purely as a marketing ploy to get you to buy wine that is in fact of cheap quality and pretty pedestrian. The one exception to this is Washington State, where in 1999, an industry group, the Washington Wine Quality Alliance, set forth its own stipulations regarding the term reserve. Members of the alliance—virtually all of the top wine producers in the state—agreed to use the term reserve only for 10 percent of a winery’s production or 3,000 cases, whichever is greater. Additionally, a wine labeled reserve must be among the higher priced wines the winery produces and all of the grapes for the wine must be grown in Washington State. In contrast to the United States, most European countries strictly define the terms reserve, riserva (Italy), reserva (Spain), and the like.
Natural grape sugar that remains in wine because it has not been converted into ALCOHOL during FERMENTATION. Wines that taste dry can nonetheless have a tiny amount of residual sugar in them. Winemakers often leave small amounts of sugar in wine to make it seem rounder and more appealing (sweetness has a slight fat feeling to it). Wine producers are not required to list residual sugar content on labels.
Called rémuage in French, riddling is the process during the making of Champagne or sparkling wine whereby the bottles are individually rotated and tilted a small bit day after day in order to concentrate the yeast sediment in the necks prior to disgorging. In the past, bottles held in A-shape frames called pupitres were riddled by hand. Today, it may also be done by a computerized machine called a gyropalette.
The term refers to all of the appellations of Bordeaux that are on the right side of the Gironde River as it flows out to the Atlantic Ocean. The main grape varieties used for Right Bank wines are merlot and cabernet franc. The well-known communes of Pomerol and St.-Emilion reside on the Right Bank.
The part of the grapevine that is planted directly in the soil. Rootstocks from different varieties have different tolerances to disease and climatic stress and will be more or less suitable to a given type of soil. The variety of rootstock also affects how slowly or quickly the vine itself will grow. A vine need not grow from its own roots. In fact, most vines are not grown from their own roots but instead are grafted onto select rootstocks which have been bred for their disease-resistant properties (see PHYLLOXERA and VITIS).
A pink Champagne. The rosé color, which actually ranges from translucent pink to coppery salmon, is obtained either by blending a bit of still red wine into the Champagne blend before the SECONDARY FERMENTATION or by leaving the base wines in contact with the grape skins for a brief period of time to absorb color. Because rosé Champagnes are difficult and risky to make, production is limited and the wines are generally more expensive than golden Champagnes.
A process used to make rosé by drawing pink-colored juice off fermenting red grapes. This process also results in concentrating the remaining red wine since the ratio of skins to juice in the tank is increased when some juice is drawn off.
Fruit that matures after the first crop has been picked. This is usually not picked because the quantity is too small to be economically viable, and the grapes may not be sufficiently ripe.
The term for a secondary and usually less expensive wine made by a winery. In Bordeaux, for example, Château Latour’s second label is Les Forts de Latour. Most wineries that make a second label are highly respected for their primary label and may not want to actively market (or be known for) their second label. The wine that is sold under the second label is never as high in quality as wine of the primary label. The grapes may come from younger vines and/or lesser vineyards.
A FERMENTATION that takes place after the first fermentation, either spontaneously or by intention. In the making of top Champagnes and SPARKLING WINES, the secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle and produces the gas that eventually becomes the wines’ bubbles (see CARBON DIOXIDE). In table wine, a secondary fermentation is undesirable.
Second class in Latin, first used in Hungary around 1700 to indicate a Tokay vineyard considered second best and hence a Tokay Aszú wine that was second in quality compared to wines made from grapes grown in PRIMAE CLASSIS vineyards but still well above most other vineyards.
The particulate matter (usually harmless) and color pigments that may precipitate out of a wine as it ages. The presence of sediment is not negative; many of the best wines in the world throw off sediment as they age.
