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Acidification

A process practiced in warm wine regions whereby a winemaker adds acid to fermenting wine in order to boost that wine’s low level of acidity. Acidification is legal and widely practiced in many parts of the world, including California.

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Bitter

A harsh flavor in wine, often derived from stems and seeds that have been carelessly or inadvertently crushed along with the grapes. Bitterness can also be caused by unripe grapes or unripe tannins. In certain big red wines, a slight bitterness is considered a positive nuance, just as it would be in a good espresso.

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Microoxygenation

The process of adding oxygen to wine in a controlled fashion. Adding oxygen changes the chemistry of the wine and can make the wine seem softer, more open, and more expressive. As such, microoxygenation hastens a wine’s maturation.

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Riddling

Riddling (remuage in French) is the term for turning and upending Champagne bottles while the sparkling wine rests in the winery’s cellars. The reason for riddling: Champagnes and top sparkling wines go through a second fermentation that creates the bubbles. As part of this second fermentation, yeast cells remain trapped inside each bottle. Until the mid-nineteenth century, no one could figure out how to get the yeasts out, and thus Champagne was always cloudy. Ingeniously, the Champenois came up with a solution. By turning the bottle a little each day and progressively tilting it until it was almost upside down (riddling), the yeasts could be coaxed to slide down the side of the bottle until all yeast cells settle in the neck. The neck of each bottle is then frozen, the bottle was opened, and the frozen plug of yeasts would fly out. Amazingly, a good riddler can turn 40,000 bottles of Champagne a day.

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Terpene

An organic compound with a strong aroma that is produced by a variety of plants, including grapevines. Terpenes are found in higher concentrations in gewürztraminer, muscat, and riesling. Muscat in particular has one of the highest concentrations and its aroma is dramatic.

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Rotundone

You know that wonderful, peppery character shiraz often possesses? It has a source—rotundone (row-TUND-one). The compound was isolated in the mid-2000s by Australian chemists who also discovered that the same molecule gives peppercorns their aroma. Interestingly, while many people can spot the distinctive aroma of rotundone at very low levels, 20% of the participants in the original study failed to detect it at all. That finding is consistent with what is known about many other compounds in wine—namely that individuals vary widely in their ability to detect any given aroma or flavor.

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Finesse

A term used to describe a wine with elegance and balance. The term implies that the wine is polished and sophisticated. Hearty, rustic country wines would not be described as having finesse, while a well-made Champagne or top white Burgundy might be.

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Puttony

A Hungarian term for the traditional basket in which aszú (botrytized) grapes are gathered. The word puttony has given rise to puttonyos, the manner by which the sweetness of Tokaji Aszú (pronounced TOKE-eye ah-SOO), Hungary’s famous dessert wine, is measured. Tokaji Aszú wines are labeled from two to six puttonyos; the more puttonyos, the sweeter the wine.

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Noble Rot

Botrytis cinerea, commonly called “noble rot,” is a beneficial fungus that’s needed to produce many of the world’s great sweet wines, including Sauternes and Tokaji Aszú. When noble rot attacks grapes, it covers them with a thin, gray mold that penetrates the grape skins. The mold multiplies by using water in the grapes to grow and spread. Without much water inside, each grape possesses a higher concentration of sugar, acid, and ultimately, flavor. The first intentionally botrytis-infected wines were made in the Tokaji region in Hungary in the early 1600s.

This wine word is from Karen MacNeil’s Dictionary of Wine Terms.

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Ullage

Ullage (ULL-edge) is the air space that develops inside a wine bottle’s neck and shoulder 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 even a small amount of ullage will not command a top price.