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Wine Dictionary

Acidity

A grape starts life as a ball of acidic carbohydrate. As it ripens, fruit sugars develop and the relative acidity falls. At perfect ripeness, the sugar and acidity are in balance; too much acidity makes the wine tart, too little leaves it soft & flabby. Acidity is also one of the key natural preservatives of a wine’s quality, and is particularly important in Champagnes and dessert wines.

Appellation of Origin

Generally speaking this refers to a special geographic indication describing where the grapes are grown.

Aeration / Allow the Wine to Breathe

Allowing the wine to come in contact with air to encourage the flavours to develop. The process needs surface-area contact between wine and air, so cannot effectively happen in the neck of a full, opened bottle; the wine needs to be in the glass or in a decanter. In the decanter the ionic bonds of the flavour molecules weaken allowing the flavour to be perceived more easily. It’s a balancing act however because this process (oxidation) is also producing acetic acid (vinegar) which is not a goal to strive for. So, in general, it’s not your imagination that your wine tastes better with each sip - decant and enjoy!

Barrel-Aged

Describes wine that is stored in oak barrels during which time it extracts some of the wood’s natural tannins (for example vanilla in American oak or toastiness). This can either be part of the finishing process, or to create a style for later blending with stainless-steel fermented wine.

Barrel-Fermenting

The grape juice is fermented in an oak barrel. The main alternative to this is fermentation in stainless-steel (also called Inox) tanks.

Body

This is a description of the overall fullness that you perceive in your mouth; words like ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ are a good place to start.

Botrytised Wines

Fine, concentrated sweet wines resulting from the presence of the beneficial fungus, Botrytis cinerea or noble rot, which is prevalent in climates with humid mornings and hot days. Grapes typically become infected with Botrytis when they are ripe, but when then exposed to drier conditions become partially raisined and the form of infection brought about by the partial drying process is known as noble rot.

Clarity

How you might describe the wine’s transparency – ‘bright’ or ‘cloudy’ for instance.

Corked

Caused by a mould called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (or TCA for short) causing the wine to smell mouldy, a little like a damp cellar or sometimes like a wet dog – not pleasant! Despite the name, this mould is not always introduced into the wine by an infected cork. ‘Cork taint’ is sometimes confused in a restaurant with a ‘stinky’ bottle. When in doubt, wait 15 minutes; bottle odours will dissipate, cork taint will generally get worse.

Crû

French term for classifying the quality of the grapes grown on and the wine produced from a particular vineyard.

Decanting

This aerates the wine (see Aeration above) allowing flavour to develop and allows you to remove any sediment that might have formed. The truth is that most wines will benefit from 10-20 minutes of aeration, with red wines, especially younger, tannic reds, benefiting from more time. With older wines, one should take care as whilst decanting will likely bring out its finer qualities, it will also shorten its drinking window, so consume promptly!

Dry

A stylistic term describing a perceived lack of residual sugar (the amount of fruit sugar left after fermentation) in the wine. Note that it is easy to confuse residual sugar (how ‘sweet’ or ‘dry’ the wine is) with fruit richness and intensity. A new world Riesling for example may have incredible fruit richness in the mouth, but have a residual sugar level of less than 1 gram – making it a dry wine.

Fermentation

The most essential part of winemaking – turning the grape juices into wine! This happens when the yeast (natural or controlled) breaks down the sugars, converting them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation ceases when the yeast has consumed all the sugar. Winemakers may decide, for reasons of style, to arrest the fermentation before this happens.

Fining

Removing of substances that might cause hazing after bottling, using a variety of fining agents.

Finish

The taste, aroma and impression that one is left with after the wine has been swallowed, which incorporates fruit, acidity, secondary aromas and length. Generally, older vines allow greater potential for developing a more pleasurable finish in the wine.

Harvest

Usually in autumn (in whichever hemisphere you are in) when the grapes are picked and the winemaking process begins. A word of advice; do not call the winemaker during this time to ask for a tasting and tour of the property….

Icewine

Also called Eiswein. A sweet wine created when the grapes are left on the vine until they are frozen. They are then hand-picked and pressed while frozen, and the frozen (very concentrated) juice is then fermented and aged. The resultant wine is high in residual sugar, and normally has good acidity too, allowing the wine to be perceived as fresh or refreshing.

Lees

The sediment formed from the dead yeast after fermentation is complete.

Length

How long the wines flavours stay in the mouth after swallowing. When balanced and pleasurable this is often, but not always, an indication of quality.