A phenomenon that can occur in the spring whereby individual grape berries become separated from the stem and fall to the ground. Shatter may be caused by cool, wet weather which tends to prevent the tiny cap on each fertilized berry from falling off. Then, as the berries start to grow, they push against the cap and shatter, significantly reducing yields.
The act of removing some shoots in order to improve the quality of the fruit, as well as to reduce vine stress. By thinning the shoots, the winegrower attempts to get the vine to put its energy into ripening its clusters rather than growing green vegetative parts.
“Single farm” in Portuguese. It is used to refer to a specific vineyard and to a wine estate. Single Quinta Ports come from grapes grown on a single estate in a single year in the Douro Valley of Portugal.
In a sense, all red wines experience skin contact since in red wine FERMENTATION the juice and skins of the grapes are in contact. But in contemporary winemaking, the term skin contact generally refers to the process of letting crushed white grapes sit with the skins and the juice together, rather than immediately separating them. This process helps add flavor and AROMA to the final wine. A white wine may be given anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days of skin-contact time.
Although first used as a general term to describe any wooden container, barrels are now used as specific measures. Three types of small barrels are standard around the world. French oak Bordeaux barrels, known as barriques, are used for many types of wine, including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and Bordeaux wines. They hold 59.43 gallons (225 liters). French oak Burgundy barrels, known as pieces, are generally used for pinot noirs worldwide, including Burgundies. They hold 60.2 gallons (228 liters). And American oak barrels, used for all types of wine, are made in both sizes.
Austrian term used in the Wachau region of Lower Austria for the ripest grapes and hence fullest bodied wines. Smaragd wines must have a minimum of 12.5 percent alcohol, but most have considerably more. The word smaragd is also the name of a bright green lizard that suns itself in the Wachau vineyards.
Smoke taint in wine was first identified in 2003. In California wine country, horrendous wildfires in years 2008, 2016, or 2017, for example, show just how severe the taint can be. Wildfire smoke contains a wide range of volatile phenols. These compounds can be absorbed by vines and accumulate in grape skins.
A smoky smell and taste found in both white and red wines. Though wines can take on smoky characters from the barrels in which they are aged, certain wines just have a naturally smoky character as a result of their TERROIR (see the French glossary). Many Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres from France’s Loire Valley are smoky, for example.
Complex network of barrels used for aging Sherry by progressively blending younger wines into older wines. Since the barrels are not completely filled, the wine is allowed to be gently subjected to OXIDIZATION during the process. Wine held in a solera is said to undergo the solera process.
A wine with bubbles. The most famous sparkling wine is Champagne, made in the region of the same name in France. Other types of sparkling wine include CAVA (from Spain), SEKT (from Germany), and SPUMANTE (from Italy).
Plural spätlesen. Literally “late harvest.” A level of ripeness indicating that the wine was just ripe according to the traditional German system. According to this traditional system, a spätlese could be dry, half dry, or semi sweet. In the distinctly different modern German system adopted by members of the VDP, spätlese is a level of sweetness above kabinett.
A way of training grapevines that is especially common on heavily windswept Greek islands. The vines are trained in a circle low to the ground (stefáni means “crown”), so that the grapes grow in the center, protected from the wind which can damage or destroy them.
In the Wachau region of Lower Austria, natural unchaptalized wines with no more than 11.5 percent alcohol are referred to as steinfelders. These come from the least ripe grapes and hence are the lightest bodied of Wachau wines.
The affectionate name Australians give to their sweet wines. Though sticklers (so to speak) reserve the term specifically for late harvest wines and wines affected by the noble rot known as botrytis, other Aussies include the country’s phenomenal fortified wines under the sticky umbrella. The most wickedly delicious of these are the sweet fortified muscats and topaques (formerly known as Tokays) from the Victoria region. Reminiscent of toffee, brown sugar, roasted nuts, vanilla, honey, and chocolate syrup, these are wines not to be missed.
German wine pubs, often attached to growers’ homes, where they can sell their own wines and light foods for a total of only four months of the year, so as not to take business away from full-fledged restaurants open twelve months a year. A strauss—wreath—is usually hung over the door.
