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Somm glossary Somm glossary Document Transcript

  • -A- Abfüllung (Germany) Means 'bottled by', and will be followed on the label by information regarding the bottler. Related terms include erzeugerabfüllung and gutsabfüllung. Acetic Acid A volatile organic acid often encountered in food, this is the main acid responsible for the flavor of vinegar. From this you'll have gathered that it is not a desirable component of wine. If you leave a bottle of wine open for a couple of weeks, a bug called Acetobacter will turn the alcohol into acetic acid, and you'll have vinegar. Acid Used as an adjective to describe sharp or sour flavors. Acidity is a vital component of wine: it helps red wines keep their color and gives white wines their balance. Too much acidity, and a wine is tart and unpleasant; too little and the wine is 'flabby' and uninteresting. Grapes start out with high concentrations of organic acids which then disappear as the grapes ripen; consequently, in warm regions it is common practice to add acids to the unfermented grape juice to counter the lack of them in the grapes. In contrast, winemakers from wretchedly cool areas, such as parts of Germany and the UK, often have to de-acidify. Ageing Wine is one of the few foodstuffs that can improve with age, and this is also one of its key fascinations. The longevity of different types of wine is a complex and inexact science: real wine bore territory! Given good cellaring conditions (cool, stable temperature is key among these) fine red wines will improve for many years after release, as will Vintage Ports and certain sweet and dry white wines; indeed, some wine styles (such as classed growth clarets from a good vintage) only begin to show what they are capable of after a decade in the cellar. But most everyday wines are best drunk on release. Aglianico [AHL ee on ee co] Red grape varietal found in central and southern Italy. Usually medium to full body with a lot of tannin. Alcohol Commonly used term for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, C2H5OH. It is the product of the fermentation of sugars by yeast. It doesn't taste of anything, but has profound biological effects, which most wine drinkers are no doubt familiar with. As well as the acute effects of alcohol on the nervous system (i.e. drunkenness), the products of alcohol metabolism also have effects on the body. The pathway of alcohol metabolism in the body involves the progressive oxidation of alcohol to acetate via acetaldehyde, the toxic molecule largely responsible for hangovers. Alsace [Ahl saz] Don't be put off by the shape of the bottle! Alsace, in northwest France, produces some delicious full flavored white wines from grape varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Tokay Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Although these wines aren't cheap, they are generally good value because quality is often high. This is the only region of France that routinely labels wines by grape variety. (see also: tasting notes on Alsace wines) Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Amaro (Italy) Means 'bitter', hence the wine Amarone. Amtliche Prüfnummer (Germany) The Amtliche Prüfnummer (or AP number) is a unique code assigned to each individual bottling of quality wine produced by every winemaker in Germany. For more information see my German wine guide. Anbaugebiet (Germany) [an bow gah beet] The thirteen, (14th pending; Sylt), German growing regions, namely Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Nahe, Pfalz, Mittelrhein, Ahr, Baden, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Württemberg, Saale- Unstrut and Sachsen. Appellation Contrôlée The French are great bureaucrats, and a wine with Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) on the label will have had to have met a whole host of regulations regarding grape variety, maximum yield, minimum ageing and so on. However, this doesn't mean that what is in the bottle will necessarily be of any interest. (see also: article on appellations as brands) Argentina Ranking fifth in the list of global producers, Argentina produces a lot of wine, most of it destined for the thirsty locals. As the attention of producers has turned to the more fussy export markets, there has been an increased planting of better varieties and a general increase in quality. Watch out for gutsy reds from the Malbec grape, which thrives in Argentina, and also aromatic whites from the indigenous Torrontés variety. (see also: tasting notes of Argentinean wines) Aroma The smell of a wine. Fussy wine pros sometimes distinguish between aroma (the smell of young wines) and bouquet (more complex whiffs that come from bottle age). Assemblage [Ah sem blahj] A French term for the process of making a wine by blending the component parts. In old world wine regions this might mean mixing together different barrels containing wine from portions of the same vineyard; in Australia it might involve blending wines from regions thousands of miles apart. Astringent Unflattering tasting term describing an unpleasant, dry, mouth-puckering sensation usually caused by excess acidity or bitterness. The excessive tannins in young, over extracted red wines are the usual culprits. Ausbruch (Austria) [oush brook] A Prädikat category for sweet wines from Rust in Austria. The grapes have undergone noble rot and have a must weight of more than 27 KMW. Auslese German term that means literally 'selected harvest'. It is one of the sweeter official quality levels in German wine. To reach the legislated sugar level, individual bunches of very ripe -- sometimes *botrytis Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • affected -- grapes are selected at harvest time. The wines usually taste rich and sweet, but some trocken Auslese wines are fermented to dryness. Austere Wine-buff speak for a wine that is a bit too severe or restrained on the palate. Usually uncomplimentary, although some young wines destined for greater things may be 'austere' in their youth. Commonly used to describe young clarets. Australia The last decade has been boom-time for the export-driven Australian wine market. Australia produces approachable, full-flavored and good value wines that have taken the UK market by storm. One of the keys to this success has been Australia's ability to produce reliable, fruity, full flavored wines in industrial quantities, while at the same time small producers concentrating on quality have made world class wines exhibiting true regional character. Of the red grapes, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon hold pole position, and of the whites, Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling all do well. Leading quality regions include the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, Margaret River and Mount Barker in Western Australia, the Yarra Valley and Rutherglen in Victoria, and the Hunter Valley and Mudgee in New South Wales. Although prices have been creeping up over the last few years, Australian wines are still hard to beat for value. Austria Austria makes some excellent dry white wines from Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay grapes. Despite their quality, these wines are poorly known abroad, mainly because of the healthy local demand. The Neusiedlersee region also produces some stunning sweet white wines that are usually affected by noble rot. Azienda Agricola (Italy) An estate or farm where wine can be produced. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide View slide
  • -B- Balanced A wine is balanced when the entire component parts, such as tannins, fruit, acidity and possibly sweetness, are correctly matched and in harmony, and none stands out inappropriately. It's a bit of a subjective call. Balthazar A huge bottle that contains a ridiculous 12 liters of Champagne, which is the equivalent of 16 bottles. You'll most likely need some help drinking one of these. Barrel fermentation The process of fermenting grape juice in small oak barrels. Especially when the barrels are new, this can add complexity and oak-derived flavors to the finished wine. Normally done with white wines only (because red wines are fermented together with the skins, pips and sometimes stalks: gunk which would be hard to remove from a barrel), and commonly precedes ageing in oak. Somewhat counter intuitively, wines that are fermented and aged in oak pick up less apparent oak flavors than wines that have only been aged in oak. Barrique A 225 liter small oak barrel of the type originally found in Bordeaux, but now used throughout the world. When barriques are new they add a pronounced flavor to the wine, and even old barrels will have an effect on the wine through exposing it to small quantities of oxygen. Bâtonnage [ba tone ahj] Sounds a bit risqué, but actually it is the French term for the entirely innocent practice of lees stirring. Baumé A technical term for measuring the approximate sugar concentration in grape juice through assaying total dissolved compounds. The degrees Baumé is an indication of the final alcoholic strength of the wine if it is fermented to dryness. Sometimes you'll find technical notes on the back of a wine label giving the degrees Baumé when the grapes were harvested. Beaujolais A pretty region just south of Burgundy, Beaujolais makes fresh, fruity but sometimes rather simple red wines from the Gamay grape. The use of the winemaking technique carbonic maceration helps to preserve the fruitiness of the wines. The image of Beaujolais has been somewhat devalued by the flood of largely thin, dull Beaujolais Nouveau that hits our shores in the November following the vintage, but at their best these are fun, joy-filled wines for early drinking. Beerenauslese Believe it or not, some wine producers go through their vineyards and select individual grapes to make wine from; Beerenauslese is the German term used to describe this, and means literally 'selected berries'. These grapes will be over-ripe, and usually affected by botrytis. This rather fanatical practice results in luscious, complex and very expensive sweet white wines. A similar selection is carried out by the better producers of botrytised wines in the Loire and Sauternes regions of France. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide View slide
  • Biodynamism It is surprising that Biodynamism has become so widely accepted in wine circles, because the underlying principles are extremely weird. Biodynamics is a sort of highly refined version of organic agriculture blended with loopy, semi-cultic spiritual principles, and it has been adopted by a number of high profile wine growers such as Lalou Bize-Leroy of Burgundy and Nicolas Joly and Noel Pinguet of the Loire. It is based on the teachings of an Austrian eccentric, Rudolph Steiner, who began the movement back in the 1920s, and vineyard interventions are governed by such factors as the alignment of the planets and position of the moon. Bizarre liquid applications and the 'ashing' of pests are other aspects of a such regimes. However, although these principles contravene just about every known scientific law, biodynamic producers seem to make some excellent wines. No one knows why. Bin A collection of wine bottles stacked on top of each other. Hence the term 'bin end' sale, when a merchant gets rid of their last few bottles of a particular wine. Bleeding A clever winemaking trick often used by quality conscious producers, known also by the French term of 'saignée'. Red wines gain their color and tannins from the contact between grape juice and skins during fermentation. So in order to increase the ratio of skins to juice, some producers 'bleed' off some of the juice before fermentation. The juice bled off in this fashion can be used to make rosé wine with, because it will be slightly pink. Blind tasting Opinions are divided about the value of this practice, which involves tasting a wine without knowing its identity. Many consider it to be the fairest way of assessing a wine; others think that wines need to be assessed in light of their background, and that this context is important. Single-blind tasting is when you know the identity of the wines in the tasting, but their identities are masked; double-blind is when the identities are hidden and you don't know which wines are in the tasting. Bobal A grape varietal found in central and southern Spain. Produces a very tannic wine when young, and can have the ability to age well if made properly. Body Tasting term describing the weight of the wine in the mouth. A full bodied wine will have good concentration, lots of alcohol and plenty of extract; a light bodied wine won't. The full bodied wines tend to get all the attention in big tasting events and competitions, even if they aren't the sort of wines you'd necessarily want to spend an evening with. Bordeaux Are you rich? Then you might like to explore Bordeaux, the world's most famous wine region and home to some of the world's most aristocratic wines. But you'll need to have deep pockets, because there is no getting round the fact that Bordeaux is expensive. The easiest way to understand Bordeaux is to split it into the left and right banks of the Gironde estuary, around which this huge region is arranged. On the left bank are the Médoc and Graves regions, which produce some of the most celebrated wines in the world from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. At the top of the price and quality pyramid are the classed growths from the appellations of St Julien, Pauillac, St Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac Léognan and Graves. On the right bank are found St Emilion and also the tiny appellation of Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Pomerol, which is home to super-expensive 'cult' wines such as Petrus, Lafleur and Le Pin. As if this was not enough, the Sauternes region, just south of the Médoc, produces stunning sweet white wines. However, fine wines such as these only represent a tiny proportion of the output of Bordeaux: as well as producing some of the world's greatest wines it also makes some of the worst. Each year a wine-lake full of thin, hard, miserable wines flows from many of the lesser properties, much of it finding its way onto supermarket shelves. The generally poor value for money of these wines has devalued the image of Bordeaux in the eyes of many consumers. In fact, it's hard work finding an interesting wine from Bordeaux that costs less than a tenner. Bordeaux mixture A mixture of copper sulphate and hydrated lime used as a fungicide in vineyards. It is used mainly to control garden, vineyard, nursery and farm infestations of fungi, primarily downy mildew which can result from infections of Plasmopara viticola. It was invented in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is known locally as Bouillie Bordelaise. This fungicide has been used for over a century and is still used, although the copper can leach out and pollute streams. Botrytis A fungus that infects grapes, causing them to rot. Scientific name Botrytis cinerea. If it attacks unripe or damaged grapes, it is a disaster. But this particular cloud has a silver lining. In certain wine regions, notably Sauternes in Bordeaux, Vouvray, Bonnezeaux and Coteaux du Layon of the Loire, Tokay in Hungary, Burgenland in Austria and various regions of Germany, Botrytis attacks ripe, healthy white grapes, causing them to shrivel. These disgusting, moldy looking grapes yield small quantities of extremely concentrated juice that is then used to make sublime sweet white wines of great complexity and longevity. This benevolent form of Botrytis is also known as noble rot in English, pourriture noble in French and Edelfäule in German. What sort of flavors should you expect in a botrytised wine? There is often the tang of thick-cut marmalade, together with apricot-like flavors. The texture will be rich and viscous, and although the wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of acidity to give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these wines and the low yields involved, these wines will be expensive, but the Australians are now producing delicious, affordable botrytised wines from grapes that have artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative, eh? Bouquet A wine-buff term for the smell of a wine. Some old-school tasters reserve use of this term for the special aromas that develop with bottle age. Brettanomyces Have you ever had a wine that tasted of a mixture of farmyards, cheesy feet and animal poop? The chances are, this wine was infected by the yeast-like fungus Brettanomyces (often abbreviated to just 'brett'). It is often encountered in red wines from warm regions such as the South of France. In small doses can add complexity, but in higher concentrations is thought to be a fault. Once present in a winery Brettanomyces is quite difficult to remove. Broad A picture-language tasting term. In common with many descriptors for taste, it is hard to give a precise definition for this, but imagine a wine that has flavor and aroma elements that peak across the whole spectrum of tastes and smells, and you've got yourself a 'broad' wine. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Brunello di Montalcino [broo NEL lo dee mon tal CHEE no] DOCG in southern Tuscany. Known for producing some of the best wines in Europe. 100% Sangiovese (Sangiovese Grosso; Brunello Clone). Brut French word meaning 'bone dry' in Champagne. Not really used for other wines. Budburst Refers to the time in Spring when the dormant vine starts to produce its first new shoots. It's a nervous time for growers: the new buds are extremely vulnerable to frost, which has the potential to wipe out the entire year's production in the vineyard. Bulgaria The most export-focused of the ex-Eastern bloc countries, Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon took the supermarkets by storm in the 1980s, offering juicy, blackcurrant-laced wines at bargain prices. The wine industry seemed to lose its way a bit after the collapse of Communism, but there are still plenty of value- for-money Bulgarian wines on the market, the reds in general being more successful than the whites. Burgundy One of the world's classic regions, the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but a total minefield for consumers. The heart of Burgundy, known as the Côte d'Or, is a narrow band of gentle hillside, encompassing some 60 small appellations. There are four different quality levels: regional (e.g. Bourgogne), village wines (e.g. Meursault, Santenay or Gevrey-Chambertin), premier cru and grand cru. But it is not as simple as this: because of French inheritance laws, vineyards are commonly divided into small plots, each worked by a different grower. To add to the confusion, some growers make their own wine, others sell their grapes to a négociant, and some négociants even have their own vineyard holdings. Because of the extreme variation in vineyard practice and winemaking competence, one vigneron's basic Bourgogne blanc may therefore be better than another's premier cru from a famous vineyard site. This is what is most infuriating about Burgundy: wines from the better vineyards are always expensive, but you may pay a lot of money and still get a poor wine. On the other hand, pay very little, and you'll certainly end up with a poor wine. The key to success in purchasing Burgundy is therefore knowing who the better producers are. At its best, white Burgundy is the greatest and most long-lived expression of the Chardonnay grape, combining complex smoky, toasty, buttery, nutty and mineralic elements with firm acidity that holds everything together. And Pinot Noir reaches its zenith in red Burgundy, making exotic, perfumed red wines commonly with hints of undergrowth or mushrooms. To the north of the Côte d'Or, lies the Chablis region, which makes lean, steely white wines of variable quality from the Chardonnay grape. To the south lies the Mâcon region, which is notable for its inexpensive and often good value crisp, lemony white wines, also made from Chardonnay. Buttery Taste term for the rich, creamy characters often found in barrel-fermented Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic fermentation. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -C- California It is easy to forget that as recently as 1933, Prohibition was still in place in the USA. Since then, California has made tremendous strides and was the first of the New World wine regions to compete with the classic French regions both in terms of quality and more recently price. Most wines are labeled according to the variety, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel (California's 'own' grape variety) and Merlot are the main red grapes, and Chardonnay is the key white. Of the various wine regions (now more than 20), Napa and Sonoma lead the quality stakes, but are being challenged by upcoming regions such as the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Ynez Valley. In contrast, the hot Central Valley produces enormous volumes of dull jug wine. Because of the strong domestic demand and the fact that American wine geeks are usually quite wealthy, the best Californian wines are hard to obtain and inevitably expensive. In fact, the leading Californian Cabernets now cost more than first growth Bordeaux, and the top Chardonnays match the prices of their counterparts in Burgundy. From the consumer's point of view, this is unfortunate, because the quality is often superb. Catalan wine (Catalonia) Wine made in the Spanish wine region of Catalonia. More rarely, the term may also be used to refer to some French wines made in the Catalan region of Roussillon, once joint with the southern territories that currently are part of Spain. The city of Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and the focal point of the Catalan wine industry, serving as its primary consumer market, an exporting coastal port and source of financial investment and resources. The area has a long winemaking tradition and was the birthplace of the sparkling wine Cava, invented in the early 1870s in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia by Josep Raventos of Codorníu Winery. At the turn of the 20th century, the Catalan wine industry was at the forefront of Spain's emergence as a world leader in quality wine production, being the first Spanish wine region to adopt the use of stainless steel fermentation tanks. The area is also an important cork production region, with output aimed primarily at the region's Cava houses. Carbonic maceration Process widely used in Beaujolais where uncrushed grapes are allowed to begin fermentation in a protective atmosphere of CO2. What happens is that the largely intact grapes begin fermenting inside their own skins, which produces light, fruity reds for early drinking. Now commonly used throughout the world to make gluggable red wines with lots of fruit and not too much tannin. Cava Spanish fizz made using the traditional champagne method. Rarely excites, but can offer good value for money. Cedar A taste term. Mature Bordeaux often smells of cedar wood. Cellaring Wine is fragile and needs to be treated with care. Wise counsel suggests it should be kept away from high temperatures, direct light, large temperature swings and vibration; although there's a lack of scientific evidence about how these different environmental conditions affect wine and precisely which the critical parameters are. Humidity is also thought to be important to stop the cork drying out. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Cépage French term for grape variety. Chaptalization Slightly naughty winemaking trick in which the alcoholic strength of a wine is increased by the addition of sugar to crushed grapes before fermentation takes place. Can be useful if your grapes aren't ripe enough. Occurs commonly in Beaujolais, Bordeaux and Burgundy, although the best producers will often shun this practice. Named after the Frenchman who invented the process, Jean-Antione Chaptal. Chile Are you looking for attractive, fruity wines with bags of fruit, but at budget prices? Chile could be the place for you. Chile's specialty is inexpensive but flavor-filled wines from the international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These are now rapidly filling up the supermarket shelves in the wake of the Aussie wines that have recently moved to a higher price bracket. At the high end, more ambitious Chilean producers have tried to compete in the fine wine market by making aspiring, high-end wines, but while these display stunning fruit intensity they seem to lack some of the complexity of the established old-world classics. The key wine regions include Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, Maule and trendy cool-climate Casablanca. Claret Old-fashioned English term for red wines from the Bordeaux region. Clarification Removable of insoluble material from wine, usually through fining agents or filtration. Is that clear enough? Classed growth A literal translation from the French term, cru classé, that describes a property or Château included in the famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux, and the subsequent reclassifications that have occurred since. There are five different tiers to this classification: the first, second, third, fourth and fifth growths. These are the aristocratic wines of Bordeaux, and command high prices. Clean A wine which doesn't have any off-flavors or taints is called 'clean'. Most wines on the market these days are 'clean' Closed A wine that doesn't smell much. Many fine wines go through a 'closed' or 'dumb' period as part of their development. Corked Have you ever opened a bottle, and instead of clean, fruity aromas found that it smells of moldy cellars and damp cardboard? This is what a corked wine smells like. Contrary to popular opinion a corked wine is not one that has bits of cork floating in it (this is totally harmless, fish the bits out and the wine will be fine); instead, it is a wine that has been contaminated by a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). The human nose is extremely sensitive to this contaminant (it can be detected at concentrations as low as parts per trillion!), which is a result of a chemical reaction between chlorine and cork. It is a major problem, spoiling between 2% and 7% of all wines, depending on who you listen to. This is why artificial corks are Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • increasingly being used, especially on inexpensive wines not destined for ageing. The degree of cork-taint can vary, but you'll find that almost all retailers will replace a corked bottle without question if you return it. Cosecha (Spain) Vintage. Côte (France) A côte is a slope or hillside. The term is used in many regions of France - Côte Rôtie (Rhône Valley), Côte d'Or (Burgundy), Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais). Coteau (France) Like côte, this also refers to a slope or hillside. Coulure (France) Once the vine has flowered, there should develop a small fruit (the grape) in place of each flower. Failure of the fruit to set in this way is coulure. It is often worst when the weather is particularly cold or wet. Some coulure is beneficial as a vine would have difficulty in ripening a full crop, resulting in a reduction in quality - although this can be adjusted for with a green harvest. Heavy coulure will result in a very small crop. Crémant (France) A sparkling wine made by the Méthode Champenoise. Crianza (Spain) A term describing the ageing that a wine has undergone. This is the youngest category, which is aged for two years, with at least six months in barrel. Related terms include Reserva and Gran Reserva. Crossing A crossing is the result of breeding two Vitis vinifera plants. This is distinct from a hybrid which involves using American vines. Cru (France) A term meaning 'growth' which is used in a number of French regions as a means of classifying wines. In Burgundy the best vineyards are Grands Crus, although in Bordeaux the term relates to the châteaux that own the land; they are the Cru Classé estates. In Champagne the term is applied to whole villages. Cru Bourgeois (France) Bordeaux châteaux that are classified below the Cru Classé. More details may be found here: Bordeaux classifications. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Cru Classé (France) The upper classification for the châteaux of the Médoc, laid down in 1855. It is divided into five tiers, from Premier Cru Classé to Cinquieme Cru Classé. More details may be found here: Bordeaux classifications. Crust The sediment formed by vintage Port. Cryo-extraction A process whereby grapes are frozen in order to extract ice, thereby concentrating the sugars, flavours and other components that remain. Cuvaison (France) The period of time when the solid matter such as pips, skin, stalks and so on is left to macerate in the wine during alcoholic fermentation in order to extract colour, flavour and tannin. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -D- Débourbage (France) [de bor bahj] The process of allowing white wine must to settle prior to racking off the wine, thereby reducing the need for fining or filtration. Dégorgement (France) [de goorg mun] Part of the process of making sparkling wine. At this stage the bottle is opened after the neck has been frozen. Out flies a plug of frozen wine, containing the dead yeast from the second fermentation which occurs in bottle. The wine is then topped up - dosage - and resealed. The entire process is explained here: Méthode Champenoise. Demi-Sec (France) Medium-dry. Denominación de Origen (Spain) A high quality level for Spanish wine. Often abbreviated to DO. The equivalent of the French appellation contrôlée. Denominação de Origem Controlada (Portugal) A high quality level for Portuguese wine. Often abbreviated to DOC. The equivalent of the French appellation contrôlée. Denominación de Origen Calificada (Spain) The highest quality level for Spanish wine. Often abbreviated to DOC. Rather similar to Italy's DOCG. Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Italy) A high quality level for Italian wine. Often abbreviated to DOC. The equivalent of the French appellation contrôlée. Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Italy) The highest quality level for Italian wine. Often abbreviated to DOCG. Only a handful of wines have been promoted to this level. They include Chianti, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Carmignano. Denominación de Origen de Pago (DO de Pago): these wine regions aspire to the very highest standards with extremely strict geographical criteria, centering on individual single-estates with an international reputation. There are currently only 10 estates with this status: 7 in Castile-La Mancha and 3 in Navarra. Destemming Also known as Egrappage. The process of removing the stems/stalks from the grape bunches before fermentation. Unripe stems will result in a green, unripe taste in the wine. Dolce (Italy) Sweet. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Domaine (France) A wine estate. Dosage (France) When making a sparkling wine, after dégorgement the wine can be topped up with sugar and wine to reach the desired level of sweetness and flavour. This is dosage. The entire process is documented here: Methode Champenoise. Double magnum A large format Bordeaux bottle, equivalent to four standard bottles. In Burgundy and Champagne this size is called a Jeroboam. See my advisory page on wine bottle sizes for more information. Doux (France) [do] Sweet. Downy mildew A common vine disease favored by warm, humid conditions. It results in unhealthy leaves and shriveled fruit. May be controlled with the use of Bordeaux mixture. Dry A tasting term. Essentially this is the opposite of sweet, although a wine that tastes dry still contains sugar, perhaps just a few grams per liter. The term 'dry' can also be used to describe the tannins or mouthfeel, when it refers to the dry, puckering sensation the wine imparts. Dulce (Spain) Sweet. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -E- Edes (Hungary) Sweet. Egrappage (France) The process of destemming - removing stems/stalks from the grape bunches before fermentation Eiswein (Germany, Austria) An expensive, labour intensive sweet wine made from frozen grapes, principally in Germany and Austria, but also in Canada where it is called Icewine. The grapes are harvested during the cold of winter, facilitating the removal of much of the water as ice, intensifying the remaining sugar and flavour. The must weight is generally well over 100 Oechsle (25 KMW in Austria). See my eiswein feature for more information. Élevage (France) An umbrella term describing all the winery processes after alcoholic fermentation up to bottling - such as fining, filtration and barrel ageing. It literally describes the 'bringing up' of the wine. En primeur A method of purchasing wine before it has been bottled. Payment (not including duty or VAT) is made generally a year or so before bottling (the exact time depends on the region. The wines most common offered en primeur are from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and Port, although many other regions, including some New World wineries, are following suit. Once the wine enters the UK, it may be stored in bond or, after payment of taxes, be delivered. There is an in-depth exploration of all the aspects of this method for purchasing wine, in five instalments, here: En Primeur. Entry A tasting term. Describing the wine on 'entry' is to describe your impression of the wine as it lands in your mouth. Followed by midpalate, finish and length. Entre-Deux-Mers Entre-Deux-Mers is a large sub-region of the Bordeaux wine region. The name is also used in the appellation AOC Entre-Deux-Mers, which is applied to dry white wines from the region. Erzeugerabfüllung (Germany) Means bottled by the producer. Related terms include abfüllung and gutsabfüllung. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Essencia (Hungary) The free run juice of the Aszú. See Aszú Essencia. Estufa (Portugal) The estufa are the hothouses where Madiera is made. The heating of the wine is an essential part in the development of the character and flavour of Madeira wine. Extract This refers to the solid compounds in wine, such as tannins. Increasing the level of extract results in more colour and body. It may be increased by leaving the wine in contact with the skins for longer during cuvaison, although too long will result in an unbalanced wine that seems 'over-extracted'. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -F- Fermentation Yeasts do a really useful job: they eat up sugar in grape juice and excrete alcohol. This is called fermentation, and without it all wine would be sweet and alcohol-free. Just like grape juice. Filtration The removal of suspended solid particles in a wine by passing it through a filter. It can be a useful alternative to allowing the solid particles to settle naturally, thereby speeding up the winemaking process, or it can be used in cases where the wine won't clear naturally. But it is a controversial practice. Opponents to filtration claim that it strips out some of the flavor, and marketing people consequently use the term 'unfiltered' to help sell wines that haven't been treated in this way. Fining A process used to remove suspended solids from a wine in order to make it 'clear'. Fining agents include dried blood, casein, clay and egg whites. As you can guess, some of these substances can cause problems for vegetarian or vegan wine drinkers. Finish A much-abused tasting term. It refers to the flavors left in the mouth after you have swallowed or spat out a mouthful of wine. For example, a finish can be alcoholic, bitter, hot, dry, acidic, short or long. But some people the concept too far: examples exist where tasters have timed the 'finish' of a wine in seconds. This is absurd. Fino A dry, light style of *sherry that has a distinctive salty, tangy flavor that comes from being aged under a layer of yeast cells, called a 'flor'. Although these are usually 15% alcohol or above, they make quite good food wines due to their dry, savoury character. But beware a bottle of fino that has been sitting opened in Auntie's sideboard for four months: this style needs to be drunk young, and once opened a bottle must be treated in the same way as any dry white wine. First growths The five elite properties of the Medoc and Graves regions of Bordeaux: Latour, Lafite, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux, which were picked out as 'Premier Cru Classé' in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification (actually, Mouton Rothschild was promoted from a second growth in the 1970s). These wines have an iconic status, and they are horribly expensive. Flabby A word used to describe a wine that doesn't have enough acidity to balance the other elements. Buttery Chardonnays with rich tropical fruit flavors from warm-climate regions are most likely to show this sort of character, especially if they are a few years old. Flinty Next time you are taking a stroll through chalk down land, reach down and pick up two mid-sized flints. Bang them together hard, and take a sniff: this is the smell that in wines is referred to as 'flinty', and it's often used to describe young Chablis. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Flying winemakers Much maligned breed of mainly Australian winemakers who, in their off season, fly off to somewhere in Europe and make wine the 'new world' way out of the indigenous grapes of the region. Beloved by supermarket wine buyers, they often produce clean, fruity, unexciting but inexpensive wines. Traditionalist view them with disdain as cultural imperialists. Fortified Port and sherry are the two most famous fortified wines. With Port, grapes are crushed and allowed to ferment a bit, and then spirit is added to produce a sweet, alcoholic wine. With sherry, fermentation is completed and then spirit is added. Free-run juice This is a bit of a techie term that often appears on wine labels. When grapes are harvested and crushed, the juice that drains from the un-pressed grapes is called free-run juice, and typically constitutes about two-thirds of the total juice the grapes will yield. It is usually better quality than the stuff that is later pressed out of the mush of crushed grapes. French Hybrids Refers to the grape varieties produced in France that are the result of crossing the classic European varieties with American species of vines. These hybrids have much of the hardiness and disease resistance of the American vines but the wine quality generally isn't great. French paradox The French eat lots of fatty foods, yet they have less heart disease than you'd expect from all this seemingly unhealthy diet. This phenomenon is known as the French paradox, and one proposed explanation has been that wine consumption, which is high in France, is protective against heart disease. Fresh Tasting term for a wine (usually white) that is clean, possibly aromatic, light bodied and with good acidity. The sort of wine that you'd want to chill down and glug on a summer's day. Fruity Technically, grapes are a fruit. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that some wines are described as fruity. Modern winemaking techniques help bring out the fruit character in wines that previously would have been much less attractive. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -G- Gamey Imprecise taste term usually reserved for older wines that exhibit smells and flavors associated with damp undergrowth, mushrooms, well hung pheasants and unwashed farmers' feet. Germany German wines have got a grotty image in the UK, and this doesn't look like it will change in the near future. This is largely due to Germany's main export consists of huge volumes of sugar-water Leibfraumilch, made from the high cropping but dull Müller-Thurgau grape variety -- real Alan Partridge stuff. This is a shame, because the better German wines, made from one of the world's great white grape varieties, Riesling, offer wonderfully fresh, intense citrus flavors, often with a touch of sweetness to counter the naturally high acidity. Another potential obstacle to the consumer is decoding the labels, which often have a bewildering array of impossibly long German words on them. The four key components are the quality level (Tafelwein, Landwein, QbA, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese), the producer (they vary in quality), the region and the grape variety (Riesling is the one to watch out for): it's all very complicated. Glasses This may sound a bit fussy, but using the correct style of glass is really important if you want to get the most from your wine. The basic requirements are that the bowl should be big enough that there's enough room above the wine for the aromas to be captured, and that the rim is of a smaller diameter than the widest part of the bowl¾a tulip shape is ideal. The thinner the rim, the better. The most famous manufacturer of glasses is the Austrian firm Riedel¾they make a whole range of glasses, each supposed to be optimized for a certain wine style, but all fiendishly expensive. Fortunately there are good, cheaper alternatives. Grafting A couple of hundred years ago, if you wanted to plant more vines things were pretty simple. You just took a cutting, stuck it in the ground, and you'd have a new vine. Then came phylloxera, an aphid that likes to munch on vine roots and which worked its way through the vineyards of Europe in the last century with devastating effect. As a result, vineyards had to be replanted with vines grafted onto rootstock from American vine varieties, which make crappy wine but which are resistant to phylloxera. Almost all commercial vineyards are now planted with grafted wines the notable exception being the wine regions of Chile. Greece Mention Greek wine and people chuckle about their bad experiences with Retsina. But this is unfair. Greek wines are undergoing a renaissance, and as a holidaymaker you'll be presently surprised to find that even the dingiest tavernas now sometimes serve fresh, crisp white wines and fruity, herby reds in a very modern style. There are also a number of ambitious producers making some interesting wines that are now finding their way onto the UK market. Green A negative tasting term for a wine that tastes youthful, unripe, raw and acidic. A good example of a 'green' wine would be a cheap Loire red from a mediocre vintage such as 1998, or just about any supermarket Claret costing under £4. Why the term 'green'? Well, just imagine taking a fresh green leaf and chomping on it¾these are the sorts of flavors you'll get. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -H- Hangover The grotty feeling experienced the morning after drinking too much. There are two important components: dehydration, and the buildup of the primary breakdown product of alcohol metabolism, acetaldehyde, which is toxic. Hard A negative tasting term for a wine has a tough tannic structure, perhaps also with high acidity or bitterness, and very little fruit to provide balance. Such wines are joyless bottles, unpleasant to drink. Hardness can be contributed by unripe grapes, too long a maceration, or over extraction. However, all is not necessarily lost, because some wines destined for long ageing often start out tasting 'hard' in their youth, and then mellow with time. A good example of a hard wine might be a young Barolo, from Piedmont in Italy. Herbaceous Next time you mow the lawn or trim your hedge, take a good sniff of the cuttings. The neighbors may think you're crazy, but the smell you'll pick up, which is usually described as herbaceous, is commonly found in red wines, especially those made from slightly unripe Cabernet Franc or Merlot grapes. It doesn't sound very appealing, but herbaceousness in a wine is not necessarily a fault, unless it is so prominent that it becomes out of balance. You'd be most likely to encounter this odor in full bodied Loire reds (they are made from Cabernet Franc), inexpensive Chilean Merlot (the expensive stuff is usually riper and thus doesn't display so much herbaceousness) or any cheap Claret with a reasonable proportion of Merlot in the blend. Hermitage This small (126 Ha) hillside appellation in the Northern Rhône region of France is famous for being the home of the Syrah grape (aka Shiraz). Because the wines are usually of high quality and very little is made, they are invariably expensive. These dense, perfumed red wines need years to reach their best, and from a good vintage they'll go on improving for decades. A little bit of white wine is made from Marsanne and Roussanne, and these can also be very long-lived. Hogshead Another name for a small oak barrel (barrique), used to ferment or mature wines in. Hogshead In Australia this is a 300 litre barrel. Confusingly the term is also used by some when they are referring to the barrique of Bordeaux, a smaller barrel. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Hollow A tasting term. This describes a wine which lacks flavour and texture, often through the midpalate, would often be described as hollow. Hybrid A hybrid grape results from a cross between a Vitis vinifera variety - such as Riesling or Pinot Noir - with an American vine. This is distinct from a crossing. Hungary A country with a great wine tradition, and home to one of the world's classic wine styles, the botrytised dessert wine Tokaji, which is currently undergoing a renaissance spurred by foreign investors. However, the Hungarian wines you will most likely to encounter will be the increasing band of inexpensive varietal wines, often made by flying winemakers, that line the supermarket shelves. Quality is a bit patchy, but there are some bargains to be had. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -I- Icewine A principally Canadian style of wine, named after the Eisweins made in Germany and Austria. See my eiswein feature for more information. Imperiale A large format Bordeaux bottle, equivalent to an impressive eight standard bottles. In Burgundy and Champagne this size is called a Methusaleh. See my advisory page on wine bottle sizes for more information. In bond This term describes wine which is held in a bonded warehouse, which has not passed through customs in order to officially enter the UK and consequently has not been subject to duty or value added tax (VAT). Once purchased en primeur (usually in case quantities only, although some traders have taken to selling six-packs), wine may be held 'in bond' for a fee, and this is useful if you plan to export the wine or sell on at a later date. If you're like me and tend to drink it rather than sell it, however, in order to get your hands on your wine you will have to pay duty (about £14 per case for still wine, more for sparkling or fortified wine) and then VAT (17.5% on top of the full amount, including duty - which means that you pay tax on the duty as well as the wine) which will significantly increase the amount you have to pay. Always take this into account when buying in bond or en primeur, and don't forget that shipping charges may also be incurred. Integrated A tasting term. When the components of wine, such as tannin, oak and acidity, fade as the wine develops, they are said to have integrated. Isinglass A fining agent comprising protein from fresh-water fish. Irancy AOC within the St. Bris district, near Chablis. Made from Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Cesar grapes. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Irrigation Grape vines need water, and if there isn't enough of it in the environment, it is necessary to supply this artificially, by irrigation. Although it is frowned upon in European wine regions, used carefully it can be used in the production of high quality wines. Italy One of the world's great wine nations, Italy produces more wine than any other country, and the thirsty Italians also drink more wine than anyone except the French. From the north to the south, Italy has a profusion of wine regions, each of quite different character. Indeed, the myriad of unfamiliar grape varieties, wine styles and regions can appear confusing to the uninitiated. The northern region of Piedmont makes Italy's most long lived and expensive red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, from the Nebbiolo grape. This region is also responsible for tasty and more affordable reds from the Barbera and Dolcetto grapes. In the north east, the Veneto region churns out lots of Valpolicella (a light, cherry-laced red) and Soave (crisp, often watery white), as well as some intriguing wine made by part drying the grapes before fermentation (Amarone and Recioto). In the centre, Tuscany is home to Chianti (variable quality reds made primarily from Sangiovese), Chianti Classico (much more consistent), Brunello di Montalcino (rare, expensive reds from a special strain of Sangiovese) and the 'Supertuscans' (high-end, aspiring wines made largely from non-local grape varieties). But perhaps the best value for money in Italian wine is to be found in the new wave of wines coming from the southern regions of Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -J- Jammy A negative tasting term. It's good for wines to be fruity, but jammy wines are those that taste of baked, cooked or stewed fruit, which is unappealing. This usually happens when grapes have been grown in areas which are just too warm for that particular variety. You'll most likely find this in wines made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in hot climate regions, which invariably have a jammy character. Jerez y Manzanilla (Spain) The Denominación de Origen in Spain famous for its dry and sweet fortified wines collectively known as Sherry. Common types of Sherry include Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado and Oloroso. Less common types include Palo Cortado. For more information on Sherry see my Spanish wine guide. Jeroboam A large format bottle, and the most confusing of all, for it means different things to different wines. In Bordeaux it is equivalent to six standard bottles, but in Burgundy and Champagne a Jeroboam contains the equivalent of a mere four bottles (a double magnum in Bordeaux). See my advisory page on wine bottle sizes for more information. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -L- Lactic acid The main acid present in yoghurt, and which is also found in varying quantities of wine. It is much softer in flavour than the other two main acids in wine, malic acid and tartaric acid. After alcoholic fermentation, most red wines and some white wines undergo a malolactic fermentation, in which lactic acid bacteria transform the harsher-tasting malic acid into lactic acid. The result is that the wine tastes softer and less acidic. For instance, a lemony, acidic Chardonnay that undergoes malolactic fermentation will taste fatter, softer and more 'buttery'. The choice to allow or prevent malolactic fermentation is therefore quite an important decision in the making of white wines. Lagar Plural 'lagares'. A shallow stone trough traditionally used for the foot-treading of grapes. They are still in use in some regions of the Douro, in Portugal. In Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine there is a wonderful old picture of some chaps crushing grapes in a lagar without a stitch of clothing on. I believe they wear shorts these days. Lambrusco An instant turn-off to most aspiring wine geeks. Supermarket Lambrusco is usually a semi-sweet, bland, fizzy concoction, low in alcohol and designed to appeal to those who don't really like wine: yours for £2.29. You probably didn't know this, but Lambrusco is actually a red Italian grape variety, and the best examples are dry, slightly fizzy, rustic red wines with high acidity, best with food. Anyone with an interest in wine should shun the standardized white alcopop Lambrusco, and seek out the traditional styles. Languedoc [Lang gwuh duck] Traditionally the region that made the largest contribution to the European wine lake, churning out millions of litres of inexpensive table wine. Over the last couple of decades, things have begun to change, and many producers have begun to shift their focus from quantity to quality. The best wines are made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes, and sub-regions such as Faugères, Pic St Loup, Montpeyroux, Minervois, St Chinian and Corbières are leading the field in terms of quality. The best producers make robust, full-flavoured earthy red wines that offer good value for money. Late bottled vintage A style of Port, first introduced by Quinta do Noval in 1954. It is designed to mimic the vintage style, with less time until release and less expense. The wines are softened by ageing in wood for up to six years and are generally ready for consumption when released. The best, although not the cheapest, examples are labeled 'traditional' or 'unfiltered'. These offer a real glimpse of vintage quality and often continue to improve after release. Late harvest If you see a wine labelled as 'late harvest' it means that the grapes were harvested later than normal, and thus with a higher sugar level. The wine will probably be quite sweet, although in some cases may have been fermented to dryness, in which case the potential alcohol will be higher. The French term for this is 'vendange tardive', in German it is 'spätlese'. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Laying down Rather quaint term for cellaring wine, referring to the fact that bottles to be kept must be stored on their side in order to keep the cork moist. Lean Tasting term referring to a wine that has high acidity and not much fruit. Leathery Dreadfully subjective red wine descriptor that's really hard to pin a definition on. In some cases this will refer to the texture of the wine, indicating that a wine is tough and chewy, but in others it may be used to describe a wine that smells of old leather. Who's to know which? Lees The gunk that settles at the bottom of a fermentation or ageing vessel. This consists of dead yeast cells, grape skin fragments and other insoluble material, and if the wine is left on the lees for a while, it can encourage malolactic fermentation and add complexity to a wine. If you want to get really technical about this, there are two sorts of lees. The initial gunk that is deposited is quite crude and is called the gross lees. The wine is usually racked off this into a fresh container, in which it will deposit what are known as fine lees. You don't want to leave a wine on its gross lees for very long (and you certainly don't want to do lees stirring with the gross lees), because this may result in the dead yeast cells dissolving themselves, producing a reductive environment in which any sulphur traces will result in the development of hydrogen sulphide, which reeks of rotten eggs and worse. Lees stirring A snazzy winemaking trick in which the gunk at the bottom of a barrel is wiggled around with a stick (hence the French term for this, bâttonage). It is usually reserved for white wines that have been barrel- fermented, and can add a creamy richness and complexity to the wine. Lieu-dit (France) [lew dee] A term most often used when describing Burgundy and Alsace. It refers to a named vineyard which does not have Premier or Grand Cru appellation. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Loire This large region in Northern France is a source of diverse and fascinating wines, and because it is overlooked by most wine lovers, prices are very reasonable. Reds, mainly from Cabernet Franc, can be an acquired taste, but the varied styles of white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are often stunning. Arranged along the course of the Loire river, starting from the West the region encompasses the appellations Muscadet (bone dry, acidic whites), Anjou, Coteaux du Layon (sweet Chenin blanc-based whites, often with botrytis), Samur, Bourgueil (lean, herbaceous reds), Chinon (leafy, raspberry-laced reds), Vouvray (Chenin blanc-based whites, ranging from bone dry to sweet and botrytised), Touraine (racy, inexpensive Sauvignon blanc), Sancerre (classic bone dry whites from Sauvignon blanc) and Pouilly-Fumé (bone dry, aromatic Sauvignon blanc). There are also a host of smaller subregions, each making their own styles of wine. Long or length One of the most widely abused wine tasting terms. Technically, a wine with good 'length' is one whose flavor persists in the mouth. In practice, some tasters use a judgment of 'length' as an addendum to their tasting notes to reinforce their preferences and prejudices. Thus a diehard claret drinker of the old school may finish his tasting note on his favorite classed growth with the words, 'Displays great length'. The same taster, describing a top-notch Californian Cabernet may end his note with, 'Finishes a bit short'. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -M- Maceration Red winemaking process in which tannins, pigments and flavor compounds are released from the grape skins in the fermentation vessel. Fermentation is usually over pretty quickly with red wines, so many winemakers like to leave the wine in contact with the skins for longer; this is known as extended maceration and results in deeper colored wines. Even flashier is the process called cold maceration, in which grape skins and juice are held at low temperature: the theory is that this results in the extraction of a better class of molecules from the skins. The deeper color and enhanced structure that results from extended maceration must be weighed against the risk of extracting bitter or unpleasant compounds from the skin -- known in the trade as 'over-extraction'. Machine harvesting Machine harvesters pass through the rows of vines literally beating the individual grapes off the vines with rubber paddles, which are then collected and separated from the non-grape material for transport back to the winery. It may not be as romantic as teams of pickers working their way through the vines, but in relatively remote regions of Australia and New Zealand, where casual labor is scarce, it is the only way to pick the grapes. There are two other advantages: harvesting can be done quickly when the grapes are at peak ripeness, and in hot regions it means the grapes can be picked at night, to preserve their freshness. Macroclimate A term used to describe the climate of a large area, such as a entire wine-producing region. Related terms include mesoclimate and microclimate. The macroclimate has an obvious effect on the grapes. Madeirization A tasting term. Wines that taste Madeirized - like Madeira - are most probably oxidized and therefore faulty. It generally only occurs in white wines. The resemblance to Madeira comes from the fact that oxidation is an intrinsic aspect of this unique wine. This oxidation occurs as the wines are heated in the estufa, so it may be that wines that taste Madeirized have been the victim of poor storage. Magnum 1. A gun. 2. A type of delicious ice cream. 3. A big bottle that holds 1.5 liters of wine, equivalent to two full bottles. Rather fun, and wine in magnums is supposed to age better than in standard 75 cl bottles. Malic acid An acid found in high concentrations in unripe grapes, it has a tart, sharp flavor. It is lost as the grapes ripen, which is one reason why wines from very warm climates often have a low natural acidity and can taste flabby. It is also lost through malolactic fermentation during the winemaking process. Malolactic fermentation The conversion of the tart, sharp malic acid into the softer, less harsh lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria, which takes place after alcoholic fermentation. An important winemaking decision in the production of white wines is whether to allow this to take place, and if so, to what degree. A Chardonnay that has had full malolactic fermentation (known in the trade simply as 'malo') will taste soft and buttery; one which has had no or only partial malo will be crisper and fresher, with sharp lemony acidity. Marc The solid stuff left after pressing grapes, which is also used to describe the spirit made from distilling this. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Marie-Jeanne A large format bottle, equivalent to three standard bottles. Not a commonly found format, and generally limited to Bordeaux. See my advisory page on wine bottle sizes for more information. Master of Wine The top qualification for those in the wine trade, it being the last in a series of examinations devised by the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. Only a few hundred have passed, and the failure rate sits at about 70%, so it isn't to be undertaken lightly. Mesoclimate This term describes the climate of a small area, typically an individual vineyard or hillside. Related terms include macroclimate and microclimate. Méthode Champenoise (France) The traditional method for making Champagne, in which the second fermentation occurs within the bottle. A legally protected term - only Champagne may wear this on the label - although the method is used the world over. For more details see my Champagne Guide. Méthode Traditionelle (France) Winemakers outside Champagne using the Methode Champenoise may use this to describe the process on the label. They are legally prevented from using the term Methode Champenoise. Methuselah Large-format bottle that holds an enormous six liters of Champagne (eight bottles' worth). Go on, impress your friends. Let's hope it isn't corked, though. Moelleux French term which translates as 'mellow', but in the context of wine means sweet or medium sweet. You'll often find this term on bottles from the Loire. Must The mixture of grape juice, stems, pips and skins -- and to a lesser degree, dead insects, bits of leaves and other crud -- that comes out of the grape crusher. Sometimes used more generally to refer to unfermented grape juice. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Musty Think of damp cellars, think of moldy potatoes at the bottom of the bag, think of railway arches -- these smells can be described as musty, and when you encounter mustiness in a wine, it could well be because it is corked. Mutage The process of arresting fermentation by the addition of grape spirit, this is essentially fortification. See my feature on mutage, in my Sweet Wine series, for more detailed information. MW You'll often names of people in the wine trade followed by the words MW. This stands for Master of Wine, and indicates that these dedicated individuals have passed the grueling professional exams set by the Institute of Masters of Wine. Only a few hundred people have so far gained this demanding qualification. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -N- Négociant French term for someone who deals in wines. Commonly, small growers who lack the facility to make wine will sell their grapes to a négociant, who then makes, bottles and markets the wine. Négociant-Éleveur (France) A négociant equipped to perform all the tasks involved in taking an unfinished wine through to the bottling process, including ageing in barrel if desired. New World A term used to describe wines from non-European regions such as Australia, California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. New Zealand Famous for being home to the world's most startlingly aromatic expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. A good example from the Marlborough region of New Zealand will show a remarkable flavour array of gooseberries, elderflower and freshly cut grass, with grapefruit-like acidity. In addition, New Zealand also produces good-quality Chardonnays. The red wines are not usually up to the same standard, with the notable exception of Pinot Noir, which excels in the Martinborough region. Noble Rot Imagine the following scenario. It's almost harvest time, and your vines have lovely healthy bunches of ripe white grapes hanging off them. Then, after a succession of damp misty mornings the grapes are infected by a fungus called Botrytis, with the result that they shrivel up and go all furry. A disaster? Quite the opposite. This is what is known as noble rot, and although the grapes look disgustingly inedible, infected bunches yield small quantities of concentrated juice that produces some of the world's most complex, sublime and long-lived sweet white wines. What sort of flavors should you expect in a wine affected by noble rot? There is often the tang of thick-cut marmalade and apricots. The texture will be rich and viscous, and although the wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of acidity to give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these wines and the low yields involved, these wines are invariably expensive, but the Australians are now producing delicious, affordable botrytised wines from grapes that have artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative, eh? Nose 1. The thing between your eyes on the front of your face. Your nose gives you much more useful information about the characteristics of a wine than your tongue. 