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Punching Down

A process, during the fermentation of red wine, that involves pushing down the cap of grape skins into the fermenting grape juice in order to extract color, aroma, flavor, and tannin from the skins. Despite its name, punching down is a gentler process than pumping over, and is used with more fragile, thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir.

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Prise de mousse

A French term meaning “formation of bubbles.” In Champagne, the term is sometimes used to describe the second fermentation.

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Veraison

The time in summer when grape berries change color signaling the onset of final ripening. White grapes go from green to yellow, and red grapes go from green to red. This past week in the Napa Valley, veraison began for the first few early ripening varieties.

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Vin de Garde

A French term for a wine to save—in other words, a wine that will benefit and grow more complex through aging.

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Flowering

The time (many weeks after vines emerge from dormancy, usually in May in the northern hemisphere; and in November in the southern hemisphere) when tiny white flowers appear. Vines are hermaphroditic, so the flowers pollinate themselves. Pollinated flowers ultimately become clusters of grapes. Flowering is a delicate process. To happen well, the weather must be calm, the temperatures must be moderate, and there should be no rain, frost, hail, or extreme wind, all of which could knock the fragile flowers off the vine resulting in no grapes. Flowering is happening right now in many vineyards in the U.S.

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Typicity

A quality that a wine possesses if it is historically typical of its region. Whether or not a wine demonstrates typicity is subjective and has nothing to do with how good the wine tastes. In certain European wine regions, an evaluation of typicity is required by law in order for a wine to obtain appellation status.

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Olfaction

The process of perceiving smells. Humans use two separate sensory areas to smell things. The first is the nasal cavity. Aromas smelled via the nose are said to occur by orthonasal olfaction. The other area is at the cavity at the back of the palate. Aromas perceived this way—retronasally—happen as a result of wine first being warmed in the mouth and mixed with saliva. The interruption of this process is a primary symptom of COVID-19.

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Mazedar

The Urdu word used to describe the idea of wanting to experience something over and over again. The word is often applied to food (and by extension wine), and is said to describe the magical essence of a food’s flavor. Often, the (insufficient) one-word translation is: yummy. The idea of a flavor being so gravitational that you want to experience it again and again is a concept that anyone who has tasted a great wine immediately understands.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.