A natural chemical compund that has been used as a wine preservative since antiquity. Sulfur in all its forms is harmless to people except for the tiny number of individuals who are severely allergic to it. The most common form of sulfur used in winemaking is sulfur dioxide (SO2), which is formed when elemental sulfur is burned in air. Added to wine (usually as a gas), sulfur dioxide prevents OXIDATION as well as bacterial spoilage, and it inhibits the growth of yeasts. As a result of this, sulfur dioxide can be used to stop FERMENTATION in order to produce a sweet wine, and it can be used to prevent MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION. A form of sulfur dioxide known as metabisulfite is often added to freshly picked grapes (and fruit juices in general) as a preservative. Sulfur dioxide’s disadvantage is that it has an unpleasant, burnt match odor, which can be smelled at low concentrations, although people vary widely in the thresholds at which they can detect it. The ability to detect sulfur dioxide also varies based on the type of wine, since in some wines the compound reacts to or combines with other compounds, rendering it more difficult to perceive. In any case, during the last few decades, winemakers the world over have sought to minimize the amount of sulfur dioxide they use in winemaking, mostly in response to health concerns voiced by wine drinkers. Nonetheless, it’s virtually impossible to produce a wine that is entirely sulfur-free because a small amount of sulfur dioxide is a by-product of the metabolic action of yeasts during fermentation (this is why bread, too, contains sulfur dioxide). As a result, United States law mandates that the term “contains sulfites” appear on all wine labels that contain more than 10 parts per million of sulphur dioxide (and most do), even when the wine has been produced without the addition of any sulfur dioxide at all. The word sulfites in the warning is a catch all term for sulfur in all its various forms, including sulfur dioxide, sulfurous acid, bisulfite ion, and sulfite ion, as well as other complex forms. It should be noted that sulfur in all its forms is harmless except for the small percentage of individuals who are severely allergic to it.
Generally indicates a wine of higher quality, often because it has more alcohol than the minimum required and/or it has been aged longer than regulations stipulate. Valpolicella Superiore, for example, is a Valpolicella with at least one year of aging in contrast to basic Valpolicella, which has no minimum.
Literally, “on the lees.” Some white wines, notably white Burgundies, are, for a period of time, left in contact with the lees (spent yeast) after fermentation is complete. Wines that have been left take on a creamy, rounder mouthfeel and generally display more complex flavors.
Literally, “on the lees.” Some white wines, notably white Burgundies, are, for a period of time, left in contact with the lees (spent yeast) after fermentation is complete. Wines that have been left take on a creamy, rounder mouthfeel and generally display more complex flavors.
Grape juice that has been held back from the harvest and unfermented so that it has all of its natural sweetness. In Germany, small amounts of süssreserve may be added to some high ACID wines in order to BALANCE them.
The term used around the world to describe wines of moderate alcoholic strength (usually nine to fifteen percent ALCOHOL BY VOLUME) as opposed to FORTIFIED wines, which have grape spirits added to them and thus are stronger in alcoholic strength (usually between sixteen and twenty percent alcohol by volume). In common speech, however, the term table wine is often used to indicate dry, STILL WINES served to accompany dinner, rather than sweet wines intended for dessert or SPARKLING WINES.
A PHENOL (a kind of compound) derived from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes and from barrels. The presence of tannin is beneficial, for it gives red wines a firm structure as well as the potential for aging. Tannin is both tasted and felt. When young, highly tannic wines have a slight bitterness (like espresso or chocolate) and a drying, astringent feel. If the wine has been made from mature grapes with ripe tannin, the bitter dry quality will be ameliorated. Excessively dry, harsh, scratchy tannin is a negative and may never ameliorate. Harsh tannin, often called green or unripe tannin, most often results when grapes have been picked before they are completely physiologically mature. Most white wines have only tiny amounts of tannin because they are not fermented on their skins.
