n. Acronym for Appellation Contrôlée, an abbreviated version of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Often used
to distinguish between high-quality wines such as Burgundy Grand Crus and simple village wines.
n. If the wine in that dusty bottle you've been hoarding reeks of vinegar or tastes overly tart or sour, it's due
to a high concentration of acetic acid. All wines contain minute traces of acetic acid, but it's usually
imperceptible until the wine is overexposed to oxygen during fermentation, maturation, or through faulty
bottling, all of which increase the amount of acetic acid (the wine equivalent of rust). When acetic acid levels
exceed 0.07%, vinegar becomes the dominant character and the wine is essentially ruined. Acetic wines
smell of vinegar and are overly tart or sour. See also acidity.
acid or acidic
n. or adj. When you squeeze a slice of lime into your gin & tonic to improve the flavor, you're basically
increasing the acid content. Same goes for wine. All wines contain a variety of essential natural acids, mainly
tartaric, malic, lactic, and citric. In addition to preventing spoilage during fermentation and aging, acids add
tartness to counter the wine's sweetness and give it balance and a crisp, refreshing taste. A wine described
as "acid" or "acidic" is typically a wine that is out of balance because the acidity level is too high. Wines that
lack enough acid can taste flabby or flat. FYI, the taste buds for sensing acids (which come through as sour)
are on the sides of your mouth and tongue.
n. Think of acidity as the amount of salt in your lobster bisque—a little is needed to bring out flavor, but too
much will ruin the soup (salt-saltiness/acid-acidity). The proper level of acidity is crucial to the making of
wine: too much acid and the wine tastes overly tart or sharp, too little and it tastes flabby or flat.
adj. If a wine has an unpleasantly sharp, pungent, and bitter taste or smell, it's often described as acrid.
Most likely this is the result of too much sulfur being added to the wine during the vinification process.
n. Aeration is the process of letting wine "breathe," or exposing it to air before you drink it. This is often done
with a lot of undue pomp and circumstance, the irony being that the vast majority of today's red wines benefit
little from aerating. As a general rule, only youthful, high-quality white and red wines improve with aeration.
Since older wines (20 plus years) have already softened their tannins through bottle age, they usually need
very little aeration and should be enjoyed shortly after removing the cork before the quality of the wine
diminishes due to over-aeration. By the way, just popping the cork and letting the bottle sit won't do the trick,
because the wine won't get enough air to properly breathe. You need to pour the wine into a decanter or a
large wineglass. See also decant.
n. Also referred to as the "finish," the aftertaste is the flavor that lingers in your mouth after you've swallowed
a sip of wine. As a general rule, the better the wine, the longer—and more enjoyable—the aftertaste. When
you see wine judges staring off into space after sipping a wine, it's the aftertaste they're assessing; aftertaste
is a crucial factor in judging a wine's quality. The aftertaste of a great wine will linger for several seconds,
allowing maximum gratification of its rich, complex flavors and aromas.
adj. An age-worthy wine is one that has the potential to age well, resulting in increased complexity as
individual components become more balanced. Whether a wine will age well depends on a number of
factors, including its varietal, vintage, the quality of the grapes, the severity used in selecting the grapes, and
the balance between fruit, tannin, alcohol, and acidity.
adj. An aggressive wine is one that is excessively—and unpleasantly—overbalanced with bitter tannins or
n. The period of time from when the wine is made to when it's served, aging can last anywhere from a few
weeks for jug wines to 15 years or more for ultra-premium wines. Most wines are aged in barrels, vats,
stainless-steel tanks, or bottles, preferably in cool, dark, and moderately humid conditions. The purpose of
aging is to let the wine develop additional flavors (imparted from oak barrels, for example), softer tannins,
and a smoother texture. Extended aging, however, is intended only for a small portion of ultra-premium
wines to increase both their value and complexity. Most of today's premium white wines are ready to be
consumed before they are two years old, and most commercial and premium reds before they are four or five
years of age. Any longer and the wine may lose its flavor and become tired. See also barrel-aged and bottle-
n. A.k.a. the wine thief or butler's corkscrew, this wine opener consists of two thin, flat steel blades attached
to a handle. You wiggle the blades down the sides of the cork, then twist and pull out the ah-so along with
the cork. It's handy for removing stubborn, fragile, or broken corks, or for when you want to save a cork for
n. Alcohol is the natural by-product of fermentation—mash some grapes in a barrel, wait a spell, and voilà!
Booze. It's created when the grape's natural yeast feeds on the sugar, resulting in equal parts carbon dioxide
and ethanol (the type of alcohol that makes you tipsy). Most table wines naturally range from 7% to 14%
alcohol by volume, depending on the amount of natural sugar in the grape varietal or the amount of sugar
added by the vintner in a process called chaptalization. Grapes grown in cooler climes have less sugar and
thus create less alcohol. This doesn't necessarily make a wine better or worse, but alcohol is definitely
crucial for the development of a wine, acting as a preserver while adding a sense of sweetness, strength,
weight, and character.
alcohol by volume (ABV)
n. Many countries require their wineries—or wines entering their country—to report to the consumer how
much alcohol is in their wine. In the United States, the amount of alcohol is listed on the label as a
percentage of the whole bottle of wine. Somewhere on the label in fine print you'll see something like
"Alcohol 13.1% by Volume," which means nearly an eighth of the wine is pure alcohol. U.S. law forbids table
wines to exceed 14% ABV; otherwise it's considered a dessert wine. A loophole in the law, however, allows
for a 1.5% margin of error, so a 12.5% ABV wine could actually be 14% (but never higher). As a general rule,
if the label gives an exact percentage (e.g., 13.6%), it's probably a precise measurement.
adj. "Alcoholic" is a term used to describe an unbalanced wine with so much alcohol that it dominates the
flavor. The right amount of alcohol gives the wine a warm taste, but too much leaves the tongue and throat
feeling hot, similar to what you sense when you have a shot of warm vodka. Since most wines are required
by law to keep the percentage of alcohol to a minimum, such flawed wines are rare.
n. [ah-lee-goh-TAY] This white grape from France is widely cultivated in the Burgundy region. It's used to
make a dry, lemony-tart white wine usually meant for early consumption. In many vineyards outside of
Burgundy, Aligoté has been replaced by the Chardonnay grape, which makes richer and better-quality
wines. However, Aligoté is still popular in some eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Russia, and
Romania. Older Aligoté vines tend to produce better-quality Aligoté wines with citrusy characteristics.
n. A winery that claims to use American oak is referring to the type of barrel used during the aging process.
Wines were traditionally aged in French oak barrels, but American oak—that is, oak grown in the United
States—has become increasingly popular worldwide for both its price ($250 to $300 per barrel, as opposed
to $600 for a French barrel) and the overt vanilla and dill flavors it imparts. Some grape varietals such as
Shiraz, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo have a natural affinity for maturation in American oak. Certain wine
regions outside the U.S. such as Spain's Rioja and most of Australia—have created a style of wine
dependent on American oak flavors. Occasionally a French vintner will use American oak barrels, but this is
American Viticultural Area (AVA)
n. The AVA is the United States' watered-down version of France's wine-industry regulatory system, the
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, or AOC. It was created in 1983 with the central purpose of guaranteeing that
at least 85% of the grapes used to make an AVA-registered bottle of wine come from the specified American
Viticultural Area. For example, if a bottle of Kenwood Pinot Noir says "Russian River Valley" on its label, at
least 85% of the grapes used to make the wine must have come from the Russian River Valley region. Other
AVAs include Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, and sub-AVAs such as Chalk Hill within the Russian River
Valley. The problem is that an AVA really tells the wine buyer very little, because grapes grown at one end of
a region as enormous and varied as Napa Valley may have little or nothing to do with those harvested 25
miles away, though also in Napa Valley. It also fails to mention which grape varieties are grown and the
winemaking methods used (all of which are governed by law in France via its AOC to assure quality). In
short, the AVA reveals almost nothing about the quality of the wine, just where its grapes were grown. Who
defines the boundary of an AVA? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
n. Acronym for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée.
n. In winespeak, an appellation is the area or region where a particular wine's grapes were grown. In the
United States, the official term for an appellation is American Viticultural Area, or AVA, while France's
version is Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, or AOC. But instead of having to use obscure acronyms or abuse
the French language to inquire about a wine's origin, you can simply use the word "appellation," as in "Do
you know the appellation of the 96 Stonegate Sauvignon Blanc?" (A: Napa Valley.) For American wines, the
appellation is secondary to the grape varietal; that is, it's more useful to know what type of grape the wine
was made from than where the grapes were grown. For European wines, it's just the opposite: the
appellation is so informative—assuming you're familiar with European appellations—that the wine label
doesn't even list the grape varietal. See also American Viticultural Area.
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC)
n. [ah-PELL-ah-see-ON daw-ree-ZHEEN con-trow-LEE] (noun) French for "regulated place-name,"
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée is the system used by the French government to identify the country's wine
regions and regulate winemaking standards—alcohol content, grape varietal, growing methods, etc. The
label on a bottle of Bordeaux, for example, will say "Appellation Bordeaux Contrôlée or some variation
thereof. The AOC was established in the 1930s to help guarantee the quality of French wine and to prevent
fraudulent labeling. It is the highest level of France's four-tier system of classifying the quality of wines, the
lowest being Vin de Table (table wine). As a general rule, the more specific the origin, the higher the
standard (and the price). The Italian equivalent of AOC is DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), the
Canadian version is VQA (Vintners' Quality Alliance), and so on.
n. [ahr-NAYZ] Both a white grape variety and a varietal wine of Piedmont in northwest Italy. Originating in
Roero, where it once enjoyed a loyal local following, Arneis fell into decline and was on the verge of
extinction by the early 1970s. However, come the next decade, enthusiasm for this scented, weighty, dry
white was rekindled, and planting and production increased several fold. Arneis was accorded DOC status in
1989, having consolidated its reputation for being a fine herb-scented and almond-flavored, if low-acid and
n. The word "aroma" was traditionally used to describe the smells derived directly from the grapes used to
make a wine (e.g., "raisiny" or "earthy"), as opposed to "bouquet," which refers to the overall smells that
come about as a result of the aging process (e.g., "oaky" or "charred"). These days, however, aroma is more
commonly used to describe a wine's entire range of smells, and bouquet has become more or less a
synonym for aroma. If you want to get into an argument with a wine purist, defining aroma is a good place to
adj. "Astringent" is a tasting term used to describe a wine that makes your mouth feel dry and puckery, as if
you're sipping absurdly strong tea. Astringency is a result of the excess tannins and/or high acidity common
in young red wines, particularly those from Tuscany and Piedmont. In moderate amounts, astringency adds
to a wine's complexity, preventing it from being dull and bland. Too much astringency, however, makes for a
harsh, unenjoyable wine. To mellow out an overly astringent wine, either let it age longer or, if you've already
popped the cork, try letting it breathe for an hour.
n. [OWS-lay-zuh] German for "selection," this Prädikat designation ranks above Kabinett and Spätlese but
below Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese. Auslese-level wines are based on minimum
must weights and are made from handpicked grapes that are fully ripened and pressed independently from
other grapes. Fine Auslese wines are sweet, sometimes due to Botrytis cinerea, and can develop complexity
adj. If you sip a wine and there's so much tannin and acidity bombarding your taste buds that you can't even
taste the fruit, it's safe to call it austere. Such underdeveloped wines need more time in the bottle to soften
and achieve better balance, richness, and complexity. Some white wines, however, aim to be austere, such
as a very dry, light-bodied, and noticeably acidic French Chablis.
n. Acronym for American Viticultural Area.
n. To say a wine has backbone is to indicate that it is well structured: full-bodied, well balanced, hearty, and
pleasing. The term is usually applied to big red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines that lack
backbone are often referred to as thin or flabby.
adj. If a wine hasn't matured as quickly as other wines of similar type and vintage and needs more time in
the barrel or bottle, it's described as backward. Yes, a wine can be forward as well. See also closed.
n. Achieving balance is the Holy Grail of winemaking and the purpose for maturation and bottle aging. When
all the elements of a wine—acidity, sweetness, alcohol, tannin—blend together in mutual harmony, the wine
is said to have balance, one of the ultimate compliments in winetasting. If no one component of a wine
overpowers another as you roll the wine around your taste buds—it's not too sweet, too tart, or too fruity—
then the wine is well balanced. Mind you, everyone's taste is different; what seems balanced to the
sommelier may be woefully lopsided to you. See also harmonious and mature.
n. [bal-THAY-zer] The Balthazar is the second largest bottle in the family of oversize Champagne bottles,
larger than a Salmanazar but smaller than a Nebuchadnezzar. It holds the equivalent of 16 standard bottles,
or 12 liters. Balthazar, you may remember, was one of the three wise guys from the East who came bearing
gifts for baby Jesus. See also Imperial, Jeroboam, magnum, Methuselah, Nebuchadnezzar, Rehoboam, and
n. [bar-BEAR-ah] Barbera is the Rodney Dangerfield of varietals: a hearty grape that has trouble getting
respect, even though it's one of the most widely planted red grapes in Italy, along with Sangiovese. Why no
respect? Because the majority of it is used for blending the ordinary jug-style wines that are an Italian staple
(and often cheaper than bottled water). It makes a deeply colored, medium- to full-bodied wine with a
profusion of tarry, berry-like fruit and spice. It also has unusually high acidity for a big red wine, which makes
it a versatile beverage for a wide range of foods you wouldn't normally associate with red wine. Yes, it
typically lacks complexity and finesse, but a new trend is developing to create oak-aged Barberas of the
Supertuscan variety that are suitable for aging. Barbera is also planted heavily in California's Central Valley
(via Italian immigrants of yesteryear), though you're not likely to see it on a label, since it's almost exclusively
used as a filler for blended jug wines. A few wineries in Amador County and the Central Coast produce
respectable Barberas, but the best hail from classic Italian appellations such as Barbera d'Asti and Barbera
n. A wine barrel is a rounded wood container used to store, age, flavor, and sometimes ferment fine table
wines. Size, age, type of wood, level of toast, and duration of maturation all can affect the degree to which
barrels impact a wine's style. Although other woods can be fashioned into wine barrels, oak is used almost
exclusively because of the complex flavors and aromas—oak, butter, vanilla, dill, toastiness, etc.—that it
imparts into a wine (particularly newer barrels, or "new oak"). The standard barrel holds roughly 60 gallons of
wine and costs as much as $600 each for a quality French barrel (whereas American barrels cost about half
as much). All manner of barrels are used in winemaking, including the French barrique (bah-REEK), the
traditional barrel for making Bordeaux wines; the Burgundy piéce (pea-ESS); the English hogshead; the
Australian puncheon; and the Italian botti. See also barrel-aged and barrel-fermented.
adj. Simply put, a barrel-aged wine is one that has been aged in a barrel—presumably oak—after going
through the fermentation process. You'll see this term most often on the back label of fine wines, and it's a
good indication that the wine may have taken on some of the vanilla, oak, butter, and other characteristics
from the oak. Barrel aging also gives wine a deeper color and softens its tannins as oxygen slowly creeps
through the wood's pores. When the vintner determines that a wine has been barrel aged long enough—yes,
you can over-oak a wine—he or she then bottles it and, in some cases, lets it age even further. An aside,
most wineries use a combination of new, one-year-old, two-year-old, and three-year-old barrels. They aim to
replace their oak barrels after four or five vintages, since by then the insides become encrusted with deposits
that prevent interaction between the wood and the wine. See also barrel-fermented.
adj. Along with barrel-aged, you'll occasionally see this term on the back labels of expensive white wines,
particularly Chardonnays. Most wines are fermented in neutral stainless steel or wooden vats, but a few
high-quality white wines are made in the Burgundian style, in which the wine is fermented (and usually aged)
in a small oak barrel. It's an expensive, risky, and labor-intensive process, but the reward (hopefully) is a
wine of exceptional texture, complexity, fragrance, and just the right amount of oaky flavor. Red wines are
rarely barrel-fermented because the juice and skins are fermented together, making the process far too
arduous and impractical. See also barrel-aged.
n. Acronym for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
n. [bow-MAY] See Brix.
n. No self-respecting wine snob would be caught dead saying "bubbles" to describe the tiny bubbles that
rise along the sides and to the top of a Champagne glass. Instead, they refer to them as the "bead." As a
general rule, the smaller (and longer-lasting) the bead, the better the sparkling wine.
n. [boh-zhuh-LAY new-VOH] A simple, fruity, refreshing, inexpensive red wine from the Beaujolais region of
southern France. Made from the finicky Gamay grape varietal, Beaujolais nouveau is released throughout
the world on the third Thursday of each November—a mere six weeks after it was made—to be immediately
consumed by millions of anticipating wine lovers. The annual appearance of Beaujolais nouveau is an
international symbol of the year's first wine release and cause for a simultaneous worldwide celebration. It's
also an indication of the quality of the forthcoming vintage from the entire Burgundy region. The tradition of
drinking Beaujolais nouveau immediately upon its release dates back four and a half centuries; in 1951, the
tradition was codified into law. As red wines go, Beaujolais Nouveau is about as close to white wine as can
be. It is intensely fruity and has a perfumy aroma, raspberry and cherry flavors, and little tannic astringency.
n. [BAY-ruhn-OWS-lay-zuh; BEH-ruhn-OWS-lay-zuh] When broken down, Beerenauslese translates to
beeren/berries, aus/out, lese/picking—or, simply stated, berries that are picked out individually. This Prädikat
ranks above Kabinett, Spätlese, and Auslese, but below Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese. Beerenauslese
wines are made from carefully selected overripe grapes to create the rich dessert wines for which Germany
is famous. Usually made in two to three vintages every decade, these wines are balanced, with enough acid
and sugar to age for decades.
n. The word "berry" has two meanings in winespeak. People in the winemaking business usually refer to
grapes as berries (a grape is, after all, a berry). But to those who drink and judge wines, berry refers to the
berrylike or berry-fruited qualities of a wine; that is, wines that exhibit fruity characteristics such as
blackberry, cranberry, cherry, black currant, and raspberry.
adj. If a wine has a powerful aroma and loads of flavor, it's often described as big. Full-bodied, robust, rich,
meaty, spicy, powerful, and strong—all can apply to a big wine.
n. Wineries will sometimes assign a bin number or cask number to a certain batch of wine, then label it as
"Bin 707 Cabernet," "Private Bin," or "Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon." Such a label is usually meaningless to
the consumer, who hasn't the slightest idea what the bin's wine is composed of. The exception: Australian
wines, where some bin numbers have evolved into brand names, such as the popular Bin 65 Chardonnay.
The beauty of the Australian bin system is that it crosses all language barriers. Consumers who won't order a
wine with a difficult name to pronounce can feel confident when they ask for a bottle of 707 in any language.
n. A wine that has bite is high in acidity or tannin, a condition that usually mellows with age but which
creates a pleasant zestfulness and tartness (much like biting into a tart green apple). The term is usually
used when describing white wines or Champagne, as in, "This extra brut has a sharp, peppery bite to it, don't
you think?" A wine's bite usually mellows with age.
bitter or biting
adj. While your nose can detect thousands of smells, your taste buds can sense only sour (acidic), salty,
sweet, and bitter tastes, of which the latter is usually considered a faulty characteristic in a wine. The main
culprit behind bitter wine is an excess of tannin, which comes from the grape's skins, seeds, and stems
(hence winemakers are careful not to crush the seeds). A hint of bitterness is common in some wines, such
as Chianti, but the bitterness should never dominate the flavor or aftertaste. FYI, your bitter-sensing taste
buds are on the back of your tongue.
blanc de blancs
n. [BLAHN duh BLAHN] Blanc de blancs ("white of whites") is a French term for white wine made entirely
from white grapes (as opposed to blanc de noirs, white wine made entirely from black grapes). The phrase
was originally used in Champagne (the region) to denote a lighter and more fragrant style of Champagne
(the bubbly) made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes instead of the more common Pinot Noir and Pinot
Meunier grape. These days, blanc de blancs refers to any table or sparkling wine made with one or more
white grape varietals. See also blanc de noirs.
blanc de noirs
n. [BLAHN duh NWAR] The kissing cousin of blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs ("white of blacks") is a French
term for white wine made entirely from black grapes. The phrase was originally used in Champagne (the
region) to denote a Champagne (the bubbly) made from "black" Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier, grapes, as
opposed to "white" Chardonnay grapes. The clear juice from the Pinot grapes is quickly removed from the
skins as they're pressed to prevent the reddish pigment from coloring the wine. Blush wine is also made this
way, and many California blush wines are marketed with the far more lofty title blanc de noirs.
v. Blending is the art of mixing or "marrying" two or more elements, including different varietals, vineyards,
appellations, or vintages, to create a single, superior wine. It's like your dad concocting his own barbecue
sauce in the kitchen, adding a dash of this and a cup of that until he feels it just couldn't get any better.
Almost all wine is blended, from the best Chardonnay to the jug wine at the supermarket. The winemaker
earns his or her money and reputation by deciding which combination of varietals, vintages, vineyards,
appellations, styles, and numerous other factors will blend together to make the best wine possible. For
example, one of the most classic blends is mixing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes (among others) to
make a Bordeaux. Even most Champagnes are made from two or more vintages. Besides taste, profit
margins are another reason for blending: dilute some excellent Sauvignon Blanc with some poor Sauvignon
Blanc and you have a whole lot of passable Sauvignon Blanc.
n. In a blind tasting, a person judging a glass of wine doesn't know which bottle it came from. He or she
usually knows which wines are being tasted, but not the order in which they're presented (the bottles are
usually hidden by a brown paper bag). Blind tastings are done so that a label won't influence the taster's
impression. In a double-blind tasting, neither the wines nor the order are known. One of the most famous
blind tastings was the legendary Paris tasting test of 1976, in which France's top white Burgundies were
outscored by a (gasp!) Napa Valley '73 Château Montelena Chardonnay.
n. Think of body as the weight or thickness of the wine in your mouth. For example, a glass of water has
little or no body—it just washes right off—compared to a glass of maple syrup, which most definitely feels
heavy in your mouth. The same principle applies to wines, which are usually described as light-bodied,
medium-bodied, or full-bodied. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, is typically full-bodied, while a Pinot Noir
would be considered a medium- or light-bodied wine. And in case you didn't know, the alcohol, glycerin, and
sugar content of a wine determine the body.
n. [boh-TRY-tis sin-ah-REE-ah] Botrytis cinerea, a.k.a. noble rot, is a type of fungus that attacks the skin of
grapes, causing the water to evaporate and dramatically increasing the sugars and flavors (essentially
turning a grape into a big raisin). This is disastrous for red grapes, as it ages them prematurely. But when the
climatic conditions are exactly right, the effect of Botrytis cinerea on white grapes creates an incredibly
concentrated, sweet grape juice that's turned into the finest—and most expensive— dessert wines in the
world. In fact, it may take an entire vine just to make one glass. The Sauternes from France are a classic
example, as are German Trockenbeerenauslese [TROCK-en-BEER-in-OUSE-lay-sin] wines, though Botrytis
cinerea affects vineyards all over the world.
n. A tasting term used to describe the positive changes of a wine over time. For example, when someone
says, "This 88 Chambolle Musigny displays significant bottle age," he or she means that the hard edges of
the wine—the rough tannins, the raw acidity—have diminished or softened as the wine has aged in the
adj. This is another of those winemaking terms you see on a bottle's back label. It simply means that the
wine has been aged in the bottle, presumably to let it mature and develop. Most wineries age their wine in
the bottle anywhere from a few weeks to several years. Fine wines, particularly reds, may need further aging
once they're passed on to the consumer, though the majority of today's wines are made to be drunk shortly
after release. See also aging and barrel-aged.
n. Bottle sickness (or bottle shock) is a temporary condition brought on by handling a wine roughly.
Commonly occurring in the bottling and shipping process, this affliction causes a wine to have a muddled or
muted aroma and/or flavor, or smell like sulfur dioxide (think burnt match). Depending on the severity of the
shock, the wine will fully restore itself within a few days to a few weeks.
v. You usually see this tag on less expensive wines, because all it means is that the wine was bottled by
Company X, which either had the wine made under contract by another winery or simply bought the wine en
masse and then bottled it under its own name. You probably aren't given any information about who made
the wine, but then again, at $5.99 a liter, you probably don't care. See also cellared by, estate-bottled, made
and bottled by, produced and bottled by, and vinted by.
n. The word "bouquet" is traditionally used to describe the "mature" smells of a wine from sources other than
the grapes, usually as a result of the fermentation and aging process (e.g., a wine may have an "oaky" or
"charred" bouquet as a result of being aged in an oak barrel). It's used part and parcel with the word
"aroma," which pertains to the fruity smells derived from the grapes that were used to make a wine (e.g., a
young wine may have "raisined" or "earthy" aromas). These days, however, bouquet is more commonly used
to describe the wine's entire range of smells, and aroma has become practically synonymous with bouquet.
See also aroma.
breathe or breathing
v. See aeration.
n. You've heard the phrases "best of the breed" and "a breed apart." Well, the same applies to winemaking.
