ACID: All wines contain acetic
acid, or vinegar, but usually the amount is quite small--from
0.03 percent to 0.06 percent--and not perceptible to smell
or taste. Once table wines reach 0.07 percent or above, a
sweet-sour vinegary smell and taste becomes evident. At low
levels, acetic acid can enhance the character of a wine, but
at higher levels (over 0.1 percent), it can become the dominant
flavor and is considered a major flaw. A related substance,
ethyl acetate, contributes a nail polish-like
A compound present in all grapes and
an essential component of wine that preserves it, enlivens
and shapes its flavors and helps prolong its aftertaste. There
are four major kinds of acids--tartaric, malic, lactic and
citric--found in wine. Acid is identifiable by the crisp,
sharp character it imparts to a wine.
ACIDIC: Used to describe
wines whose total acid is so high that they taste tart or
sour and have a sharp edge on the palate.
ACIDITY: The acidity
of a balanced dry table wine is in the range of 0.6 percent
to 0.75 percent of the wine's volume. It is legal in some
areas--such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, Australia, California--to
correct deficient acidity by adding acid. When overdone, it
leads to unusually sharp, acidic wines. However, it is illegal
in Bordeaux and Burgundy to both chaptalize and acidify a
wine. See also chaptalization.
ACRID: Describes a
harsh or bitter taste or pungent smell that is due to excess
AERATION: The process
of letting a wine "breathe" in the open air, or swirling wine
in a glass. It's debatable whether aerating bottled wines
(mostly reds) improves their quality. Aeration can soften
young, tannic wines; it can also fatigue older ones.
AFTERTASTE: The taste
or flavors that linger in the mouth after the wine is tasted,
spit or swallowed. The aftertaste or "finish" is the most
important factor in judging a wine's character and quality.
Great wines have rich, long, complex aftertastes.
harsh in taste or texture, usually due to a high level of
tannin or acid.
ALCOHOL: Ethyl alcohol,
a chemical compound formed by the action of natural or added
yeast on the sugar content of grapes during fermentation.
ALCOHOL BY VOLUME:
As required by law, wineries must state the alcohol level
of a wine on its label. This is usually expressed as a numerical
percentage of the volume. For table wines the law allows a
1.5 percent variation above or below the stated percentage
as long as the alcohol does not exceed 14 percent. Thus, wineries
may legally avoid revealing the actual alcohol content of
their wines by labeling them as "table wine."
ALCOHOLIC: Used to
describe a wine that has too much alcohol for its body and
weight, making it unbalanced. A wine with too much alcohol
will taste uncharacteristically heavy or hot as a result.
This quality is noticeable in aroma and aftertaste.
OAK: Increasingly popular as an alternative to French
oak for making barrels in which to age wine as quality
improves and vintners learn how to treat the wood to meet
their needs. Marked by strong vanilla, dill and cedar notes,
it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel,
for which it is the preferred oak. It's less desirable, although
used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Many California
and Australia wineries use American oak, yet claim to use
French oak because of its more prestigious image. American
oak barrels sell in the $250 range, compared to more than
$500 for the French ones. See also French
AREA (AVA): A delimited, geographical grape-growing area
that has officially been given appellation status by the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Two examples are Napa Valley
and Sonoma Valley. See also viticultural area.
study of grape varieties.
to a wine's clarity, not color.
Defines the area where a wine's grapes were grown,
such as Bordeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin, Alexander Valley or Russian
River Valley. Regulations vary widely from country to country.
In order to use an appellation on a California wine label,
for example, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine
must be grown in the specified district. See also appellation
D'ORIGINE CONTROLEE (AOC): The French
system of appellations, begun in the 1930s and considered
the wine world's prototype. To carry an appellation in this
system, a wine must follow rules describing the area the grapes
are grown in, the varieties used, the ripeness, the alcoholic
strength, the vineyard yields and the methods used in growing
the grapes and making the wine.
defined as the smell that wine acquires from the grapes and
from fermentation. Now it more commonly means the wine's total
smell, including changes that resulted from oak aging or that
occurred in the bottle--good or bad. "Bouquet" has a similar
a rough, harsh, puckery feel in the mouth, usually from tannin
or high acidity, that red wines (and a few whites) have. When
the harshness stands out, the wine is astringent.
