Glossary of Wine Words
When I started putting this together I was thinking of just doing a "cut & paste" since there are a ton of these wine glossary's online. Once I got started though I realized how much more I know about wine than many of these other "experts". So, either I know more....or I just think I know more...you decide.
This is a list that will be updated from time to time-I hope this sheds some light on some of these arcane terms. Feel free to give me some feedback if you disagree with anything I have written-I probably won't change it (since the below is my interpretation), but it would be fun to discuss.
One of the essential elements in both grapes and finished wines. Acidity is necessary to keep any wine fresh. Ironically, acidity is perhaps most important in sweet wines, where it prevents then from being merely sickly-sweet. Acidity is what makes wines like Italian Chianti so food friendly. The acidity of the wine will help cleanse your palate between bites. Higher acid generally means that the wine is more food friendly.
Adding acidity during winemaking to compensate for grapes which have over-ripened. This can be done by adding citric acid to the must.
Ethanol is produced as a by-product of fermentation. The alcoholic strength of a wine is a measure of its concentration of Ethanol. The simple equation is: Yeast + Sugar=Alcohol. Or another way of looking at it is: Alcohol=Happy people.
A tasting term. A wine is balanced when all of its characteristics work together in harmony, with no single element – fruit, tannin, acidity, alcohol - overpowering anything other. Some wine regions (Bordeaux and the Southern Rhone) will blend different grape varietals with the intent of achieving maximum balance in the finished wine.
A term that usually describes the presence of Brettanomyces. In the sometimes slightly wacky world of wine evaluation, it is entirely possible for a wine taster to say, "This wine tastes like $#@*!" (or in French it is "merde")... and mean it as a compliment.
I have heard many stories about winemakers who appreciate brett when they taste it in someone elses wines, but who abhor it in their own wine. Personally, I kinda like it. I tasted a 1989 Chateau Palmer that smelled like fresh horse shit on a pair of new leather cowboy boots..... I don't know if Robert Parker would use that kind of description or not.
French term for stirring of the lees.
Tasting term for the weight and texture of a wine on the palate – the "mouthfeel" of the wine. A combination of alcohol, extract and glycerol.
A fungus to which grapes are prone. Often it is bad news in the vineyard where it destroys grapes, but in a few places conditions allow it to develop beneficially as "Noble Rot". Botrytis draws the water content from the grape and leaves concentrated sugary juice that makes luscious sweet wine. The Sauternes wines of Bordeaux are a striking example of what Botrytis does to a wine.
Or "Breh-TAN-oh-MY-sees" or just plain "brett" to some wine buffs. A controversial fault in wine caused by a rogue strain of YEAST. It imparts a "barnyard" (i.e. horseshit...in a good way) aroma that some find adds character, particularly in Rhône and Burgundy reds. The aroma of brett-afflicted wines may range from leathery to mousey, wet-fur, or "barnyard" aromas like chicken manure or horse sweat. Some tasters also find a twangy metallic quality in the aftertaste of bretty wines. I have heard many stories about winemakers who appreciate brett when they taste it in someone elses wines, but who abhor it in their own wine. Personally, I kinda like it.
The bubbling mass of skins and pips that floats to the surface during fermentation of red wine. It must be submerged regularly.
Another by-product of fermentation, winemakers take great pains to make sure none is left in the wine before bottling, unless they are making a sparkling wine.
A special fermentation technique where whole berries are starved of oxygen so fermentation begins within the grape. Common in Beaujolais, it makes soft, fruity wines not made for keeping.
Named after its "inventor" Jean-Antoine Chaptal who suggested adding sugar to under-ripe juice before fermentation so that more alcohol could be produced. This is still a practice that is legal in Burgundy and from what I have heard producers in Bordeaux aren't shy about boosting alcohol when necessary. The thought is that by increasing the fermentable sugar content of the Must and thus the alcohol the wine will be more balanced. Think of this a "Sunshine in a bag".
A process in which white wine is chilled to precipitate tartaric acid as small crystals which can then be removed before bottling. Wines that have not been cold stabilised may throw these crystals at a later stage. They are harmless, but don’t look very nice in the bottle.
A "Corked" wine suffers from a specific fault where a faulty processing of the cork has caused a chemical called trichloranisole to form, imparting a dirty aroma and flavor to the wine. The wine takes on a smell of wet cardboard (like when cardboard box gets damp in your basement). Typically about 5% of all bottles are affected (screw tops anyone?)