A classic wine is made through careful breeding, from the way the soil is cultivated to the legacy of the grape
and the precision of the vinification process. A wine of "breed" is the very best of its type, one that's
considered near perfect, harmonious, refined, and elegant.
adj. A briar is a small, prickly shrub or plant, such as a rosebush. A wine described as briary has an earthy
or stemmy character; that is, it smells and tastes a bit like vegetation. By itself, this is considered unpleasant,
but when mixed with the aroma of blackberries, for instance, it adds a certain astringency and raw intensity
to a wine. The term is usually used when describing California Zinfandels. See also stemmy.
adj. In winespeak, bright is the opposite of dull, so when a wine is described as having "bright blackberry
flavors," it means that the taste and aroma of blackberries really shine through. This can also refer to the
appearance or clarity of a wine; a bright wine is the opposite of a dull or cloudy wine.
adj. Novice wine tasters are bound to be confused by this term, because it has nothing to do with how
exceptional a wine is, but rather how transparent it is. A brilliant wine—as opposed to a cloudy or hazy one—
is completely clear, clean, and bright, with no visible particles floating around.
n. [BRICKS] Brix is the system used in the United States to measure the sugar content of grapes and wine.
You often see it mentioned on the back label of California wines, though few consumers know what it means.
Here's the scoop: Each degree of Brix is equivalent to one gram of sugar per 100 grams of grape juice. The
higher the reading, the greater the sugar content and, ergo, the higher the potential alcohol level. Most
grapes are ready to be harvested when their Brix level reaches 20 to 25 degrees, and since 55% to 60% of
the sugars are converted into alcohol during fermentation, you can deduce the amount of alcohol that should
result (25 x .55 = 13.75% alcohol). FYI, the system was named after German inventor A. F. W. Brix, though
German winemakers use a different scale called "Oechsle." Australia and most of Europe, including France,
use a similar method called the "Baumé" scale.
adj. "Browning" is a term used to describe the color of a mature—and possibly fading—wine. It's not
necessarily a bad sign, just an indication that the wine has reached its peak and is heading to that great
vineyard in the sky (though it still can be quite enjoyable). You can see the color best at the edge of your
glass, where it will look sort of dirty, ruddy, and brickish. Browning is, however, a bad sign for young red
wines and all white wines, as it's an indication that the wine may have suffered overexposure to oxygen,
faulty winemaking, or premature aging due to the fungus Botrytis cinerea.
n. [brew-NELL-oh] Brunello (Italian for "little dark one" for the brown hue of the skin) is a strain of the red
Sangiovese Grosso varietal developed in the Montalcino region of Tuscany. It's responsible for some of
Italy's most renowned red wines, most notably those from the Brunello di Montalcino appellation. By law,
they must be made totally from Brunello grapes and be aged at least four years. Brunello wine is heavier
than Chianti, and has a rich, dark color in good vintages with enough tannin and firmness to assure bottle
development for more than a decade.
n. [BROOT] Brut is French for "raw" and is used to describe sparkling wine or Champagne that has a dry
taste. It's at the lower end of an ascending scale used to indicate sweetness, starting with brut zéro, brut
nature, extra brut, and brut sauvage (all of which are bone-dry), then brut (dry), extra dry (which, oddly
enough, is sweeter than brut), sec (slightly sweet), demi-sec (fairly sweet), and doux (definitely sweet). The
three types of sparkling wine you're likely to see on the market are brut, extra dry, and demi-sec, with brut
being far and away the most popular.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (B.A.T.F.)
n. The regulatory body for the wine industry in the United States. Unlike the Institut National des
Appellations d'Origine, or INAO, in France, the B.A.T.F.'s position is only to regulate—not promote—the wine
adj. Wines that have an overly charred, smoky, or toasty aroma are referred to as burnt. It's a flaw that is
encountered mostly in wines that have been exposed to heat or oxygen while being improperly stored. An
exception is the fortified wines of Madeira, which are purposely cooked at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and
subsequently acquire a burnt, tangy taste.
n. See ah-so.
adj. Chances are you've heard this term used over and over to describe white wines such as Chardonnay
and white Burgundy. Buttery implies that a wine has the taste or aroma of melted butter. Vintners achieve a
buttery quality by fermenting and aging wine in oak barrels, allowing it to go through malolactic fermentation,
and leaving the wine in contact with its lees, or sediment.
n. "Cabernet" is an abbreviation informally used to describe both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon,
as in "This Saint-Émilion is 60% Merlot and the remaining consists of Cabernet grapes."
n. [CAB-bear-nay FRAWN] Cabernet Franc is a close relative of Cabernet Sauvignon and has many similar
characteristics, though it tends to be lighter in color and less tannic. It's grown extensively in Bordeaux and
the Loire Valley, where it produces a fine, silky wine on its own (Chinon), but the majority of Cabernet Franc
is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to produce Bordeaux wines. In the Médoc region of
Bordeaux, for example, it typically accounts for 15% of the final blend. Wines from Cabernet Franc grapes
are generally medium-full to full-bodied, extremely perfumed, and medium-high in alcohol and acidity.
Aromas and bouquet tend toward the herbaceous notes found in underripe Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as
slight tobacco and cedarwood. The flavors of Cabernet Franc are typically black currant, cassis, plumbs,
strawberry, and a lingering finish of blackberries. The varietal has found some success outside of France,
particularly in Italy, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, New York, and the Pacific
Northwest. Cabernet Franc has recently become a popular varietal in Napa and Sonoma for both blending (à
la Meritage reds) and single varietal bottling. Recommended food pairings include salmon, beef, roast
chicken, potatoes with fresh herbs, grilled portabella mushrooms, and hard cheeses.
n. [ka-ber-NAY SO-vin-yawn] Known throughout the wine world as the "king of red wines," Cabernet
Sauvignon is the most popular and widespread red grape varietal in the world. For centuries it's been the
main grape planted in the Bordeaux region of France (and, therefore, the main component of Bordeaux
wines). It has since spread to most every winegrowing region in the world, including Spain, Chile, Australia,
South Africa, and California. In fact, California has practically founded its premium wine-making reputation
on this small, tough-skinned grape. Why is Cabernet Sauvignon so popular? Because it's traveled the world
and retained its individual character; it's adaptable to a variety of climates and soils; it's very resistant to
disease and frost; and it's legendary for its aging ability (if you're going to age a wine, this is the one to age).
Because Cabernet Sauvignon has a high skin-to-juice ratio, thick skins, and small berry size, it's also high in
tannins. It's almost always blended with "softer" wines such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc (or, if you're
making an Italian Supertuscan, with Sangiovese) to assuage its inherent bitterness. The result is a medium-
to full-bodied wine with a firm structure and mouth-drying finish. Because Cabernet Sauvignon is a complex
grape that is almost always aged in oak, it exhibits numerous aromas ranging from chocolate and black
cherry to cassis, green bell pepper, mint, asparagus, cedar, eucalyptus, coffee, tobacco, and tar. It's best
matched with red meats such as lamb and beef, as well as strong cheeses. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of
the four red wines (the others are Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir) that make up the nine classic varietals
(there are five white classic varietals: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon.)
n. The wire contraption that covers the cork of a Champagne bottle to prevent it from popping out
prematurely. If you've ever had a cork shoot from the bottle and scare the bejesus out of you as you were
loosening the cage, you know it's there for a very good reason. A word of advice, always cover the cork with
one hand as you loosen the cage.
n. Occasionally you'll hear this term—along with "microclimate" and "low yields"—when winemakers discuss
the science of growing grapes (a.k.a. viticulture). Canopy refers to the foliage of the grapevine. Canopy
management, it follows, involves the positioning, planting, training (binding the shoots of vines to the trellis),
and pruning of grapevines in order to minimize the adverse effects of pests, disease, molds, mildew, and rot,
as well as maximize quality yields.
n. A term used in the making of red wines, the cap is the layer of grape skins, pulp, pips (seeds), and other
solids that naturally rise to the top of a fermenting vat. The cap acts as a natural barrier against unwanted
oxidation. Fermenting generates a lot of unwanted heat, however, so to cool the process down—and to
extract beneficial phenolic compounds, which help in developing color, flavor, and tannins, from the solids—
the cap must be broken up periodically, either by pumping the must over the cap or punching down the cap
into the must.
n. Yes, that plastic or foil thingy covering the cork has a name. It's called a capsule, and its main purpose is
to keep the cork from drying out and letting air into the bottle. It was traditionally made of lead, but fears of
lead poisoning prompted wineries to switch to foil, plastic, or cellophane. The capsule is also used as a
marketing tool, hence the bold colors and fancy insignias.
n. A container used for serving wine, like the kind you get when you order jug wine with your pizza. The best
kind of carafe for decanting wine has a wide base, a medium neck, and a flared lip designed for smooth
pouring. A quality carafe or decanter will easily hold the contents of a standard 750ml bottle, with plenty of
room for the beneficial effect of air. Carafe is a French term derived from the Italian caraffa, which is derived
from the Spanish garrafa, which probably derived from the Arabic garafa, a word that means "to ladle" or
caramel, caramely, or caramelized
adj. A caramely wine is one that has the overt aroma of caramel, toffee, and/or burnt sugar. The term is
usually applied to white wines—particularly Chardonnays—that are barrel-fermented and aged in heavily
toasted new oak. Madeira, which is heated for several months to allow the sugars to caramelize, is a classic
example of a caramelized wine.
n. Carbonic maceration is a type of whole-berry fermentation process in which whole clusters of uncrushed
red grapes are piled into tanks filled with carbon dioxide (to exclude unwanted oxygen). The tanks are then
sealed off, and the grapes are left alone to ferment in their own skins. The typical result is a brightly colored,
simple, fruity, low-tannin wine that's meant to be enjoyed while young (that, and it doesn't keep for very long).
The process of carbonic maceration gained fame in Beaujolais, but it's also performed elsewhere, including
in Spain and Australia.
n. (KAH-reen-YAWN) Although the red Carignan grape originated in Spain, it has become one of the most
widely planted red grapes in France. In the Provence, Rhône, and Languedoc regions, it's mainly used to
make inexpensive vin de table wines. It's also widely planted in countries surrounding the Mediterranean—
Italy, Israel, and Spain, where it's often used to add color to Rioja wines. At one time, Carignan was the most
widely planted red grape varietal in California; it is still cultivated there to make jug wines. Its popularity
results from its high yields: Carignan produces more red wine than any other grape variety. The deep purple
grape typically has high tannins and alcohol and is capable of producing dark, thick, rich, fruity, spicy reds.
Because of its high tannic content, it's usually blended with softer wines such as Cinsaut and Grenache.
When made via carbonic maceration (a common practice in the Languedoc-Roussillon region), the resulting
wine can have a pleasantly spicy and fruity taste.
n. Beer drinkers who are new to wine get this one mixed up all the time. A case of wine is 12 bottles, not 24.
FYI, a winery's total production is usually measured in cases. The midsize Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma
Valley, for example, produces about 150,000 cases a year, whereas larger wineries such as Sebastiani
Vineyards crank out six million cases annually.
n. A wine cask is a large neutral wooden container that looks a whole lot like an oversize barrel. Though
casks are used to age and store wine, they differ from smaller oak barrels in that they are not expected to
impart a lot of oak flavor to the wine. Subsequently, they usually are not replaced after a few years of use. In
fact, the venerable casks at some wineries have elaborate carvings, such as those at Sonoma Valley's
Sebastiani Vineyards, which has the world's largest collection of hand-carved casks.
n. See bin number.
n. [KAH-vah] Cava, which is Catalan for "cellar," is the official name for sparkling wine produced in northern
Spain and made in the traditional champagne method or méthode champenoise. In fact, more than 95% of
all cava is made in the Catalan region. FYI, cava isn't known for aging well, and usually should be drunk as
young as possible while it still retains its fruit flavors.
n. [KAHV] Cave is French for "cellar." You often see this word on French wines, as in "les Caves des
Hautes-Côtes." It also refers to the tunnels dug into the side of a hill and used as aging cellars, such as the 2
1/2 miles of sparkling wine caves bored into the hillside at Schramsberg in Napa Valley.
adj. A cedary wine is one whose aromas or flavors remind you of the smell of cedarwood. If you've ever had
a whiff of a new cigar box or cedar chest, you know the distinctive, aromatic smell. The descriptor is often
applied to Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux that have been aged in oak, which can impart the pleasant
cedary aroma. Port wine can also be described as cedary.
v. This is one of many terms that appear in small print on an American wine label, along with "produced and
bottled by" or "vinted and bottled by." "Cellared by" simply means that the winery stored the wine in its cellar
for an undisclosed period of time before it was bottled. What it doesn't tell you is who actually made the wine,
and it's an indication that the wine was probably purchased from another source. A more candid label is
"produced by" or "vinted by," which by law indicates that at least 75% of the wine actually was made by
whoever's name is on the label. If the label says "cellared by," though, it doesn't necessarily mean the wine
is good or bad—the Ravenswood winery in Sonoma, for example, produces a Vintner's Blend Zinfandel,
which is a blend of Zins made by other wineries.
n. A centrifuge is a machine that swirls the wine around at a high speed, allowing gravity to separate the
heavier particles of the wine, such as the dirt, dead yeast cells, and pulp. Using a centrifuge is one of several
ways of filtrating sediment out of a wine. Basically, it's like a washing machine on spin mode, with sediment
instead of clothes. Some winemakers swear by the process of centrifugation, claiming that a cleaner wine is
a better wine, while many others—particularly in Europe—believe that centrifuging strips the wine of its
character and flavor. Because centrifugation is such a fast and efficient means of filtration, lower-quality bulk
or "jug" wines are almost always filtered this way. See also cold stabilization, filtering, fining, racking, and
n. [SAY-pahj] The French term for the varietal (or varietals) present in a wine. For example, the classic
cépage of a Côte Blonde from Côte-Rôtie AC is predominantly Syrah and up to 20% Viognier.
n. [sham-PAHN-yah] Located 90 miles northeast of Paris, the Champagne region of France is where the
world's most famous and coveted sparkling wines are produced. Its cold climate and chalky soil typically
yield thin, acidic wines that, after refermenting in the bottle, gain a rich, toasty/yeasty complexity and
signature fine bubbles. Technically, the term "Champagne" can only be used for sparkling wine made in
geographical area of Champagne and only when all the strict A.C. rules are followed—including employing
the méthode champenoise for the secondary fermentation. Although most Champagne is white, the majority
of grapes used (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) are actually red, and are then blended with Chardonnay into a
"cuvée" of 40 or more different base wines that is eventually transformed in carbonated wine. There are
several different styles of Champagne: vintage Champagnes are made from the best grapes of an
exceptional harvest and are aged at least three years; non-vintage Champagne, which accounts for about
85% of all Champagnes, is a blend of two or more vintages, usually done to satisfy a Champagne house's
particular style; rosé Champagne is generally made by adding a small amount of red still wine to the cuvée;
blanc de noirs Champagne is made entirely from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes; blanc de blanc
Champagne is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes and is usually more delicate and lighter in color;
prestige cuvée is the créme de la cr&eacu te;me of Champagne and priced accordingly. Champagne is also
categorized by the amount of residual sugar; it ranges from bone-dry brut to dessert-like doux.
n. See méthode champenoise.
n. Chaptalization is the process of adding sugar before or during fermentation to boost the alcohol level of a
wine. It's usually done to compensate for underripe grapes grown in cooler climes, such as those found in
northern Europe. In most cases only enough sugar is added to increase the alcoholic content by 1% to 2%.
It's virtually undetectable and doesn't make the wine any sweeter because all the sugar is converted into
alcohol. The whole process is strictly governed by law, and is generally illegal in Italy, Germany, southern
France, and California (where it isn't needed anyway).
n. "Character" is a winespeak term you hear quite often, because every wine or varietal—just like every
person—has its own unique character. Think of a wine's character as the combination of qualities or features
that distinguish it from other wines, as in "The Chardonnay wines of Grgich Hills have a distinct character." A
Gewürztraminer, for example, has a very distinctive character; no other wine smells or tastes quite like it—
spicy, full-bodied, lightly acidic, and redolent of lychee and grapefruit. A seemingly endless range of
variables are responsible for creating a wine's unique character, including the grape varieties, the
microclimate, the winemaking methods, how long it was aged, and the like. See also characteristic.
adj. This oft-used term encompasses the combination of qualities or features that distinguish one wine from
another depending on its varietal, region, appellation, vineyard, climate, and so on. For example, "rich,
flavorful, tannic, and full-bodied" are all distinctive characteristics of a Cabernet Sauvignon. See also
n. [shar-BOH-noh] An obscure black grape whichever way you slice it, Charbono is the Californian name for
a virtually extinct French variety called Corbeau, also known as Charbonneau, itself a synonym of Douce
Noire, which evidently is the same as Italy's Dolcetto. The scant amount of Charbono grown in California's
Napa and Mendocino Valleys yields very dark wines that feature vibrant cherry fruit or lackluster flavors
(depending on your point of view), tingling acidity, gruff tannins, and more than a passing resemblance to
n. This classic white grape varietal originally gained fame in the French vineyards of Burgundy and
Champagne, where it still produces some of the world's finest white wines. In fact, Chardonnay holds the
same lofty position of importance for white wines that Cabernet Sauvignon does for reds. In part, this is due
to its admirable adaptability to diverse climates—from the cool climes of Champagne to the searing heat of
southeast Australia. Its versatility also matches its popularity, for Chardonnay responds favorably to the
widest range of winemaking techniques and styles of any white wine varietal (particularly malolactic
fermentation, which gives Chardonnay rich, creamy, and buttery characteristics). Chardonnay is also a
cooper's (barrelmaker) dream: This varietal has been so closely aligned with the flavor of oak through small
barrel fermentation and maturation that many consumers believe the taste and bouquet of oak and
Chardonnay are one and the same. In general, wines made from Chardonnay grapes are full-bodied, rich in
fruit, moderately high in alcohol, and have medium to medium-high acidity. Flavor characteristics in cool
climates such as Chablis lean toward green apple, citrus, and lemon notes, a steely character, and high
acidity. Chardonnay grown in warmer conditions produces flavors and aromas that tend toward tropical fruit
notes of pineapple and mango, or ripe apple, pear, and peach. Perhaps no other varietal other than
Cabernet Sauvignon has met with so much success outside of its geographic origin as Chardonnay.
Excellent examples are found in Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, South Africa,
California, the Pacific Northwest, Argentina, and Chile, to name just a few. In fact, there are more than 700
Chardonnay producers in the U.S. alone. Chardonnay pairs well with a wide array of foods, including
shellfish (shrimp, scallops, lobster) and milder fish, poultry, pork, and sautéed foods with buttery or creamy
sauces. Chardonnay is one of the five white wines (the others are Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc,
and Sémillon) that make up the nine classic varietals (there are four red classic varietals: Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir).
adj. [SHAR-mah] Charmat, or tank method, is the process of turning inexpensive bulk wine into inexpensive
bulk sparkling wine. For good sparkling wine, the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, while the
cheap stuff you guzzle at weddings ferments in huge tanks using the tank method, bulk method, cuve close
(French for "closed tank"), or charmat method. Here's how it works: Yeast, sugar, and a lot of (usually)
inexpensive white wine are thrown together in a several-thousand-gallon tank, which is then sealed for a few
weeks to allow the wine to ferment under pressure (hence, all those carbon dioxide bubbles). The wine is
then filtered and bottled under pressure and slapped with a label that, by law, must say either "charmat" or
"bulk" (as opposed to "méthode champenoise" or "fermented in this bottle"). You can usually tell you're
drinking charmat-style sparkling wine if the bubbles are larger than bottle-fermented sparkling wine. The
process was named after its inventor, Frenchman Eugene Charmat.
adj. [SHA-toe] Château is French for "castle" or "mansion," but when applied to wine, it means the place
where the wine was made—the vineyard, winery, bottling facility, and all. The American equivalent is
"estate," as in "estate-bottled," while Burgundy wineries use the "domaine" title. Most bottles of Bordeaux
say, "mis en bouteille au château," meaning the wine was made and bottled at the château, which is often
pictured on the label. This is not necessarily a term of distinction, since there are about 8,000 châteaux in the
Bordeaux region, but it does guarantee at least a certain level of quality. See also clos, cru, and negociant.
adj. [SHEN-in BLAWN] The white Chenin Blanc grape earned its fame from long-lived wines such as
Vouvray and Coteaux du Layon from France's Loire Valley, which produces the world's finest Chenin Blancs.
This dense green grape typically produces crisp, medium-bodied wines that are moderate in alcohol and
medium-high to high in acidity; both sweet and sparkling wines are made from Chenin Blanc as well. Wines
made solely from Chenin Blanc are very perfumed, with aromas of honey, flowers, wet straw, smoke, and
wet wool. Flavor characteristics include ripe apple, pear, peach, and soft honeyed notes, and high-quality
Chenin Blanc can have a long, lingering finish of sweet fruit. Some styles of the wine have the ability to age
for decades due to searingly high acidity levels and high residual sugar. The varietal has met with limited
success outside of France despite the vast amount planted in South Africa and California (which together
produce more Chenin Blanc than all of France). In fact, with the exception of a few producers in California
and New Zealand, Chenin Blanc is rarely allowed to reach its quality potential. Rather, more often large
corporations grow it for use as a blending material for making cheap table wines. Sweet-styles wines are well
paired with baked fruit tarts and ripe cheeses, while dryer versions are suited to seafood, game, and spicy
Asian dishes. Chenin Blanc is one of the five white wines (the others are Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon
Blanc, and Sémillon) that make up the nine classic varietals (there are four red classic varietals: Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir).
adj. This is a complimentary term that's easy to remember: just think of a wine being so thick and viscous
that you have to chew it before swallowing. A chewy wine is one that is unusually thick, rich, and full-bodied
due to a high alcohol and tannin content.
adj. Yes, in winespeak, cigar box is an adjective, used to describe wine that has a cedarwood aroma, since
all fine cigar boxes are made with Spanish cedarwood. The term can also be used for a wine that has the
fragrance of cigar tobacco (that heavenly aroma that comes from opening a well-stocked cigar box). The
descriptor is often applied to Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly those from Bordeaux.
Cinsault or Cinsaut
n. [[SAWN-soh] Grown extensively in southern France, particularly the Languedoc-Roussillon region, this
red grape varietal is popular due to its ability to flourish in hot weather. It produces light-bodied wines
(particularly rosés) with high acidity, low tannins, neutral fruit flavors, and little character. To balance its
deficiencies, the French often blend it with Grenache or Carignan. In the southern Rhône, though, Cinsault
grapes yields are kept low, which results in more flavorful and concentrated wines. Cinsault is also widely
grown in South Africa, where it's also used as a blending wine. FYI, circa 1925, the South Africans
successfully crossed Cinsault with the Pinot Noir grape to create the Pinotage varietal.
n. [KLAIR-et] Back when big ol' Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine, part of her dowry included her
vineyards in Bordeaux. The red wines that came from there were referred to by the English as claret (taken
from the French word clairet, a lighter style of red Bordeaux). To this day, red wines from Bordeaux are still
known as claret in Britain. The term was also once used to market generic red wines made in California but
has since been replaced with less codified labels such as "Red Burgundy."
v. One of the procedures of making wine involves clarifying the wine to remove any unwanted sediments—
grape pulp, dirt, dead yeast cells, etc. Clarifying is done through several methods—racking, fining, filtering,
centrifugation, and cold stabilization—and at various stages of the winemaking process, right up to the
moment when the wine is bottled. How much a wine should be clarified is an ongoing debate among
winemakers, but a general consensus is that bottled wine should at least be clear and sediment free. See
also centrifuge, cold stabilization, filtering, fining, and racking.
n. In winespeak, clarity refers to the level of a wine's clearness. Whether it's in the bottle or in a wineglass,
wine should always be clear, clean, and sediment free. The tasting term used to describe a crystal-clear
wine is "brilliant" or "bright." The opposite—and what you don't want—is a wine whose clarity ranks as dull,
hazy, or cloudy. Don't confuse clarity with the lightness or darkness of a wine—a Cabernet Sauvignon, for
example, can be dark in color but still very clear.
n. Classic varietal refers to the nine varietals considered classic due to their high quality and their ability to
be transplanted in the widest geographical and climatic conditions (while maintaining their identifiable varietal
character and significant quality). There are five white classic varietals: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling,
Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir hold that position for the
n. The codification of wine quality within a region or appellation, such as the famous "1855 Classification of
Medoc," which was originally a guided shopping list presented to Napoleon III by the Bordeaux Chamber of
Commerce. Today, the opinions and reviews of wine journalists and critics have, in many cases, replaced
the importance of official classification.
adj. A clean wine is one that doesn't have any discernible defects; that is, it doesn't smell, taste, or appear
"off" or unpleasant. This term is often used with wine descriptors such as "fruity," "attractive," "fresh,"
"fragrant," and "crisp." A clean wine isn't necessarily an accomplished or interesting wine, just one that
doesn't have any noticeable flaws.
n. In botanical parlance, a clone is a subdivision of a grape varietal. Just as grape varieties differ from each
other, vines of the same varietal can have, for better or worse, individual characteristics. For example, one
clone of Chardonnay may ripen faster than another clone of Chardonnay grown in identical conditions, while
others may be more disease resistant or produce higher yields. Grape growers asexually reproduce the
vines exhibiting the best genetic qualities by taking cuttings from the mother plant and grafting them to a
phylloxera-resistant rootstock (this is usually done at a vine nursery). This process gives growers the ability
to plant genetically identical clones best suited for their specific vineyards.
n. [KLOH] French for a "walled vineyard," the term clos is commonly incorporated into the names of many
vineyard sites in France, as well as a few wineries in the United States and other countries. In France,
particularly Burgundy, the name may be used only if a vineyard is—or once was—surrounded by walls of
stone. These clos were carefully divided by Cistercian and Benedictine monks based on minute differences
in soil types and growing conditions, such as Clos de la Roche, Clos de Tart, and Clos de Vougeot.
closed or closed in
adj. If a wine isn't living up to its potential, perhaps because it is still too young and undeveloped, it's said to
be closed or closed in. When a Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, isn't releasing or "opening" the aromas or
flavors characteristic of that varietal, it may be closed in. Allowing the wine to breathe may help open it up,
but usually the only solution is to age the wine longer. The term mainly applies to young red wines. See also
adj. A wine is considered cloudy if there is enough sediment floating around in it to noticeably affect the
clarity. In old wines, a little cloudiness is expected, but cloudiness or haziness in a young wine is a bad sign,
indicating the wine may be spoiled or poorly made.
adj. A wine that is cloying is considered overly sweet, much like diluted honey. This pejorative term is used
to describe dessert wines such as Muscat that don't have enough acidity to balance out the sweetness and
thus leave an unpleasantly heavy, saccharine feeling in your mouth.
adj. A coarse wine is one that lacks finesse—it tastes harsh or crudely made, or it has too much tannin and
a rough texture. A wine made from excessively pressed grapes, for example, will have a far more coarse
texture than one made from free-run juices.
n. Cold stabilization is a way of clarifying wine to remove unwanted tartrate crystals and ensure that the
wine is properly stabilized (hence the name). It's a common procedure for many white wines and a relatively
simple process: The wine is chilled almost to its freezing point, which causes the tartrates to precipitate out
of the wine. The remaining wine is then racked off. By the way, those crystals you occasionally see on the
cork show that the wine wasn't cold-stabilized, since cold stabilization eliminates the tartrates that appear as
crystals. See also centrifuge, filtering, fining, racking, and clarify.