Usually found clinging to the bottom of a cork, tartrates look like bits of crushed glass or small white snowflakes. But these tasteless, odorless bits of tartaric acid are harmless. Tartrates precipitate out when acidity in its liquid state turns into a solid. This can happen when wines do not go through the winemaking process known as cold stabilization.
A shallow, silver tasting cup used by a SOMMELIER. The cup was designed with dimpled sides that would reflect candlelight in dark cellars and thereby allow the sommelier to see the color of the wine.
Tension is the sense in a wine that there are two opposing forces that create a kind of dynamic energy. For example, when those entities are fruit and acid, you might have a wine that walks a tightrope between richness (fruit) and freshness (acid). Tension can give wine a kind of “aliveness.”
An organic compound that is produced by a variety of plants (including grapevines) which can produce a strong aroma. It is found in higher concentrations mostly in gewürztraminer, muscat, riesling, and some German crosses. Muscat has one of the highest concentrations of terpenes and, therefore, its aroma is often described as terpene-like.
French term for the sum entity and effect (no single word exists in English) of every environmental factor on a given piece of ground. Included within terroir, for example, are a vineyard’s soil, slope, orientation to the sun, and elevation, plus every nuance of climate: rainfall, wind velocity, frequency of fog, cumulative hours of sunshine, average high temperatures, average low temperatures, and so on. Each vineyard is said to have its own terroir.
If you drink only young wine, you might not have run across this word. Tertiary refers to aromas and flavors that come as a result of a wine’s long aging in the bottle—aromas and flavors like complex exotic spices, deep earthiness, old books, worn leather, and so on. (Although admittedly these can sometimes show up in younger wines, too). In general, “primary” aromas and flavors are fruity characters that come from the grape—like blackberries, cassis, or cherry flavors. “Secondary” aromas and flavors come from winemaking—the sweet, vanilla flavors that come from barrel fermentation, for example. And tertiary aromas and flavors (whatever they happen to be) come as a result of age.
To add more wine to a barrel or container to replace any wine lost through evaporation and thereby prevent the wine from experiencing OXIDATION. The term is also used in more general circumstances to mean adding wine to a glass in which there’s only a sip or two left.
A less expensive way of making SPARKLING WINE than the traditional MÉTHODE CHAMPENOISE. In the transfer process, the secondary fermentation takes place in the individual bottles (as it does in Champagne), but then instead of RIDDLING and DISGORGING each bottle, the wine is emptied into large tanks where these two processes take place under pressure. Finally, the wine is filtered, a DOSAGE is added, and the wine is rebottled.
Trockenbeerenauslese wines, or TBAs, are generally made only a few times a decade, and in very small quantities. TBAs are a specialty of Germany, and—to a lesser extent—of Austria. Among the world’s greatest sweet wines, TBAs are low in alcohol but high in acidity and residual sugar, giving them incredible balance. It takes one person a full day to select just the right concentrated, botrytis-infected grapes that will become a single bottle of TBA. The resulting wine is absolutely mesmerizing in its intensity and balance (and it’s expensive).
The acronym for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. This Federal entity governs most wine legislation including wine labeling and taxation. The TTB is also the department that approves (or denies) applications to create AVAs, American Viticultural Areas (of which there are now 234).
Txakoli is made from the indigenous white grape called hondurrabi zuri. Zuri means white in Basque; hondurrabi is a village near the French border. Dry as a bone, and extremely sleek on the palate, txakoli is often slightly carbonated and is served in a unique manner called “breaking.” To break txakoli, the wine is poured from a height of several feet into a little tumbler glass (splashing some on the floor seems to be SOP). The flight through air is said to open up the txakoli and make it smell and taste more vivid.