AUSTERE: Used to describe
relatively hard, high-acid wines that lack depth and roundness.
Usually said of young wines that need time to soften, or wines
that lack richness and body.
a wine that has poor structure, is clumsy or is out of balance.
Used to denote those wines that are full-bodied, well-structured
and balanced by a desirable level of acidity.
BACKWARD: Used to
describe a young wine that is less developed than others of
its type and class from the same vintage.
BALANCE: A wine has
balance when its elements are harmonious and no single element
BALTHAZAR: An oversized
bottle which holds the equivalent of 12 to 16 standard bottles.
Denotes wine that has been fermented in small casks (usually
55-gallon oak barrels) instead of larger tanks. Advocates
believe that barrel fermentation contributes greater harmony
between the oak and the wine, increases body and adds complexity,
texture and flavor to certain wine types. Its liabilities
are that more labor is required and greater risks are involved.
It is mainly used for whites.
BIN NUMBER: See also
BITE: A marked degree
of acidity or tannin. An acid grip in the finish should be
more like a zestful tang and is tolerable only in a rich,
one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet).
Some grapes--notably Gewürztraminer and Muscat--often
have a noticeable bitter edge to their flavors. Another source
of bitterness is tannin or stems. If the bitter quality dominates
the wine's flavor or aftertaste, it is considered a fault.
In sweet wines a trace of bitterness may complement the flavors.
In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness
doesn't always dissipate with age. Normally, a fine, mature
wine should not be bitter on the palate.
BLANC DE BLANCS: "White
of whites," meaning a white wine made of white grapes, such
as Champagne made of Chardonnay.
BLANC DE NOIRS: "White
of blacks," white wine made of red or black grapes, where
the juice is squeezed from the grapes and fermented without
skin contact. The wines can have a pale pink hue. E.G., Champagne
that is made from Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
BLUNT: Strong in flavor
and often alcoholic, but lacking in aromatic interest and
development on the palate.
BODY: The impression
of weight or fullness on the palate; usually the result of
a combination of glycerin, alcohol and sugar. Commonly expressed
as full-bodied, medium-bodied or medium-weight, or light-bodied.
CINEREA: Called the Noble Rot. A beneficial mold or fungus that attacks
grapes under certain climatic conditions and causes them to
shrivel, deeply concentrating the flavors, sugar and acid.
Some of the most famous examples come from Sauternes (Château
d'Yquem), Germany and Tokay.
BOTTLE SICKNESS: A
temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed fruit
flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when
wines (usually fragile wines) are shaken in travel. Also called
bottle shock. A few days of rest is the cure.
BOTTLED BY: Means
the wine could have been purchased ready-made and simply bottled
by the brand owner, or made under contract by another winery.
When the label reads "produced and bottled by" or "made and
bottled by" it means the winery produced the wine from start
BOUQUET: The smell
that a wine develops after it has been bottled and aged. Most
appropriate for mature wines that have developed complex flavors
beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas.
BRAWNY: Used to describe
wines that are hard, intense, tannic and that have raw, woody
flavors. The opposite of elegant.
young wines with an earthy or stemmy wild berry character.
BRIGHT: Used for fresh,
ripe, zesty, lively young wines with vivid, focused flavors.
the appearance of very clear wines with absolutely no visible
suspended or particulate matter. Not always a plus, as it
can indicate a highly filtered wine.
measurement of the sugar content of grapes, must and wine,
indicating the degree of the grapes' ripeness (meaning sugar
level) at harvest. Most table-wine grapes are harvested at
between 21 and 25 Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level,
multiply the stated Brix by .55.
a wine's color, and is a sign that a wine is mature and may
be faded. A bad sign in young red (or white) wines, but less
significant in older wines. Wines 20 to 30 years old may have
a brownish edge yet still be enjoyable.
BRUT: A general term
used to designate a relatively dry-finished Champagne or sparkling
wine, often the driest wine made by the producer.
BURNT: Describes wines
that have an overdone, smoky, toasty or singed edge. Also
used to describe overripe grapes.
the smell of melted butter or toasty oak. Also a reference
to texture, as in "a rich, buttery Chardonnay."