Colombard or Colombar
adj. [KAHL-uhm-BARD or KAHL-uhm-BAR] The white Colombard grape is traditionally used to make an
acidic, thin wine for distilling into Cognac and Armagnac. In southwest France, it's also made into a light,
soft, fruity table wine that is inexpensive and meant for early drinking. The grape has also adapted well in the
hot Central Valley vineyards of California, where it's called French Colombard. In fact, it's one of California's
most widely planted grapes. The California version is usually blended with Chenin Blanc to make moderately
dry, fruity, and crisp jug wines and inexpensive sparkling wines. Colombard is also popular in warmer climes
of Australia and South Africa. Regardless of its origin, most Colombard wines should be drunk young and
may start to fade after three or four years.
adj. If you hear wine tasters say, "Wow! This wine's got a lot going on!" or "This wine just won't quit!," what
they're really saying is that the wine is complex. The term is what every maker of fine wine strives for—it
describes a multidimensional wine that exhibits several layers of aromas and flavors, yet has achieved
perfect balance and finesse. A complex Zinfandel, for example, may combine aromas ranging from
blackberry and plum to pepper and earth - all in one sip.
adj. This is a complimentary winespeak term, synonymous with "dense," for wines that have condensed
aromas and flavors, as opposed to those that are watery or diluted. A quality Cabernet Sauvignon, for
example, should have concentrated fruit flavors that give it richness and depth. The term is often used with
such wine descriptors as "rich" and "complex."
n. A cooperage refers to wooden barrels, casks, tanks, vats, and other containers used to ferment and
mature wines. The term comes from the word "cooper"—a craftsman who makes or repairs wooden barrels.
n. If you bring your own bottle of wine into a restaurant, chances are you'll be charged a corkage fee, which
usually ranges from $5 to $30 depending on the attitude of the establishment. The fee is used to pay for the
waiter's service and for the use of the glassware; it's also a means of discouraging patrons from bringing
their own wine (since most restaurants sell their wines at double the retail price). It's considered bad form to
bring a bottle that's already on the menu (makes you look cheap), so be sure to call ahead and confirm that
the wine you plan to bring isn't already on the wine list.
corked or corky
adj. A wine that is corked imparts a dull, musty, moldy, wet-cardboard-like smell and taste. If you drink a lot
of wine, there's a good chance you've encountered this, since it's not all that rare (about three out of every
100 bottles, or so say those who keep track of such things). It's not unhealthy, but a corked wine is certainly
unpalatable. The culprit is trichloroanisole, a mold caused by the improper use of chlorine on cork bark or
wood (and is yet another argument for plastic corks). A little-known fact: the life span of a healthy cork is
about 20 years; after that, a bottle needs to be recorked.
n. [KRAY-mont] Champagne isn't the only region in France where sparkling wine is made. To avoid
confusion (and civil war), many of the other French sparkling-wine producers who also use the traditional
méthode champenoise label their bubbly as Crémant, which means "creaming wine." A bottle of sparkling
wine from the Alsace region of France, for example, is labeled "Crémant d'Alsace." Burgundy, Bordeaux, and
the Loire Valley also have their own versions of Crémant.
adj. "Crisp" is a tasting term usually applied to dry, light-bodied white wines that are pleasantly acidic or
brisk. Drinking a crisp wine provides a sensation akin to biting into a fresh green apple - the taste is slightly
tart but in a savory sort of way. The finish of a crisp wine is very clean and doesn't linger on the palate the
way heavy reds do. Other tasting terms you tend to hear along with crisp are "lively," "young," and "fresh."
n. [KROO] Cru is French for "growth" or "vineyard" and is used as a means of classifying France's most
distinguished wines or wine estates. This extremely complicated and politically regulated classification
system originated in 1855 as a way of ranking Bordeaux's best wineries. Out of the thousands of wineries
that existed back then, only 61 were—and still are—given the distinction of being in the best class, Cru
Classé, and even those 61 were placed into five subcategories (First Growth, Second Growth, etc.). The very
best Burgundy vineyards are divided into Grand Cru and Premier Cru, and from there it only gets more
complicated. For simplicity's sake, just remember that a Cru Classé wine is generally superior to—and more
expensive than—most other French wines.
n. or v. In winespeak, crush is both a noun and a verb. It's the time of season when the grapes are
harvested and crushed (as in, "Will you be around for the crush this year?"), and it's also the process of
crushing and/or pressing the grapes to release their juices.
n. [cue-VAY] Cuvée is French for the contents of a wine vat or tank, but it's more commonly used to refer to
a particular batch or blend of wine (which may fill numerous vats or tanks). A winemaker will sometimes give
an especially distinctive or high-quality cuvée a lofty title such as Cuvée de Reserve or Cuvée Prestige.
v. When you decant a wine or port, you pour it directly from the bottle into a glass container, usually a
decanter. There are several reasons for decanting a wine: to separate the bitter sediment (or bits of broken
cork) from the wine, to allow the wine to breathe, and to impress your friends. The process of decanting is
quite simple, but first you need to know if the wine needs decanting (most whites and many reds do not), and
if it does, for how long (fragile, elderly reds can be ruined in minutes). Prior to decanting, the bottle must be
left upright for at least a day to allow the sediment to settle. When it's time to decant, pour the wine smoothly
and steadily— to avoid stirring up the sediment—while using a candle or flashlight to illuminate the bottle
from the bottom (so you can see the sediment clearly through the dark glass). See also aeration and lees.
n. A glass or crystal container in which to decant and then pour wine. A decanter is large enough to hold at
least one standard bottle of wine and is often decorated with wine-related etchings. There are many different
sizes and styles of decanters, ranging from handblown crystal objets d'art decorated with fine etchings to the
plain ol' glass kind. Makes a great wedding gift.
adj. "Deep"—as in profound—is a descriptive term that is almost always used in conjunction with specific
wine components, such as deep color, deep concentration, deep dark opaque, and deep bouquet. See also
adj. Light- to medium-bodied wines that have a pleasantly mild flavor and texture, such as Riesling and
Trebbiano, can be referred to favorably as being delicate. You don't want to serve delicate wines at a
barbecue, for example, because a delicate wine lacks the concentration (or "punch") to break through the
heavy sauces. A meaty, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel would be more appropriate.
adj. Translating roughly from French as "moderately sweet" or "medium sweet," demi-sec is one of six
terms used to indicate the sweetness of Champagne, in ascending order: extra brut (totally dry), brut, extra
dry, sec, demi-sec, and doux (sweet). It's a bit of a misnomer, though, because demi-sec is actually sweeter
than sec, which is only slightly sweet.
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
n. [day-NOM-ay-na-zee-OH-nay dee Oh-REE-gee-nay kahn-troll-AHT-ta] Meaning "controlled place-name,"
this is the system used to regulate the Italian wine industry. It's similar to France's Appellation d'Origine
Contrôlée (AOC) in that it's supposed to set winemaking standards and guarantee a certain level of quality,
though this hasn't always been the case. DOCG (short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
or "controlled and guaranteed place-name") wines rank higher than DOC wines and are considered the
aristocracy of Italian wines (an example would be Chianti Classico DOCG). Together, DOC and DOCG make
up about 20% of Italy's wine production; the remainder are lumped together as vino de tavola ("table wine")
or, more recently, IGT (Indicazione di Geografica Tipica, or "table wine of geographic indication").
adj. Synonymous with "concentrated," the term "dense" describes a wine that has condensed aromas and
flavors, as opposed to watery or diluted ones. It's often used with wine descriptors such as "rich" and
n. A multidimensional wine with multiple layers of flavor and aroma is said to have depth. It's much like a
person—someone who's deep will hold your attention a lot longer than a shallow person. You'll often hear
wine tasters bestow compliments such as "depth of flavor," "richness and depth," or "depth and complexity."
See also deep.
n. Dessert wine is a broad category of wines that are customarily sweet. Port, sherry, Sauternes, and
Madeira are all considered dessert wines. In reality, the term is rather misleading, because not all dessert
wines taste sweet or are intended to follow the main course (consider the sublime combination of foie gras,
an appetizer, and Sauternes, traditionally considered a dessert wine, for instance).
adj. In winespeak, this refers to the foul or "off" odors emitted by a wine. Dirty odors can come from a
number of sources, including poorly cleaned barrels, unsterilized bottles, or bad corks.
v. Disgorgement occurs in the final stages of méthode champenoise, when a Champagne is ready to be
corked. During the riddling process, pressure within the bottle causes sediment to accumulate within the
neck. To remove these lees, the neck is flash frozen using an extremely cold brine solution. The cork is then
removed, which allows the pressurized bottle to disgorge the solid plug of ice and sediment. The
Champagne is then topped off with dosage, re-corked, caged, and cellared. These steps are often performed
very quickly and efficiently on an automated bottling line.
n. Acronym for Denominazione di Origine Controllata.
n. Acronym for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.
n. [dohl-CHEHT-toh] An early ripening, low-acid red grape variety cultivated in Piedmont in northwest Italy,
Dolcetto yields a ruby-purple wine at once fragrant, soft, and fruitsome, both designed and destined to be
consumed within several years of release. While low in acidity and therefore dolce (sweet) per the
Piedmontese, Dolcetto (little sweet one) can have forbidding tannins. There are seven Dolcetto DOCs in
Piedmont: Acqui, Alba, Asti, Diano d'Alba, Dogliani, Langhe Monregalesi, and Ovada, with licorice-and-
almond Alba regarded to be the best. Whichever way you cut it, Dolcetto is not the Beaujolais of Italy!
n. This French word for "estate" is used mainly to add a note of distinction to a winery's name, such as
Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, or Domaine de Chevalier. It's generally applied to winery estates in
the Burgundy region of France in order to differentiate between individually owned estates and negociant
wines, whereas "château" is used more frequently in Bordeaux. See also clos.
n. [doe-ZAHGE] During the final stages of méthode champenoise, after the lees have been disgorged and
the bottle is ready to be corked, a small amount of dosage—a mixture of sugar, wine, and sometimes
brandy—is added to the Champagne to top it off and to add sweetness. The dryness of the Champagne
depends on the sweetness of the dosage.
adj. [DOO] Doux is French for "sweet" and is used to describe sparkling wine or Champagne that has a
sweet taste (as opposed to "brut," which is applied to dry Champagne). In fact, Champagne doesn't come
any sweeter than doux.
adj. Commit this to memory, because it's a winespeak term that you'll hear quite often: Dry is the opposite
of sweet. Technically, it describes a wine that has less than 0.5% sugar content—so little you can't taste it,
because almost all of the grape's natural sugar has been converted into alcohol during fermentation. The
wine may have a fruity aroma, but it won't register as fruity-sweet to your taste buds, so don't confuse the
two. Ninety-five percent of all wine is technically dry. Wine that is slightly sweet is referred to as off-dry. An
aside, dry is also used to describe tannic and astringent red wines that leave your mouth feeling dry or
v. A wine that is losing its fruity flavors to the extent that the tannin, acid, and alcohol start to overwhelm the
taste is said to be drying out. This usually happens to older wines that have been aged too long; there is no
way to salvage them.
adj. A dull wine is exactly what you would expect: uninteresting, boring, one-dimensional, flat, and lacking
flavor or character. On rare occasions, a dull ugly duckling of a wine will emerge years later as an elegant
swan, but more than likely you're stuck with bad vino. Dull can also pertain to a wine's clarity, meaning that it
lacks brightness or brilliance.
adj. We're not talking about the stupid kind of dumb, but rather the mute sort. Dumb is the same thing as
closed—a wine that isn't releasing or "opening" the aromas or flavors characteristic of that varietal. A dumb
wine is unable to "speak" to you. Either the wine is too undeveloped and needs to bottle age further, or it's
simply being served at too cold a temperature. FYI, don't assume your waiter knows what this wine term
adj. A tasting term that can refer to either unclean stemwear, or the dusty, earthy notes and bouquet
reminiscent of cellars.
adj. "Earthy" is a winetasting term for wines that have the aroma or bouquet and flavors reminiscent of
certain kinds of soil or vegetation, such as damp soil, dry leaves, and mushrooms. To many wine drinkers,
faint amounts of these earthy scents or flavors are pleasing. Earthy, however, can also describe wines that
are funky and unrefined or that have an unappetizing overt smell and taste of minerals and soil. See also
n. [ICE-vine] Eiswein—German for "ice wine"—is a category of wine defined by German wine law. Eiswein is
made from grapes that are very high in natural sugar content, but aren't concentrated through the effect of
Botrytis cinerea. They derive their sweetness from grapes freezing on the vine in November or later (hence
the name). The sweet grape juice is separated from the frozen water molecules during early morning
pressings of the frozen berries, resulting in wine that is high in acidity and residual sugar (and highly sought
adj. A wine achieves a degree of elegance when all its components come into balance, resulting in perfect
(or nearly so) quality, grace, flavor, and finesse. A wine that lacks elegance would be too intense or tannic or
too heavy on the palate, as if it were trying to force its flavors on you. Wine tasters often couple "elegant"
with other complimentary terms such as "delicate," "harmonious," and "breed."
n. [ALE-vahj] This French winemaking term doesn't translate directly into English ("raising" or "rearing" come
close), but it roughly refers to a series of cellar operations after fermentation and before bottling—
clarification, blending, fining, filtering, racking, etc.—intended to improve, mature, and care for the wine.
Élevage of certain high-quality wines can be extremely labor intensive and time consuming. For example, the
typical length of élevage for a top Pomerol such as "le Pin"—one of the most expensive wines in the world—
could last anywhere from 16 to 22 months.
adj. If a wine lacks flavor, it's considered hollow. But if a wine is devoid of any sort of flavor, body, or
complexity, it's described as empty—a winemaker's worst nightmare. The culprit is usually a poor or
mismanaged grape harvest. See also hollow.
n. [AHN-say-pahj-MON] This French term refers to the various grape varietals planted on a particular estate.
It's often used when speaking of properties in Bordeaux, as in "The encepagement for Haut Brion is 55%
Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 23% Merlot." This doesn't mean that the wine produced at
the estate is necessarily in direct proportion to its encepagement; the exact conditions of each grape
varietal—rather than the percentage planted—determine the proportion of the varietals used in the final
n. [ee-NOLL-ah-jee] The science and study of wine and winemaking. Enology, or oenology, covers every
aspect of the winemaking process, from the pressing, crushing, and fermenting of grapes to the bottling and
aging of wine. Today there is a greater understanding that winemaking truly begins in the vineyard; because
of this, many authorities consider that enology includes the practice of viticulture. A person who practices
enology is an enologist [ee-NOLL-ah-jist].
n. [AHN pray-MURE] The French term for selling wine in the form of futures contracts—that is, before it is
bottled. The en primeur market isn't limited to Bordeaux wines, but certainly has its origins and greatest
adj. This term, which appears on the front label of many wines, indicates that the winery was responsible
for both growing the grapes (as opposed to buying them from an outside source) and making and bottling the
wine. Estate bottling usually implies a high level of consistency and quality, but even a jug wine can make
this claim if it fits the description. For a wine to be classified as estate-bottled, both the winery and the
vineyards must be located in the same viticultural area. The winery might not own the vineyard, but it
probably has a long-term lease to oversee the vineyard operations. European versions of the term include
"château-bottled" and "domaine bottled."
n. [eh-SCHTOO-fa] Portuguese for "stove," estufa refers to the hothouses where Madeira is made. Heated
tanks or stoves are used to mimic the beneficial effects of heat-induced maturation that once took place on
Madeira wines stored in the sweltering holds of 17th century ships bound for the Americas. The use of the
heating process—called estufaguem—virtually ensures that Madeira is almost indestructible and will remain
in perfect condition for many decades, even centuries.
n. A descriptive tasting term that refers to a bouquet reminiscent of the eucalyptus tree. It's found most often
in red wines made from Bordeaux varietals that hail from vineyards surrounded by the very same tree.
n. Extract refers to all the solids in a wine that have dissolved in the liquid, such as the sugars, minerals, and
some acids. In other words, it's everything that would be left in the bottle if you let the wine completely
evaporate. A wine said to be high in extract is usually heavy and rich, and probably tannic as well, due to the
high percentage of soluble elements.
adj. Another step on the sweetness-level scale associated with Champagne. Starting on the low end with
brut zéro, the scale ascends to brut nature, extra brut, and brut sauvage (all of which are bone-dry), then brut
(dry), extra dry (a hint of sweetness), sec (slightly sweet), demi-sec (moderately sweet), and doux (the
sweetest of all). Why extra dry is sweeter than brut is a mystery to everyone but Francophiles. The only
types of sparkling wine you're likely to see at the store are brut, extra dry, and demi-sec, of which brut is far
and away the most popular. FYI, table wine that's slightly sweet is referred to as off-dry.
adj. When you bite into a hunk of fat, it leaves a definite impression or aftertaste in your mouth. A fat wine
has similar characteristics. It's full-bodied, rich, and high in fruit and glycerin (a complex alcohol that gives
wine its viscosity). For sweet wines, fat indicates the wine is almost, but not quite, cloying. See also thin.
adj. Some may consider this a sexist term, but nonetheless, it's one that is often used to describe quality
wines. Feminine indicates a degree of finesse, style, and a lighter character, with a definite lack of heaviness
or severity. Champagne is often described in this manner, as in "This Bollinger R.D. is very masculine in
style, while the Dom Pérignon has a lighter, more feminine character."
n. Fermentation is what turns ordinary grape juice into wine. It's a completely natural process in which
yeast—one-celled microorganisms that are naturally present on the skin of grapes—convert the grape's
sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The process can take anywhere from a few days to several months,
during which time carbon dioxide and heat are released as a by-product. For dry wines, fermentation ends
when all the sugar is converted into alcohol. For sweeter wines such as port, the vintner will halt the process
prematurely by adding more alcohol in the form of a neutral grape brandy, which kills the yeast at levels
above 16% and allows some sugars to remain unfermented. Fermentation was traditionally done in wooden
vats, barrels, or neutral tanks. Today, for wines that do not require barrel fermentation, many wineries use
huge stainless steel tanks that allow precise temperature control. See also carbonic maceration and
n. When a vineyard is planted with two or more grape varieties that are then harvested and blended to
make a single wine, the wine is referred to as a field blend—that is, a wine made "in the field." Blending two
or more grape varietals used to be common in many regions—such as Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon
—but it's becoming a rare practice. A few California vineyards are planted with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah as
well; Elyse Wine Cellars in Rutherford, California, for one, makes a Zinfandel-Petite Sirah blend using the
n. "Fighting varietals" is a marketing term for classical varietals made in an inexpensive fashion and
varietal-labeled rather than geographically labeled (a California Chardonnay as opposed to a Chassagne-
Montrachet, for example). These wines are usually inexpensive, yet superior to jug-wine varietals. Many New
World regions have made their entry to the market through inexpensive fighting varietals.
n. Along with racking, fining, centrifugation, and cold stabilization, filtering is one method of clarifying wine.
The wine is passed through a paper or synthetic filter, which removes unwanted sediments—grape pulp, dirt,
dead yeast cells, etc. Though filtering is one of the fastest and easiest ways to clarify wine, some
winemakers —particularly those in Europe—claim that it strips the wine of its character and flavor.
n. A term used to describe a wine that has both complexity and elegance as well as perfect balance,
refinement, and delicacy. It is essentially synonymous with "elegance" and is often used with other
complimentary descriptors such as "distinguished," "beauty," and "breed."
n. Fining is one of the methods used to clarify wine, along with racking, filtering, centrifugation, and cold
stabilization. Shortly after fermentation, a fining agent (consisting of coagulants such as powdered clay,
whipped egg whites, powdered milk, and gelatin) is poured into the barrel or cask. As it slowly sinks to the
bottom, it attaches to the soluble particles in the wine and drags them down. The clarified wine is then drawn
off. Fining can be a slow, tedious process—some poor soul has to separate and whip hundreds of eggs—but
it's also a traditional and time-honored method, and used in almost every winemaking region today. As with
filtering and centrifugation, fining has a few detractors who feel wine should achieve clarity naturally.
n. Also referred to as "aftertaste," a wine's finish consists of the flavor and impressions that linger in your
mouth after you've swallowed the wine. As a general rule, the better the wine, the longer—and more
enjoyable—the finish. See also aftertaste.
n. [FEE-no] Along with oloroso, fino is one of the two main styles of sherry from Jerez, Spain, and is widely
considered the world's finest sherry. Fino is a pale, delicate, and bone-dry sherry that typically has a tangy,
slightly salty flavor and the aroma of almonds and yeast. Its alcoholic strength ranges from 15.5% to 17%,
and is preserved from aging via a naturally-forming yeast called flor. Fino is usually served chilled as an
apéritif. FYI, fino sherry shouldn't be aged because it won't improve with age and may lose its vitality.
adj. In winespeak, firm is that sought-after plateau between soft and tough. A white wine, for example, is
considered flawed if it has too much acidity (making its bite unpleasantly strong) or not enough (in which
case it's flabby). The goal of the winemaker is to achieve the perfect balance of acidity, so that the wine is
neither wimpy nor brawny but attractively firm. The same goes for red wine, though its firmness derives from
tannic astringency rather than acidity.
n. "First growth" is the English translation of the French term premier cru, which is the highest of five tiers in
the ranking of Bordeaux's finest wineries. (Just below this is an unofficial list of "super seconds," not to be
confused with second growths.) The five first-growth châteaux (and their wines) are superior to the 14
second-growth châteaux wineries, and so on. For a more detailed explanation of this arcane and bewildering
form of winery hierarchy, see cru.
adj. The gray area between flat and firm is known as flabby—a flabby wine has some acidity but not
enough to give it body and firmness. As a result, the fruit flavors tend to overwhelm the wine and cause it to
taste dull and fleshy (meaning it doesn't have any bite).
adj. Flat is the opposite of firm. It's a pejorative term for wine that lacks all kinds of things, including
liveliness, depth, flavor, and body. A flat, dull wine results from a disastrously low level of acidity, which is
crucial for counterbalancing a wine's fatty elements and giving it a crisp aftertaste. Flat is also used to
describe sparkling wine that has lost its fizz.
n. In winetasting, flavor embodies a wine's sensory impression of taste, bouquet, and/or aroma. Flavor
relays the true character and identity of a wine to the taster.
adj. A fleshy wine has loads of concentrated fruit flavors. Rich, super-ripe, big, smooth, soft, and full-
bodied—all characterize a fleshy wine. FYI, unlike in real life, fleshy is almost always used as a compliment.
n. A flight is a series of wines presented for tasting, either by year (a vertical tasting) or by varietal (a
horizontal tasting), as in "We tasted a vertical flight of Joseph Phelps "Insignia" from 1980-85."
adj. You know when you're trying to get your empty Zippo lighter to work and all that comes out is that
stinky spark? That's the smell of flint burning, an acrid aroma that supposedly occurs in dry white wines
made from grapes that were grown in cool regions with limestone-rich soil, such as French Chablis and
many white wines from the Loire Valley (Pouilly Fumé in particular). Wines that smell flinty often taste stony
or minerally as well. Yes, it seems rather unappetizing, but it's actually a sought-after quality for French white
floral or flowery
adj. Wines that emit the fragrance of flowers are said to have a floral or flowery bouquet. This aroma is
usually found in white wines, particularly Rieslings.
n. A wine is considered fortified if alcohol has been added to it. Non-fortified wine already has about 11% to
14% alcohol, and the addition of brandy or natural spirits raises the level to anywhere from 15% to 21%.