In Basque, technically translates to “place of txakoli.” Txakolina is a type of fresh white wine made in Spain’s Basque Country. Considered a fantastic match for sharp cheeses, Serrano ham, and any sort of seafood, Txakolina is made from an indigenous grape variety called hondarrabi zuri. Txakolinas are racy, crisp, and usually fairly simple. Because of their consumate refreshingness, they are ideal as aperitifs. Txakolinas were once hard to find in the U.S. No longer. The wine now appears to be a favorite among sommeliers across the country.
A quality that a wine possesses if it is typical of its region and reflects the characteristics of the grape variety from which it came. Whether or not a wine demonstrates typicity is pretty subjective. It also has nothing to do with how good the wine tastes. A wine can be quite delicious and nonetheless show no typicity. A rich, full-bodied, buttery, oaky Sancerre, for example, would not have typicity, since Sancerres are typically lean, minerally, zesty, and have tangy flavors. In certain OLD WORLD countries, an evaluation of typicity, even though it’s subjective, is required by law in order for a wine to obtain APPELLATION status.
Ullage is the space that develops near the neck and shoulder inside a wine bottle or container because wine has been lost through leakage or evaporation. In a bottle with significant ullage, the wine will often be oxidized and spoiled. In a wine auction, a wine with ullage will not command top dollar.
Used to describe a wine that has not been FILTERED to clarify it and remove any unwanted yeasts or bacteria. Winemakers who believe that filtering strips wine of some flavors and texture may leave their wines unfiltered and may even label them as such. An unfiltered wine often still undergoes FINING to remove large particles in suspension as well as coarse tannin. Unfiltered wines are sometimes less than brilliantly clear.
A wine that has not gone through FINING to remove large particulate matter and some tannins. As with FILTERING, many winemakers believe fining can harm the flavor and texture of the wine. An unfined wine may still be filtered.
Volatile Acidity. All wines have a tiny amount of V.A., usually, with any luck, imperceptible. In excess, V.A. causes a wine to have an unpleasantly sharp, vinegary aroma. Volatile acidity occurs because unwanted bacteria have produced acetic acid, the result of poor winemaking.
A compound in oak barrels that is ultimately imparted to wine as a flavor and smell reminiscent of vanilla beans. New barrels have more vanillin than older barrels, and hence wine stored in new barrels has a more pronounced vanilla character.
Wine made from a particular variety of grape. Chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and so on are all varietal wines. In general, each varietal has a unique flavor, distinct from other varietals. When a wine has a pronounced varietal flavor it is said to have varietal character. On January 1, 1983, United States law established that a wine named after a grape—a varietal—must contain 75 percent or more of that grape variety that has been grown in the appellation of origin appearing on the label. Prior to that date, a varietally labeled wine had to contain 51 percent or more of the named grape.
Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, or Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates. An organization of some 200 prestigious estates throughout Germany which are revising the traditional concepts of ripeness and sweetness in Germany. The VDP has also instituted a Burgundian-like ranking system for vineyards from Grosses Lage (Grand Cru) down to Gutswein (village wine).
Vin gris is not the same as pinot gris, the name of a white grape variety. The French term vin gris (literally, “gray wine”) refers to any number of slightly pinkish-tinted white wines made from red grapes. Vins gris are usually not as deeply colored as rosé or blush wines. While there are dozens of pinot gris made in the United States, there are only a few vins gris.
Literally ordinary wine—a plain wine with no regional or VARIETAL characteristics. An everyday drinking wine, vin ordinaire is the opposite of VIN DE GARDE, a wine to save, that is, a wine with aging potential
The year the grapes were grown and harvested. A vintage year appears on the labels of most wines, though some famous wines—nonvintage Champagne, Sherry, and many styles of Port, for example—never carry a vintage date because they are blends of wines from several different years. In the United States, most wines bottled with a vintage date are made up entirely of grapes from that year. Technically, however, United States law requires only that 95 percent of the wine come from grapes harvested in the year appearing on the label.