MACERATION: Fermentation of whole, uncrushed grapes in
a carbon dioxide atmosphere. In practice, the weight of the
upper layers of grapes in a vat will break the skins of the
lowest layer; the resultant wine is partly a product of carbonic
maceration and partly of traditional fermentation of juice.
A meaningless term sometimes used for special wines, as in
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, but often applied to ordinary
CEDARY: Denotes the
smell of cedar wood associated with mature Cabernet Sauvignon
and Cabernet blends aged in French or American oak.
CELLARED BY: Means
the wine was not produced at the winery where it was bottled.
It usually indicates that the wine was purchased from another
The addition of sugar to juice before and/or during fermentation,
used to boost sugar levels in underripe grapes and alcohol
levels in the subsequent wines. Common in northern European
countries, where the cold climates may keep grapes from ripening,
but forbidden in southern Europe (including southern France
and all of Italy) and California.
Mass production method for sparkling wine. Indicates the
wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks and later
drawn off into the bottle under pressure. Also known as the
"bulk process." See also méthode champenoise.
CHEWY: Describes rich,
heavy, tannic wines that are full-bodied.
CIGAR BOX: Another
descriptor for a cedary aroma.
CLEAN: Fresh on the
palate and free of any off-taste. Does not necessarily imply
CLONE: A group of
vines originating from a single, individual plant propagated
asexually from a single source. Clones are selected for the
unique qualities of the grapes and wines they yield, such
as flavor, productivity and adaptability to growing conditions.
Describes wines that are concentrated and have character,
yet are shy in aroma or flavor.
CLOUDINESS: Lack of
clarity to the eye. Fine for old wines with sediment, but
it can be a warning signal of protein instability, yeast spoilage
or re-fermentation in the bottle in younger wines.
ultra-sweet or sugary wines that lack the balance provided
by acid, alcohol, bitterness or intense flavor.
COARSE: Usually refers
to texture, and in particular, excessive tannin or oak. Also
used to describe harsh bubbles in sparkling wines.
COLD STABILIZATION: A
clarification technique in which a wine's temperature is lowered
to 32° F, causing the tartrates and other insoluble solids to precipitate.
COMPLEXITY: An element
in all great wines and many very good ones; a combination
of richness, depth, flavor intensity, focus, balance, harmony
a wine having the off-putting, musty, moldy-newspaper flavor
and aroma and dry aftertaste caused by a tainted cork.
CRUSH: Harvest season
when the grapes are picked and crushed.
CUVEE: A blend or
special lot of wine.
A process for separating the sediment from a wine before drinking.
Accomplished by slowly and carefully pouring the wine from
its bottle into another container.
DELICATE: Used to
describe light- to medium-weight wines with good flavors.
A desirable quality in wines such as Pinot Noir or Riesling.
DEMI-SEC: In the language
of Champagne, a term relating to sweetness. It can be misleading;
although demi-sec means half-dry, demi-sec sparkling wines
are usually slightly sweet to medium sweet.
DENSE: Describes a
wine that has concentrated aromas on the nose and palate.
A good sign in young wines.
DEPTH: Describes the
complexity and concentration of flavors in a wine, as in a
wine with excellent or uncommon depth. Opposite of shallow.
DIRTY: Covers any
and all foul, rank, off-putting smells that can occur in a
wine, including those caused by bad barrels or corks. A sign
of poor winemaking.
A step in the traditional process of sparkling wine production
wherein frozen sediment is removed from the neck of the bottle.
In bottle-fermented sparkling wines, a small amount
of wine (usually sweet) that is added back to the bottle once
the yeast sediment that collects in the neck of the bottle
DRY: Having no perceptible
taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar
at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.
DRYING OUT: Losing
fruit (or sweetness in sweet wines) to the extent that acid,
alcohol or tannin dominate the taste. At this stage the wine
will not improve.
DUMB: Describes a
phase young wines undergo when their flavors and aromas are
undeveloped. A synonym of closed.
HARVEST: Denotes a wine made from early-harvested grapes,
usually lower than average in alcoholic content or sweetness.