Alcohol is added for several reasons: 1) to stop the fermentation process, thereby increasing the sugar
content; 2) to stabilize the wine, which makes it far less likely to spoil even when uncorked; and 3) to add
some kick. The most popular fortified wines—a.k.a. dessert wine or liqueur wine—are port, Madeira, and
adj. Some wines need to be aged before they reveal their full potential, while others are engineered to
mature quickly and be drunk while still young. The latter are called forward wines, because their
development has been moved up, or forward. Such wines tend to be much fruitier, since the more complex
and subtle flavors haven't had as much time to emerge. A forward wine is a precocious wine, you might say.
adj. Foxy is used to describe the aroma and flavor of wines made from the Vitis labrusca grape, which is
native to North America. The consensus among wine experts is that Vitis labrusca makes a great jam but a
lousy wine. The origin of the terms "foxy" and "foxy wine" is steeped in ambiguity, though all agree that foxy
is anything but complimentary. Musky, grapey, soapy, and like nail varnish are among the many
characteristics ascribed to the feral grape.
adj. Free-run juice is the juice released from the grape as it is being crushed, before the skins and pulp are
pressed to squeeze out the remaining juice (called press wine). For white wines, free-run juice is immediately
separated from the press wine, which is usually blended in later to give the delicate free-run wine some
backbone. For red wines, free-run refers to the newly fermented wine that is drawn off the fermenting tank
before the cap is pressed down into the wine. Either way, free-run juice is considered the "good stuff," the
equivalent of extra virgin olive oil, and is used to make the winery's finest vino.
n. When a winery claims that its wines are aged in French oak, it's referring to wood barrels made from the
oak forests of France. French oak barrels cost as much as $600 a pop; hold about 50 gallons (225 liters); are
considered the finest in the world; are renowned for improving a wine's texture and character; and impart
vanilla, oak, and butterscotch aromas. In Bordeaux, the French oak barrel is referred to as a barrique (bah-
REEK), and in Burgundy as pièce (pea-ESS). See also American oak and oaky.
n. French Paradox refers to the paradox that the French seemingly eat foods higher in fat and cholesterol,
yet somehow live longer than populations who eat "healthier" but who do not consume wine like the French.
The term was made famous during the television broadcast of 60 Minutes that investigated the premise of
the book The French Paradox and Beyond, Live Longer with Wine and the Mediterranean Lifestyle, written
by Lewis Perdue.
adj. In winespeak, fresh is the opposite of stale. A fresh wine is one that is lively, fruity, pleasantly acidic,
and refreshing. The term is usually applied to young white or light-bodied red wines, as well as rosés.
adj. [freet-TSAHN-tay] The Italian term for slightly sparkling, these wines are made by a partial secondary
fermentation in stainless-steel tanks, and as a result have less pressure than fully sparkling spumante wines.
adj. This is an easy one: If the wine smells or tastes like fruit, it's considered fruity. Raspberry, strawberry,
boysenberry, blackberry, gooseberry, loganberry, blueberry, mulberry, prune, pear, peach, pineapple, apple,
apricot, black currant, fig, cherry, and plum are among the many fruity aromas that are typically present in
wines. What is more complicated is why a wine has fruity aromas, since the only fruit that's actually present
is grape. It's an amazing process, really: As grape juice ferments into wine, a complex interaction occurs
between the wine's alcohol and organic acids, which in turn creates compounds that imitate the aromas and
flavors of other fruits. For the record, a really fruity wine is called meaty, a really really fruity wine is called
fleshy, and a really really really fruity wine is called fat.
adj. See body.
n. Futures refers to wine purchased before it is bottled. The Bordeaux futures market, called the en primeur
market, is the best example of futures in wine.
n. [GAMM-ay] Grown extensively in the Beaujolais district of Burgundy, the Gamay grape is the only varietal
used to make the red wines of Beaujolais. The varietal produces a light red wine that is exceptionally fruity
and fresh with moderately high acidity and low tannin and alcohol. It's best known as the grape responsible
for Beaujolais nouveau, a young, fruity wine made and bottled right after harvest and released to an
anticipating audience in the third Thursday of November (it's truly one of the wine world's great cash crops).
In fact, Beaujolais nouveau has made the varietal famous throughout the world, and in turn has inspired
winemakers to produce higher quality Gamay. Although best known as a young-drinking wine, many cru-
level Beaujolais can age quite well. Gamay is also grown in France's Loire Valley, as well as in Canada and
Napa Valley. Beaujolais nouveau is meant to be drunk immediately, and is often served slightly chilled with
lighter foods such as pizza, bruschetta, grilled chicken, and most fish. FYI, neither the grape varietals Napa
Gamay nor Gamay Beaujolais is true Gamay.
adj. "Gamey" is a somewhat subjective winetasting term. It's most often associated with older bottle-aged
red wine from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone, and describes a wine that has overripe, earthy farmyard
notes. To the British, however, it refers to the flavor closely associated with the game bird grouse, which,
when left to hang by its feet, reaches perfection right before the point of deterioration (yes, some people find
the aroma downright pleasant). Too much "gamey" in either sense is considered a wine fault.
n. If the wine comes in a box or a jug with a screw top and is given some absurdly dignified title such as
Chablis (for white wine) or Burgundy (for red wine), it's commonly referred to as generic wine, since it is only
a type of wine and not a specific varietal from a unique geographical area. It's a safe bet that a generic wine
has little or nothing to do with the famous European winegrowing region referred to on the label.
n. [gah-VERTS-truh-meen-er] This famous pink-skinned grape produces some of the most aromatic,
pungent, and full-bodied white wines in the world. The best Gewürztraminer comes from Alsace, France,
where it's made in a dry style with deep golden color, an exotic scent of flowers (particularly rosés), and the
flavor of lychee. Gewürztraminer is typically a soft wine with high alcohol and extract levels. Its only
shortcoming is the varietal's low acidity level, which tends to leave a heavy feel on the palate and a short,
abrupt, almost bitter finish. Gewürztraminer can also be made into an intense, lush late-harvest wine such as
the Vendage Tardives of Alsace. Some great examples of Gewurztraminer are also found in the New World,
particularly in the cool climates of New Zealand, Northern California, and the Pacific Northwest. FYI,
"Gewürz" is German for "spicy."
adj. A graceful wine is one that is well balanced and refined. A more commonly used synonym is "elegant."
n. Grafting is a method of reproducing a grapevine by taking a cutting from one vine and joining it to the
phylloxera-resistant rootstock of another vine. Grafting is universally applied to varietals around the world to
prevent phylloxera (a root-eating louse) from destroying an entire vineyard. It's an expensive process, but so
far is the only way known to prevent phylloxera infestation. See also clone.
n. French for "great growth," Grand Cru is the highest possible ranking for a vineyard or village in certain
winegrowing regions of France, particularly Burgundy and Alsace. It's sometimes referred to as Grand Cru
Classés, which includes all of the 61 cru-class wineries in Bordeaux Médoc. For a more detailed explanation
of this arcane and bewildering form of winery hierarchy, see cru.
n. Grand Vin is the title used among Bordeaux château to distinguish between the principal wine produced
at the château and their second, lesser wine.
n. Spanish wines of the highest quality and from excellent vintage years are referred as Gran Reserva.
These wines by law must spend extended time in cellar maturation. For example, red wines labeled "Gran
Reserva" mature a minimum of two years in barrels and an additional three years in bottles or tanks before
they are released for consumption. White Gran Reserva wines must be cellar aged for four years, including
six months of barrel maturation.
n. See varietal.
adj. If the Sauvignon Blanc under your nose smells a bit like a freshly cut lawn, it's safe to call it grassy.
Sauvignon Blancs in particular tend to emit a grassy, herbaceous aroma and flavor that, in moderate
amounts, adds to the wine's overall character, particularly when it's balanced properly with other aromas and
n. [GRAHV] Graves is a wine-growing region within Bordeaux, France that is best known for producing the
finest white wines of Bordeaux (and excellent reds as well). Graves is French for "gravel," and takes its name
from the gravelly soil that is ideal for growing Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes, the two main varietals
in Graves wines. Young Graves whites are typically crisp and lively, and develop a complex, full-bodied
richness with age. In 1987, the superior châteaux in the northern region of Graves broke away to form the
Pessac-Léognan AC, and have since gone on to create some of the most prestigious white wines in the
adj. In winespeak, green has several meanings, all of which are usually applied to young white wines.
Green describes a young wine that tastes overly acidic or grassy, a wine made from unripe grapes that
tastes tart and fruitless, or a wine that has a greenish tint due to its youth.
n. [GREY-nosh] Grenache Noir (commonly referred to as simply Grenache) is one of the world's most widely
planted red grapes, and the most important varietal in France's southern Rhône Valley, where it is typically
used to make fruity, affordable reds and dry rosés. Though it's considered a Spanish grape by heritage,
Grenache is well suited to the hot, dry mistral winds of southern Rhône, and is widely grown in northern
Spain as one of many blends for Rioja wines. It's a sweet-tasting, raspberry-fruity, light-colored varietal that
is subject to early oxidation, which is why it is often blended with other varietals such as Syrah to slow the
possibility of early browning. Grenache is also grown in Australia and California, where it is vinified into bulk
reds and rosés. FYI, for Grenache at its best, try a bottle of Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is
made from 100% Grenache.
n. A red wine that causes a pleasantly puckery sensation in the mouth is said to have grip. This is a
complimentary term, used to describe wines that have a firm texture due to a proper balance of tannin—a
"tannic grip," you might say. More often than not this term is used to describe a port.
n. The grape farmer who grows the raw material—i.e., wine grapes—used for making wine. The French call
the grower viticulteur or vigneron, while in Italy the grape farmer is known as vignaiolo.
grown, produced, and bottled by
adj. This is essentially the same as estate-bottled, in that the winery was responsible for growing the grapes,
making the wine, and bottling the wine. By U.S. law, the term guarantees that at least 75% of the wine was
fermented at the winery.
n. [HAAB-trawken] Literally "half dry" in German or Austrian, halbtrocken refers to a style of wine that is
much lower in residual sugar than auslese [OUSE-layza], spätlese [SCHPATE-lay-zuh], or kabinett [KAH-be-
net] wines, but not as low in residual sugar as trocken wines. Halbtrocken isn't an indicator of quality, only
n. A half-bottle of wine is half the size of a standard bottle (750ml). It holds 375ml, or three-eighths of a liter,
and is also referred to as a "tenth" or a "split." Half-bottles are most commonly seen at restaurants,
particularly when a diner wishes to complement each course of his or her meal with a suitable wine without
getting completely sloshed. Many dessert wines are packaged in half-bottles as well, since they tend to be
consumed in small amounts.
adj. If a wine has a mouth-puckering effect due to a high level of tannins and acids—enough so that it
masks the fruit flavor —it's considered hard. This is not necessarily a fault, but rather an indication that the
wine needs more time in the bottle to let the tannins mellow out. The term is usually applied to young red
wines but also can be a favorable characteristic of dry white wines. See also soft.
adj. Synonymous with "well balanced." A wine is harmonious if all its elements—tannins, acidity, alcohol,
fruit —blend seamlessly; that is, no one element overpowers another. Similar terms include "elegant" and
adj. A wine that is excessively tannic, acidic, or high in alcohol is said to be harsh. You'll know it when you
taste it: your mouth puckers up, your eyes get moist, and your throat begs you not to swallow. "Rough,"
"rustic," "biting," "fruitless," and "astringent" are all common descriptors associated with a harsh wine.
n. As with any other crop, the grape harvest is the period of time when the grapes that are to be made into
wine are picked. Not only must the grapes be physiologically ripe, the winegrower must also consider the
threat of impending weather, logistics between the vineyard and the winery (including, among many other
variables, the availability of muscle power and winery equipment), the temperature of grapes during picking
and transportation to the winery, and the method of picking the grapes (either by hand or machine). Also of
importance is the style of wine to be made. For example, in order to preserve the high level of natural acidity
essential for sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes intended for its production are typically
harvested much earlier than the same grapes when used for still wine. Travelers beware: During harvest is
probably the worst time to visit the wine country if you want good service at the winery, unless you have
prearranged to help with the harvest.
adj. Among the terms used to describe the clarity of a wine —including "cloudy" and "brilliant"—is "hazy." It
applies to a wine that, if held up to a light, has a slight amount of suspended solids floating around the bottle.
If the wine was intentionally unfiltered or unfined, a small degree of haziness is normal; otherwise, it probably
means that the wine has a flaw, since the majority of today's wines are fastidiously clarified. See also filtering
heady or headiness
adj. In winespeak, a heady wine is one that has an intoxicating (both literally and figuratively) concentration
of alcohol and strong aromas. A well-made late-harvest Zinfandel, for example, may be said to have an
"exhilarating, heady perfume."
adj. A wine that is big, robust, full-bodied, and warm is called hearty. The term is almost always used to
describe red wines that have a high alcohol content, such as rich, ripe Australian Shiraz.
n. [HECK-tair] A hectare is the European equivalent of an American acre, except it's a lot bigger—10,000
square meters, or 2.471 acres. As in the United States, the unit is used to describe the size of a winery's
vineyard. FYI, a hectoliter, which measures a European winery's output, is 100 liters, or 26.47 gallons. Ergo,
wine yields are often identified in terms of hectoliters per hectare.
adj. This frequently heard wine term describes a wine that has the flavor or aroma of herbs, such as sage,
dill, thyme, or mint. It can also apply to a wine that has a definite grassy aroma. Sauvignon Blanc in
particular tends to be herbaceous, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietals can also acquire these
qualities, especially when they are underripe and lack fruitiness. An herbaceous wine is not necessarily
considered flawed if the herby flavors or aromas appear in moderation, but, as with most herbs, too much is
not a good thing.
adj. In the art of winetasting, there are three parts to the savor and swallow: the first taste, the middle taste,
and the finish. It's like having tasting checkpoints in three parts of your mouth. A wine that is hollow fails the
second checkpoint—the one most sensitive to acidity and flavor—because it lacks depth in the middle. If it
fails all three checkpoints, it's considered empty.
n. Hold the bad jokes. During a wine tasting, the wines to be judged can be arranged in two ways:
horizontally or vertically. A horizontal tasting features the same vintage—say, a series of eight 1994 Sonoma
Valley Chardonnays—vinified by different producers. A vertical tasting is just the opposite—several vintages
of the same wine, such as a fourth-growth Château Prieuré-Lichine Margaux chosen from 1982 to 1995.
Hospices de Beaune
n. [awe-SPEECE duh BONE] One of the oldest charity wine auctions in the world (1851), Hospices de
Beaune benefits the charity hospital Hôtel Dieu, and is held during the famous post-harvest celebration of les
trois glorieuses ("the three glorious days"), held each year during the third weekend of November. More
important, the auction acts as the bellwether for the annual quality assessment of Burgundy, and plays a
significant role in setting the price at which each annual harvest is sold.
adj. If a wine creates a slight burning sensation in your mouth or throat, you might say, "Hoo boy, this wine
is hot!" This is usually the fault of the vintner, who allowed the alcohol content to unbalance the wine and
dominate the flavor. Not all wines that are high in alcohol are hot, however. For example, fortified wines are
rarely hot; most instead have a pleasantly warm finish —perfect for those cold winter nights.
ice wine (icewine)
n. Acronym for Indicazione Geografica Tipica.
n. The granddaddy of wine bottles, an Imperial holds six liters of wine, the equivalent of eight regular
bottles. (Can you say party?) It's generally made in a classic Bordeaux shape. See also Balthazar,
Jeroboam, magnum, Methuselah, Nebuchadnezzar, Rehoboam, and Salmanazar.
n. Acronym for Institut National des Appellations d'Origine.
Indicazione Geografica Tipica
n. Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or IGT, is a category of appellation control introduced in Italy in 1992 that
dwells below DOC and within—and at the highest level of—VdT, or Vino da Tavola (table wines). Its purpose
is to accommodate wines from defined geographical areas made using grape varieties or proportions not
approved by the more prestigious DOC or DOCG categories. Many high-quality producers in regions such as
Tuscany and Piedmont prefer this category to VdT for their wines made from nontraditional varieties (such as
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay) because, unlike VdT wines, IGT wines may indicate place of origin,
vintage, and grape variety.
Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO)
n. [IN-stee-TWO NA-see-on-AL dayz ah-PELL-ah-see-ON daw-ree-ZHEEN] The Institut National des
Appellations d'Origine, or INAO, is the organization responsible for regulating, administering, and granting
French appellations. It also serves to preserve and protect the agricultural heritage of some 100,000 French
grape growers, and is determined to eliminate the use of varietal names on French wine labels whenever
possible. It was created in 1935 and has since become a role model for the management of controlled
appellations throughout most of the wine-growing world.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
n. Part of the complex system of reducing use of agrochemicals—which have almost always been used in
the past on a blind and by-the-calendar basis—to a bare minimum. Today, the modern winegrower is better
educated and takes into consideration the life cycles of vineyard pests, their natural predators, and the
specific conditions of individual vineyard environments before developing a system to reduce the ill effects of
pests on vine and grape health. IPM is an integral component in developing organic and biodynamic grape
adj. A term that typically refers to a certain aspect of a wine rather than to the wine as a whole, "intense"
almost always is used in a positive way. It's used to describe a flavor or aroma that is more obvious or
pronounced than the others, as in, "This Amarone has an intense aroma of licorice." If the intensity is too
great, try a more pejorative term, such as "overbearing" or "unbalanced." Wine tasters sometimes use the
word to describe a wine's overall impression, particularly if it stands out among other vintages.
n. Acronym for Integrated Pest Management.
n. A tasting term for a wine that is intensely grapey, so much so that it tastes a bit like grape jam. It is
typically applied to sugar-rich, acid-challenged varietals grown in warm to hot climates, such as California
Zinfandels or Australian Shiraz. A jammy wine is usually considered a flawed wine, particularly if it is overly
n. [jer-a-BOW-em] A Jeroboam is a very large bottle of wine or Champagne, larger than a magnum but
smaller than a Rehoboam. There are two sizes depending on the beverage: a Jeroboam of wine holds 4.5
liters or six regular bottles, while a Jeroboam of Champagne—also known as a double magnum—holds
three liters or four regular bottles. Incidentally, Jeroboam was the king of northern Israel around 900 b.c. See
also Balthazar, Imperial, magnum, Methuselah, Nebuchadnezzar, Rehoboam, and Salmanazar.
n. See Riesling.
n. [kah-bih-NEHT] The first and most basic German Prädikat designation based on the minimum must
weights (sugar level) of grapes at harvest. Although these minimums vary depending on region and variety,
Kabinett wines are generally drier, more delicate, and less expensive than other Prädikat-level wines. So if
you want a dry German Riesling, look for Kabinett on the label.
n. [KEER] A kir is a most refreshing aperitif consisting of dry white wine and a soupçon (sexy French term
for "very small amount") of crème de cassis, a sweet black currant-flavored liqueur. To make kir royale (a far
more popular version in the United States), substitute the wine with Champagne. The drink is named after
onetime Canon Félix Kir (1876-1968), mayor of Dijon, France.
n. As with all kosher products, kosher wine must conform to strict Jewish biblical laws and be produced
under a rabbi's supervision (even the yeast must be kosher). In North America, kosher wine used to be made
from acidic Concord grapes, then sweetened with sugar to cut down the acidity. Today's vastly improved
kosher wines use standard winemaking methods and grapes but are still an integral part of traditional Jewish
ceremonies such as Sabbath kiddush and Passover seders.
n. Of all the acids present in wine, lactic acid is one of the smoothest and most palatable. This is why so
many high-acid wines go through a second malolactic fermentation, which transforms the harsh malic acid
into the softer lactic acid. FYI, lactic comes from lactis, the Latin word for "milk."
n. When this term appears on a wine label, it means that the grapes were left on select vines after the main
harvest in order to achieve concentrated levels of ripeness and sugar content. (If you've ever bitten into an
overripe, withered grape, you know how potent it is.) The result is a very intense, rich, and sweet wine
usually served as a dessert wine.
v. "Laying down" refers to the process of cellaring a wine to allow time for bottle aging. For example, most
vintage ports are laid down for at least 15 to 20 years. The term is mainly used in the United Kingdom.
adj. Used with other descriptors such as "grassy" and "earthy," "leafy" refers to a wine that smells and tastes
of dried leaves. If you like the aroma and appreciate how it adds to the wine's complexity, that's all fine and
dandy, but if the leafy element is overwhelming or shows up in a wine that isn't supposed to be leafy, the
wine is considered flawed.
adj. A wine that has high acidity, little fruitiness, and limited body is referred to as lean—which, in
winespeak as in life, is the opposite of fat. It's a common affliction with wines made from grapes grown in
cool climates, since grapes tend not to fully ripen under such conditions. Other causes include vineyards that
were over-cropped, too wet, or received too little sunshine. Some wines, however, are made intentionally
lean (particularly dry sparkling wines) and are favored by those who prefer their wine austereand acidic.
adj. "Leathery" is a winespeak term used to describe wines—typically red wines—that are very high in
tannin. Tannin, you may or may not know, is the same ingredient used to tan leather, preserving the rawhide
in much the same way that it allows wine to age slowly. You probably wouldn't drink grape juice left in the
pantry for 20 years, but what about a bottle of 1975 Lafite-Rothschild? Sure, because the latter has been
stabilized and preserved via its tannin and alcohol.
n. [LEEZ] The sediment that gravitates to the bottom of the fermenting tank after the wine has fermented (or,
in the case of sparkling wine, the sediment remaining in the bottle after the secondary fermentation until
disgorgement). The lees usually consists of dead yeast cells that were expended during fermentation, but
may also contain grape seeds, skins, pulp, and stems. The fermented wine is then drawn off to another
container and the lees are removed from the tank. Wines that "rest" on the lees for an extended period of
time (a procedure called sur lie) tend to develop a richer texture and a more complex character.
n. A wine's "legs" or "tears" are the rivulets that run down the inside of a wineglass after it is swirled or
sipped. The experts are at odds over the cause and significance of a wine's legs. Some say legs help
determine the quality and body of a wine, while others claim that they are a phenomenon related to the
wine's alcohol content (the higher the alcohol, the heavier the legs), evaporation rate, and the surface
tension of the glass. For the latter group, quality has little or nothing to do with legs. Then there's the camp
that believes the legs are the result of a wine's alcohol, sugar, and glycerin content, while others declare that
glycerin has nothing to do with it. In short, the jury is still out on the significance of a wine's legs.
lengthy or long
adj. If, as you sip a wine, its flavors evoke a positive response from all the various taste checkpoints in your
mouth and it continues to linger favorably in your mouth even after you've swallowed, the wine is said to
have a lengthy or "long" finish or aftertaste. This is one of the highest compliments extended to wine, and
length is a sure sign that you're drinking "the good stuff." See also aftertaste and finish.
n. Some wineries display a "library" of their vintages—e.g., a Stag's Leap Petite Sirah from 1990 to 1994—
in their tasting room to show guests how their wines have evolved and (hopefully) matured from year to year.
Usually these library wines are sold only at the winery, but occasionally a winery will market a particular
varietal as a library wine, such as Château Souverain's Cabernet Sauvignon Library Selection.
adj. Light refers to the texture, weight, color, and/or percentage of alcohol of a wine (any wine below 12%
alcohol would be considered light). A rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon is anything but light, whereas a
Pinot Noir tends be lighter bodied and lower in alcohol. A good example of a light red wine is a nouveau
Beaujolais. However, if a wine wasn't intended to be light, this term is used to mean watery or weak. See
adj. A lingering wine has the ability to tantalize your taste buds even after you've swallowed. You might say
of such a wine, "This 94 Château Mouton-Rothschild has quite a lingering finish." See also aftertaste, finish,
adj. The opposite of stale or flat. A lively wine is both fresh and bright, and has an appreciable amount of
acidic crispness. The term is usually applied to young white or light-bodied red wines, as well as older wines
that have retained their freshness or sparkling wines that are finely carbonated.
adj. See lengthy.
lush or luscious
adj. No hidden meaning here. A lush or luscious wine is one that has an abundance of fruit, body, and
voluptuousness. Full, rich, ripe, soft, weighty, and fat are all characteristics of a lush wine. Lush can also be
used to describe a dessert wine or "noble rot" wine that has a high level of residual sugar.
n. A winemaking term, "maceration" is the period in the fermentation process during which the grape juice
of red wines is in contact with its skins and seeds. Essentially it's just a fancy word for soaking red wine in its
own solids. The purpose is to let the wine's natural alcohol act as a solvent to leach out color, tannin, and
aroma from the grape skins. Maceration usually takes place in huge sealed tanks, and the length of the
process varies with the type or style of the wine being made, the temperature during fermentation, and the
condition of the grapes. When maceration continues beyond the fermentation process, which is done to
intensify a wine's color and aroma and to soften any harsh tannins, it typically lasts about 30 days; then it is
called extended maceration.
n. French for carbonic maceration.
made and bottled by
v. A misleading term in the arcane system of wine labeling in the United States. You'll occasionally see this
on a bottle of American-made wine, and all it means is that the winery fermented at least 10% of the wine
and bottled all of it. In short, you have no idea where the majority of the wine was produced. "Produced and
bottled by," which means that at least 75% of the wine was fermented at the winery, is more informative. See
also estate-bottled and produced and bottled by.
n. Madeira is both a type of fortified wine and a subtropical island off the coast of North Africa where
Madeira is made. Madeira starts out as a white wine, and after being heated for a minimum of three months
in estufas (heating rooms), it takes on an amber color and a uniquely tangy, burnt-caramel flavor. Why is it
heated? Well, back in the 17th century, people discovered that wine made in Madeira actually improved as it
sat in the sweltering cargo holds of ships that crossed the equator. Ever since, wine from Madeira has been
heated in tanks at more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit to allow the sugars to caramelize. The result is an
indestructible high-alcohol wine that will last well beyond your lifetime. Standard blends of Madeira are made
mainly from the local grape varietal Tinta Negra Mole, whereas higher quality "reserve" and "vintage"
Madeiras tend to be made from one of the four noble grapes traditionally used to make Madeiras—Sercial,
Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey (listed in ascending order of sweetness). All four of these noble grapes were
destroyed by phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and are slowly being replanted on the island at
considerable expense. Low-grade Madeira is mostly used for cooking, but the good stuff—pre-phylloxera
vintages dating from 1920 back to 1795—is prized by collectors and fetches up to $300 a bottle. FYI,
although the island of Madeira is a province of Portugal, the British have run its wine trade for centuries.
adj. A tasting term for wines that have become spoiled due to oxidation, overheating, and/or overaging.