A term found on United States wine labels, indicating that the wine was bottled at the address on the label and that some cellar treatment (such as aging) was performed at the address on the label. However, vinted and bottled by does not mean that the wine was necessarily fermented at the address on the label. See PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY.
The character some wines possess of being somewhat syrupy and slow to move around in the mouth. Alcohol gives a sense of richness to wine only up until the wine is about 13.5% alcohol by volume. Higher in alcohol than that, wines actually taste thin. Neither alcohol nor glycerin makes a wine viscous. However, the ripeness of the grapes, residual sugar, yeast extracts, additives, peptides, polysaccharides, and proteins could all play a role.
The genus of the plant kingdom to which grapevines belong. Within the genus Vitis there are some sixty separate species. The most famous species—and the only one to have originated in Europe—is VITIS VINIFERA, which includes all of the well-known wine grapes, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and so on (and accounts for virtually all of the wines made today). Most species of vines, however, originated in North America. These include VITIS LABRUSCA, Vitis riparia, Vitis rupestris, Vitis rotundifolia, and Vitis berlandieri, among others.
American vine species that generally produces wines that are far less sophisticated and complex than VINIFERA varieties. In particular, LABRUSCA grapes are easily recognizable by their pungent, candy-like aroma and flavor, usually described as FOXY. Concord, for example, is a grape variety that belongs to the species VITIS LABRUSCA. Over centuries, many American species have hybridized by chance. In addition, from 1880 to 1950, plant scientists in both France and the United States intentionally created HYBRIDS by crossing VINIFERA varieties with hardier, more disease- and pest-resistant American varieties. While their use for wine is declining, HYBRIDS remain critically important as ROOTSTOCKS. Two other North American vine species are Vitis riparia and Vitis rotundifolia. Although no well known wines are made from these species, they are very resistant to PHYLLOXERA and so are frequently used for rootstocks. French/American HYBRIDS such as baco noir are also made with these species.
A vine species accounting for most of the wines made in the world today. Such grapes as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, syrah, and riesling are all Vitis vinifera varieties. Vitis vinifera originated in Europe and the Middle East.
All wines have a tiny amount of volatile acidity, usually, with any luck, imperceptible. In excess, V.A., as it is known, causes a wine to have an unpleasantly sharp, vinegary aroma. Volatile acidity occurs because unwanted bacteria have produced acetic acid, the result of poor winemaking.
In STILL WINES, yeasty describes an AROMA suggestive of the yeasts used in FERMENTATION. The quality should not be pronounced. In Champagne and SPARKLING WINES, it refers to the aroma of bread dough, considered positive and often the result of long aging on the LEES.
The measure of how much a vineyard produces. In general, very high yields are associated with low-quality wine, and low yields are associated with high-quality wine. However, the relationship of yield of grapes to wine quality is extremely complex and not linear. Thus, a yield of 2 tons per acre does not necessarily produce better wine than a yield of 3 tons per acre, which doesn’t necessarily portend better wine than if the yield were 4 tons per acre. Every vineyard is different, and yield must always be considered in light of multiple other factors, including the variety of grape, the type of CLONE, the age of the vine, the particular ROOTSTOCK, and the TERROIR. In Europe, yield is measured in hectoliters per hectare (one hectoliter equals 26.4 gallons; one hectare equals 2.47 acres). The unofficial French dictum is that great red wine cannot be made from yields of more than 50 hectoliters per hectare. In the United States, yield is generally measured in tons of grapes per acre. Roughly speaking, 1 ton per acre equals 15 hectoliters per hectare. Yields in the United States can range from less than 1 ton per acre to 10 or more. This said, the way yield is thought about in the United States is changing as a result of new vineyards, many of which are now planted so that the vines are much more closely spaced than they were in the past. With such vineyards, viticulturists talk of pounds of grapes per vine, rather than tons per acre.
“I liken making pinot noir to waking up a woman at three in the morning. You never quite know what you’re going to get.”
Owner and winemaker, Howling Bluff Winery, British Columbia