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Meniscus

The meniscus (men-IS-cuss) is 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 (as in the picture).

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Garagiste

A French term first used in Bordeaux in the 1990s, the word garagiste (gare-a-JEEST) 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.

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Astringent

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.

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Bushvine

A bushvine is 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.

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Jammy

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.

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Ullage

Ullage (ULL edge) 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.

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Petrol

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.

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Musque

The term musque (moose KAY) 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.

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Ice

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.

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Fiasco

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.