Maderized wines tend to be amber in color and have an unappetizingly sweet, caramelized flavor similar to
the fortified wines from Madeira (hence the name). Back in the 17 century it was discovered that wine made
in Madeira actually improved as it sat in the sweltering cargo holds of ships that crossed the equator. Since
then, wine from Madeira has been heated in tanks, cooking at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit to allow the
sugars to caramelize. Any wine that tastes like Madeira but isn't supposed to is considered wine gone bad.
n. The most common oversize wine bottle you're likely to see at the store, the magnum holds twice as much
wine—1.5 liters— as a regular bottle. It is actually preferable for use in aging fine wines because a larger
bottle of wine ages more slowly, allowing it to develop a more complex character. A side note, some
sparkling wines made via méthode champenoise are fermented in magnum-size bottles, whereas the larger,
more unwieldy bottles are usually filled with Champagne or sparkling wine that was fermented elsewhere
and, as a result, may not be as good. See also Balthazar, Imperial, Jeroboam, Methuselah,
Nebuchadnezzar, Rehoboam, and Salmanazar.
n. [MALL-beck] The red Malbec grape has traditionally been used as part of a "Bordeaux Blend" along with
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot to make Bordeaux wines. In the region of Cahors in
southwest France, however, Malbec is the primary grape grown and produces a deep-colored, full-bodied,
tannic wine with the aroma of black currant, mint, bell pepper, and cedar. Malbec is grown in several New
World regions as well, particularly Argentina and Chile, where it produces peppery, full-bodied reds that can
age gracefully for over a decade. Small plantings in California are used for Meritageblends in classic
Bordeaux fashion. The hearty red pairs well with rich stews, lamb, beef, and wild boar.
n. Along with tartaric acid, this is one of the main acids contained in grapes. Malic acid is responsible for
that sour-green-apple tang you taste in under-ripe grapes. As the grape ripens, the level of malic acid
decreases, and when it's turned into wine, the amount of acid can be reduced even further by converting it
into a softer lactic acid in a process called malolactic fermentation.
malolactic fermentation (MLF)
n. After the initial fermentation process, in which grape juice is converted into wine, the wine may ferment
again as it ages in the tank, barrel, or bottle depending on the level of lactic bacteria present. This second
fermentation is called malolactic (malic + lactic) fermentation, and it's caused when lactic bacteria convert a
wine's harsh malic acid into a softer, less sour tasting lactic acid (yes, the stuff in mother's milk). As a result,
a wine that goes through MLF tends to have a buttery quality; this is particularly true in the case of
Chardonnay. Though MLF usually occurs spontaneously, winemakers can induce the process (by adding
lactic bacteria) to soften a wine's harsh, acidic edges and add more complexity. Winemakers often prevent
MLF in many low-acid white wines—by removing the presence of lactic bacteria via pasteurization, filtration,
sulphur dioxide, etc.—because it can diminish a wine's crisp, fresh taste.
n. [mal-vah-SEE-ah] The versatile Malvasia grape—which comes in both white and red versions—is used
to make a wide variety of wines. In Italy, for example, the red Malvasia Nera grape (one of nearly a dozen
Italian varieties of Malvasia) produces light, fragrant red wines. In California's Central Valley, the white
Malvasia Bianca grape makes sweet fortified wines. White Malvasia wines tend to be deeply colored, with
high alcohol and an intensely nutty character.Malvasia is also one of several types of grapes used to make
the fortified wines of Madeira (where the varietal is called Malmsey), and it's used in the production of white
port as well.
n. [mar-SAWN] The white Marsanne grape is widely planted in France's northern Rhône region, and is the
main component in white Hermitage, St-Joseph, and Crozes-Hermitage. It's also increasingly available as a
vin de pays wine. The grape makes rich, nutty, herby, full-bodied wines with great aging potential. It's also
planted in Switzerland, the U.S., and Australia, which has some of the world's oldest Marsanne vineyards.
adj. "Masculine" is a winetasting description for a big, muscular wine with an assertive and aggressive style.
It's often used to describe Champagne. See also feminine.
Master of Wine (MW)
n. When you're done memorizing this entire glossary, it's time to take the grueling written and blind tasting
exam to become a Master of Wine. In truth, it is the wine trade's most famous and most demanding
professional qualification. It's quite the prestigious designation; only 200 or so people in the world have
qualified as Masters of Wine and only 16 of them reside in the United States. The weeklong exam is
administered via the Institute of Master of Wine in London. Wine professionals who have earned the
designation often add the MW credential after their name.
adj. A mature wine, as opposed to a young one, is fully developed and ready to uncork. A wine reaches
maturity when all its various elements have come into balance through proper aging—its tannins have
softened, its acidity has mellowed, and its texture is ideal. As with people, different wines reach maturity at
different times, but in general many of today's fine white wines are made to mature fully within two years, and
most red wine within four or five years. Your 1997 red wine is ready to open now (otherwise it wouldn't have
been released by the winery), but it may taste even better in 2001, though most people don't choose to wait
that long. The very best wines with the greatest pedigree almost always take the longest to mature. For the
record, the year in which a wine was bottled doesn't matter, because the cuvéehas probably been aging in
oak barrels for a year or more anyway. What's important is the vintage date listed on the wine label, which
tells you when the grapes were harvested and made into wine.
adj. Big, rich, full-bodied red wines such as late-picked Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon from warm
climates are often described as meaty, because there's so much body, concentrated fruit flavor, and mellow
tannins in them that you can practically chew on a mouthful. These types of wines are also described as
chewy or fleshy.
adj. See body.
Melon de Bourgogne
n. [MAY-lawn duh bore-GOHN-yuh] Melon de Bourgogne, also known as Melon, is the white grape used to
make Muscadet in France's Loire region, particularly in the Pays Nantais, where both the grape and the wine
are known as Muscadet. Melon de Bourgogne is a prolific grape that ripens early and withstands cold
weather well. It produces a neutral, dry white wine that is neither acidic nor strongly flavored. To enhance the
wine's quality, winemakers often bottle it off the lees (a process known as Muscadet-sur-lie) without filtering,
resulting in a wine that's best consumed while it's young and fresh. This grape is also grown in California,
where for decades it was mistaken for the Pinot Blanc grape varietal.
n. [mer-KAP-tan] Hydrogen sulfide—the colorless gas that smells like rotten eggs—is a natural by-product
of fermentation (caused by the reaction of sulfur contact with the dead yeast or lees after primary alcoholic
fermentation). It usually dissipates gradually throughout the winemaking process and is easy to remove from
a young wine through simple racking and aeration. It has a rather nasty side effect, however: if hydrogen
sulfide isn't completely aired out of the wine through simple racking and aeration, it will combine with the
alcohol to create ethyl mercaptan, a sulfur-based organic compound that emits some rather unpleasant
odors ranging from skunk to garlic, burnt rubber, and onion.
n. A hybrid of merit and heritage, this newly coined term is a registered trademark for American wines
blended from premium Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Back
in the late 1980s a group of California wineries formed the Meritage Association. Its sole purpose was to
establish a standard for red and white premium blends that didn't legally qualify as varietals since 75% of the
wine didn't come from a single type of grape. After some successful lobbying, a patent was issued that said a
Meritage wine must 1) be a blend of two or more Bordeaux grape varietals, 2) be made from the winery's
finest wines, 3) be made in the United States within a U.S. appellation, and 4) be limited to 25,000 or fewer
cases per vintage (which discourages the bulk-wine makers). As a result of these regulations, most Meritage
wines are more expensive than other American-made blends and are usually higher in quality as well.
n. [mare-LOW] Think of Merlot as Cabernet Sauvignon's more easy-going sibling. It's a red grape varietal
that typically produces softer, fruitier, and less tannic wines than the mighty Cabernet, yet exhibits the same
wonderful fragrance and richness. Historically it's mainly been used as a blending wine to soften Cabernet
Sauvignon's harsh edges—particularly with Bordeaux blends—but since the 1970s, it's been steadily gaining
popularity as an enjoyable red wine that's both less expensive and easier to drink (and pronounce) than most
Cabs. The caveat is that it's also more difficult to grow than Cabernet Sauvignon: it's more susceptible to
fungus and disease, it ripens unevenly, and it only grows well in particular climate and soil conditions.
Nonetheless, it's planted throughout the winegrowing world, with moderate to overwhelming success in
places like Northern California, Washington, Long Island, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, and Chile.
The crème de la crème of Merlots, however, come from the Pomerol and St. Emilion appellations of
Bordeaux, France. The grape typically produces medium- to full-bodied wine exhibiting plumy, cherry-like
aromasand flavors, as well as hints of black currant, tobacco, chocolate, vanilla, and mint. If you like your red
wine spicy and floral, look for Merlot from warm climates; cooler climes produce lighter, herbal varieties. As
for food pairings, treat Merlot as you would Cabernet Sauvignon and serve it with beef, lamb, hamburgers,
pizza, poultry with rich sauces, pasta with meat sauces, and such. Most Merlots aren't built for aging, so go
ahead and pop that cork. Merlot is one of the four red wines (the others are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and
Pinot Noir) that make up the nine classical varietals (there are five white classical varietals: Chardonnay,
Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillion.)
adj. Metallic refers to a wine's tinny quality, and is often associated with copper or other types of metallic
contamination during the winemaking process.
n. [MAY-tod CHAM-pen-WAHZ] Méthode champenoise (French for "Champagne method") has been the
traditional way of making Champagne since the 17th century. The monk Dom Pérignon is credited with
developing this labor-intensive but oh-so-rewarding process, but in truth, nature and many other players
were pivotal in developing méthode champenoise. More than 300 years later, it is still considered the best
method of Champagne making. Here's how it works: A solution of sugar and yeast called a tirage is added to
a Champagne bottle—made thicker than an ordinary wine bottle to withstand the internal pressure—
containing a blend of base wines, which is then sealed and stored in a cool, dark cellar. Inside the bottle, the
tirage reacts with the wine to create a secondary fermentation, which in turn creates sediment (lees) and
carbon dioxide (the bubbles). Though the secondary fermentation takes only about one to two months, the
Champagne continues to "rest on its lees" for at least another 18 months (and usually much longer) to allow
it to develop more complex flavors. It is during this time that the riddling takes place, followed by
disgorgement, dosage, corking, caging, and additional cellaring. By the way, a sparkling wine's label will say
what method was used to make it; "cava", "classic," "traditional method," "méthode traditionnelle", and
"Champagne method" are all synonyms for méthode champenoise. See also charmat.
n. [meh-THOO-za-la] A party-size bottle of Champagne that holds the equivalent of eight regular bottles. It's
the same size as an Imperial, which is usually used for non-sparkling wine. The Methuselah—named for the
biblical patriarch said to have lived 969 years—is smaller than a Salmanazar but larger than a Rehoboam.
See also Balthazar, Imperial, Jeroboam, magnum, Nebuchadnezzar, Rehoboam, and Salmanazar.
n. A small section of land within a winemaking region that, because of its unique location, boasts a climate
well suited for growing a certain varietal of grape (or so the winemaker will claim on the label). A
microclimate can be as small as the north-facing side of a hill, which may get less sun and wind than the
other side but more morning dew and have a steeper slope. A grape grower will then plant a varietal that
grows well in that particular microclimate. Rain, fog, altitude, ocean breezes, and temperature are all factors
in a vineyard's microclimate.
adj. The type of soil that grapes are grown in will often influence the taste and aroma of the wine. For
example, in Burgundy, the limestone-rich soil of Chablis imbues flavors to the grapes, which in turn tend to
impart a flinty taste to the wine. Ergo, a wine that has taken on the flavor or aroma of minerals in the
vineyard soil is said to be minerally. True wine connoisseurs can actually pick out the minerals most
commonly present, such as iron, chalk, tin, flint, stone, and such. A minerally wine may sound rather
unappetizing, but it's actually a sought-after quality for many white wines.
mise en bouteille
adj. [MEEZ on boo-TAY] You'll see this phrase (French for "bottled") on the labels of many French wines.
It's usually followed by au château, au domaine, or à la propriété, all of which are the French equivalent of
estate-bottled, meaning that the winery on the label was responsible for both making and bottling the wine.
The phrase is intended to imply that a château- or domaine-bottled wine has a higher level of consistency
and quality than non-estate-bottled wines or négociant wines, and this is usually the case. If mise en
bouteille par is followed by the name of a person, then the wine was handled by a négociant.
n. [moh-ELL-you] Moelleux is French for "mellow" or "soft" and refers to wine with a medium-sweet level of
residual sugar. It's often used in association with sweet wines from Loire Valley, such as Coteaux du Layon,
Quarts de Chaume, and Vouvray. The term for the same wine produced in a very sweet botrytized style is
n. [moor-VAY-druh] Grown mostly in southern France and Spain (where it is known as Mataro), this red
grape is best suited for warmer climates. When fully ripe, it produces well-structured wines that are deep-
colored, high in alcohol, intensely fruity, and have peppery and spicy characteristics. Mourvèdre is usually
blended with other reds to provide color and structure, particularly Bandol reds from France's Provence
region, which can age for 20 years or more. Australia and California have recently added small plantings of
this increasingly fashionable grape.
n. [MOOSE] In the world of wine, everything has a name, including the fizzy stuff that flows out the top of
your Champagne flute when you pour too quickly. It's called mousse, presumably because it looks a bit like
the mousse you eat for dessert or put in your hair.
n. A winespeak term for the way a wine feels in your mouth, as opposed to the way it tastes or smells. All
wines have texture, ranging from watery to thick (think syrup), and you can feel that texture on your tongue.
A full-bodied wine, for example, feels heavy in your mouth and so has a weightier mouthfeel than a light-
bodied wine. "Velvety," "rough," "coarse," "puckery," and "chewy" are all adjectives used to describe the way
a wine feels in your mouth.
n. [MULE-ler TOOR-gow] Named for its creator, Dr. Hermann Müller (from the Swiss canton of Thurgau),
the white Müller-Thurgau varietal is one of the most widely grown grapes in Germany. There, it's mainly used
to make Liebfraumilch wines. This varietal, which excels in cooler climes, is also heavily planted in England,
Hungary, New Zealand, Austria, and Switzerland. It's believed to be a hybrid of Riesling and Sylvaner, but
the latest theory is that it resulted from a self-pollinated Riesling seed. The varietal generally produces high
yields and results in smooth, fragrant, low-acid wines that are semi-dry and somewhat characterless.
n. [moose-kah-DAY] Muscadet is a light, dry white wine from France's Muscadet region, which is located at
the mouth of the Loire Valley off the Atlantic coast, just southeast of the city of Nantes. Though the grape
varietal grown there is known locally as Muscadet, it's actually the Melon de Bourgogne grape. The three
Muscadet appellations are Muscadet AC (which produces the lowest-quality Muscadet), Muscadet des
Coteaux de la Loire, and Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine (which produces the highest-quality Muscadet). Since
the Muscadet/Melon grape generally lacks flavor, many winemakers leave the fermented wine on the lees
(sur lie) for several months to extract more character and liveliness. Most Muscadet wines are inexpensive
and best consumed when they are young and fresh, though Muscadet-sur-lie versions can age for several
n. [MUSS-cut] Muscat is one of the world's oldest cultivated grapes, from a great family of more than 200
varieties. It produces a full range of white wines: sweet wines in warm Australian climates, drier wines in cool
French d'Alsace climates, sweet sparkling wine such as Italy's Asti (Spumante), and Greek fortified wines.
Muscat is typically low in acidity, rich in flavor, and possessed a distinct floral aroma. The crème de la crème
of the Muscat family is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, a version known for its distinctly grapey characteristics.
It's grown all over the world under various names such as Muscat Canelli, Brown Muscat, Moscato Bianca
(of Asti renown), and Liqueur Muscat from Australia and South Africa.
n. For white wine production, the must is the unfermented grape juice resulting from pressed grapes. For
red wine, the must is the unfermented grape juice as well as the skins, pips (seeds), and pulp. When the
must is done fermenting, the result is wine.
adj. If the wine has a stale or moldy odor or taste, it's referred to as musty. A number of things can cause
this, including moldy grapes, a bad cork, or poorly cleaned fermenting tanks or barrels. You usually know a
wine is musty the second it's uncorked, because a rather rank odor shoots straight up your nose. A mild case
of mustiness will sometimes dissipate if you air the wine for a while, but more often than not you're better off
pouring the wine down the sink. FYI, the adjective "musty" has nothing to do with "must," which is a
winemaker's term for unfermented grape juice
n. [NEB-bee-OH-lo] This major red grape varietal is famous for the wines of Piedmont in Northern Italy, most
notably Barolo and Barbaresco. The name is derived from the word nebbia, which describes the cool autumn
fog that often surrounds the hills of Piedmont. This late-ripening, thick-skinned, dark purple grape typically
produces medium-full to full-bodied wines that are high in extract, tannin, acidity, and astringency. Nebbiolo
wines are often firm and powerful, slightly perfumed, and tend to have a long, highly astringent finish. They
have a deep color when young due to a dense concentration of fruit; flavors include black cherry, anise, and
licorice. Nebbiolo typically has all the essential characteristics needed for aging—fruit, tannin, alcohol, and
acidity, all in balance—and fine Barolos and Barbarescos can age effortlessly for 20 or more years (and
should be aged a minimum of six). The best examples of Nebbiolo remain in Northern Italy: There are limited
plantings in South America and California, but so far, every non-Italian Nebbiolo falls far short in the quality
category compared to those produced in their native soil. Younger Barolos and Barbarescos are best served
with rich, hearty dishes like venison, beef, and lamb. Older wines are a meal on their own, but pair well with
a cheese course, such as hard Italian parmesans.
n. [NEH-bah-kahd-NEZZ-er] The Titanic of Champagne bottles, this unwieldy giant contains the equivalent
of 20 standard bottles, a whopping 15 liters of bubbly. FYI, Nebuchadnezzar II was the king of Babylonia,
best known for capturing and destroying Jerusalem and forcing the Israelites into captivity in Babylonia. See
also Balthazar, Imperial, Jeroboam, magnum, Methuselah, Rehoboam, and Salmanazar.
n. [NEE-go-see-AHN] Négociant is a French term for a wine merchant, wine broker, or shipper who buys
and sells wine, usually under his or her own name. It's a common practice throughout Burgundy: the
négociant will buy cuvées from various vineyards and estates within the same appellation, then blend and
bottle it. A few négociants simply purchase bottled wine, slap on their label, and ship it, but this is rare.
Increasingly, négociants such as Louis Jadot are purchasing their own vineyards, which blurs the distinction
between négociant and vigneron ("winemaker") [VEEN-yay-RON]. You're most likely to see a négociant label
on a bottle of Beaujolais, almost all of which is sold by well-known négociants such as Louis Jadot and
Georges Duboeuf. FYI, California's first true négociant was Bruno Benzinger, who developed the hugely
popular Glen Ellen varietal wines.
n. [nev-AIR] Nevers is a type of high-quality oak from the specific region surrounding the town of Nevers,
France. When made into barrels and used for fermenting and/or maturing wine, it imparts a distinctive set of
oak flavors that experienced tasters can identify as Nevers oak.
n. "New oak" is a winemaker's term for oak barrels that are in their first year of use. Since two-, three-, and
four-year-old barrels impart decreasing levels of oak flavors and aromas to wine, most winemakers rotate
their cooperage depending on each barrel'sage. Winemakers who wish to impart oak flavors to their wine
(and many do not) will usually discard any barrels that have been used for more than four vintages, because
the insides become encrusted with deposits that prevent interaction with the wine. See also barrel-aged and
adj. "New World" is a term often used to distinguish, compare, and contrast wines from the Old World
(Europe, North Africa, the Near East, and the Mediterranean basin) and those from the New World
(Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, and other countries "discovered" as a result of
European exploration). As a very general rule, New World grape-growing and winemaking methods are
based on modern science, new techniques, and research, as opposed to Old World grape-growing and
winemaking methods, which are based more on tradition and terroir. Most New World wines also differ in that
they're named after the dominant varietal as opposed to the winemaking region.
n. Just as England has its own aristocracy, the dozens of grape varietals used to make wine have their own
nobility—a singular class of grape varietals responsible for producing some of the finest wines at vineyards
throughout the winegrowing world. Topping the list are the sine qua non of classical varietals: Cabernet
Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Sémillon.
Then there are the major varietals—grapes that only grow to their full potential in specific, well-known areas
(as opposed to the classics, which perform well in numerous regions across the globe)—such as Sangiovese
from Tuscany or Tempranillo from Rioja. Together, the classical varietals and major varietals make up this
exclusive group of wine grapes known as noble grapes. Keep in mind, however, that noble grapes don't
automatically result in a noble wine.
n. See Botrytis cinerea.
n. Noble wines are the best of the best. Winemakers craft them by doing everything conceivable to breed
the finest wine possible. Perfect harmony, balance, elegance, and complexity are all hallmarks of a noble
adj. If a wine or Champagne is made from more than one vintage—that is, it's a blend of grapes grown in
different years—it's called a non-vintage wine, since the majority isn't necessarily composed of a single
vintage. You'll see this term a lot on bottles of Champagne, since about 80% to 90% of Champagnes are
made from a blend of three or more wines of various vintages. NV wines are created to allow the winemaker
to produce a consistent style of wine that loyal customers have come to rely on. In Champagne (the region),
this is called the house style. Producers often blend one vintage with another wine out of an economic or
marketing need as well. For example, if the winemaker had to rely on one season's grapes and it was a
particularly lousy year for growing grapes, the quantity and quality of the Champagne would suffer. Many
dessert winessuch as sherry are NV blends as well.
n. Have you ever noticed that seasoned wine tasters rarely say "smell" when describing a wine? Apparently
the word has negative connotations, so instead you're supposed to say "nose," as in "This Pinot Noir has a
rather fruity nose." In fact, many tasters use the phrase "nosing a wine" to indicate they are smelling a wine.
Technically, nose is the combination of aroma and bouquet; it accounts for every odor the wine gives off.
The use of this term has led to all kinds of creative phrases, such as "in the nose," "on the nose," "big nose,"
and even "off-nose."
adj. [new-VOH] Nouveau, which is French for "new," describes a young, fruity, light-bodied wine that is
shipped from the winery to the market just weeks after it has been made. Nouveau wines are typically
created in a fruity, early drinking style and, because they aren't aged in oak, don't offer any overt oak or
wood influence. The most famous nouveau wine is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is released each November
shortly after the harvest. FYI, most nouveau wines are meant to be drunk within a year of release.
n. [new-VOH boh-zhuh-LAY] See Beaujolais nouveau.
adj. A wine that has the nose of nuts. Nutty can be used as both a compliment and a complaint, depending
on the type of wine. Many fortified wines—particularly sherry—and barrel-fermented white wines tend to take
on pleasant nutty aromas, whereas oxidized red wines that have a nutty aroma could be considered flawed.
Those with well-trained noses can actually discern the aroma of a particular nut or nuts, such as almonds,
hazelnuts, and walnuts.
adj. One of the most common terms used to describe wine. An oaky wine has the aroma and flavor of oak.
When a wine is aged in oak barrels, it takes on those characteristics of the wood. The newer the oak, the
stronger the flavor. Other essences commonly imparted by oak include vanilla, smokiness, and a roasted
quality, the latter two a result of charring the inside of the barrel with an open flame. Some less expensive
wines are given an oaky flavor by tossing oak chips or shavings into the maturation vats, or by adding liquid
oak flavoring. Yes, it is possible to over-oak a wine.
n. [ERR-slah] Like Brix and Baumé, Oechsle is a system used to measure the sugar content (or ripeness)
of grapes based on the density of the grape juice. The scale is used throughout Germany.
n. [ee-NOLL-ah-jee] See enology.
adj. White wine usually falls into one of three taste categories: dry, off-dry, or sweet. A dry white wine
contains no residual sugar, while an off-dry white wine contains just enough residual sugar—around 0.5% to
1.5%—that you can taste it. If the sugar content is higher than the off-dry range, the wine is considered
Office International de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV)
n. Based in Paris and established in 1924, the OIV or Office International de la Vigne et du Vin, represents
the interests of growers and the wine industry alike by coordinating research on all matters of viticulture,
winemaking, and the economics and health aspects of wine. It's also known by its English name, the
International Vine and Wine Office, or IWO.
n. [OH-ah-DEE-um] Oidium, also known as "powdery mildew," is a fungal disease that was probably
brought to Europe from North America when botanical samples were gathered. In the 1850s oidium
destroyed countless vineyards in France before it was discovered that a mix of sulfur, lime, and water could
halt its spread. The disease, which attacks all the green parts of a vine, still exists worldwide. Most native
American vines are resistant, while many varieties of European vitis vinifera vines are susceptible to the
powdery fungus, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
adj. See New World.
n. Along with fino, oloroso is one of the two main styles of sherry from Jerez, Spain. Pure oloroso is full-
bodied, dry, and rich, and has an aroma of dark caramel and nuts. Alcohol levels of oloroso range from 18 to
21%, and styles run the gamut of medium sweet to very sweet cream sherry.
open or open up
v. If someone suggests you let your glass of wine sit for a few minutes to open up, it means that the wine
needs to interact with air in order to reveal all of its flavors and aromas. Allowing time to breathe is often
necessary for full-bodied, cellar-aged reds, which tend to come out of the bottle somewhat "closed" until
they've had a chance to aerate. Opening up is actually a fascinating process, since you can witness a wine
change from so-so to smashing within minutes.
n. As with many other foods and beverages, an increasing number of so-called organic wines are now
hitting the market. Organic wines are fermented from grapes grown without the use of chemical fertilizers,
pesticides, or herbicides. However, like all wine, organic wines still contain sulfites, since a small amount of
sulfites are produced naturally during the fermentation process. The rules and methods for producing organic
grapes and wine depend on the country of origin and the certification body involved. Biodynamic grape
growing and winemaking (called biodynamie in France) is another school of the organic thought: it involves
many of the standard organic practices, but also includes homeopathic applications in the vineyard for pest
and disease control. Nicolas Joly of Loire Valley is a leading proponent of biodynamic wines.
n. When wine is exposed to air it begins to oxidize due to the chemical reaction that occurs between
oxygen and alcohol. Depending on the situation, oxidation is either beneficial or undesirable. A less-than-
airtight cork, for example, can turn an expensive bottle of wine into an expensive bottle of vinegar. Wine that
has a stale or caramelized taste and a dark golden color also shows signs of oxidation. Many barrel-aged
wines, however, actually benefit from a very slow process of gentle oxidation, which enhances their flavor.
See also aeration.
n. Palomino is a major Spanish white grape varietal used to make the famed sherries of Spain. It's mostly
grown in the Jerez and Andalucia regions of southern Spain, where its low-acid, low-sugar characteristics
are ideal for producing high-quality sherry. It's also widely planted in South Africa, where it's used for distilling
and blending. Palomino is grown to a lesser degree in Australia, California, and France for making sherry-
style wines (though none match the caliber of Spain's best sherries).
n. The process of heating a liquid—beer, milk, wine—to the point where microorganisms that could cause
disease, spoilage, or undesired fermentation are killed. Most inexpensive wines are pasteurized before
bottling to keep them from spoiling (which is why jug wines have such a long shelf life and reusable screw
caps), but fine wines are rarely pasteurized because it inhibits aging. Gee Whiz Fact: French chemist Louis
Pasteur not only invented pasteurization in the late 1800s, he is also credited with discovering the science
n. The moment in the aging process when a wine is as good as it's ever going to get. Then, you might say
something like, "This Petite Sirah has definitely reached its peak." Like "balance," "peak" can be a very
subjective term dependent on one's tastes.
adj. Having the flavor or aroma of cracked black peppercorns. Red wines, such as a Syrah from the St.
Joseph appellation in Northern Rhone and certain California Zinfandels, are often described as having
adj. A tasting term that refers to a wine's sweet and flowerlike aromas. Literally, it means the wine smells
like perfume. The word is usually applied to white wines and used in conjunction with other tasting lingo such
as "flowery" and "floral."
n. [peh-TEET SEAR-rah] Although its exact origin is still in dispute, Petite Sirah is probably a mutation of
the French Syrah grape. It never really caught on in France, where it is called Durif, but growers in warm
wine regions such as California and South America have taken a liking to the grape's dark color and plentiful
tannins, which make it a good partner in blended wines (particularly Zindandel). These days, however, Petite
Sirah is being replaced in the vineyards by Syrah and other Rhône varietals. The thick-skinned, ruby-colored
grape produces a dark, robust, tannic, peppery, and full-flavored wine that can be consumed young (usually
blended), but significantly improves with about three to five years of aging in wood.
n. Acronym for potential of hydrogen. This is the measurement of a wine's acidic intensity. The pH scale
ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral (neither acidic nor alkaline). Anything below 7 is considered acidic,
and as the number decreases, the acidity intensifies. Winemakers use this scale to determine the exact
acidity of their wines. White wine tends to be more acidic than red wine from the same climate, and therefore
has a lower pH, usually around 3.3 to 3.0—anything lower and the wine is considered overly tart; anything
higher and the wine is too soft and flat. Red wines range from about 3.3 to 3.6, which is why they're generally
smoother and less crisp than white wines.
n. Phenolic compounds, which exist in a grape's skin and seeds, affect wine in two ways, both of which are
beneficial. Along with tannins, they contribute to the development of a wine's characteristics—adding flavor,
color, aroma, and texture. And they're widely regarded as the stuff that makes wine good for you. Even the
U.S. government, via the Department of Agriculture, has recognized the potential for healthful benefits from
moderate wine consumption. Many doctors, scientists, and wine lovers agree that phenolic compounds are
antioxidants, act in an anti-carcinogenic manner, and aid in lowering cholesterol. Red wine has a higher level
of phenolic compounds than white wine—because reds are soaked in their skins and seeds—and far more
than ordinary grape juice. So there you have it: yet another excuse to drink more wine.
n. In the most general terms, photosynthesis is responsible for the ripening of wine grapes. Photosynthesis
is triggered by green chlorophyll pigments, which employ the energy of the sun to aid in the formation of
sugars in plants through a biochemical reaction involving water and carbon dioxide. The best conditions for
photosynthesis are the same ones we enjoy as well—mild temperatures and sunny skies.
n. The Black Plague of the wine industry, this tiny louse lives in a vineyard's soil and attacks the roots of
grapevines, eventually starving and killing the vine. It originated in the eastern United States (where the
native vines are resistant) and was inadvertently transported to Europe on vine roots around 1860. The
result was mass devastation, with three-quarters of France's vineyards destroyed and vineyards around the
world gradually becoming infested. To this day, no remedy has been found to eradicate phylloxera. It can be
stopped (or at least slowed) by grafting European vines onto phylloxera-resistant native American rootstock,
which, oddly enough, has no adverse effects on the characteristics of the European varietals. A new strain of
the louse, however, emerged in the mid-1990s and wreaked havoc on Northern California vineyards (most of
which had to be replanted at considerable expense, thereby jacking up the price of fine California wines).
n. [pea-ESS] A piece is a Burgundian wine barrel with a specific size—228 liters—and shape. By contrast,
the wine barrels of Bordeaux are called barriques and hold 225 liters.
n. Pigeage is a French term for "punching down" the cap of grape skins and solids into the must. It can also
be used to describe the crushing or treading of grapes by foot in giant granite lagares ("vats"), as is still done
today in the city of Oporto, Portugal.
n. [pee-noh-TAHJ] In South Africa in 1925, Professor A. I. Perold crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsault, then
known locally as Hermitage, to create Pinotage. At its best, the cultivar can produce a deeply colored,
slightly aromatic, rich, classic berry-flavored wine. At its worst, however, it yields a sweet, painty, vulgar red.
Pinotage is also grown, to a far lesser extent, in Zimbabwe.
n. [PEA-no BLAWN] A white relative of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc is often referred to as the "poor man's
Chardonnay" because it has similar characteristics to the noble varietal, yet produces wine with a noticeably
simpler flavor profile (and it's usually a whole lot cheaper than premium Chardonnay). The grape excels in a
long, cool growing season, resulting in dry, crisp, medium- to full-bodied wines that feature a vibrant green to
straw yellow color and a heady, powerful nose. Pinot Blanc typically has a rich and mouthfilling texture, along
with tart flavors of citrus, fennel, and green apple. It's traditionally grown in France's Alsace region, as well as
Northern Italy (where it's called Pinot Bianco), and Germany. In Austria, the Pinto Blanc grape is often
vinified as a dry, almondy Weissburgunder—or "White Burgundy"—and exquisite Trockenbeerenauslese
dessert wines. California's Monterey appellation has had promising results with barrel-aged Pinot Blanc as
well. Dishes that pair well include pork, fish, tapas, lighter cheeses, and grilled vegetables.
n. [PEE-no GREE-jee-oh] Pinot Grigio is an Italian synonym for Pinot Gris.
Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)
n. [PEE-no GREE] A white relative of the black Pinot Noir grape, Pinot Gris is planted and vinified all over
the world. The highest expressions of this grayish-blue (hence the word "gris" for grey) grape, however, is
found in the cool climate of Tokay d'Alsace, France. This is Pinot Gris at its best: rich, full-bodied, gently
perfumed wines with medium acidity and a lingering, pleasant finish. In northeastern Italy, where it's known
as Pinot Grigio, the style is very different: winemakers pick it early, ferment it cold, and sell it young while the
acid, fruit—grapefruit, lemon, and other citrus notes—and aromatics are still crisp, lively, and fresh. (FYI, the
best of the Italian Pinot Grigios come from Collio, near Italy's border with Slovenia.) Several New World
producers, located in the cooler climes of New Zealand, California, and Oregon, have had considerable
success with Pinot Gris as well. The drier, more acidic version goes well with shellfish and seafood, while the
fuller-bodied style is a good bet with pasta, milder cheeses, and chicken dishes.
n. [PEE-noh muhn-YAY] Pinot Meunier is the primary red grape planted in France's Champagne region and
one of only three grapes varietals—the others being Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—used to make
Champagne. Oddly enough, even though Pinot Meunier gets the least press coverage, it's actually the most
widely planted varietal in Champagne, covering more than 40% of the region's vineyards. Its popularity
stems from its ability to thrive in cold weather, as well as its capacity to add both fruitiness and acidity to the
blend; it's a fine complement to Pinot Noir's weightiness and Chardonnay's finesse. Pinot Meunier is also
grown in Australia, where it's used to make a 100% Meunier still wine, and in Germany, where it's known as
n. [pee-NO new-ARE] If there's one grape varietal that can drive winemakers crazy, it's the finicky Pinot
Noir. At its best, this large, thin-skinned berry produces some of the finest red wines in the world—supple,
silky, and delicate, with an incredible range of aromas and a heavenly perfume. It is, however, far more
difficult to grow and vinify than hardier noble varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Pinot
Noir is one the lightest colored red wine varietals, and the primary grape used in the making of blanc de noir,
sparkling wines, particularly Champagne. Despite its light color, it can actually be full-bodied and high in
alcohol. It has a high natural acidity, medium to low tannins, and soft fruit notes of red berries such as
strawberries, ripe raspberry, and red currants. For centuries, it has been the noble red grape of Burgundy's
Côte d'Or region (in fact, there is more Pinot Noir planted in Champagne today than in Burgundy's Côte d'Or
region). Certain cool growing regions in the New World—such as California's Carneros, Santa Barbara,
Russian River Valley appellations, the Pacific Northwest (Oregon in particular), Australia, and New
Zealand—have had success with the temperamental grape as well. Pinot Noir goes well with a wide range of
food, including wild game, chicken, rich seafood dishes, and smoked meats. A superior vintage can age up
to 40 years or more, but in general, Pinot Noirs develop more quickly than Cabernet Sauvignon because
they are less astringent and tannic. Pinot Noir is one of the four red wines (the others are Cabernet
Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot) that make up the nine classical varietals (there are five white classical
varietals: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon.)
n. What a winemaker calls a pip, you and I call a seed. Every grape has two of them, and along with grape
skins, they're a vital source of tannin for red wines. Pips are seldom used for growing new vines—grafting is
responsible for that these days—though they have been cultivated for nearly 10,000 years.
n. Place-name is a poor translation of the term various European countries use for their system of
regulating their wine industries. For example, Italy's Denominazione di Origine Controllatatranslates roughly
to "controlled place-name," since the Denominazione di Origine could either be a wine region (or place) or
the name of a specific vineyard. Controllata we have a word for, but since there is no succinct translation of
Denominazione di Origine, the best we can do is "place-name." See also Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée.
n. [PUM-es] The pulpy material—mashed skins, seeds, stems, pulp, and other assorted solids—remaining
after the grapes have been pressed. In the case of red wine, pomace refers to everything remaining in the
fermenting tank after all the wine has been drawn off (since, unlike white wine, red wine is fermented with its
crushed solids). White grape pomace is sometimes collected and distilled into pomace brandy (a.k.a. marc in
France and grappa in Italy).
port or Porto
n. Port is the term used to indicate the sweet fortified wine that comes from Oporto, Portugal. Only fortified
wines from Oporto can use the official name "port" or "Porto." Port is made by arresting the fermentation
process of wine (made from up to 80 different grape varietals) while there is still a very high level of residual
sugar by adding a neutral grape brandy (fortification), which increases the alcohol level above 18%, thereby
killing the yeast necessary for fermentation. The resulting port is then aged for up to two years before being
placed in bottles, where it can continue aging for decades. There are seven main styles of port: ruby, tawny,
vintage, colheita, crusted, late-bottled vintage, and white port.
n. A wine's potential alcohol is the total alcoholic content that would result if all the sugar in it was fermented
into alcohol. Using a simple equation, winemakers can determine the potential alcohol level of any wine via
the amount of fruit sugars it contains (see " Brix" for a more thorough explanation). Since sweet dessert
wineshave a higher sugar content than dry wines, they also have a very high potential alcohol level. For
example, German Trockenbeerenauslese wines with an Oechsle level of 150 would have the potential
alcohol level of 21.5% if it was fermented until dry, whereas most dry table wines rarely exceed 14%.
potential of hydrogen (pH)
n. See pH.
n. See oidium.
n. [pray-de-KHAT] Prädikat is German for "distinction" and refers to a category of "distinctive" German and
Austrian wines based upon the amount of sugar present in the grapes at harvest—that is, greater the
ripeness (always a concern in cool climate countries such as Germany), the greater the distinction. In
ascending order of ripeness these are: Kabinett [KAH-be-net], Spätlese [SCHPATE-lay-zuh], Auslese
[OUSE-layza], Beerenauslese [BEER-in-OUSE-lay-sin], Eiswein [ICE-vine], and Trockenbeerenauslese
[TROCK-en-BEER-in-OUSE-lay-sin]. The flaw in this system is that it assumes that grapes with a higher
must weight will produce better wine, which isn't always the case. It also implies that Prädikat wines are
sweeter than other wines, which isn't necessarily true either because Prädikat is based on the sugar level of
the grape rather than the resulting wine. FYI, Prädikat-level wines are further categorized as Qualitätswein
mit Prädikat or QmP, which literally means "quality wines of distinction." In fact, you'll often see Qualitätswein
mit Prädikat on the label of quality German wines.
n. [PREM-yay crew]. See first growth.
n. Premium wine is a loosely identified category of wine quality. In ascending order these are the most
frequently used marketing terms to identify wine quality: "commercial" (basic wines in the $5 to $10 range),
"premium," "ultra-premium," and "connoisseur-level" or "super-premium."
n. Pre-phylloxera is a term that is often used to describe wines made from grapes before the phylloxera
infestation of French vitis viniferavineyards. Most of these vineyards were replanted in the 1920s; ergo, these
wines are becoming scarcer as each day passes. One can only wonder if, in the future, this term will be used
to identify California wines produced before 1980.
press wine or pressing
n. When grapes are harvested and crushed, the juice that is released is called the "free-run." The skins and
pulp are then pressed again to squeeze out any remaining liquid, known as the pressing or press wine. This
intensified juice has more concentrated color, flavor, and tannins than free-run juice (it's like the difference
between straight lemon juice and lemonade). Red press wine differs from white in that it isn't pressed a
second time until after it has gone through fermentation (since most red wine is fermented in its skins and
seeds). Either way, the resulting press wine is often blended back into the free-run juice to add backbone.
n. Along with tête de cuvée, prestige cuvée (a.k.a. cuvée prestige) is one of the most common terms used
to indicate a Champagne producer's highest quality of vintage Champagne. For example, Louis Roederer's
Cristal and Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame are their prestige cuvées.
n. [pree-mee-TEE-voh] Primitivo is the name of a red grape variety grown principally and extensively in
Apulia in southern Italy, where it yields powerful—if rustic—wine. Its similarity to California's Zinfandel
prompted much DNA analysis, which established that the varieties are one and the same. In Italy, varietal
DOCs have been established for Primitivo, namely Primitivo di Gioia and Primitivo di Manduria.
n. The words "Private Reserve" on a label supposedly indicate that this is a limited production of the
winery's best wine, such as Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve. If you think about it, however, it's a bit of an
oxymoron, because if this is the winery's private stuff, why are they selling it to you? Since there is no legal
definition of a Private Reserve, even wineries of questionable repute can slap the words on their label (and
they often do). In most cases, however, a reputable winery that markets their premier wine as a Private
Reserve is offering you their finest stock, and charging accordingly. Spin-offs of the term include Proprietors
Reserve, Signature Reserve, and—more often than not—simply Reserve.
produced and bottled by
v. This is one of the many phrases that appear in small print on the label of an American wine, along with
"blended and bottled by" or "vinted and bottled by." "Produced and bottled by" means that the winery named
on the label crushed and fermented at least 75% of the wine in the bottle. It's usually an indication that the
wine is of higher quality than generic blended brands, but doesn't guarantee that the wine is worth the price.
See also bottled by, cellared by, estate-bottled, and made and bottled by.
v. In winemaking, pruning is the winter vineyard ritual of removing unwanted canes (the stem of a mature
grapevine shoot). One of the main purposes of winter pruning is to train the vine so that it produces fewer yet
larger, more concentrated bunches of grapes (which enhances the ripening process). And so you know,
spring and summer pruning involves trimming—leaf removal, shoot thinning, etc.—and grape positioning.
adj. A less-than-suave synonym for " astringent." Both are tasting terms used to describe a wine that makes
your mouth feel dry and puckerish, as if you're sipping absurdly strong tea. It's a result of high tannins and/or
acidity that is common in young red wines.
v. A winemaker's term for pushing the cap down into the fermenting vat of red wine must during maceration.
Here's the story: Fermenting red wine generates a lot of unwanted heat. To cool the process down and
extract as much tannin and flavor from the grape solids as possible, the cap—the layer of grape skins, pulp,
pips (seeds), and other solids that naturally rise to the top of a fermenting vat—must be broken up
periodically. You do this by pumping the must over the cap or by punching down the cap into the must. It's
like using your spoon to push down and stir the hot chocolate mix that floats to the top of your mug.
adj. A pungent wine has a sharp, strong aroma or bite due to a high level of acidity—a "big nose," you might
say. The opposite of a pungent wine is one that is odorless, flavorless, and dull.
n. The indentation in the bottom of a Champagne or wine bottle. Yes, it has a purpose (two, actually): to
trap the sediment that accumulates during aging and, perhaps more important, to strengthen the
Champagne bottles, which are under tremendous pressure. See also méthode champenoise.
n. [poo-PETE-trah] See riddling.
n. PX is the often-used abbreviation for Pedro Ximénez [hee-MEN-eth], a Spanish white grape varietal that
is traditionally dried or raisined in the sun in order to create extremely sweet wines. These wines are in turn
used to blend with and sweeten fortified wines, particularly sherry and sweet oloroso.
Qualitätswein mit Prädikat
n. [kvah-lee-TATES-vine mitt PRAY-dee-khat] See Prädikat
n. You often see this traditional method of clarifying wine performed during winery tours. After the
fermentation process is completed, wine needs to be clarified because it's usually loaded with sediment.
Less expensive wines are simply filtered through paper or synthetic mesh, or run through a centrifuge—quick
and easy, yes, but it also reduces some of their more desirable qualities. During the wine's maturation period
the sediment (or lees) naturally gravitates to the bottom of the tank or barrel. The sediment-free portion of
the wine is then pumped into another tank or barrel (which explains all those big fire hoses attached to the
tanks). The racking process is repeated up to half a dozen times in the first year, and is very labor intensive.
It's also somewhat risky because, although aeration of wine helps to eliminate off odors and mercaptans, if
the wine has too much contact with air, the winemaker could be left with some very expensive barrels of
vinegar. See also centrifugation, cold stabilization, filtering, and fining.
adj. The tasting term "racy" is often used in conjunction with the high acid, low pHwines from Germany, New
Zealand, and the Loire. Racy indicates a brisk, refreshing, sharply acidic wine of high quality.
adj. If the wine smells or tastes like raisins, it's referred to as raisined (go figure). A raisined quality results
from very ripe—even overripe—grapes. The culprit is usually the sweltering climate of the growing area,
which dries out the grapes while they're still on the vine. Australian wines, for example, can sometimes take
on raisined characteristics. It's generally considered a fault in dry table wines, but an inherent quality in
sweet wines such as the liqueurs Muscat and Tokay.
adj. Synonymous with " rough" and " rustic," raw describes a wine that is young, coarse, tannic, and high in
alcohol or acidity. It's an appropriate descriptor for some red wines that have just been fermented and are in
need of aging.
n. [ray-CHOH-toh] Recioto is an Italian wine made from semi-dried grapes with concentrated sugars and
flavors. Most recioto wines hail from the Veneto wine region in Italy; the best example is Recioto della
Valpolicella, an extremely sweet version of amarone, which is fermented dry. Recioto wines display the same
licorice and black cherry notes as amarone, with the addition of a slight rustic note brought on by the effects
n. An instrument used to measure the ripeness of grapes (sugar level only, not physiological ripeness) by
calculating their must weight. Refractometers range from ultra-precise laboratory instruments to pocket
versions made for field use in the vineyards. In simple terms, a refractometer works by measuring the
amount of refraction (angle of light waves) as light passes through an object, which tells the user how
concentrated the dissolved substances are inside the grape.
n. A geographical area that's part of a country or state yet less specific than a district. In France, for
example, Bordeaux is considered a wine region and Graves, which is within Bordeaux, is referred to as a
district. Each region typically specializes in grape varietals that grow well there due to the unique climate and
soil. FYI, wines whose labels list only a region, such as Burgundy, rather than a specific district or appellation
within that region, such as Nuits-St-Georges, tend to cost less since they are less exclusive. It's like asking
for ice cream instead of Häagen-Dazs.
n. An oversize Champagne bottle that holds the equivalent of six standard bottles, or 4.5 liters. A
Rehoboam is larger than a Jeroboam (containing four bottles) but smaller than a Methuselah (eight bottles).
See also Balthazar, Imperial, Jeroboam, magnum, Methuselah, Nebuchadnezzar, and Salmanazar.
n. [REE-mon-TAHJ] Remontage is a French term used to describe the breaking up of the cap during the
maceration/ fermentation process for red wine. Remontage includes pumping over, punching down, pigeage,
and all the various mechanical methods and systems. See also punch down.
n. [RHEM-you-ahj] French for " riddling."
n. [ree-SERV-ya] Reserva is the Spanish term for "Reserve," but unlike the U.S. version, this term actually
has meaning. By Spanish law, a red wine must spend at least three years of cellar age before release, and
one of those years must occur in a barrel.
n. Although there is no legal definition for a Reserve wine in the United States or France, some wineries will
occasionally release and market their best wines as either a Reserve or Private Reserve. It may be that the
wine has been aged longer than the winery's normal cuvée (a legal requirement for Reserve wines from
Spain and Italy), or that it came from a remarkable vineyard or was made from an exceptional vintage. In
short, Reserve can mean anything and nothing, since it all depends on the winery that labels it. In most
cases, however, a reputable winery that markets their premier wine as a Reserve is offering you their finest
stock, and charging accordingly. See also Private Reserve.
residual sugar (RS)
n. The amount of the grape's natural sugar that is left in the wine after fermentation. Normally during
fermentation all the sugar is consumed by the yeast and converted into alcohol, but a winemaker can use
several methods to stop the fermentation artificially, thereby leaving some sugar in the wine. A dry white
wine contains almost no residual sugar, while an off-dry white wine contains just enough—around 0.5% to
1.5%—that you can taste it. Anything above 2% is definitely sweet. See also chaptalization.
adj. A tasting term for wines that have an abundance of body, flavor, and aroma, as in, "This Sémillon is
loaded with rich, fruity flavors." "Full," "big," "generous," "opulent," "succulent," and "lush" are all descriptors
commonly associated with rich wines. Be careful not to confuse richness with sweetness, as they are two
different things (although dessert wines can certainly be rich).
n. When sparkling wine is made using the méthode champenoise, it has to "rest on its lees" for at least 18
months (and usually a whole lot longer) to allow it to develop more complex flavors. About three months
before the wine is disgorged and boxed, each bottle must be turned and tilted downward slightly so the
sediment will move down the bottle and collect in the cork (the sediment is so fine and difficult to precipitate
that this is the only method that works). The process is called riddling, or remuage. Specially made riddling
racks called pupitres hold the bottles at an angle while "riddlers" turn each bottle by hand using the time-
honored coup de poignet [COO de pwa-NYAY] or "twist of the wrist" (and there's a lot of wrist-twisting at a
big Champagne estate). Automatic riddling racks can do the job, but traditional producers such as
Schramsberg in Napa Valley and Krug from Champagne take pride in the fact that their riddling is still done
n. See riddling.
n. [REE-sling] Considered Germany's greatest contribution to the wines of the world, the white Riesling
grape is believed to be a descendent of wild grapes that grew along the Rhine River. The pale, thin-skinned
grape is traditionally grown in Germany's Mosel and Rhine valleys, as well as France's Alsace region,
Austria, and Northern Italy. The varietal—which requires a long, cool growing season—typically produces
pale, light-bodied wines with a slight green tinge, high acidity, and fragrant, perfumed aromas. Rieslings
produced in cool climates have a flavor profile that includes citrus, lemon, pear, green apple, and grapefruit.
