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Mercaptans

Offensive-smelling compounds that result from poor winemaking when hydrogen sulfide combines with components in the wine. The aromas can include putrid food, skunk, and burnt rubber.

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Isinglass 

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.

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Garrigue

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 (gare-REEG).
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.

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Claret

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.

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Stickies

“Stickies” are 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.

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Lágrima

A Spanish term, literally, “tears.” Lágrima (la-GREE-ma) 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.

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Chiaretto

Chiaretto (key-are-ET-oh) is an Italian wine term signifying a very light red or even a rosé wine.

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Pyrazines

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 (PEER-a-zeens) 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.

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Pomace

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 becomes grappa (in Italy) marc (in France) or eau-de-vie (in France and the U.S.)

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Tertiary

If you drink only young wine, you might not have run across this word. Tertiary (TUR-she-air-ee) 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.