French term for the small amount of top-up liquid added to Champagne just before bottling, sweetened to desired level.
German term (Icewine in English). Grapes are left on the vine until they freeze. Temperatures of -7C are required. The water content is removed as ice, and the resulting wine is sweet, concentrated and luscious.
French term for buying wine as "futures": paying for wine before it is released onto the market in order to secure wines that are in short supply, or at an advantageous price. Not for the faint-hearted...kinda like playing stock market futures, and just as risky.
The substances, mostly derived from grape skins and just under the skin’s surface, that contribute tannin, color, glycerol and flavor to a wine. Some wines can be "over-extracted" meaning too much of these elements have been extracted making the wine inky and bitter.
Synonymous with "length": the amount of time a flavour lingers on the palate after the wine is swallowed. More is (usually) good.
A processed used to clarify wine. Some claim it can also strip flavor so many producers filter very lightly or not at all.
Another clarifying process where some gelatinous agent (for example, whisked egg whites) is added to the barrel and sinks through the wine trapping even minute solids.
Protective yeast that is encouraged to grow on certain maturing wines, particularly Sherry. This yeast stops oxidization and adds flavor. It is also highly sensitive to micro-climate and sherry production outside of Spain is next to impossible.
Globetrotting winemaker/consultant who has no set winery but operates in many, usually employing the latest technology and practices.
Tasting term indicating a young wine that is maturing quickly or is made to be drunk young.
The high quality juice that runs from the fermentation tank without pressing. Those grape presses one sees in renderings and at wineries around the world are used to “press” the remaining juice out of the fermented must.
Any vine crossing where one or both "parents" is not from the wine vine, vitis vinifera.
Designation appearing on bottles (in French, Vendange Tardive) where grapes were allowed to hang on the vine beyond physiological maturity. This over-ripens grapes, usually producing wines that are high in alcohol and off-dry to sweet.
Describes the long-term storage of wine in the belief that it will improve with age. Wines from the Cru Classe in Bordeaux can age for 10+ years as can quality Barolo and Barbaresco wines from the Piedmont. Most wine manufactured today is meant to age approximately the length of time that it takes you to drive to the store to pick it up and bring it home (New World).
The solids left behind after fermentation is complete: dead yeast cells and grape matter. White wines matured in contact with the lees (in French, Sur Lie) can develop creamy, nutty flavours. Lees stiring with Pinot Noir in Oregon is somewhat common as well.
A fault whereby the wine has oxidized and over-heated giving it a brown color and burnt, stale taste. Not a fault in Madeira wine, which deliberately goes through a heating process to caramelize the wine. The cool thing about Madeira is that since it has already been oxidized and overheated during its production you can keep an open bottle indefinitely.
A secondary fermentation that is biological, in which harsh malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid. This is a naturally occurring process that needs proactive action to prevent. German Reislings and many French Chardonnay wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation (to retain the crisp acidity).
The traditional and best way of making a sparkling wine. EU has banned the term from bottles not made in Champagne, so look out for "Methode Traditionelle" or "Fermented in this Bottle" instead.
(from Latin vinum mustum or "young wine") is freshly pressed fruit juice (most commonly grape), that contains various quantities of pulp such as skins, stems, and seeds, called pomace or fruit solids, which typically comprise between 7–23 percent of the total weight of the must. These components, and the time they are allowed to be in contact with the juice, are critical to the final character of the wine.
Tasting term. wine is assessed by taste (the palate) but also by smell (the nose). Did you know that about 75% of what you'll want to know about a wine could be found in your nose? You can only perceive four tastes-sweet, sour, bitter, and salt-but you can smell over 1,000 different scents. Pinpointing the nose of the wine helps you to identify certain characteristics found in the taste. The more you taste, the better your scent memory becomes....practice, practice, practice.
The science of winemaking. The reality is that winemaking is every bit as much an art as it is a science. Wine makers are as individual as music conductors (this is a very apt analogy...combining many variables for a desired effect).
What happens to the surface of a cut apple when exposed to air. Grapes and grape juice oxidize if not handled carefully. Bottled wine will also oxidize if the seal is not airtight.
Tasting term. Wine is assessed by smell (the nose) and by taste (the palate). The palate confirms flavours detected on the nose, but adds body, acidity, tannins, finish, etc. to the picture.
Anti-oxidant compounds found in wine, mostly coming from grape skins. These include tannin and flavor compounds. Also important in making wine beneficial to health: lowering blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
The louse that eats vine roots. Devastated Europe in the late nineteenth century until it was discovered that American rootstock was resistant. It was brought to Europe in the 1800's when some non-vinefera (native grape varietals) were imported from America (as a gift-oops). Since then, most European vines are grafted onto American rootstock. Ironically, the Californian industry was badly damaged by Phylloxera in the 1980’s and 90’s after planting on low-resistance rootstock. It is a Texan named Thomas Volnay Munson who is credited with saving the entire fine wine industry in France
Portuguese term for an estate or vine farm. "Single Quinta" Port comes from a single vintage and farm.
Labor intensive process of siphoning wine from one barrel to another in order to leave some sediment behind and gradually clarify the wine. This process not only helps to clarify the wine, but it adds a small amount of oxygen to the wine as well. Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that responds well to frequent rackings ( kind of like the person you dated who liked being spanked).
Italian wine made for grapes that have been dried on mats after harvest. This raisins the grapes, making them very sweet. Amarone is made from Recioto grapes, but fermented out fully to be dry and concentrated.
French term for the process by which the dead yeast cells in maturing Champagne and other quality sparkling wines are gradually moved into the neck of the bottle before being removed. Traditionally done by hand, more often nowadays by machine.
Residual Sugar (RS)
The amount of sugar remaining in a wine that has not been converted into alcohol when fermentation stops. Less than 2g/l is imperceptible. Some sweet wines will have upwards of 25g/l.
A system of fractional blending that gives Sherry its character. A complex process by which several vintages are blended together over many years in a building known as a Solera, before bottling.
Tasting term. To describe a wine as "well-structured" is very complimentary. It means it has an "architecture" of fruit, acidity, alcohol and tannins that should allow it to age and stop it from being bland or wishy-washy or my favorite term "flabby". The actress Kathleen Turner if she were a wine she would be said to have great "structure". On the other hand if Anna Nicole Smith (before her diet and before she passed away) were a wine she would be labeled as "flabby"....got it?
An important and age-old additive in winemaking. Sulphur is an antiseptic and antioxidant. If used correctly it should be imperceptible.
Ground breaking Italian wines that deliberately ignored local wine laws to make premium wines using outlawed "international" grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These wines are technically labeled as "table wine", yet their prices can reach Cru Class Bordeaux price levels.
A naturally occurring chemical that helps to preserve red wine and adds a savoury edge to the flavor. Tannins are present in grape stems, pips and skins. Tannin also comes from oak ageing of wine. The astringency that one gets from black teas is from the natural tannins. As the grape ripens on the vine so do tannins, making them less astringent. Bottle age also lessens tannins, which will eventually precipitate as sediment.
Wine that has been bottled without filtration. This is a very common practice in quality wines, it avoids a process which many believe strips wine of some flavor and complexity.
The practice of naming the grape or grapes on the label (i.e. Cabernet, Merlot, etc.) – still uncommon in classic European regions, adopted widely elsewhere over the past 20 years. Take a look at a bottle of Bordeaux wine (typically a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) and you will be forced to guess as to what grapes went into the wine
The wine vine. Almost all important wines are made from this species. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are all vitas vinifera grape varietals. Concord grapes are vitas lambrusca.
Volatile Acidity (VA)
Tasting terms that wine bores (is that me?) often trot out to impress. A real fault however, ranging from a vaguely sharp smell, to a horrible vinegar aroma and taste or in the case of ethyl acetate it will smell like nail polish remover (really). Caused by bacterial infection, especially of acetobacter (acetic acid).
Other than grapes, the essential element in fermentation. Yeast is a single-cell organism that is naturally present on the surface of grapes, but in commercial winemaking is more likely to be laboratory-grown. Typically the proprietary yeast strains are some mutation of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It devours grape sugar, converting it into Ethanol (alcohol-yum).
There are almost countless varieties of yeast used in wine production. Some winemakers and wineries prefer to use indigenous yeast (wild yeast) and there is a HUGE volume of discussion and controversy about this practice. Yeasts occur naturally on grapes and there are a number of yeast strains present. As fermentation commences the lower alcohol tolerant strains will start to die off and the higher alcohol tolerant strains will take over. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is an alcohol tolerant strain and it is the yeast that will ferment wine to dryness.
All of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast strains that are commercially available, have been isolated from wild yeast strains.