In warm climes, they turn to luscious peach, honey, and red grapefruit, and have a slightly heavier body.
Rieslings—which are one of the most ageable white varietals—can even develop an overt petrol bouquet
when aged in the bottle. The wine is vinified in a variety of styles, from bone- dry Alsace Rieslings to the rich,
ripe, late-harvest eiswein. The best examples of Riesling have a certain minerality based on their terroir. Few
New World regions have approached the quality of Germany and Alsace when it comes to Riesling, though
those with potential hail from New Zealand, Australia, British Columbia, New York, California's Mendocino
County, and the Pacific Northwest, to name a few regions. Riesling matches best with lighter meats (pork,
veal, ham), seafood, shellfish, and Asian dishes. FYI, Johannisberg Riesling and White Riesling are both just
synonyms for the noble Riesling grape. Riesling is one of the five white wines (the others are Chardonnay,
Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon) that make up the nine classical varietals (there are four red
classical varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir).
n. The term "Right Bank" is used by much of the wine world to describe all the Bordeaux appellations
located on the Right Bank (or north side) of the river Dordogne in France. The two most important Right
Bank appellations are St-Émilion and Pomerol, and the whole Right Bank is dominated by the Merlot varietal.
These two exceptional appellations produce the greatest expression of Merlot in the world—just ask anyone
who has ever tasted a 1988 Pétrus.
n. [ree-OH-ha] See Tempranillo.
n. [ree-SERV-ah] Like the Spanish Reserva, Italian Riserva really means Reserve wine. Riserva wines
spend additional time aging in the cellar, and are required to be at least one-half percent higher in alcohol
content than the non-Riserva wines. The reasoning behind this rule is that only healthy ripe grapes can
reach higher levels of potential alcohol, and these must come from lower-yielding vineyards.
n. A rather arcane term for a wine's color, which is best seen when the glass is tipped at an angle and
viewed at the wine's edge. How to use it in a sentence? "A ruddy, brick-colored robe is a good indication that
a wine has some bottle age."
adj. A robust wine is one that is full-bodied, vigorous, flavorful, rich, and high in alcohol. The descriptor is
typically applied to big, strong red wines.
n. Rosé is French for "pink" or "rose colored," and refers to wines of this color. True rosés are made from a
blend of red grapes, not a blend of red and white wines. The "rosé" color (which ranges from faded salmon to
bright pink) comes from the brief contact between the clear juice and the dark skins while the grapes are
being pressed prior to fermentation. The skin contact is just long enough to give the wine its desired pink
color, yet prevents the wine from acquiring the heavier body and character of traditional red wines. As a
result, most rosés are very light-bodied, crisp, fresh, and fruity—and best served young and chilled. The best
rosés come from Tavel and Anjou regions of France, and range from off-dry to reasonably sweet. In France,
rosé Champagnes are often made by adding a little red wine to the white wine cuvée prior to the secondary
fermentation. Rosé pairs well with lighter foods, especially picnic fare (ham, smoked meats, tuna, turkey),
and compliments spicy/hot cuisines such as Mexican, Chinese, Thai, and Cajun cuisine. FYI, inexpensive
rosé—called "blush wine" in the U.S.—is made by adding red wine to finished white wine and, as a result,
lacks the fresh, lively fruit found in classic rosé.
adj. A rough wine is just like a rough character—big, surly, harsh, coarse, cheap, alcoholic, and unpleasant.
It's the opposite of a light, delicate, mellow wine. The descriptor is usually applied to young reds that haven't
had time to smooth out their astringent, tannic edges.
adj. A winespeak term that describes the texture of a wine in your mouth. It's the opposite of sharp or
rough, as if you have a marble in your mouth as opposed to a sea urchin. A round wine feels smooth and
gentle on the tongue, with little or no acidic bite. A wine achieves roundness when all of its components—
alcohol, acidity, tannin, sweetness—are in balance or harmony, with no dominating characteristic. This
doesn't necessarily mean the wine is exceptional, just that it isn't flawed.
adj. If a wine lacks elegance or finesse, it's often described as rustic. The term refers to wines made the
old-fashioned way, which often need to age for many years before they begin to soften and acquire balance.
Young, coarse red wines that still need time to age—that is, they have potential—are sometimes described
as rustic, as are badly made wines that are irrevocably heavy and rough.
n. [sahn-YEA] Saignée—French for "bled"—is the practice of bleeding off a proportion of the free-run juice
from red grapes before they are crushed and fermented. It's done for several reasons: to increase the
percentage of flavoring and phenolic compounds, to decrease the skin-to-juice ratio, to make rosé wine, and
to create a wine with greater concentration.
n. Salmanazar is yet another impossible-to-remember name for an enormous bottle, one that holds nine
liters of wine or the equivalent of 12 regular bottles (i.e., a case of wine). It's larger than an Imperial but
smaller than a Nebuchadnezzar. See also Balthazar, Imperial, Jeroboam, magnum, Methuselah,
Nebuchadnezzar, and Rehoboam.
n. [SAHN-gee-oh-VEY-say] Sangiovese ("blood of Jove") is Italy's most widely planted red grape and the
main ingredient in many Italian wines such as Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Carmignano. This
versatile grape can produce both light, fresh, and early-maturing wines (a simple Chianti, for example) or full-
bodied, powerful, and long-lived classics. Sangiovese's most recent claim to fame is its vital role in the new
breed of red wines from Tuscany called Supertuscans, which may be all Sangiovese or blends of
Sangiovese and other grapes. Due to the success of Supertuscans, plantings of Sangiovese in California
have increased significantly over the past decade, especially in Napa and Sonoma, where it is sometimes
blended with Cabernet (though it usually remains varietally labeled). Fruit notes from Sangiovese wines often
tend toward tart black cherry or raspberries, usually accompanied by earthiness, warm alcohol, and a
memorable streak of acidity and astringency. Fuller Sangiovese wines such as Chianti Classico Riservas,
Brunellos, Supertuscans, and many California bottlings often gain significant structure and complexity from
aging in small oak barrels. Argentina is also known for producing quality Sangiovese wines.
n. [soh-TEHRN] The Sauternes appellation, which lies within the Graves district of France's Bordeaux region
(and is one of the few areas in France where noble rot occurs naturally), is famous for producing some the
finest sweet wines in the world. The dominant grape (about 80%) in Sauternes is Sémillon, which is usually
blended with Sauvignon Blanc to augment the wine's flavor; a few châteaux may add small amounts of
Muscadelle as well. The best vintages are affected by Botrytis cinerea (the noble rot), which only occurs two
to four harvests per decade and gives the wine a highly sought-after honeyed character, luscious sweetness,
and intense flavors of peaches, pineapples, and spice. To make high-quality Sauternes, each mature berry
must be hand-picked and the wine aged at least five to 10 years. In short, it's an extremely time-intensive
process, and that explains why Sauternes are so expensive and typically sold in half-bottles. FYI, when
Sauternes grapes don't ripen suitably to make sweet wine, a châteaux may instead make dry wine and sell it
n. [SAW-veen-yawn BLAWN] Though the white Sauvignon Blanc grape isn't as easy to grow as
Chardonnay, it's certainly as versatile. It's the principle grape grown in the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre
appellations in France's Loire Valley, and is traditionally blended with Sémillon to make dry white Bordeaux
and sweet Sauternes. New Zealand winemakers tend to make aromatic, herbal, almost grassy Sauvignon
Blancs with a noticeable zing, while California and French versions tend to offer more complex flavors and
viscous textures. The cool climes of New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest, and South Africa have met with a
great deal of success as well. The flavor profile of Sauvignon Blanc, like most varietals, is very dependent on
climate. In general, wines made from Sauvignon Blanc are medium- to light-bodied with pale yellow-green
shades, medium to high acidity, and moderate alcohol levels. Typical flavors range from lemon, grapefruit,
and mineral to very herbaceous and grassy. Sauvignon Blanc is usually at its best when fermented at cold
temperatures in stainless steel tanks (to retain crispness) and bottled and drunk early, but well-made Pouilly-
Fumés (with both firm acidity and good fruit) can age well in the bottle for several years. Common food
pairings include fish, poultry, green vegetables, high-acid foods (vinaigrette, citrus sauces, goat cheese), and
salty foods. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the five white wines (the others are Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc,
Riesling, and Sémillon) that make up the nine classical varietals (there are four red classical varietals:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir).
n. The fermentation that takes place after the original fermentation has converted grape juice into wine.
There are two types of secondary fermentation: malolactic fermentation, in which malic acid is converted into
a softer lactic acid, and the second fermentation that takes place in tank or bottle during the production of
sparkling wine and Champagne. For a more detailed explanation of each type of secondary fermentation,
see malolactic fermentation and méthode champenoise.
n. The term "second wines," unlike the term "super seconds," indicates wines that aren't good enough to be
the first or principal wines of an estate. Many winemakers throughout the world produce a second wine for
several reasons, including marketing and commercial advantages. For example, the second wine of Château
Figeac is Grangeneuve, which acts as a breeding ground for Figeac by employing in its cuvée the grapes
from the younger and less satisfactory vineyards. In turn, these same vineyards will most likely develop with
age and end up in the Grand Vin Figeac. Ergo, the marketing of Grangeneuve benefits from its association
n. When a bottle of red wine (and, to a lesser extent, some white wines) ages, it accumulates or "throws off"
sediment. Sediment consists of tannin, pigments, and other trace particles that solidify over time and sink to
the bottom of the bottle. To avoid getting the bitter sediment in your wineglass, decant an old bottle of red
before serving. Sediment can also refer to any solid matter that settles out of wine during the various stages
of the winemaking process. See also lees.
n. Sekt is the German word for "sparkling wine." For the most part, German Sekt is an inexpensive
commercial wine. In fact, the base wine for the vast majority of German Sekt is inexpensive still white wine
from regions other than Germany, such as the Midi region in southern France.
n. [SEMM-ee-ohn] Some white wine varietals are just made for each other, and one of the finest examples
is Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, which when blended together make the great dry white wines of Bordeaux.
Though Sauvignon Blanc usually gets top billing in Bordeaux, it would lack body without Sémillon's rich, full-
bodied character. Sémillon, however, takes the lead when it's blended with the more acidic and leaner
Sauvignon Blanc to make Sauternes and Graves, two of France's noblest sweet whites. Unblended wines
from the vigorous, high-yielding Sémillon grape are typically medium- to full-bodied, with low levels of acidity,
mmedium-high to high alcohol levels, and a pale to deep golden color. Sémillon displays flavors and aromas
much like ripe Chardonnay: lemon, grapefruit, apple, peach, pear, tropical fruit, orange peel, and marmalade.
Because Sémillon grapes are thin-skinned and grow in large, dense clusters, they're highly susceptible to
Botrytis cinerea (i.e., noble rot), which attacks the skins and concentrates the fruit sugars, adding distinctive
body and incredible complexity. In fact, the Sémillon-based dessert wine—with its marriage of sugars, acids,
and concentration—is one of the world's most ageable wines. Outside of Europe, Sémillon performs the best
in warm climates such as Australia's Hunter Valley, where some stunning examples of old vine Sémillon
show what this varietal is capable of. Sémillon also has carved out a New World niche in Washington state,
California, Chile, Argentina, and South America. Dry Sémillon-based Bordeaux are well suited to seafood,
game, and pork. The dessert wine version is the traditional accompaniment to foie gras and also pairs
beautifully with richly veined cheeses such as Roquefort. Sémillon is one of the five white wines (the others
are Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc) that make up the nine classical varietals
(there are four red classical varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir).
n. [SIR-see-ELL] Sercial is the lightest—in body, color, and residual sugar—level of the fortified wine
Madeira. At one time, Sercial also indicated that the wine was made from this grape varietal, but this is no
longer true. In ascending order of sweetness Madeira is classified as Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho, and Vercial.
FYI, "rain water" Madeira is a light, diluted version of Sercial.
n. Sherry is fortified wine from the Spanish region of Jerez. Unlike port, sherry is fortified at the end of
fermentation, which doesn't interrupt the fermentation process. Although sherry comes in a broad range of
flavors and colors, there are two basic styles of sherry: fino and oloroso. These styles are separated in the
criadera (nursery) depending on the presence of a beneficial surface yeast called flor. Those wines that
develop flor are usually destined to become the paler, lighter fino style of sherry that has a tangy taste and is
best when drunk young. The wines that are without flor are earmarked for oloroso, which is typically made
dry, is aged longer than most sherries, and has a nutty, raisiny flavor. The solera system of fractional
blending plays an important role in sherry production. It's sort of a wine pyramid scheme, where the youngest
casks of sherry—called butts—are stacked on top of older butts in a descending order of age, with the oldest
butts at the bottom. The young wines revive and freshen the solera, keeping the beneficial surface flor alive,
while the older wines add nuance and character to the young wine. There are several styles of sherry, listed
here from the fullest-bodied to the lightest: cream sherry, pale cream, oloroso, palo cortado, amontillado,
fino, and manzanilla.
n. [sher-AZZ] In Australia and South Africa, Shiraz is the commonly used synonym for the red grape varietal
n. The curved area between the body and neck of a wine bottle. Bottled wines that have evaporated to the
point where the ullage—the airspace between the cork and the wine—is at or near the shoulder should be
approached with caution, since there's a good chance that the wine has oxidized due to a leaky cork.
n. A winemaker's term for the period of time that the wine or juice spends soaking in its grape skins. It's
during skin contact—which can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days—that the wine absorbs the
skin's pigments, tannins, and concentrated flavors and aromas. For red wines, skin contact is the time during
which the wine soaks in its skins after it has already fermented. For white wines (which aren't fermented in
their skins), it is the period of time during which the grape juice soaks in its skins before it is fermented. See
adj. A tasting term used to describe wines that have the aroma or flavor of smoke, whether it's tobacco
smoke, bacon smoke, or the kind you smell at a campfire. Wines aged in oak barrels—which are charred on
the inside—often take on a smoky characteristic, as do certain varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and white
wines from France's Loire Valley (Pouilly Fumé in particular). By the way, fumé means "smoky" in French.
adj. A term for aged red wines that are low in sharp acids and bitter tannins, making them very mellow and
easy to drink. A red wine is usually soft when sufficient bottle aging has brought the tannins, acidity, and fruit
into balance. The term "soft" is generally a positive attribute. See also hard.
n. Solera is the traditional Spanish method of blending fortified wines with the intent of smoothing out the
differences between vintage years and improving the quality of the wine as a whole. Barrels of older wines
are topped with slightly younger wine (from barrels stacked directly on top), which both refreshes the older
wine and adds character, body, and depth to the younger wine. The labor-intensive solera system is most
famous in the Jerez region of Spain for sherry production, but is used in other regions as well.
n. [SOMM-mel-YAY] Fancy restaurants will sometimes hire a sommelier (French for "wine steward") to
assist customers with choosing the proper wine to match the cuisine. Technically, a sommelier should have
graduated from an accredited sommelier program, while the best have earned the designation Master
Sommelier, often abbreviated as M.S. In the United States, however, you can get away with the title
"Sommelier" if you have an extensive knowledge of wines and wine/food pairing, regardless of formal
training. Along with helping patrons, the sommelier's job is to create the wine list, maintain the wine cellar,
and train the staff in wine etiquette. The sommelier is also supposed to taste and evaluate the quality of the
wine before serving it (though this rarely happens in the United States).
n. Sparkling wine is the term for a broad category of wines—including Champagne—that have undergone a
second fermentation either in the bottle (Champagne method) or in a closed vat (tank method) via the
addition of sugar and yeast, which in turn creates the carbon dioxide responsible for that enticing
effervescence. Consumers and wine professionals alike often make the common mistake of referring to all
sparkling wine as Champagne. Quite simply, if it does not come from Champagne, a geographical region in
France, it isn't Champagne. There are several methods to produce sparkling wine—méthode champenoise,
traditional method, transfer method, tank method, cuve close—made in a wide array of styles and,
depending on its origin, names. Crémant (France), Cava (Spain), Spumanti (Italy), and Sekt (Germany and
Austria) are various styles of sparkling wine. Cheap sparkling wine is made by simply injecting carbon
dioxide directly into the wine, a process called carbonation. FYI, although all Champagne is sparkling wine,
very little sparkling wine is Champagne.
n. [SCHPATE-lay-zuh] Literally "late harvest" in German. It's one of the German Prädikat designations for
the degree of must weight from naturally ripe grapes picked during late harvest conditions.
adj. A spicy wine is just what you would expect: a wine that has the aroma, bouquet, or flavor of spices.
Common spices that a wine may mimic include cinnamon, mint, pepper, clove, and nutmeg. Gewürztraminer,
Syrah, Muscat, and Zinfandel are all wines that are characteristically spicy.
n. Stabilization is a series of post-fermentation and maturation operations that are intended to protect the
stability of wine. They're divided into two general categories. The first is microbiological stability, which is
intended to remove unwanted effects of bacteria and yeasts (such as unwanted secondary fermentation
brought on by yeast remaining in the wine). The second is physical and chemical stability, which protects
wine from excessive tannins, browning phenolic compounds, and unstable proteins. Physical and chemical
stability procedures include fining to remove proteins, and cold stabilization to remove tartrate crystals in
adj. As with most things, stale is not good. Wines that are lifeless, moldy smelling, and flat have gone stale.
A defective cork that allows air to enter the bottle can cause staleness, but the more likely scenario is that
the wine has been aged too long and has lost its freshness. Aging a wine that isn't meant—or structured—to
be aged is a surefire way to make stale wine.
adj. A synonym for "stemmy."
adj. If a red wine is allowed to ferment or macerate too long with the grape stalks and stems, it can acquire a
rather unpleasant flavor and aroma (as if you're chewing on a grape stem). Grape stems are loaded with
tannin, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but too much stem contact will result in a wine that is stemmy,
harshly astringent, and dry.
n. Structure refers to the framework of a wine based on the sum of its main components: fruit, acid, tannin,
alcohol, and sugar (if any). If all these elements are in proper proportion so that none overpower and
unbalance the wine, then other, more complex aromas and flavors can reveal themselves. A good wine has
a firm structure, while a wine that, for example, has little acidity and tastes flat or flabby is said to be lacking
in structure. Wines that are meant to be aged for several years must be firmly structured; that is, they must
have concentrated yet balanced levels of acidity, alcohol, fruit, and tannin to prevent them from becoming
unstable or flat while they mature.
adj. Subtle is often used to describe a delicate, elegant wine that has no intention of bowling you over with
its aroma and flavor; rather, it tantalizes your taste buds with its understated yet complex characteristics. A
well-made Chardonnay, for example, should impress you with its subtle oak flavor.
n. "Sulfites" is an inclusive term for free sulfur dioxide, sulfite ion, sulfurous acid, and other complex sulfites.
Sulfites are measured in parts per million, or ppm. Very few wines have below 10 ppm sulfites, and today few
have over 60 ppm. For an explanation of how sulfites and wine are related, see sulfur.
n. Sulfur in its various forms is one of the grape grower's and winemaker's best friends, for it has a number
of beneficial uses. A mixture of sulfur, lime, and water is dusted on grapes to prevent mildew, oidium, and
disease; it's used to clean and sterilize winemaking equipment; sulfur dioxide is added to wine as a
preservative and to prevent microbiological instability during the winemaking process; and sulfur prevents
unwanted secondary fermentation in sweet wines. Small amounts of sulfites exist naturally on grapes and
most other fruits, and their gaseous form, sulfur dioxide, is a natural by-product of fermentation. Even so, a
winemaker normally augments the amount of sulfites present during various stages of the winemaking
process with additions of sulfur dioxide (while always trying to use as little as possible). Since some people
are allergic to sulfites, the U.S. government has mandated that if a wine contains 10 ppm (parts per million)
or more of sulfites—and almost all wines do—its label must say "contains sulfites." A few wines are made
without sulfites and will state "no sulfites added" on the label. A wine that's labeled "organic," however,
doesn't guarantee that it's sulfite free. Myth: It's the sulfites in red wine that give you a headache. Fact: Red
wines actually contain far fewer sulfites than white wines. The culprit may be the histamine-like compounds
and other substances derived from the grape skins and tannin, but no one knows for sure. Surprising tidbit:
Most dried fruit and potato chips contain higher levels of sulfites than the majority of wines.
n. "Super second" is a marketing term (established by the 1855 Bordeaux Classification of Medoc and
Graves) referring to second-growth wines ranked just below the first growths. These wines may be second,
third, fourth, or fifth growths in the official classification, but in the world of wine professionals and
connoisseurs alike they are considered a mere stutter step below Lafite, Mouton, Margaux, Haut-Brion, and
Latour. This is not an official classification, and as such brings about some pretty heated debates. Some
wines that could be considered super seconds are Ducru-Beaucaillou of St. Julien and the two Pichons of
n. The group of Tuscan Vino da Tavola wines that have reached lofty heights in the wine world by
concentrating on quality rather than tradition. Supertuscans break all the rules of winemaking in Tuscany.
For example, they use non-traditional, non-Italian varietals. Despite their lowly classification, the wine world
has adopted these wines with enthusiasm.
adj. Supple refers to the texture of a wine. The term is almost always used to describe red wines that have a
round, smooth texture, as opposed to those that are high in acid and tannin and have a rough mouthfeel.
Suppleness is essentially the opposite of hardness, but it doesn't have the negative connotations that
softness sometimes does.
n. [sur-LEE] Sur lie is French for "on the lees," the lees being the dead yeast cells and other grape particles
that are a by-product of fermentation. A winemaker will sometimes allow a white wine to age with the lees for
several months before bottling it directly from the fermentation tank or barrel, bypassing the racking or
filtering process. It's done to add complexity and flavor to the wine. Chardonnay is often made using the sur
n. Most wine tasters can depict sweetness in wines at residual sugar (RS) levels above five grams per liter
(g/l). Wines below this are considered bone-dry, while wines with a residual sugar from 5 to 10 g/l are
considered dry. Wines with an RS of 10 to 20 g/l are medium dry, RS 20 to 30 g/l medium sweet, and RS 30
g/l and above are considered sweet. Every wine country has its own terms to describe wines from the driest
to the sweetest. The French scale is brut, sec, demi-sec, doux, loelleux, and liquoreux, while Italians use
secco, abboccato, amabile, and dolce.
Sylvaner or Silvaner
n. [SEAL-vahn-air] The white Sylvaner grape is widely planted throughout Franken, Germany, and Alsace,
France, where it is used to make light, soft, dry white wines with high acidity but not a lot of flavor, aroma, or
longevity. Sylvaner used to be Germany's most planted grape in the first half of the 20th century, but lost
ground to the hardy Müller-Thurgau varietal. It's still popular with growers because it's a high-yielding and
prolific grape varietal that matures early. Sylvaner is also grown in Switzerland, Australia, Italy, and
California. Many believe Sylvaner to have originated in Austria.
Syrah or Shiraz
n. [SEAR-rah] This venerable red varietal is best known for producing France's noble Rhône Valley reds—
such as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage—that age for decades. Australians call it "Shiraz" (a name that's
supposedly closer to the presumed Indo-European origin of the grape), grow more of it than any other red
grape, and have made it their most famous wine: Penfolds Grange. California is just starting to get into the
act, planting new vineyards and importing winemakers who can tame the tannins and coax out Syrah's
earthy flavors. Syrah vines produce dark, blackish berries with thick skins, resulting in typically dark, rich,
dense, medium- to full-bodied wines with distinctive pepper, spice, and fruit flavors (particularly cherry, black
current, and blackberry). Alcohol levels are typically high and acidity is moderate to low. Complex Syrahs
often exhibit the bouquet of leather, tar, or roasted nuts; wine made from an extremely ripe harvest tends to
have a jammy sweetness. Tannins can be firm in young, concentrated Syrahs, but most medium-bodied
ones are usually smooth, with little tannin bite. Syrah pairs well with grilled meats, full-flavored stews and
games, and peppery or spicy dishes. It is not unusual for Syrahs to require years of bottle aging before they
reach a pleasant balance. Syrah is one of the four red wines (the others are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir,
and Merlot) that make up the nine classical varietals (there are five white classical varietals: Chardonnay,
Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon.)
n. Most people think of table wine as the cheap stuff, but, at least in the United States, even the finest bottle
of Silver Oak Cabernet is considered a table wine. Technically it's a legal definition: If a non-sparkling wine
has an alcohol content that doesn't exceed 14%, it's a table wine. The Feds came up with 14 because that's
the normal percentage of alcohol in naturally fermented wine. A 1.5% margin of error is allowed, as long as
the alcohol content goes no higher than 14%. Any wine that has an alcohol content above 14%—usually due
to alcohol being added during or after fermentation—legally must be labeled a dessert wine (also referred to
as fortified wine at most liquor stores). Note: The European definition of table wine is different. Any wine that
is produced within the European Union that does not carry an official appellation of origin is considered a
n. Tactile refers to a component of wine that actually has a physical impact on the taster. For example, a
wine with high levels of volatile acidity has a sharp, biting sensation in the nasal passages, while high-
alcohol wines create a warm or hot sensation in the throat. Sparkling wines have an effervescence that can
be felt in a tactile fashion as well.
n. [TAH-fell-vine] Tafelwein is simply German table wine. There are two types of table wine in Germany:
Deutscher Tafelwein and Tafelwein aus Ländern EWG. "Deutscher" indicates that all the wine in a bottle of
table wine comes from Germany. (A further distinction of this Deutscher category is "Landwein," which is the
German equivalent of France's vin de pays.) The words "aus Ländern EWG" denote that the table wine
comes from somewhere outside Germany in the European Union.
n. Taille is often used in the Champagne region of France to describe the secondary, harsher pressings of
grapes after the first pressing. How to use it in a sentence? "This Champagne house never uses the juice
from the taille in their cuvée." The word taille is also a French term for "pruning."
n. See charmat.
n. Think "pucker factor" for the mouth. Tannin is the bitter, zesty element in wine that softens with aging yet
is crucial for the maturing of red wines. It comes from a grape's seeds, stem, and skin, as well as from the
wood barrels used for maturation (the newer the barrel, the greater the degree of tannin imparted). If the
wine makes your mouth pucker and your eyes water, it's usually due to high levels of tannin. FYI, most of
today's commercial red wines have a precise tannic balance and need little, if any, aging.
n. A winetasting term for wine that has a sharp, pungent taste, as if you've bitten into an under-ripe grape.