Liqueur Wines

Grape spirit (aka brandy) has been added to the wine at some point in the production creating a fortified wine. The result is a wine with more alcohol, sometimes up to 20%; examples are port or sherry.

Maturation

The ageing period in which wines are allowed to rest in either stainless steel or oak casks, until they have evolved and are ready for bottling.

Mousse

A measure of the exuberance and fine-nature of the bubbles in a sip of Champagne. There are around 250 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne. Yes, really.

Nose

The aroma of the wine. When examining the nose of a wine, one technique is to sniff (or ‘nose’) the glass without agitating it to see what the wine is showing to you. Then swirl the wine in the glass and re-nose the wine – more intense aromas should be present. This is sometimes a measure of how ‘tight’ the wine is and can sometimes enable you to make judgements on its likely lifecycle.

Oxidized

The wine has been exposed to too much air and has degraded such that acetic acid (vinegar) has developed. Whites can usually be spotted since they look dark or taste like old fruit, while reds might taste stale, vinegary or flat.

Palate

Dependent upon its usage: on one hand (‘this wine’s palate’) referring to how the wine presents itself, on the other (‘on the palate/ on my palate’) referring to how a person perceives the wine in the mouth.

Racking

Transferring new wines from the fermentation vessel to a clean vessel in an effort to clear the fermentation sediment, or lees.

Red Wines

Made from the grapes, juice and skins of black grapes with the colour coming from the skins’ pigment.

Rosé Wines

Made from some or all black grapes that are for a brief time (no more than 3 days) crushed and fermented with the skins – the colour is extracted from the skins and tinges the wine. Once there is the required amount of colour the wine is drawn off the skins and fermentation is completed.

Savour

See Finish.

Sediment

The harmless, gritty deposits found in generally older red wines. To solve, decant the bottle or pour slowly and stop when there is a danger of the sediment entering the glass.

See

See Clarity.

Sip

See Palate.

Sniff

See Nose.

Sommelier

French term for the steward in charge of wine. For centuries, sommeliers were responsible for the cellaring and serving of wines for royalty. Eventually the tradition spread to restaurants. Now the sommelier constructs the wine list, is in charge of purchasing and is expected to have extensive knowledge of wines and their suitability with food.

Sparkling Wines

Created when some of the carbon dioxide created during fermentation (usually during a second fermentation) is left in the wine.

Sugar

Created in the grape, converting the initially starchy carbohydrate into a luscious ball of ripe fruit sugar. Much of the sugar is converted into alcohol during the fermentation process.

Sweetness

A stylistic term describing the perceived residual sugar (the amount of fruit sugar left after fermentation) in the wine. Note that it is easy to confuse residual sugar (how ‘sweet’ or ‘dry’ the wine is) with fruit richness and intensity (see Dry above). Some wines such as those from Tokay have very high levels of sweetness (300+g/litre) whilst PX sherry may have an incredible 400g/litre (try dissolving a pound of sugar in a litre of water to see how hard this is to do!).

Swirl/Swill

The process of circulating the wine in the glass. This aerates the wine and releases aromas from its surface allowing the wine’s character to be examined more closely. For this reason, glass design is important – the bowl of the glass must be large enough to allow surface-area expansion of the aroma, whilst the opening of the glass should be tightened a little to allow the aromas to be concentrated in the nose.

Tannins

These are plant polyphenols, which cause the dry cottonmouth feelings that red wines sometimes produce. Tannins are mainly present in skins, pips, leaves and stalks, and are one of the most important elements of structure of the wine and act as a natural preservative for the wine. As good wines mature, some of the tannins escape into the sediment and the wine might become more integrated and balanced.

Texture

Part of the mouth-feel of the wine. Words such as ‘soft’, ‘creamy’ or ‘velvety’ might describe one style, while ‘crunchy’, ‘silky’ or ‘grainy’ might describe the tannins in the wine (which contributes to the texture).

The Five ‘S’es

There are five basic steps in tasting wine: colour, swirl, smell, taste, and savour. These are sometimes known as the "five S" steps: see, swirl, sniff, sip, savour. During this process, a taster must look for clarity, varietal character, integration, expressiveness, complexity, and connectedness.

Viniculture

The official term used to describe when growing and producing grapes specifically for winemaking.

Varietal

A wine made from at least 75% of the stated grape.

Vintage

Indicates that at least 95% of the grapes were harvested in the year stated.

White Wines

Created from either white or black grapes (as long as the skin-contact with the black grapes is minimised). Champagne is a classic example, made mainly from one white variety (Chardonnay) and two black varieties (Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier).