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Crianza

The Spanish term (meaning “raised” as in child-rearing) for basic-quality wine produced by each bodega or “winery”. 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 DO or DOC 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.

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Ripasso

Many wine drinkers know Valpolicella, the simple, light-bodied red quaffer from Italy’s Veneto region. To give the wine a little more substance and depth, a number of producers employ a technique called ripasso. In this process, the just-made Valpolicella is poured over the wet skins of the grapes used for Amarone, the region’s biggest, densest wine. A second fermentation is thus incited, and the light Valpolicella takes on some of an Amarone’s body and grip. Valpolicella ripassi generally cost more than regular Valpolicellas, but the extra boost of flavor is well worth the cost. Among the top Valpolicella ripassi is the one from the producer Zenato.

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Fiasco

Literally, “a flask” in Italian, 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.

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Tempranillo

Spain’s most famous red grape, tempranillo (tem-pra-KNEE-oh), makes such a huge range of wine styles depending on where it is grown in Spain—they almost seem made from separate varieties. Tempranillo is, for example, the main grape in the country’s famous wine region of Rioja. Traditionally-styled Rioja can resemble red Burgundy (pinot noir) in its refinement, earthiness, and complexity. At the same time, tempranillo is also the grape that makes blockbuster dense reds like tinta del Toro of the Toro region and the tinta del pais of Ribera del Duero. Tempranillo has a slew of different names in Spain, including ull de llebre (“eye of the hare”), cencibel, tinto aragónez, and escobera. Tempranillo’s significant amount of tannin allows it to age for long periods, though the wine is generally not as firm on the palate as cabernet sauvignon. Tempranillo’s good amount of acidity gives the wines made from it a sense of precision, yet it is not as high in acidity as pinot noir. When young, tempranillo’s flavors are a burst of cherries. After aging, the wine tends to take on a deep, complex earthiness. Tempranillo also grows in Portugal, where it’s known as tinta roriz and is one of the grapes that make up Port. Additionally, the grape is grown in Argentina and in California.

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Estufagem

The Portuguese term for 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.

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Sur lie

Sur lie is French for “on the lees,” and lees for their part are expired yeast cells. After yeasts consume grape sugars and turn them into alcohol, the expired yeast cells begin to break down, ultimately settling at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. While the process is complex, wines left in contact with the lees ultimately take on a creamier, rounder mouthfeel. Many well-known wines are left in contact with the lees for a period ranging from weeks to many months. These include most California chardonnays and white Burgundies in addition to many Champagnes.

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Bota

The Spanish name for “butts”–600-liter (160-gallon) American-oak casks used in Jerez for aging Sherry.  Botas are usually painted with a water-based, jet-black matte paint, which is not only aesthetically striking, but makes it easier to spot leaks.  Botas used to age Sherry are never new but must be “envinadas” or seasoned with lesser quality wines, and many are over a century old.  As a side note: a bota bag is a traditional Spanish wineskin crafted from goat hide.

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Retsina

A pungent, resin-flavored wine from Greece made by adding small amounts of resin (often from Aleppo pine trees) to savatiano grape juice as it ferments. The grapes roditis and assyrtiko are also sometimes used. Retsina has a distinctive piney flavor with a turpentine-like aroma, and is a Greek specialty.

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Muselet

A muselet (mew-zeh-LAY) is the wire cage or “hood” that holds a Champagne or sparkling wine cork firmly in place. It derives its name from the French “museler”, meaning “to muzzle”, in English.  Adolphe Jacquesson is credited with inventing the restraining device in 1844, replacing the less secure method involving wooden plugs and cord. Though most people remove it first, the muselet should be removed in tandem with the cork.

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Abbadia

The Italian term for abbey, sometimes shortened to just badia. Buildings that were once abbeys have often been converted into renowned Italian wine estates, such as Tuscany’s Badia a Coltibuono

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Apera

Apera is the term used in Australia for Australian wines made like Sherry, in a solera and usually from palomino grapes. Australian vintners use the term out of respect for true Sherry which comes from the Jerez region of Spain. That said, Australian apera wines are delicious in their own right.

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Autolysis

The decomposition of spent yeast cells after fermentation is complete. 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.