EARTHY: Used to describe
both positive and negative attributes in wine. At its best,
a pleasant, clean quality that adds complexity to aroma and
flavors. The flip side is a funky, barnyardy character that
borders on or crosses into dirtiness.
ELEGANT: Used to describe
wines of grace, balance and beauty.
EMPTY: Similar to
hollow; devoid of flavor and interest.
ENOLOGY: The science
and study of winemaking. Also spelled oenology.
term once used by producers for those wines made from vineyards
that they owned and that were contiguous to the winery "estate."
Today it indicates the winery either owns the vineyard or
has a long-term lease to purchase the grapes.
A sweet, vinegary smell that often accompanies acetic
acid. It exists to some extent in all wines and in small doses
can be a plus. When it is strong and smells like nail polish,
it's a defect.
EXTRA-DRY: A common
Champagne term not to be taken literally. Most Champagnes
so labeled are sweet.
and depth of concentration of fruit in a wine. Usually a positive
quality, although high extract wine can also be highly tannic.
Describes a wine that is losing color, fruit or flavor,
usually as a result of age.
high alcohol wines low in acidity give a "fat" impression
on the palate. Can be a plus with bold, ripe, rich flavors;
can also suggest the wine's structure is suspect.
process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon
dioxide; turns grape juice into wine.
FIELD BLEND: When
a vineyard is planted to several different varieties and the
grapes are harvested together to produce a single wine, the
wine is called a field blend.
FILTERING: The process
of removing particles from wine after fermentation. Most wines
unless otherwise labeled are filtered for both clarity and
FINING: A technique
for clarifying wine using agents such as bentonite (powdered
clay), gelatin or egg whites, which combine with sediment
particles and cause them to settle to the bottom, where they
can be easily removed.
FINISH: The key to
judging a wine's quality is finish, also called aftertaste--a
measure of the taste or flavors that linger in the mouth after
the wine is tasted. Great wines have rich, long, complex finishes.
FLABBY: Soft, feeble,
lacking acidity on the palate.
FLAT: Having low acidity;
the next stage after flabby. Can also refer to a sparkling
wine that has lost its bubbles.
FLESHY: Soft and smooth
in texture, with very little tannin.
FLINTY: A descriptor
for extremely dry white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, whose
bouquet is reminiscent of flint struck against steel.
FLORAL (also FLOWERY):
Literally, having the characteristic aromas of flowers. Mostly
associated with white wines.
a wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition
of brandy or neutral spirits.
FOXY: A term used
to describe the unique musky and grapey character of many
native American labrusca varieties.
FREE-RUN JUICE: The
juice that escapes after the grape skins are crushed or squeezed
prior to fermentation.
OAK: The traditional wood for wine barrels, which supplies vanilla, cedar and sometimes
butterscotch flavors. Used for red and white wines. Much more
expensive than American oak, it can cost
more than $500 per barrel, as opposed to $250 for American.
FRESH: Having a lively,
clean and fruity character. An essential for young wines.
FRUITY: Having the
aroma and taste of fruit or fruits.
Describes a wine that is harmonious and pleasing in a subtle
by simple flavors and aromas associated with fresh table grapes;
distinct from the more complex fruit flavors (currant, black
cherry, fig or apricot) found in fine wines.
GRASSY: A signature
descriptor for Sauvignon Blanc and a pleasant one unless overbearing
GREEN: Tasting of
unripe fruit. Wines made from unripe grapes will often possess
this quality. Pleasant in Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
GREEN HARVEST: The
trimming of unripe grapes to decrease crop yields, thereby
improving the concentration of the remaining bunches.
GRIP: A welcome firmness
of texture, usually from tannin, which helps give definition
to wines such as Cabernet and Port.
GROWN, PRODUCED AND BOTTLED:
Means the winery handled each aspect of wine growing.
Holds 375 milliliters or 3/8 liter.
HARD: Firm; a quality
that usually results from high acidity or tannins. Often a
descriptor for young red wines.
HARMONIOUS: Well balanced,
with no component obtrusive or lacking.
HARSH: Used to describe
astringent wines that are tannic or high in alcohol.
