Share

Parosmia

The clinical name for a smell disorder that distorts actual odors, making many typically appetizing foods (most often, red wine, coffee, and chocolate) smell and taste revolting. While experts say that many viruses can cause smell loss, the affliction is such a prevalent symptom of Covid-19, it is being used for diagnosis. A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that most of the 86% of Covid-positive patients who experience smell loss recover their smell quickly—within four weeks. But for some individuals, it could take up to two years—or more.

Share

Amaro

The Italian term for bitter. Many Italian wines, both white and red, have a slight amaro character, which is considered a positive attribute. Amaro (plural amari) also refers collectively to Italian-made liqueurs that are aromatic, bittersweet, and herbal. They are traditionally drunk at the end of the meal as a digestif (or sometimes early in the evening before the meal as an exciting aperitif). Most amari are made from lightly fortified wine that’s been infused with botanicals like quinine bark, wormwood, rhubarb, ginger root, cardamom, gentian, and all manner of spices.

Share

TCA

TCA stands for 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, a compound that forms when phenols interact with chlorine and mold. In addition to grapes, barrels, wooden pallets, wood beams and cardboard cases are all sources of phenols. TCA most frequently occurs in wines bottled with natural corks, which are sanitized with a solution made from chlorine. When the wine comes in contact with the cork, TCA develops, causing musty aromas and flavors in wines. That is why wines with these off-aromas are often described as “corked.”

Although TCA taint poses no health concerns for wine drinkers, even in infinitesimal amounts, it can ruin a wine. At higher levels, it makes a wine smell moldy or musty, like cardboard, damp cement or wet newspapers. Most who encounter high levels of TCA, realize it is the cause of the befouled wine. At lower levels, TCA taint only strips a wine of its flavor, making it taste dull or muted. This experience can leave the drinker with the conclusion that the wine is simply bad. At even the low-ball estimates by the cork industry of 1-2% effected bottles, TCA-taint is a major concern for the wine industry, and a major influence on the growing popularity of alternative closures.

Share

Dosage

Dosage (doh-SAHJ) is the degree of sweetness of the liqueur d’expédition (a combination of sugar and reserve wine) added at the very end in the making of a Champagne wine. The extent of the sugar in the dosage determines whether a Champagne wine will be Brut, Extra Dry, Demi-Sec, and so on. Over the last fifteen years, dosage levels in Brut Champagne wines (one of the least sweet) have dropped an average of 2.8 grams per liter. The rise in temperatures caused by climate change means that the Champenois are harvesting riper grapes; in addition, they are leaving the wines on the yeast lees for longer, both of which mitigate against the need for as much sugar as in the past.

Share

Ghost Winery

While the term “ghost winery” conjures images of phantoms and rattling chains, the only spirits referenced here are the wines made long ago. The term is used to describe a winery that was built between 1860 and 1900 and abandoned in the early 20th century as the wine industry was crippled by the vine pest phylloxera, followed by the one-two punch of Prohibition and the Great Depression. Before Prohibition, there were more than 700 wineries in California. Following its repeal 14 years later, only 40 wineries remained. The few that were able to stay in business did so by selling sacramental wine and grapes for home winemaking, or outright bootlegging.  Many of the abandoned buildings remained vacant for decades, falling into ruin. As Napa’s wine industry stirred again mid-century, some of these ghost wineries were resurrected. Some are now thriving wineries that welcome visitors; others are private homes. Today, approximately 65 of California’s “ghost wineries” have been restored.  You can find several in the Oakville AVA at Far Niente, Napa Wine Company, Vine Cliff and Oakville Ranch Winery.

Share

Angels’ Share

Any beverage left to age in wooden barrels will ultimately lose some of its volume to evaporation through the porous wooden staves. Whether wine or whiskey, its producers affectionately and poetically refer to this sacrifice as the “angels’ share”. However, there is one region in particular for which the turn of phrase is known—Cognac. The wines of Cognac are distilled into a clear, harsh spirit called eau-de-vie, or “water of life.” What transforms the spirit into Cognac is long aging in oak. Left in barrels for years (often many decades), the water in the Cognac gradually evaporates, as does up to 5 percent of pure alcohol, which the vignerons call “la part des anges.” Given the vast number of barrels in the Cognac region, it’s estimated that about 32 million bottles’ worth of the brandy evaporates yearly.

Share

Fumé Blanc

Fumé Blanc is one of the widespread synonyms for sauvignon blanc and widely used in California (blanc fumé is another). This is purely a synonym; and it’s not true that as a group, wines labeled fumé blanc have an especially smoky character. Grown at high yields after Prohibition, sauvignon blanc became the basis for innocuous sweet and dry jug “Sauterne” (spelled without the final ‘s’ as it is in France). Sensing a marketing opportunity to distinguish its dry version, Robert Mondavi Winery branded their’s as “fume blanc,” a reference to the Pouilly Fumé wines of the Loire Valley. And Mondavi still makes a very fine example.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.