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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.