HAZY: Used to describe
a wine that has small amounts of visible matter. A good quality
if a wine is unfined and unfiltered.
HEARTY: Used to describe
the full, warm, sometimes rustic qualities found in red wines
with high alcohol.
HEADY: Used to describe
the taste and smell of herbs in a wine. A plus in many wines
such as Sauvignon Blanc, and to a lesser extent Merlot and
Cabernet. Herbal is a synonym.
HOLLOW: Lacking in
flavor. Describes a wine that has a first taste and a short
finish, and lacks depth at mid-palate.
HOT: High alcohol,
unbalanced wines that tend to burn with "heat" on the finish
are called hot. Acceptable in Port-style wines.
An oversized bottle holding 4 to 6 liters; the equivalent
of eight standard bottles.
An oversized bottle holding the equivalent of six bottles.
In Champagne, a jeroboam holds four bottles.
On labels, indicates that a wine was made from grapes picked
later than normal and at a higher sugar (Brix) level than
normal. Usually associated with botrytized
and dessert-style wines.
LEAFY: Describes the
slightly herbaceous, vegetal quality reminiscent of leaves.
Can be a positive or a negative, depending on whether it adds
to or detracts from a wine's flavor.
LEAN: A not necessarily
critical term used to describe wines made in an austere style.
When used as a term of criticism, it indicates a wine is lacking
Sediment remaining in a barrel or tank during and after
fermentation. Often used as in sur lie aging, which indicates
a wine is aged "on its lees." See also sur lie.
LEGS: The viscous
droplets that form and ease down the sides of the glass when
the wine is swirled.
LENGTH: The amount
of time the sensations of taste and aroma persist after swallowing.
The longer the better.
LIMOUSIN: A type of
oak cask from Limoges, France. See also French oak.
LINGERING: Used to
describe the flavor and persistence of flavor in a wine after
tasting. When the aftertaste remains on the palate for several
seconds, it is said to be lingering.
wines that are fresh and fruity, bright and vivacious.
LUSH: Wines that are
high in residual sugar and taste soft or viscous are called
During fermentation, the steeping of the grape skins and solids
in the wine, where alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color,
tannin and aroma from the skins.
MADE AND BOTTLED BY:
Indicates only that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled
a minimum of 10 percent of the wine in the bottle. Very misleading.
the brownish color and slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized
and often nutty character found in mature dessert-style wines.
MAGNUM: An oversized
bottle that holds 1.5 liters.
MALIC: Describes the
green apple-like flavor found in young grapes which diminishes
as they ripen and mature.
A secondary fermentation occurring in most wines, this natural
process converts malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon
dioxide, thus reducing the wine's total acidity. Adds complexity
to whites such as Chardonnay and softens reds such as Cabernet
MATURE: Ready to drink.
MEATY: Describes red
wines that show plenty of concentration and a chewy quality.
They may even have an aroma of cooked meat.
MERCAPTANS: An unpleasant,
rubbery smell of old sulfur; encountered mainly in very old
MERITAGE: An invented
term, used by California wineries, for Bordeaux-style red
and white blended wines. Combines "merit" with "heritage."
The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn't meet
minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent
of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed
are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot
and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
Joseph Phelps Insignia and Flora Springs Trilogy are examples
of wines whose blends vary each year, with no one grape dominating.
CHAMPENOISE: The labor-intensive and costly process
whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the
bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality
sparkling wine is made by this process. See also charmat.
METHUSELAH: An extra-large
bottle holding 6 liters; the equivalent of eight standard
MURKY: More than deeply
colored; lacking brightness, turbid and sometimes a bit swampy.
Mainly a fault of red wines.
MUST: The unfermented
juice of grapes extracted by crushing or pressing; grape juice
in the cask or vat before it is converted into wine.
MUSTY: Having an off-putting
moldy or mildewy smell. The result of a wine being made from
moldy grapes, stored in improperly cleaned tanks and barrels,
or contaminated by a poor cork.
A giant wine bottle holding 15 liters; the equivalent of 20
A French wine merchant who buys grapes and vinifies them,
or buys wines and combines them, bottles the result under
his own label and ships them. Particularly found in Burgundy.