Tartness is caused by a high level of acidity (in fact, it's a synonym for "acidity"). It's generally used in a
negative fashion (as in "This wine is way too tart for me."), unless the winemaker intended to create a lively,
tart wine. See also acid.
n. [tar-TAIR-ik] The two main and most important acids in wine are malic acid and tartaric acid, both of
which exist naturally in grapes. Tartaric acid is the most predominant acid in warmer grape-growing regions.
Unlike malic acid, the level of tartaric acid doesn't decrease as the grape ripens. In certain wine-growing
areas where the level of grape acidity is typically low, tartaric acid can be added to wine to improve its acid
n. Tartrates are those little white crystals you occasionally see on the bottom of a cork. No, they're not like
the "taste crystals" in Folger's coffee. Rather, they're the sediment form of tartaric acid, and even though
they're completely tasteless and harmless, the bulk of today's white wines are chilled via a filtration method
called cold stabilization to remove tartrates. Some winemakers, however, feel that cold stabilization is too
harsh a treatment for their wine and will allow the tartrates to remain.
n. Tastevins (a.k.a. "wine tasters") are very shallow, broad cups used by professional wine tasters for
examining a wine's color and taste. They're usually made of silver and often have indented dimples and
other light-reflecting decoration intended to improve the wine taster's ability to judge color and clarity.
n./adj. [TAWN-ee] For port wines, the word "tawny" indicates that the wine has been aged in wood for
several years. Simple tawny ports must spend an average of seven years in pipes (large wooden vessels).
Other categories of tawny include 10-, 20-, and 30-year-old tawny port. An aside, tawny port is one of the
best buys among all fortified wine styles. Tawny can also refers to a wine's tan-like color.
n. TCA is the most common compound associated with wines that are corked. The technical name for TCA
is "2,4,6, trichloranisole." For more information, see corked.
n. See legs.
n. [TEM-pran-KNEE-oh] You may not have heard of this red grape before, but you've probably heard of the
famous wine it makes: Rioja [ree-OH-ha]. Tempranillo is grown almost exclusively in Spain, particularly in the
Rioja district, where it's blended with Garnacha (Grenache) to make this world-class wine. Tempranillo is an
early-ripening varietal and can thrive in some of the most inhospitable environments. Wines produced from
Tempranillo are typically medium to medium-full-bodied with a garnet red color and moderate acidity. Though
Tempranillo isn't typically dense, in perfect growing conditions the grapes can produce wines with the density
of Cabernet Sauvignon and alcohol levels to match. Flavor characteristics include more red fruit notes than
black, such as strawberry, red currant, some spicy notes of clove, and an earthy, leathery character.
Tempranillo is not particularly perfumed, and more often than not it's blended with highly aromatic varietals
such as Grenache. Tempranillo can be made in a young, zesty, fruity style for immediate drinking, or vinified
to mature in oak for decades. Outside of Spain, the grape varietal has met with some limited success in
Argentina, where it's known as Tempranilla.
n. [TAIR-wah] Terroir is a French term that encompasses all the various yet unique combinations of
geography, climate, and viticulture that would affect grapes grown in each particular wine-growing area —
whether a single vineyard or an entire region—including soil, rain, sun, wind, slope, irrigation, and drainage.
It's based on the word terre, which is French for "soil," and the concept behind terroir is that no two vineyards
are exactly alike. Ergo, even grapes of the exact same genetic varietal will create different-tasting wines due
to the unique terroir in which each is grown. In fact, the principle of terroir explains why Europeans name
their wines after the places where they are grown rather than the type (or types) of grapes used to make the
wine (as is done in most New World regions). See also appellation.
tête de cuvée
n. [TET duh cue-VAY] Literally "Head Vintage," tête de cuvée is a French term for a producer's best wine or
sparkling wine. You'll see these words most often on the label of expensive Champagnes, particularly
vintage Champagne. Tête de cuvée is the equivalent of Special Reserve and, not unlike our use of the term
"Reserve," it has no legal significance in France.
adj. If a wine is so light-bodied that it's practically watery, it's described as thin. What may be a compliment
to most people is an insult to wine, for "thin" is a catchall term for a wine that has a noticeable lack of
substance, grip, depth, body, color, and flavor.
adj. Tight is synonymous with "closed" or "dumb," meaning that the wine isn't releasing or "unwinding" the
aromas or flavors characteristic of that varietal. A tight wine has potential, but it either needs to breathe more
or age longer to allow it to loosen up. The term applies mainly to young red wines.
adj. [TEEN-toe] Tinto—and its feminine form, tinta—means "red" in both Spain and Portugal. Many red
wines and grapes from these countries begin with this descriptor, such as Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, and
Tinto de la Rioja.
adj. Like a tired old man, a tired wine has gone way past its peak and has used up all the elements—
including freshness, depth, flavor, and body—that make for a good, well-balanced wine. Wine aged too long
in the barrel or bottle will lose its liveliness and become tired.
adj. When oak barrels are made, the staves (slats of wood) are heated so they can be shaped into place.
The process is called toasting. Depending on how much the staves have been heated, the wood will impart a
toasty flavor and aroma to the wine stored within—that is, the wine will have the smell of heated or slightly
charred wood. Some even say such wine smells like toasted bread or smoked meats. You usually hear this
tasting term applied to white wines that have been barrel aged, particularly Chardonnay and Champagne
(such as, "This Chardonnay has plenty of toasty oak flavor").
v. Topping up simply means adding more liquid to a container to fill it to the top. In the case of wine, this is
done to squeeze out the airspace, which would otherwise cause a wine to oxidize. Wine stored in a barrel
will gradually evaporate because of the porous wood, so on occasion the barrels are topped up with wine—
from the same vintage, varietal, and vineyard, of course—to prevent air from mixing with the wine (this
explains the little holes on the top of the barrel). Other examples of topping up occur with Champagne, which
needs to be topped up with dosage after disgorgement, and very old bottles of wine whose ullage has
increased to the point that they need to be topped up and recorked.
n. Total acidity is the measure of all the acids in a wine, including both the fixed and volatile acids. This is
typically measured in the laboratory through a system called titration; portions of alkali are added to precise
amounts of grape juice or wine until the alkali equals the acids in the test. What is really important here is
that, when grape juice is converted into wine, it loses some of its acidity through cold stabilization and/or
malolactic fermentation. So for winemakers to create a wine of a total acidity level they desire, they must first
be aware of that measurement before they begin to ferment the juice, and then take the anticipated loss of
acidity in account for the finished wine—lest they create a wine that is out of balance.
n. [TREY-bee-AHN-oh] Trebbiano is the most widely planted white grape in Italy, and is used to make
Orvieto, Soave, and other Italian dry white wines. Wine made from Trebbiano grapes typically has high
acidity, medium alcohol, neutral aromas and flavors, and low sugar. It's often blended with other wines since
it tends to be rather light-bodied and uninspiring on its own. The French call it Ugni Blanc and use it as a
base wine for making brandy.
n. The long row of posts linked by wires and various other latticework that supports the grapevines. In recent
years, much science and experimentation has gone into developing sophisticated trellising systems that train
vines to grow in the most beneficial way for each particular microclimate. There are dozens of systems used
around the world, all with the same goal of growing as many healthy, fully ripened grapes as possible without
sacrificing quality. See also canopy.
n. [TRAWK-uhn] German term for "dry," these wines by law cannot have a residual sugar level higher than
0.4 percent. However, wines with higher acidity can lower the perception of sweetness. So for a wine to be
labeled Trocken, its sugar level can be as high as 0.9 percent if the wine's total acidity is within two grams
per liter of the sugar level. The limits for sparkling wines (Sekt) also vary. In either case, when you see
Trocken on the label, you're getting something relatively dry.
n. [TRAWK-uhn-bay-ruhn-OWS-lay-zuh] To understand this big word, it helps to break it down:
trocken/dried, beeren/berries, aus/out, lese/picking. Often confused with Trocken, these wines are made
from dried, ultraripe berries that are picked out individually. This is the highest Prädikat designation, ranking
above Eiswein and Beerenauslese. These concentrated, honey-like grapes are used to produce supersweet,
downright unctuous dessert wines. Like Beerenauslese wines, these wines are rarely produced (two to three
vintages every decade), but when they are they have enough acid and sugar to age for decades.
n. Part of judging a wine is determining whether it smells and tastes as it should for that type of varietal or
region. A Merlot, for example, should typically offer rich and luscious fruit flavors; if it doesn't, that's a point
against it because it doesn't exhibit the correct "typicity"—yet another of those weird made-up winespeak
terms—or standard characteristics of a classic Merlot. By the way, if you hear this word used in a
conversation, you know you're dealing with a serious wine nut. See also varietal character.
n. [ULL-age] Ullage is the airspace between the wine barrel and its lid, or the bottled wine and its cork. (If
you really want to split hairs, ullage is what isn't between a wine barrel and its lid—that is, evaporated wine.)
Excessive ullage may be an indication that the cork is leaking or that the wine is evaporating due to high
heat and/or low humidity. Solutions include: 1) drinking the wine now, or 2) recorking and topping-up the
wine, then storing it in a proper environment. If the ullage is an inch or more, it's time to start worrying. By
contrast, in brandy making, ullage is affectionately referred to as "the angel's share," a heady aroma that
leaves you slightly tipsy during your guided tour of the barrel storage room.
adj. An unbalanced wine suffers from an overabundance of one element and/or a lack of another—e.g., too
much alcohol and not enough tannins. See also balance.
adj. "Unctuous" is a tasting term for wine that is rich, sweet, thick, full-bodied, and high in alcohol and
concentrated fruit. It's often used to describe sweet, smooth-tasting dessert wines such as sherry and
adj. A winemaker will sometimes choose not to filter a particular wine if he or she feels that filtering will
detract from its character or complexity. Though filtering is one of the fastest and easiest ways to clarify and
stabilize a wine, some winemakers claim that it strips wine of its aroma and flavor. In the New World, if a
wine is unfiltered it usually says so somewhere on the label. An aside, even though a wine may not be
filtered, it could have been clarified via a process called fining. If neither method was used, the label will
probably say "unfiltered and unfined."
adj. Fining is a method of clarifying wine via a fining agent such as powdered clay, whipped egg whites,
powdered milk, or gelatin. As with filteringand centrifugation, fining has its share of detractors, who feel wine
should achieve clarity naturally. If a winemaker chooses not to use a fining agent, the label may state that
the wine is "unfined" or, more likely, "unfiltered and unfined."
n. Get to know this wine term, because you'll hear it often. Here's the scoop: A varietal is a wine named for
the type of grape variety from which it was made. If a wine is made up mostly of Chardonnay grapes, the
varietal is Chardonnay. Each country has strict rules mandating the minimum percentage of a certain grape
that the wine must be composed of (in the United States it's 75%), and some wines are made entirely from
the same grape variety. The majority of wine on the market is named either for the varietal used to make the
wine (e.g., Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon) or the place where the grapes were grown (e.g., Bordeaux,
Chianti, Rioja). Most wines made in the United States have varietal names, whereas European wines are
almost always named after the region or appellation they are from. There are exceptions, such as wines from
varietal character or correctness
n. This refers to the flavor, aroma, texture, and overall character of a wine made from a particular varietal.
Wine made from Merlot grapes, for example, typically should be medium-bodied, with medium-high alcohol,
moderate acidity, and softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. A Merlot should also taste of red fruits such
as red currant, strawberry, and raspberry. If the wine doesn't exhibit these particular characteristics, then it's
not being true to its varietal character and lacks varietal correctness. The term is most often used when
judging wine. See also typicity.
adj. If a wine's smell and taste make you think "farmer's market"—that is, it's reminiscent of plants and
vegetables—it can be described as vegetal. In small amounts, vegetal tastes and aromas add to a wine's
complexity; anything more and the wine is considered flawed. Vegetal wines are usually a result of grapes
grown in vineyards that had excessive yields. See also grassy and leafy.
adj. Having a silky smooth texture. Drinking a velvety wine is somewhat akin to rubbing your hand over
velvet—a very soft, pleasant, and appealing feeling. Thick, rich, full-bodied red wines - where all the
elements of tannin, acidity, alcohol, and fruit are in balance—can have a velvety mouthfeel and texture.
n. [ven-DAHNJ] Vendange is the French word for "harvest."
n. [ven-DAHNJ tar-DEEV] Vendange Tardive means "Late Harvest" and is most commonly used to classify
wines from the Alsace [AL-zass] region in France. Winemakers in Alsace have produced mostly dry white
wines since the end of World War II to distinguish their style of wine from the style of wines made in
Germany, which almost always have high levels of residual sugar. The Vendange Tardive category allows
Alsace producers to diversify their styles, much like the trocken (dry) and halbtrocken (medium-dry) wines of
Germany allow German vintners some new marketing approaches.
n. [ver-ah-SAWN] Veraison is the point during the red grape's growth cycle that the berry turns from green
to red, which is when some of the best wine producers remove the green grapes that haven't turned red. The
purpose is to create more concentrated and higher quality wines by reducing the yield and ensuring more
even ripening at harvest. At the beginning of veraison the grapes are small (just half of their final expected
size), hard, and green; very high in acidity; and lack glucose and fructose. Shortly thereafter the grapes gain
color, size, and ripeness as acidity diminishes.
n. During a winetasting, the wines to be judged can be arranged in one of two ways: horizontally or
vertically. A vertical tasting features several vintages of the same wine, such as a Quivira Zinfandel made
from 1990 to 1996. A horizontal tasting, however, focuses on a single vintage—say, a 1994 Sonoma Valley
Chardonnay—from several wineries.
n. [vee-A VEEN-yay] Vieilles vignes is French for "aged vines." You occasionally see these words on the
label of French wines, such as Cuvée les Chaillets Vieilles Vignes. Although it is generally agreed that vines
should be at least 25 years of age before a vintner can use the term vieille vignes, there is no current
regulation limiting its use on wine labels.
n. [VEEN-yay] French for "vine."
n. [VEEN-yay MARE] Vigne mere is French for "mother vine" or "mother clone," and is often used to
indicate the mother vineyard. The term refers to the vineyard or vines—usually the best selection, or
sélection massale—from which other vines are propagated or cloned.
vin de garde
n. [VAHN duh GARR] The French phrase used to indicate that a wine is intended for aging and maturing
rather than for early consumption.
vin de pays
n. [VAHN duh PAH] Vin de pays literally means "wine of the country" in French. These wines are expected
to be a step above simple French table wine, yet, because vin de pays is frequently "varietally labeled" (as
opposed to getting the traditional appellation label), vin de pays flies in the face of appellation control. This
practice of varietal labeling is done for the marketability of vin de pays wines, since the vast majority of vin de
pays wines are of a quality and price that makes them very competitive with the varietal-labeled wines of the
New World (which is the economic aim of this category of wines). There are three tiers to vin de pays:
regional, locally specific, and departmental.
vin de table
n. [VAHN duh TAHB] The French term for "table wine," vin de table is often referred to as vin ordinaire. Vin
de table represents almost a quarter of all French wine produced. In fact, so much simple, low-quality wine is
produced from high-yielding vineyards and varietals like Carignan, Aramon, and Alicante Bouschet that a
vast quantity of it is distilled into alcohol for other uses—all of which lends credence to the saying "The
French have the worst table wine in the world."
n. If a wine is exposed to air long enough it will eventually turn into vinegar. It's a two-part process: the
wine's alcohol reacts with oxygen in the air and converts first into aldehyde and then into acetic acid (the
cause of that sharp, vinegary smell). Wines with alcohol levels above 15% cannot be converted into vinegar
(one of Mother Nature's rules). This is the raison d'être behind the production of fortified wines, which have
alcohol levels at 15% or above. For example, fino sherry is one of the lighter fortified wines, but it must be at
least 15.5% alcohol in order to prevent it from turning into vinegar.
n. The process of converting grape juice into wine via fermentation.
n. [VAHN or-deen-AIR] See vin de table.
n. Vintage is a synonym for "harvest year," the year that the grapes were harvested and made into wine
(not the year the wine was actually bottled, which may have taken place years later). In many ways vintage
is also a synonym for the weather and its effect on the grapes throughout the grape-growing year,
culminating with the harvest. A lot of pomp and circumstance is attributed to a wine's vintage, but the reality
is that even most jug wines are vintage wines. The vintage date—which is clearly listed on the bottle of most
single-vintage wines—only becomes important when dealing with quality wines, because some annual
harvests produce better-quality grapes than others (whereas makers of jug wines are interested more in
consistency than in high quality). The 1993 Burgundy harvest, for instance, was particularly good, resulting in
some incredible wines. FYI, by U.S. law, a wine may be vintage dated only if 95% of the grapes used to
make the wine were harvested in that year.
n. Technically a vintner is a wine merchant, but the term more commonly refers to a person who makes
wine or a winery proprietor.
Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA)
n. An appellation of origin system developed by an alliance of wineries, government regulators, and
research institutions that identifies wines based on the origin of the grapes from which they are produced.
With this system, Canada joins other wine-producing countries in developing a system of regulations and
standards for its wines. Like the AOC laws in France, each Canadian region maintains unique rules such as
approved grape varieties and sugar level at harvest. Unlike French AOC wines, however, VQA wines are
appraised by an independent panel of experts, and only those that meet or exceed the VQA standards are
awarded the designation. These wines may display a VQA medal on the bottle.
n. [vee-OWN-yay] This Northern Rhône white varietal is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in
California. Unfortunately, little of it is grown since it is such a poor yielder and quite prone to disease. Supply
and demand being what it is, expect to pay top dollar to enjoy this wine's enticingly soft texture, fruity flavor,
and distinctive scent of dried peaches and apricots. Viognier is most famous as the sole varietal in Condrieu,
made in the Northern Rhône appellation of the same name. A close second is the Northern Rhône wine
Château Grillet, which is also based on Viognier. In general, wines made from Viognier are medium- to
medium-full-bodied and pale-light green to gold in color. They are also some of the most aromatic and
elusively perfumed wines on the planet. The acidity is moderate to moderate-low and the alcohol level can
be quite high. The wine has a rich, oily, almost unctuous character and a medium-short finish; the influence
of oak in Viognier is typically not a factor. Although the finest Viognier wines can last and improve for
decades, most are at their best within the first three years.
n. See American Viticultural Area.
n. The method and process of cultivating grapes, as well as vineyard management.
n. [VIT-tiss vah-NIFF-er-ah] Vitis vinifera is the species of European vine from which almost all of the wine in
the world is made. For example, all the classical and major varietals such as Chardonnay and Cabernet
Sauvignon are vitis vinifera.
n. When considered as a whole, the volatile acids in wine make up a wine's volatile acidity. They include
minuscule amounts of formic, propionic, and a few other acids, but without exception it is acetic acid (the
same acid responsible for turning wine into vinegar) that plays the most important role in volatile acidity.
Volatile acidity in minute proportions can actually give a refreshing lift to some heavy wines. To experience
firsthand the potency of volatile acidity, open a bottle of Madeira—say, a 10-year-old Malmsey—and nose
the wine. That nasal passage-piercing aroma is a result of volatile acidity.
n. Acronym for Vintners Quality Alliance.
adj. See balance.
n. White Zinfandel is the name of the inexpensive blush-style wine created in California during the 1970s, as
a result of a surplus of red Zinfandel grapes and a shortage of white wine grapes. At the time, Americans
were drinking more white wine than red, so as both a marketing ploy and means of meeting the high
demand, a "white" wine was made from Zinfandel grapes. Technically, White Zinfandel is not a white wine at
all but a "blush" wine, since it is made from red grapes. During the winemaking process, the dark Zinfandel
grape skins are removed from the juice as soon as the grapes are pressed, resulting in wine with a slight
pinkish color, little character, and (more often than not) plenty of residual sugar. Some White Zinfandels were
further enlivened with the addition of a small amount of carbon dioxide (to add fizz) and other, more aromatic
wines such as Riesling or Muscat. Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home is largely credited with starting the White
Zinfandel revolution, and to this day it's still the winery's best selling wine, cranking out a whopping five
million cases a year.
whole bunch fermentation
n. Most commonly practiced in Burgundy, whole bunch fermentation is a type of fermentation during which
the whole bunch of grapes, stems, and all are fermented together. This can only be successful when the
grapes are very concentrated and ripe; otherwise, the stems give too many vegetative notes to the wine.
One of the main advantages of whole berry fermentation is the increased flow of juices through the channels
created by the stems, which in turn improves beneficial aeration and color extraction through skin-to-juice
n. Wine is, in the most general sense, fermented grape juice containing 10% to 15% alcohol by volume.
Interestingly enough, it's the only alcohol beverage that can make itself: just throw a bunch of grapes in a big
ol' container, stomp on them, let the juice sit for a spell, and eventually it turns into wine (lousy wine, but wine
nonetheless). If you examine an unwashed grape, you might notice a faint white bloom on its skin—this is
the grape's natural (or what is often called "wild") yeast. There are also natural sugars inside the grape called
fructose and glucose, and when the grape is crushed the sugars come into contact with the yeast and
natural fermentation begins. This is why so many people call wine the only natural alcohol beverage. The art
of making palatable wine, however, is a complicated process involving proper grape selection, fermentation,
filtering of sediments, aging, and dozens of other procedures learned through traditional and experimental
n. See Master of Wine.
n. See sommelier.
adj. If a wine gives off aromas and flavors that remind you of wood (as if you're chewing on a toothpick),
then you say, "This wine's a bit woody, don't you think?" A woody aroma usually implies that the wine has
been overaged and has taken on the woody as well as oaky barrel flavors.
n. Simply put, yeast is what turns grape juice into wine. The single-cell microorganisms, which are naturally
present on the skin of grapes, convert the grape's sugar into alcohol in a process called fermentation. Most
winemakers, however, prefer to control fermentation by adding cultured (i.e., man-made) strains of yeast—
referred to in the business as "pure culture" or "inoculated yeast"—which are easier to control and predict.
Yeast also imparts a unique character to a wine.
n. "Yeasty" is a tasting term that describes wine that has the aroma or taste of yeast (similar to the smell of
fresh-baked bread). It's an expected and desirable trait in Champagne that has spent three or more years on
the lees, which allows it to develop a yeasty aroma or character (see secondary fermentation). If a young
table wine smells overly yeasty, however, it usually indicates that the wine needs to be aged longer to allow
the residual yeast to dissipate.
n. The vineyard term used to describe the total quantity of grapes or the volume of wine the harvested
grapes are capable of producing. As such, yield also indicates the potential quality of the wine to be
produced, since it is commonly agreed that lower yields produce higher quality grapes and, subsequently,
higher quality wines. Yield is often quoted in tons per acre or hectoliters per hectare (which is usually
abbreviated as hl/ha). Individual varietals are capable of producing varying yields due to their intrinsic nature,
and this is always a consideration in an economic/marketing model when planning the viability of a
vineyard's potential. For example, yields from Pinot Noir will be about half the quantity that Merlot is capable
of producing under similar conditions.
adj. Depending on the type of wine, young can mean one of two things. If a wine—such as Beaujolais
Nouveau—isn't supposed to be aged, then young could be a compliment, much like fresh or youthful. Some
Rieslings are best enjoyed while still young, before they lose their pleasant crispness and floral perfume. If,
on the other hand, we're talking about the latest vintage of Dows Vintage port, a wine that will definitely
improve with age, then "young" would imply that it's immature and still needs to develop in the bottle.
n. Though some trace Zinfandel's genetic origin back to Southern Italy's Primitivo (though no one is
precisely sure of its origin), Californians have considered Zinfandel to be exclusively their grape for more
than a century. In fact, other than a few producers in Australia and South Africa, this extraordinarily versatile
red grape varietal is grown nowhere else but in the U.S. of A. It's a beautiful grape—big, fat, dark-blue
berries that are sweet and juicy. In the 1970s it garnered a huge following when Gallo released a slightly
sweet, light-bodied version called White Zinfandel, but now that the White Zinfandel fad has passed,
California winemakers are again producing "big Zins" packed with dark berry, cherry fruit, and enough
backbone to pair with beef, game, sausage, pizza, or any other hearty, peppery dish. A grape-of-all-trades, it
can also be made into a late-harvest port-style wine or a lighter-bodied claret-style wine. At its best,
Zinfandel is a rich, robust, fruity wine with loads of blueberry and black cherry aromas, hints of licorice and
raspberry, and a wonderfully peppery bite. Because it has such a high Brix level, it's often high in alcohol and
has an unmistakably warm finish. It's mostly planted in Northern California, with the best wines coming from
the cooler coastal regions.