Two well-known examples are Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot.
NOBLE ROT: See Botrytis
Blended from more than one vintage. This allows the vintner
to keep a house style from year to year. Many Champagnes and
sparkling wines are nonvintage. Also, Sherry and the nonvintage
Ports, the tawnies and the rubies.
NOSE: The character
of a wine as determined by the olfactory sense. Also called
aroma; includes bouquet.
NOUVEAU: A style of
light, fruity, youthful red wine bottled and sold as soon
as possible. Applies mostly to Beaujolais.
NUTTY: Used to describe
oxidized wines. Often a flaw, but when it's close to an oaky
flavor it can be a plus.
Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by
the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either
positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary
and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred,
burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant
side. See also American oak, French oak.
a slightly sweet wine in which the residual sugar is barely
perceptible: 0.6 percent to 1.4 percent.
wine that has been exposed too long to air and taken on a
brownish color, losing its freshness and perhaps beginning
to smell and taste like Sherry or old apples. Oxidized wines
are also called maderized or sherrified.
The time when a wine tastes its best--very subjective.
the strong, usually sweet and floral aromas of some white
PH: A chemical measurement
of acidity or alkalinity; the higher the pH the weaker the
acid. Used by some wineries as a measurement of ripeness in
relation to acidity. Low pH wines taste tart and crisp; higher
pH wines are more susceptible to bacterial growth. A range
of 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while 3.3 to 3.6
is best for reds.
PHYLLOXERA: Tiny aphids
or root lice that attack Vitis vinifera roots. The disease
was widespread in both Europe and California during the late
19th century, and returned to California in the 1980s.
POTENT: Intense and
PRESS WINE (or PRESSING):
The juice extracted under pressure after pressing for
white wines and after fermentation for reds. Press wine has
more flavor and aroma, deeper color and often more tannins
than free-run juice. Wineries often blend a portion of press
wine back into the main cuvée for added backbone.
PRIVATE RESERVE: This
description, along with Reserve, once stood for the best wines
a winery produced, but lacking a legal definition many wineries
use it or a spin-off (such as Proprietor's Reserve) for rather
ordinary wines. Depending upon the producer, it may still
signify excellent quality.
PRODUCED AND BOTTLED BY:
Indicates that the winery crushed, fermented and bottled at
least 75 percent of the wine in the bottle.
PRUNY: Having the
flavor of overripe, dried-out grapes. Can add complexity in
the right dose.
highly tannic and very dry wines.
PUNGENT: Having a
powerful, assertive smell linked to a high level of volatile
The practice of moving wine by hose from one container
to another, leaving sediment behind. For aeration or clarification.
RAISINY: Having the
taste of raisins from ultra-ripe or overripe grapes. Can be
pleasant in small doses in some wines.
RAW: Young and undeveloped.
A good descriptor of barrel samples of red wine. Raw wines
are often tannic and high in alcohol or acidity.
used to describe a wine that has not been exposed to air.
bottle equivalent to 4.5 liters or six regular bottles.
RESIDUAL SUGAR: Unfermented
grape sugar in a finished wine.
RICH: Wines with generous,
full, pleasant flavors, usually sweet and round in nature,
are described as rich. In dry wines, richness may be supplied
by high alcohol and glycerin, by complex flavors and by an
oaky vanilla character. Decidedly sweet wines are also described
as rich when the sweetness is backed up by fruity, ripe flavors.
ROBUST: Means full-bodied,
intense and vigorous, perhaps a bit overblown.
ROUND: Describes a
texture that is smooth, not coarse or tannic.
wines made by old-fashioned methods or tasting like wines
made in an earlier era. Can be a positive quality in distinctive
wines that require aging. Can also be a negative quality when
used to describe a young, earthy wine that should be fresh
An oversized bottle holding 9 liters, the equivalent of 12
SMOKY: Usually an
oak barrel byproduct, a smoky quality can add flavor and aromatic
complexity to wines.
SOFT: Describes wines
low in acid or tannin (sometimes both), making for easy drinking.
Opposite of hard.
SPICY: A descriptor
for many wines, indicating the presence of spice flavors such
as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper which are often
present in complex wines.
STALE: Wines that
have lost their fresh, youthful qualities are called stale.
Opposite of fresh.
STALKY: Smells and
tastes of grape stems or has leaf- or hay-like aromas.
STEMMY: Wines fermented
too long with the grape stems may develop this quality: an
unpleasant and often dominant stemmy aroma and green astringency.
STRUCTURE: The interaction
of elements such as acid, tannin, glycerin, alcohol and body
as it relates to a wine's texture and mouthfeel. Usually preceded
by a modifier, as in "firm structure" or "lacking in structure."
delicate wines with finesse, or flavors that are understated
rather than full-blown and overt. A positive characteristic.
texture, mostly with reds, as it relates to tannin, body and
oak. A positive characteristic.
Wines aged sur lie (French for "on the
lees") are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and
are not racked or otherwise filtered. This is mainly done
for whites, to enrich them (it is a normal part of fermenting
red wine, and so is not noted). Originated in Burgundy, with
Chardonnay. Popular in Muscadet, Alsace, Germany (Riesling
and Pinot Gris) and California. Adds complexity to Chardonnay
and Sauvignon Blanc; can occasionally be overdone and lead
to a leesy flavor that is off-putting.
Describes dull, dank qualities that show up in wines aged
too long in tanks.
The mouth-puckering substance--found mostly in red wines--that
is derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but
also from oak barrels. Tannin acts as a natural preservative
that helps wine age and develop.
because of acidity. Occasionally used as a synonym for acidic.
TARTARIC ACID: The
principal acid in wine.
Harmless crystals of potassium bitartrate that may form in
cask or bottle (often on the cork) from the tartaric acid
naturally present in wine.
TERROIR: The over
all environment within which a given varietal grows. Derived
from the French word for Earth, "Terre."
THIN: Lacking body
TIGHT: Describes a
wine's structure, concentration and body, as in a "tightly
wound" wine. Closed or compact are similar terms.
TINNY: Metallic tasting.
TIRED: Limp, feeble,
a flavor derived from the oak barrels in which wines are aged.
Also, a character that sometimes develops in sparkling wines.
Some wines contain elements in their smell and taste which
are reminiscent of plants and vegetables. In Cabernet Sauvignon
a small amount of this vegetal quality is said to be part
of varietal character. But when the vegetal element takes
over, or when it shows up in wines in which it does not belong,
those wines are considered flawed. Wine scientists have been
able to identify the chemical constituent that makes wines
smell like asparagus and bell peppers.
VELVETY: Having rich
flavor and a silky, sumptuous texture.
VINICULTURE: The science
or study of grape production for wine and the making of wine.
means "winelike" and is usually applied to dull wines lacking
in distinct varietal character.
VINTAGE DATE: Indicates
the year that a wine was made. In order to carry a vintage
date in the United States, for instance, a wine must come
from grapes that are at least 95 percent from the stated calendar
year. See also nonvintage.
VINTED BY: Largely
meaningless phrase that means the winery purchased the wine
in bulk from another winery and bottled it.
as wine merchant, but generally indicates a wine producer/or
wine from a winery-owned vineyard situated outside the winery's
delimited viticultural area.
AREA: Defines a legal grape-growing area distinguished
by geographical features, climate, soil, elevation, history
and other definable boundaries. Rules vary widely from region
to region, and change often. Just for one example, in the
United States, a wine must be 85 percent from grapes grown
within the viticultural area to carry the appellation name.
For varietal bottling, a minimum of 75 percent of that wine
must be made from the designated grape variety. See also appellation d'origine côntrolée.
VITICULTURE: The cultivation,
science and study of grapes.
VINIFERA: Classic European wine-making species of
grape. Examples include Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Compare Vitis labrusca, North American grape species used
mainly for New York state wines. For example, Concord.
VOLATILE (or Volatile
Acidity): Describes an excessive and undesirable amount of
acidity, which gives a wine a slightly sour, vinegary edge.
At very low levels (0.1 percent), it is largely undetectable;
at higher levels it is considered a major defect.
Micro-organisms that produce the enzymes which convert sugar
to alcohol. Necessary for the fermentation of grape juice