2. Another term for the smell, aroma or bouquet of a wine. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -O- Oak Oak barrels are an important and complicated variable in the production of the majority of serious red wines and an increasing number of whites. Many white wines, and in particular Chardonnays, are fermented in small oak barrels. This adds some complexity to the wine, and also imparts toasty, nutty and vanilla-like flavors to the wine, especially when the barrels are new. Red wines are rarely fermented in barrels, but will often spend a lengthy period of ageing in them. Barrels allow a small amount of oxygen to come into contact with the wine, thus accelerating the development of more complex flavors, and when new oak is used, the wine picks up flavors of vanilla and spice and tannins from the wood. Different effects can be achieved depending on the type of oak used (commonly French or American, but Portuguese oak is quite different and is commonly used in Portugal, and Slovenian oak is often used in Italy). The quality of the wood used is important, as is the size of the barrel. It all gets rather complicated. Oak barrels are expensive, though, and for cheaper wines the effects of barrel fermentation and ageing are simulated by the use of oak chips or even used barrel staves bolted to the inside of stainless steel tanks. This practice is illegal in some more traditional wine-producing countries, and as you might expect, results can be variable. Oaky A pejorative taste term for a wine that has been given too much oak treatment, perhaps through unsuitable ageing in new oak barrels. An oaky wine will usually taste and smell of freshly sawn wood, or may have sweet vanilla flavors. Like many taste judgments, it is a bit of a subjective call: people differ in their tolerance for oaky wines. Old Vine You'll often find the term 'old vine' (in French 'vieilles vignes') on the label of a wine; it's becoming an increasingly popular marketing term. There is no legal definition, but it's usually used to refer to wine made from grape vines that are over 30 years old. Older vines, so the story goes, produce fewer grapes but those they do produce are of a better quality than fruit from younger vines. Old World Catch-all term referring to wines from the classical European wine regions. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Oloroso (Spain) A style of Sherry - rich and flavorsome, although it may be dry or sweet if Pedro Ximénez has been added. An Oloroso Sherry never developed the coating of flor which protects a Fino Sherry from oxidation and keeps it so pale and dry. The exposure to oxygen causes the wine to darken and develop rich, nutty flavors. Organic Viticulture Like any other branch of agriculture, some winemakers wish to rely less on fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. Those that meet certain criteria may be labeled as organic. It is often compared to biodynamic viticulture, although this is much more extreme. Oxidized A term describing a commonly encountered wine fault, caused by the exposure of a wine to oxygen, which eventually turns the alcohol to acetic acid. Net result is vinegar. Yuk. A mildly oxidized red wine will have a brownish color, with high volatile acidity. A mildly oxidized white wine will have a deep yellow/gold color and unappealing flavors of butterscotch and coffee, perhaps also with some volatility on the nose. The most common cause of oxidation is cork failure, letting air into the wine, although white wines intended for early consumption that have been cellared for too long will also display these characters to varying degrees. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -P- Palo Cortado A rare style of dry Sherry. It is the result of failure of complete development of the flor, so it starts life as neither Fino nor Amontillado. What flor there is subsequently dies, and as a consequence the eventual wine develops a character midway between an Amontillado and an Oloroso. Passito (Italy) The passito method describes the drying of grapes prior to fermentation. The dehydration results in an increased sugar concentration. The practice is traditional in Veneto, Italy, particularly in the production of Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella, but also for Recioto di Soave and other sweet wines. Traditionally the grapes are dried on straw mats, but they may also be dried in baskets in warm lofts, or even hung directly from the rafters. Pasteurization The process of sterilization by heating, named after Louis Pasteur. The process may be used to protect against bacterial spoilage before bottling, by heating the wine. There are concerns, however, about the effect of heat on the quality of wine, and thus many quality orientated producers avoid this practice. Nevertheless some famous producers do employ flash pasteurization. Pedro Ximénez An important Sherry grape, which produces an intensely sweet juice. It may be bottled as an unblended PX Sherry - so obviously a very sweet wine - or may be blended with other wines to produce a sweet style. Pétillant (France) A term used to describe a lightly sparkling wine. Pétillance may occur in many wines not intended to be sparkling at all, such as top German Rieslings which may often be bottled with a small amount of residual carbon dioxide, hence the sparkle. Photosynthesis The biological process in which plants, by virtue of chlorophyll and energy derived from the sun, convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. The result is the accumulation of sugar in the plant, including the fruit. The accumulation of sugar continues until the fruit is eventually considered ripe, although this only refers to sugar ripeness not physiological ripeness. pH Remember using litmus paper at school? This measures pH, which is a scale for assessing acidity. The lower the pH (red litmus paper), the higher the acidity; neutral pH is 7 (green litmus paper) and higher than 7 is alkaline or basic (blue litmus paper). Most wines have a pH of between 3 and 4, so they are acidic. Nowadays, the use of litmus paper has largely been superseded by snazzy pH meters which give a digital readout. Phylloxera A truly nasty aphid that just about wiped out the vineyards in Europe in the second half of the last century. Phylloxera has an insatiable appetite for the roots of grape vines, and once a vineyard is infected there is no cure, except for ripping the vines out and replacing them with the plants that have been grafted onto resistant rootstock from native American vines, which have strong roots but make crappy wine. As a Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • result, all the vineyards in Europe, with a few minor exceptions, consist of grafted vines. Debate rages about whether the classic wines pre-phylloxera were better than those made today, although there is no evidence that Cabernet grapes, for example, from grafted and ungrafted vines are any different in quality. Chile and Argentina are currently free of phylloxera, and still have ungrafted vineyards. Pierce's disease A really nasty vine disease caused by a bacterium carried by an insect called the sharpshooter. It is currently causing havoc in Californian vineyards, but fortunately hasn't yet spread to Europe. Pigeage (France) This is one method of submerging the cap of skins and grape solids, which is kept in contact with the fermenting wine to increase extract during the cuvaison. Pigeage à pied is the process of pushing it down with the foot. The same may be achieved by pumping the fermenting wine over the cap, or be submerging it using boards laid across the top of the vat. Portugal The Portuguese are thirsty people, ranking fifth in terms of per capita consumption. This creates a strong domestic demand for the fascinating wines that Portugal produces. For those bored with the flood of 'international' style Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, Portugal is a happy hunting ground of obscure grape varieties and unusual flavors. Its wines are also often good value for money. The Douro valley, in the north, is home to the Port industry, making fortified wines of varying styles, and increasingly good table wines from the same terraced hillside vineyards. Other regions such as Bairrada, Dão and the Alentejo are producing some exciting wines from traditional varieties. At the bottom end, there's still a lot of rustic plonk being produced, but there's now a growing band of quality minded properties making some serious wines. Prädikat (Germany, Austria) The Prädikat is a classification of wine depending on the must weight, which may be reported in a variety of units including KMW, Oechsle, Baumé and Brix. The classification includes three basic levels, Kabinett, Spätlese or Auslese. Additional categories include Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. This is the only classification system dependent on sugar content, implying (although it is not necessarily true) that the more sugar a wine has the better it is - a belief no doubt related to Germany's northerly location where ripening of grapes has been difficult in the past. It does not form a guide to taste, as a wine with a higher must weight may be vinified dry and so will not necessarily taste sweeter. For more information see my German wine guide. Press A device used to squeeze juice out of grapes. Most modern devices use an inflatable bladder; older devices called basket presses are still encountered. Some producers think that these give better results and will advertise their use on the label. Pressings The solid gunk left over after squeezing all the juice out of crushed grapes. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Press wine During the winemaking process the wine must be taken from the grape solids - pips, skins, pulp and stalks. First it may be run off - this is the free-run wine and is of higher quality than the wine obtained by pressing the cap, which is the press wine. Press wine has more tannin. It may be blended back in in varying proportions according to the practice of the winemaker, or it may even be blended into another wine if more than one cuvée is produced, such as at Charles Joguet in Chinon.. Pruning Essential vineyard practice, important in canopy management. For more information see my article on vine training techniques. Pupitre (France) A wine rack which holds bottles in a suitable position for remuage. For more information see my guide to Champagne. Puttonyos (Hungary) A 25kg basket used in the harvest of grapes, puttonyos have become a measure of the addition of sweet nobly rotten grapes known as Aszú to Tokay wine. The more puttonyos are added per gönc of dry wine, the sweeter the final wine will be. Generally wines range from three to six puttonyos. A wine made from harvested grapes where the Aszú are not separated out range from dry to sweet and are called Szamoridni. A wine made from the puttonyos grapes alone is called Aszú Essencia. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -R- Racking An unpleasant process popular during the Spanish inquisition (though not with non-Catholics, apparently). These days the word is more likely to be used to describe a fundamental winemaking operation in which the clear wine is separated from the accumulated crud at the bottom of a barrel or fermentation vessel. Rancio (France) The rancio style is one of fortification and oxidation, generally achieved by prolonged (decades in some cases) periods of ageing in wood. It is popular in Rivesaltes and Maury. Recioto (Italy) This term describes wines made from grapes which have been dried for several months prior to fermentation. The dehydration results in a concentration of the grape sugars, and the resulting wines are sweet. If fermented to dryness the wines are known as Amarone. The drying process may be referred to as passito. Rehoboam A large format Burgundy and Champagne bottle, equivalent to six standard bottles. In Bordeaux this size is known as a Jeroboam - although in Burgundy and Champagne a Jeroboam contains only four bottles. Confusing! See my advisory page on wine bottle sizes for more information. Remuage (France) [rem whaj] An essential step in the production of Champagne. The remuage or riddling process involves gradual turning and inversion of the bottle, bring the lees into the neck prior to their removal. For more information see my wine guide to Champagne. Reserva (Spain) In Spain, red wines designated as reserva have received a minimum of three years ageing prior to release, of which at least one must be in oak. Related terms include Gran Reserva and Crianza. Rehoboam Another of the big Champagne bottle sizes, this one holds 4.5 liters (six bottles' worth). Enough for a quiet celebration with a couple of friends. Reserve You'll often find the term 'reserve' on the label of a bottle, as it is a term used throughout the wine world. There is no formal definition of what makes a 'reserve' wine: producers usually use this to indicate a wine that is made from selected grapes or has been given lavish oak treatment. Residual Sugar Another statistic you might find on the back of a wine bottle. It refers to the amount of sugar left over after fermentation and is given in grams per liter. Below 2g/l, the wine will taste bone dry. Bear in mind that the perception of sweetness is altered by the other flavor elements in a wine, such as acid, tannin and fruitiness. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Rhône This important French wine region can neatly be divided into two. The Northern Rhône is the home of the Syrah grape (aka Shiraz), which makes full flavored, meaty, structured red wines in the Appellations of Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie and St Joseph. White wines are also produced, the most well know of which is Condrieu, made from the exotically flavored Viognier grape. Because quantities of wine produced in the Northern Rhône are small and quality is good, prices are invariably high. In contrast, the warmer Southern Rhône produces a huge amount of wine, much of it inexpensive Côtes du Rhône from the Grenache grape. More ambitious are the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Rasteau, which are often of very good quality. Rioja Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.C. Qualified designation of origin) named after La Rioja, in Spain. Rioja is made from grapes grown not only in the Autonomous Community of La Rioja, but also in parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava. Rioja is further subdivided into three zones:Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Many wines have traditionally blended fruit from all three regions though there is a slow growth in single zone wines. Romania Romania has a great tradition of wine production, stretching back thousands of years, and thanks to a large-scale state-driven replanting program in the 1960s now has the fifth largest area under vine in Europe. Yet in common with other Communist countries, emphasis was on quantity rather than quality, and the few bottles of Romanian wine you are likely to encounter on shop shelves in the UK will tend to be cheap and a bit plonkish. However, given the ideal grape growing conditions that exist in Romania, there is the potential for better things in the future. Rootstock Because of the consequences of the deadly root disease phylloxera, most vines in commercial vineyards are now grafted onto a suitable American variety (these are resistant to phylloxera). The precise choice of rootstock is a critical viticultural decision, as they all have different properties. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -S- Sappy A taste term. A less extreme variant of green. Saignée (France) This winemaking process involved bleeding off a portion of red wine after only a short period of contact of the juice with the grape skins. Because the colour of red wine is derived from pigments in the skins, the juice is only pink not red. This process is how rosé wines are made, the only exception being Champagne where rosé may also be made by blending red and white wines, although I think the best wines are made by the saignée method. The process may also be used to improve the quality of red wines, as it increases the ratio of skins to juice in the vat, so a more deeply coloured wine may be obtained. Salmanazar A large format Champagne bottle, equivalent to twelve standard bottles. See my advisory page on Champagne bottle sizes for more information. Scott Henry A vine training method. More details may be found in my advisory feature on vine training. Screwcaps The new alternative to sealing a wine with cork which, in case you hadn't realised, is tree bark. Another alternative is to use a synthetic cork. Why? Because cork, being a biological material, cannot be sterilised, and the fungal infections it harbours result in tainted ('corked') aromas which ruin about (figures vary) 5% of all bottles. One popular brand is the Stelvin. For more information see my information pages on corks and screwcaps and faulty wines. I keep a record of corked wines experienced, mainly because it is so annoying. Sec French term for 'dry', as in the opposite of sweet. Sherry A fortified wine from Jerez, in southern Spain. It comes in many different styles, most of which are dry. Fino is fresh and tangy and needs drinking as soon as it is opened - and ideal match for tapas. Amontillado styles are richer and nuttier, and Oloroso is darker with complex raisiny, nutty flavors. Pedro Ximenez is the sweetest style: rich and viscous with immense raisiny sweetness. Solera A system for ageing sherry, consisting of a series of barrels (known as butts), arranged next to and top of each other. It's all rather complex, but in simplest terms when wine is drawn off for bottling from an old barrel, this barrel is then topped-up with younger wine from another barrel. Thus, if a solera was set up 100 years ago, the wine that is bottled today would technically contain some wine that was 100 years old. South Africa Emerging from the shadow of Apartheid, South Africa is increasingly making better wines which usually represent good value for money at all levels on the quality scale. Although South Africa is classed as a new world region, wines it produces are often nicely poised between the new world and old world in Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • style. Look out for reds from South Africa's 'own' variety, Pinotage, which makes striking gamey and earthy-tasting wines, often with a savory, cheesy edge to them. The most famous regions are Stellenbosch, Paarl and Constantia, although cooler regions such as Walker Bay are beginning to attract attention. Sparkling red/sparkling Shiraz A wonderfully Australian invention. Take red grapes, most commonly of the Shiraz variety, and instead of making a full bodied red wine, vinify them like you would Champagne, producing a fizzy, frothy red wine, usually with a touch of residual sugar to offset the tannins. Well worth seeking out, you'll either love them or hate them. Spain Surprising fact: Spain has a greater area under vine than any other country, although because the yields from these vineyards are generally low, it only ranks third in the list of wine producers. In the north west, the cool damp region of Galicia produces some fresh aromatic whites from the Albariño grape, and Rueda is beginning to produce tasty, modern whites from Verdejo and Sauvignon blanc. Otherwise, Spain is largely known for its red wines. Rioja, with its attractive, sweetly fruited and oaky reds, is probably the most famous region, but not the best. This accolade is currently being fought over by Ribera del Duero (rich Tempranillo-based reds) and Priorato (small quantities of dense, mineralic wines from low yielding Grenache and Carignan planted on steep terraces). Other regions that deserve a mention are Navarra (easy drinking rosé and full flavored reds), Penedés (the home of Cava), Somontano (modern varietal wines from the foothills of the Pyrenees), Jumilla (chunky Mourvèdre-based reds) and La Mancha (the vast central plain that produces largely plonk). Spain is also known for sherry: its stunningly unique and undervalued fortified wines from Jerez. Spätlese A German term for late harvest. The Germans love rules, and there are a stack load of regulations that wines labelled spätlese must satisfy. Suffice to say, all the consumer needs to know is that these wines will probably have a touch of sweetness, usually with good balancing acidity, unless they are labeled 'trocken', in which case they will be dry and fresh. St. Bris Village (AOC/AOP) southeast of Chablis; made from the Sauvignon (blanc) grape. Stalky A tasting term that is a close relative of sappy and green, usually used to describe young, raw red wines. Structure A popular tasting term for the elements of a wine that confer longevity, mainly tannins and acidity. Most Bordeaux style reds will have in their youth a structure mainly comprised of tannins, both from the oak they have been matured in and also the Sur Lie If you find these words on a wine label, it means that the wine was aged on the lees: the gunk at the bottom of a barrel or tank that consists mostly of dead yeast cells. It can add complex, yeasty flavors to a white wine. See also lees stirring. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -T- Tafelwein (Germany) A low quality classification for German wine, essentially 'table wine'. The best German wines are classified as Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP). Tannin Collective name for a bitter, astringent group of chemicals that are found in skins, pips and stems of grapes, and also in the oak barrels that are commonly used to age wine in. Take a young, dark monster of a red wine and swish it around your mouth. That bitter, tongue curling, tooth-coating, drying sensation you get is from the tannins. Tannins are used in the leather-making industry to turn cow hide into shoes, belts and posh sofas, so no wonder it feels like tough young wines are turning your mouth into leather! However, even though this description doesn't sound too appealing, tannins are vital components of red wines. They contribute structure, which in turn facilitates ageing and thus the development of the complexity that comes from long-term cellaring. And without tannins to counter the fruit, most red wines would taste flabby and unbalanced. Tarrango Not a dance, but an obscure cross between a Portuguese grape variety with the Sultana grape, that is sometimes used in Australia to make simple, fruity red wines with piercing acidity. Tartaric Acid The most important grape-derived acid in wine. Sometimes you'll find little crystals at the bottom of a bottle of wine: these are crystals of tartarate salts, and they are harmless and flavorless. Because some uninformed consumers worry when they find these in their wine, many producers subject wine to low temperatures before bottling (a process called cold stabilization) to precipitate the tartarates out. Tartrate crystals During fermentation tartaric acid may be converted into potassium hydrogen tartrate, formed through its reaction with potassium. This compound may crystallize, when conditions are cold, to form small crystals in the wine. These are small, clear or white crystals. Some winemakers wish to prevent their formation and thus perform cold stabilization. The crystals themselves are harmless and natural so the decision is a matter of aesthetics. See my advisory page on wine faults for more information. Tawny Port (Portugal) A wood-aged style. Prolonged periods of ageing in wood result in loss of pigment so this is a much paler, tawny-colored style of Port, hence the name. Although such wines may be bottled as single-vintage colheita Ports, they are usually blended as a tawny of either 10, 20, 30 or 40 years of age, each comprising a blend of wines which average out at the age declared on the label. TCA An abbreviation for the chemical trichloranisole, which ruins an enormous amount of wine every year. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Terroir Imagine that on your property you have three vineyards, one that has a clay-based soil, one that has a gravelly soil, and one that has chalky soil. Each of these vineyards is planted with the same grape variety, and the grapes are all handled the same way in the winery. Yet when you taste the finished wines from each site, each will have its own unique characteristics. Terroir is a French term which refers to exactly these site-specific differences in wines that are caused by factors such as soil types, drainage, local microclimate and sun exposure. Debate rages about the importance of terroir versus the role of the winemaker, and also exactly how factors such as soils influence the flavor of the wine. Trocken German term for 'dry'. Trockenbeerenauslese (Germany, Austria) A sweet Prädikat category which translates literally as "dry berry selected". Essentially it refers to wines made using selected grapes affected by noble rot. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -U- Ullage If you ever buy old fine wines, you'll be interested in the ullage level: it refers to the loss of wine from the bottle with time¾the gap between the cork and the surface of the wine. It can vary widely, even between bottles from the same case, and terms like 'low neck' and 'high shoulder' are used to describe it. These descriptors will probably become less important as a combination of digital photography and the internet will mean that prospective purchasers will soon be able to actually see the condition of any bottles they are interested in. Umami If you paid attention in biology lessons at school you'll recall being taught that there are four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter and sour. It turns out that there are in fact at least five, and the Japanese have known this for ages. Sake blenders in Japan long ago identified a fifth taste, which they called 'umami' (translated this means 'deliciousness'), and scientists have shown that this is the taste of monsodium glutamate, picked up by glutamate receptors on the tongue. Now you know. Some wines have 'umami' flavours, apparently. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -V- Vanilla If you detect the scent of vanilla in a wine, it's a tell-tale sign that new oak (and in particular American oak) has been used at some stage in the wine making process. Varietal A wine named after the single grape variety it was made from. This consumer-friendly practice began in earnest in the USA in the 1950s and is now so popular that the majority of wines from the new world now have the grape variety on the label. Vat A big container for fermenting, ageing or storing wine in. Verdelho Portuguese grape variety, originally from Madeira but now becoming popular in the Hunter Valley of Australia, where it produces fresh lemon and melon flavored dry white wines. Vendange (France) Harvest. Vendange tardive (France) Delayed harvest. Wines labelled as such usually have a sweet palate. Venencia (Spain) The wonderful, long-handled ladle that features in so many pictures of Spanish winemakers tasting their Sherry. This allows samples of the wine to be drawn without disturbing the coating of flor. Vertical trellis A vine training method. More details may be found in my advice page on vine training techniques. Vin clair (France) The base wine for Champagne, after the primary alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation but before the second fermentation. For more details see my Champagne Guide. Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (France) This is a classification for French wine one step above Vin de Pays, and certainly above the lowly Vin de Table. Many regions classified as VDQS are being upgraded to Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, and so it is now infrequently seen. Vin de Pays (France) Essentially 'country wines', there are many very good wines to be found in this category. The category lies below Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée and the rapidly disappearing Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure, but is distinctly superior to the usually awful Vin de Table. Vin de Table (France) The lowest category for French wine. By law such wines may not even declare grape varieties or vintage Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • on the label - that is if they ever get as far as being bottled. These are the wines that you still see dispensed by the petrol pump appliances en vrac at lowly co-operatives. Vin doux naturel (France) A style of wine common in the south, vin doux naturel describes fortified wines where grape spirit has been added before completion of fermentation. This action kills the yeast, and the unfermented sugar causes the wine to be sweet. Vin gris (France) An old term which seems to have fallen from common usage. It describes 'grey' wines - really very pale rosés. Vintage A seemingly innocuous term that turns out to mean many different things to different people. The 'vintage' simply refers to the year the grapes were grown. So, for instance, we might describe the year 2000 as a great vintage for Bordeaux as the weather that year was excellent, and many superlative wines were made. When it comes to Champagne, a vintage wine is one that is made from grapes all grown in the year declared on the label, whereas a non-vintage wine is a blend of wines from several years. Vitis labrusca The fruit of the vine Vitis labrusca itself may be used in the production of wine, but is more often used for grape jelly or similar products. An American vine species, it was once an important source of rootstock for Phylloxera-sensitive Vitis vinifera. Vitis vinifera This is the one. The vinifera species includes all our favourites - Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Mourvèdre, Gewurztraminer, and so on. The species from which all the world's fine wines are made - even if they have to be grafted onto other rootstock in order to survive. Vieilles vignes French term for old vines. Vinification Posh term for winemaking. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Vino de la Tierra (VdlT) "Country wines" which do not have EU QWPSR status but which may use a regional name. There are currently 46 Vino de la Tierra regions in Spain. Vino de Mesa (Table Wine) Bulk-grown, usually drawn from a wide variety of regions and hence has no vintage or area designation on the label, apart from "Produce of Spain". Production of this low grade of Spanish wine is falling year on year. Viscous Tasting term used for wines that are thick, heavy-textured and concentrated. Sweet wines made from grapes that have been affected by noble rot are commonly viscous. Volatile acidity Wine has acidity, which is derived from the presence of a number of different acids including acetic, malic, tartaric, lactic, citric, carbonic and so on. Excessive levels of acetic acid produce an aroma resembling acetone (nail polish remover). In small quantities its presence can help lift the nose, but in excess it is unpleasant and a fault. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -W- Weight A tasting term. When tasters refer to the weight of a wine, I think most are referring to its body. Weingut (Germany) Describes an estate which owns vineyards as a source of fruit for its wine. Weinkellerei (Germany) Describes an estate which buys in grapes to make wine, rather than owning its own vineyards. WO (South Africa) Stands for 'Wine of Origin'. The South African equivalent of the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, the Spanish Denominación de Origen and the Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata. Wine Press 1. Underpaid, dedicated, hard-working journalists who write about wine. 2. A device for extracting juice from crushed grapes. -X- Xinomavro [zin oh mav row] The principal red wine grape of the uplands of the Naoussa and Amyntaion areas, in the prefecture of Imathia in Northern Greece Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • -Y- Yeast A micro-organism without which we would not have bread, beer or wine - wouldn't life be dull! The yeasts convert the sugar to alcohol in a process known as alcoholic fermentation. Present naturally in the vineyard, harvested grapes will begin to ferment naturally, especially if they are crushed to break the skins and expose the sugar-rich juice inside to the yeasts which reside on the grape skins. Some winemakers prefer to add cultured yeasts rather than rely on the action of wild yeasts. This gives greater control over the fermentation, but some argue it may intrinsically alter the style or quality of the wine, as a single strain might not produce the same flavors as the multiple strains present in the vineyard. Yield The yield is the amount of wine produced in vineyard or estate, and is usually expressed in hectoliters per hectare. Yields vary according to the type of vine - some are heavy croppers, some yield less - and also with climate and soil. Yields may be influenced by the winemaker, who may perform a green harvest on order to reduce them. Low yields are associated with increased quality. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Robert Parker’s Tasting Glossary acetic: Wines, no matter how well made, contain quantities of acetic acidity that have a vinegary smell. If there is an excessive amount of acetic acidity, the wine will have a vinegary smell and be a flawed, acetic wine. acidic: Wines need natural acidity to taste fresh and lively, but an excess of acidity results in an acidic wine that is tart and sour. acidity: The acidity level in a wine is critical to its enjoyment and livelihood. The natural acids that appear in wine are citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic. Wines from hot years tend to be lower in acidity, whereas wines from cool, rainy years tend to be high in acidity. Acidity in a wine can preserve the wine's freshness and keep the wine lively, but too much acidity, which masks the wines flavors and compresses its texture, is a flaw. aftertaste: As the term suggests, the taste left in the mouth when one swallows is the aftertaste. This word is a synonym for length or finish. The longer the aftertaste lingers in the mouth (assuming it is a pleasant taste), the finer the quality of the wine. aggressive: Aggressive is usually applied to wines that are either high in acidity or have harsh tannins, or both. angular: Angular wines are wines that lack roundness, generosity, and depth. Wine from poor vintages or wines that are too acidic are often described as being angular. aroma: Aroma is the smell of a young wine before it has had sufficient time to develop nuances of smell that are then called its bouquet. The word aroma is commonly used to mean the smell of a relatively young, un-evolved wine. astringent: Wines that are astringent are not necessarily bad or good wines. Astringent wines are harsh and coarse to taste, either because they are too young and tannic and just need time to develop, or because they are not well made. The level of tannins (if it is harsh) in a wine contributes to its degree of astringency. austere: Wines that are austere are generally not terribly pleasant wines to drink. An austere wine is a hard, rather dry wine that lacks richness and generosity. However, young Rhône’s are not as austere as young Bordeaux. backward: An adjective used to describe (1) a young largely un-evolved, closed, and undrinkable wine, (2) a wine that is not ready to drink, or (3) a wine that simply refuses to release its charms and personality. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • balance: One of the most desired traits in a wine is good balance, where the concentration of fruit, level of tannins, and acidity are in total harmony. Balanced wines are symmetrical and tend to age gracefully. barnyard: An unclean, farmyard, fecal aroma that is imparted to a wine because of unclean barrels or unsanitary winemaking facilities. berrylike: As this descriptive term implies, most red wines have an intense berry fruit character that can suggest blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, mulberries, or even strawberries and cranberries. big: A big wine is a large-framed, full-bodied wine with an intense and concentrated feel on the palate. Most red Rhône wines are big wines. blackcurrant: A pronounced smell of blackcurrant fruit is commonly associated with certain Rhône wines. It can vary in intensity from faint to very deep and rich. body: Body is the weight and fullness of a wine that can be sensed as it crosses the palate. full-bodied wines tend to have a lot of alcohol, concentration, and glycerin. Botrytis cinerea: The fungus that attacks the grape skins under specific climatic conditions (usually alternating periods of moisture and sunny weather). It causes the grape to become super-concentrated because it causes a natural dehydration. Botrytis cinerea is essential for the great sweet white wines of Barsac and Sauternes. It rarely occurs in the Rhône Valley because of the dry, constant sunshine and gusty winds. bouquet: As a wine's aroma becomes more developed from bottle aging, the aroma is transformed into a bouquet that is hopefully more than just the smell of the grape. brawny: A hefty, muscular, full-bodied wine with plenty of weight and flavor, although not always the most elegant or refined sort of wine. briery: I think of California Zinfandel when the term briery comes into play, denoting that the wine is aggressive and rather spicy. brilliant: Brilliant relates to the color of the wine. A brilliant wine is one that s clear, with no haze or cloudiness to the color. browning: As red wines age, their color changes from ruby/purple to dark ruby, to medium ruby, to ruby with an amber edge, to ruby with a brown edge. When a wine is browning it is usually fully mature and not likely to get better. carbonic maceration: This vinification method is used to make soft, fruity, very accessible wines. Whole clusters of grapes are put into a vat that is then filled with carbonic gas. This system is used when fruit is to be emphasized in the final wine in contrast to structure and tannin. cedar: Rhône reds can have a bouquet that suggests either faintly or overtly the smell of cedarwood. It is a complex aspect of the bouquet. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • chewy: If a wine has a rather dense, viscous texture from a high glycerin content, it is often referred to as being chewy. High-extract wines from great vintages can often be chewy, largely because they have higher alcohol hence high levels of glycerin, which imparts a fleshy mouthfeel. closed: The term closed is used to denote that the wine is not showing its potential, which remains locked in because it is too young. Young wines often close up about 12-18 months after bottling, and depending on the vintage and storage conditions, remain in such a state for several years to more than a decade. complex: One of the most subjective descriptive terms used, a complex wine is a wine that the taster never gets bored with and finds interesting to drink. Complex wines tend to have a variety of subtle scents and flavors that hold one's interest in the wine. concentrated: Fine wines, whether they are light-, medium-, or full-bodied, should have concentrated flavors. Concentrated denotes that the wine has a depth and richness of fruit that gives it appeal and interest. Deep is a synonym for concentrated. corked: A corked wine is a flawed wine that has taken on the smell of cork as a result of an unclean or faulty cork. It is perceptible in a bouquet that shows no fruit, only the smell of musty cork, which reminds me of wet cardboard. cuvée: Many producers in the Rhône Valley produce special, deluxe lots of wine or a lot of wine from a specific grape variety that they bottle separately. These lots are often referred to as cuvées. decadent: If you are an ice cream and chocolate lover, you know the feeling of eating a huge sundae of rich vanilla ice cream lavished with hot fudge and real whipped cream. If you are a wine enthusiast, a wine loaded with opulent, even unctuous layers of fruit, with a huge bouquet, and a plump, luxurious texture can be said to be decadent. deep: Essentially the same as concentrated, expressing the fact that the wine is rich, full of extract, and mouth filling. delicate: As this word implies, delicate wines are light, subtle, understated wines that are prized for their shyness rather than for an extroverted, robust character. White wines are usually more delicate than red wines. Few Rhône red wines can correctly be called delicate. demi-muid: 650-liter Burgundy barrels which are essentially the equivalent of three regular barrels. diffuse: Wines that smell and taste unstructured and unfocused are said to be diffuse. When red wines are served at too warm a temperature they often become diffuse. double decanting: This is done by first decanting the wine into a decanter and then rinsing the original bottle out with non-chlorinated water and then immediately repouring the wine from the decanter back into the bottle. It varies with the wine as to how long you cork it. dumb: A dumb wine is also a closed wine, but the term dumb is used more pejoratively. Closed wines may need only time to reveal their richness and intensity. Dumb wines may never get any better. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • earthy: May be used in both a negative and a positive sense; however, I prefer to use earthy to denote a positive aroma of fresh, rich, clean soil. Earthy is a more intense smell than woody or truffle scents. elegant: Although more white wines than red are described as being elegant, lighter-styled, graceful, balance red wines can be elegant. extract: This is everything in a wine besides water, sugar, alcohol, and acidity. exuberant: Like extroverted, somewhat hyper people, wines too can be gushing with fruit and seem nervous and intensely vigorous. fat: When the Rhône has an exceptionally hot year for its crop and the wines attain a super sort of maturity, they are often quite rich and concentrated, with low to average acidity. Often such wines are said to be fat, which is a prized commodity. If they become too fat, that is a flaw and they are then called flabby. flabby: A wine that is too fat or obese is a flabby wine. Flabby wines lack structure and are heavy to taste. fleshy: Fleshy is a synonym for chewy, meaty, or beefy. It denotes that the wine has a lot of body, alcohol, and extract, and usually a high glycerin content. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage are particularly fleshy wines. floral: Wines made from the Muscat or Viognier grape have a flowery component, and occasionally a red wine will have a floral scent. focused: Both a fine wine's bouquet and flavor should be focused. Focused simply means that the scents, aromas, and flavors are precise and clearly delineated. If they are not, the wine is like an out-of-focus picture-diffuse, hazy, and possibly problematic. forward: An adjective used to describe wines that are (1) delicious, evolved, and close to maturity, (2) wines that border on being flamboyant or ostentatious, or (3) unusually evolved and/or quickly maturing wines. foudre: Large oak barrels that vary enormously in size but are significantly larger than the normal oak barrel used in Bordeaux or the piece used in Burgundy. They are widely used in the Rhône Valley. fresh: Freshness in both young and old wines is a welcome and pleasing component. A wine is said to be fresh when it is lively and cleanly made. The opposite of fresh is stale. fruity: A very good wine should have enough concentration of fruit so that it can be said to be fruity. Fortunately, the best wines will have more than just a fruity personality. full-bodied: Wines rich in extract, alcohol, and glycerin are full-bodied wines. Most Rhône wines are full-bodied. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • garrigue: In the southern Rhône Valley and Provence, this is the landscape of small slopes and plateaus. This Provençal word applies to these windswept hilltops/slopes inhabited by scrub-brush and Provençal herb outcroppings. The smell of garrigue is often attributed to southern Rhône Valley wines. Suggesting more than the smell of herbes de Provence, it encompasses an earthy/herbal concoction of varying degrees of intensity. green: Green wines are wines made from underripe grapes; they lack richness and generosity as well as having a vegetal character. Green wines are infrequently made in the Rhone, although vintages such as 1977 were characterized by a lack of ripening. hard: Wines with abrasive, astringent tannins or high acidity are said to be hard. Young vintages of Rhône wines can be hard, but they should never be harsh. harsh: If a wine is too hard it is said to be harsh. Harshness in a wine, young or old, is a flaw. hedonistic: Certain styles of wine are meant to be inspected; they are introspective and intellectual wines. Others are designed to provide sheer delight, joy, and euphoria. Hedonistic wines can be criticized because in one sense they provide so much ecstasy that they can be called obvious, but in essence, they are totally gratifying wines meant to fascinate and enthrall-pleasure at its best. herbaceous: Many wines have a distinctive herbal smell that is generally said to be herbaceous. Specific herbal smells can be of thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, fennel, or basil and are common in Rhône wines. herbes de Provence: Provence is known for the wild herbs that grow prolifically through- out the region. These include lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano. It is not just an olfactory fancy to smell many of these herbs in Rhône Valley wines, particularly those made in the south. hollow: Also known as shallow, hollow wines are diluted and lack depth and concentration. honeyed: A common personality trait of specific white Rhône wines, a honeyed wine is one that has the smell and taste of bee's honey. hot: Rather than meaning that the temperature of the wine is too warm to drink, hot denotes that the wine is too high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed. Wines with alcohol levels in excess of 14.5% often taste hot if the requisite depth of fruit is not present. inox vats: This is the French term for stainless steel vats that are used for both fermentation and storage of wine. intensity: Intensity is one of the most desirable traits of a high-quality wine. Wines of great intensity must also have balance. They should never be heavy or cloying. Intensely concentrated great wines are alive, vibrant, aromatic, layered, and texturally compelling. Their intensity adds to their character, rather than detracting from it. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • jammy: When wines have a great intensity of fruit from excellent ripeness they can be jammy, which is a very concentrated, flavorful wine with superb extract. In great vintages such as 1961, 1978, 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1995, some of the wines are so concentrated that they are said to be jammy. Kisselguhr filtration system: This is a filtration system using diatomaceous earth as the filtering material, rather than cellulose, or in the past, before it was banned, asbestos. leafy: A leafy character in a wine is similar to a herbaceous character only in that it refers to the smell of leaves rather than herbs. A wine that is too leafy is a vegetal or green wine. lean: Lean wines are slim, rather streamlined wines that lack generosity and fatness but can still be enjoyable and pleasant. lively: A synonym for fresh or exuberant, a lively wine is usually young wine with good acidity and a thirst-quenching personality. long: A very desirable trait in any fine wine is that it be long in the mouth. Long (or length) relates to a wine's finish, meaning that after you swallow the wine, you sense its presence for a long time. (Thirty seconds to several minutes is great length.) In a young wine, the difference between something good and something great is the length of the wine. lush: Lush wines are velvety, soft, richly fruity wines that are both concentrated and fat. A lush wine can never be an astringent or hard wine. massive: In great vintages where there is a high degree of ripeness and superb concentration, some wines can turn out to be so big, full-bodied, and rich that they are called massive. A great wine such as the 1961 or 1990 Hermitage La Chapelle is a textbook example of a massive wine. meaty: A chewy, fleshy wine is also said to be meaty. monocepage: This term describes a wine made totally of one specific varietal. monopole: Used to denote a vineyard owned exclusively by one proprietor, the word monopole appears on the label of a wine made from such a vineyard. morsellated: Many vineyards are fragmented, with multiple growers owning a portion of the same vineyard. Such a vineyard is often referred to as a morsellated vineyard. mouth-filling: Big, rich, concentrated wines that are filled with fruit extract and are high in alcohol and glycerin are wines that tend to texturally fill the mouth. A mouth-filling wine is also a chewy, fleshy, fat wine. musty: Wines aged in dirty barrels or unkept cellars or exposed to a bad cork take on a damp, musty character that is a flaw. nose: The general smell and aroma of a wine as sensed through one's nose and olfactory senses is often called the wine's nose. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • oaky: Many red Rhône wines are aged from 6 months to 30 months in various sizes of oak barrels. At some properties, a percentage of the oak barrels may be new, and these barrels impart a toasty, vanillin flavor and smell to the wine. If the wine is not rich and concentrated, the barrels can overwhelm the wine, making it taste overly oaky. Where the wine is rich and concentrated and the winemaker has made a judicious use of barrels, however, the results are a wonderful marriage of fruit and oak. off: If a wine is not showing its true character, or is flawed or spoiled in some way, it is said to be "off." overripe: An undesirable characteristic; grapes left too long on the vine become too ripe, lose their acidity, and produce wines that are heavy and balance. This can happen frequently in the hot viticultural areas of the Rhône Valley if the growers harvest too late. oxidized: If a wine has been excessively exposed to air during either its making or aging, the wine loses freshness and takes on a stale, old smell and taste. Such a wine is said to be oxidized. peppery: A peppery quality to a wine is usually noticeable in many Rhône wines that have an aroma of black or white pepper and a pungent flavor. perfumed: This term usually is more applicable to fragrant, aromatic white wines than to red wines. However, some of the dry white wines (particularly Condrieu) and sweet white wines can have a strong perfumed smell. pigéage: A winemaking technique of punching down the cap of grape skins that forms during the beginning of the wine's fermentation. This is done several times a day, occasionally more frequently, to extract color, flavor, and tannin from the fermenting juice. plummy: Rich, concentrated wines can often have the smell and taste of ripe plums. When they do, the term plummy is applicable. ponderous: Ponderous is often used as a synonym for massive, but in my usage a massive wine is simply a big, rich, very concentrated wine with balance, whereas a ponderous wine is a wine that has become heavy and tiring to drink. precocious: Wines that mature quickly are precocious. However the term also applies to wines that may last and evolve gracefully over a long period of time, but taste as if they are aging quickly because of their tastiness and soft, early charms. pruney: Wines produced from grapes that are overripe take on the character of prunes. Pruney wines are flawed wines. raisiny: Late-harvest wines that are meant to be drunk at the end of a meal can often be slightly raisiny, which in some ports and sherries is desirable. However, a raisiny quality is a major flaw in a dinner wine. rich: Wines that are high in extract, flavor, and intensity of fruit. ripe: A wine is ripe when its grapes have reached the optimum level of maturity. Less than fully mature grapes produce wines that are underripe, and overly mature grapes produce wines that are overripe. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • round: A very desirable character of wines, roundness occurs in fully mature wines that have lost their youthful, astringent tannins, and also in young wines that have soft tannins and low acidity. savory: A general descriptive term that denotes that the wine is round, flavorful, and interesting to drink. shallow: A weak, feeble, watery or diluted wine lacking concentration is said to be shallow. sharp: An undesirable trait, sharp wines are bitter and unpleasant with hard, pointed edges. silky: A synonym for velvety or lush, silky wines are soft, sometimes fat, but never hard or angular. smoky: Some wines, either because of the soil or because of the barrels used to age the wine, have a distinctive smoky character. Côte Rôtie and Hermitage often have a roasted or smoky quality. soft: A soft wine is one that is round and fruity, low in acidity, and has an absence of aggressive, hard tannins. spicy: Wines often smell quite spicy with aromas of pepper, cinnamon, and other well-known spices. These pungent aromas are usually lumped together and called spicy. stale: Dull, heavy wines that are oxidized or lack balancing acidity for freshness are called stale. stalky: A synonym for vegetal, but used more frequently to denote that the wine has probably had too much contact with the stems, resulting in a green, vegetal, or stalky character to the wine. supple: A supple wine is one that is soft, lush, velvety, and very attractively round and tasty. It is a highly desirable characteristic because it suggests that the wine is harmonious. tannic: The tannins of a wine, which are extracted from the grape skins and stems, are, along with a wine's acidity and alcohol, its lifeline. Tannins give a wine firmness and some roughness when young, but gradually fall away and dissipate. A tannic wine is one that is young and unready to drink. tart: Sharp, acidic, lean, unripe wines are called tart. In general, a wine that is tart is not pleasurable. thick: Rich, ripe, concentrated wines that are low in acidity are often said to be thick. thin: A synonym for shallow; it is an undesirable characteristic for a wine to be thin, meaning that it is watery, lacking in body, and just diluted. tightly knit: Young wines that have good acidity levels, good tannin levels, and are well made are called tightly knit, meaning they have yet to open up and develop. toasty: A smell of grilled toast can often be found in wines because the barrels the wines are aged in are charred or toasted on the inside. tobacco: Some red wines have the scent of fresh tobacco. It is a distinctive and wonderful smell in wine. troncais oak: This type of oak comes from the forest of Troncais in central France. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • unctuous: Rich, lush, intense wines with layers of concentrated, soft, velvety fruit are said to be unctuous. vegetal: An undesirable characteristic, wines that smell and taste vegetal are usually made from unripe grapes. In some wines, a subtle vegetable garden smell is pleasant and adds complexity, but if it is the predominant character, it is a major flaw. velvety: A textural description and synonym for lush or silky, a velvety wine is a rich, soft, smooth wine to taste. It is a very desirable characteristic. viscous: Viscous wines tend to be relatively concentrated, fat, almost thick wines with a great density of fruit extract, plenty of glycerin, and high alcohol content. If they have balancing acidity, they can be tremendously flavorful and exciting wines. If they lack acidity, they are often flabby and heavy. volatile: A volatile wine is one that smells of vinegar as a result of an excessive amount of acetic bacteria present. It is a seriously flawed wine. woody: When a wine is overly oaky it is often said to be woody. Oakiness in a wine's bouquet and taste is good up to a point. Once past that point, the wine is woody and its fruity qualities are masked by excessive oak aging. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Influences of Oak on Making and Maturing Wine Introduction Wine Business Monthly reported on a Seminar conducted in June 2005 on the use of oak in winemaking. The Seminar was organised by The Institute of Masters of Wine in association with Christie's Wine Department and Taransaud Tonnellerie. Five tastings were held, with all wines originating from the 2004 vintage. The samples of unfinished wines were aged in specially made 30 litre Taransaud barrels, with the exception of David Ramey's Chardonnays. This article has been written by Christy A Canterbury who is a wine consultant, wine writer and educator. As well as being a candidate at The Institute of Masters of Wine, as was reported in Wine Business Monthly, December 2005. Tasting 1: Fermentation-Steel vs. New Oak and Used Oak In his Hyde Vineyard (Carneros) Chardonnay experiment, Ramey Wine Cellars winemaker David Ramey compared the effects of fermentation and aging in new oak, second-use oak and stainless steel barrels. Ramey also looked at the effect of lees aging and stirring, and noted that "yeast still do things even though they are dead." Understanding the interaction of wine, oak and lees enables Ramey to create a well-rounded package for his consumers. Since grapes taste different every year, these trials help him understand how best to showcase them. He can vinify in oak or stainless steel, use new or old barrels and employ different types of oak to achieve different taste profiles. "Wine is preserved fruit. I pick at the point where the fruit is most delicious. These grapes were picked at 23.7 Brix," he said. What occurs post-picking is clearly vital as the three resulting wines were strikingly different. The wine aged in stainless steel presented the least aroma, with only delicate grapefruit and grass scents emerging. This wine boasted the most acidity, but the resulting sensation was not particularly pleasing. Moving on, Stephan von Neipperg, owner of several French wineries, noted the wine from the second-fill barrel, coopered by Louis Latour, seemed "most Burgundian." Indeed, the barrel imparted lactic, cheesy qualities on the nose and a mellowed, yet still defined acidity that melded to form an attractive whole. By contrast, the wine aged in a new, Francois Frères-coopered barrel exhibited overt oak on the nose and palate. Pronounced almond essence denoted the leaching of furfural (sweet smelling) components from the barrel. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Preferring the wines aged in oak, Ramey said, "The import of phenolic material into the wines as well as the exchange of oxidation creates wines I prefer." The wine from the new oak barrel topped his charts. "This offers the most complete mouth feel of all the wines. It seems more like a finished wine than any of the others." Ramey's comment concluded a very basic but informative starting point. The panel acknowledged that while the oak barrels each received 24 months' natural aging outside and medium-plus toast, they were sourced from two different coopers, adding a potential variable in results. However, all agreed that this factor was insignificant because the variation in barrel age-regardless of the cooper-consistently produces similar results. Tasting 2: Origin of Oak-France, Europe, USA Trials were conducted on both whites and reds. First, four variations on Sauvignon Blanc from Château Malartic Lagravière in Graves, Bordeaux, were presented blind: a stainless steel wine for reference and three samples aged in French, European (Polish) and American oak. All wood received 24 months' outside aging and medium toast. From a poll of the room after this tasting, the oak treatment of the whites was evidently easier to identify as follows: Displaying tart lemon-lime characteristics and very light body and color, the reference wine was mercifully intended to be nothing more. The sharp, grassy finish resulted in an unpleasant aftertaste. The French oak was well integrated, allowing floral notes to shine through while providing a smooth mouth feel. Hints of butter nodded to oak aging as did flavors of rich fall fruits, such as pear and apple. The American oak produced a wildly fragrant nose bursting with dill. Also boasting a smooth palate, the more lusty flavors of caramel and baking spice also pointed directly to the oak's American origins. The wine aged in Polish oak proved disjointed. Its alcohol seemed magnified compared to the other wines, and a touch of aggressive acidity at the back of the palate hinted at volatile acidity. The long finish did offer attractive nuances of caramel and spice; however, the tactile awkwardness of the wine proved disconcerting. Nonetheless, many tasters could clearly discern Polish oak's most readily identifiable trait: cardamom. The reds, from Château La Lagune, received the same oak treatment as the whites. Here, however, the tannin element blurred some of the individuality of the oaks. The tannins proved most moderate on the American oak wine while the French and Polish showed more, though not unpleasant, astringency and structure. European oak, be it Polish, Hungarian or Russian, offers nuances similar to French Sessile oak (see commentary in Tasting 3). Interestingly, the alcohol proved more prominent on the Polish oak-aged wines for both white and red experiments. Many participants mistook the French for the Polish oak and vice versa, but the American oak proved hard to miss with its distinctive dill and cucumber overtones. However, the wine with American oak treatment won few compliments. Michael Silacci, winemaker at Opus One, declared the wine "the harshest," and von Neipperg slowly constructed a "PC" statement: "I cannot understand it, but perhaps in time I will come to learn it. I find American oak can be interesting for certain wines." So how does a winemaker know if he's getting the oak he ordered? "You don't," said Ramey flatly. "You have to entirely trust your cooper because you can't tell by looking from where the oak originates." While you can visually differentiate tight from wide grain, as well as toasting level, there is simply no way to count fibers or observe grain patterns to determine provenance. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • Tasting 3: French Oak Regions-Tronçais, Vosges, Centre Oaks grown for barrelmaking come from north, east and central France. Oak from the cooler northern and eastern areas typically belongs to the Sessile family and possesses more complexity. Oak from the north-central Allier forest tends to the spicier side while oak from the Tronçais forest is known for offering a refined mouth feel. Pedunculate oak from the south-central Centre region of Limousin is more aggressive, quickly adding vanillin notes and deepening color. Sampling from barrels (aged outside for 24 months with medium toasting), tasters tackled with delight four glasses (one a stainless steel "reference" wine) of Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru from Bouchard Père et Fils. The climates of the oak aligned precisely with their origin. Sources further north afforded more structure and less overt oak influence. More temperate climates evoked more oak expression. The Tronçais oak showed greener tones and brighter acidity while sporting the lightest body. The Vosges oak also provided solid structure as well as agreeable spicy notes of pear and apple fruit. The Centre sample resulted in leaner, green apple fruit than the Vosges but still turned out the most overt oak overtones on the palate and finish. Of the three, Centre oak came closest to American, with its milky undertones and cinnamon spice, but the lack of coconut or dill and the ultra-smooth palate would have steered any discerning blind taster toward the eastern side of the Atlantic. Did the panel's winemakers find a compelling difference between the three varieties? "There is no difference in the analysis of the different barrels," said Silacci. "Actually, there is, but it's only nuance." Ramey concurred, "The results are inconsequential." He did point out, however, that all of the wines aged in French oak up to that point provided a much smoother palate than did the American oak-aged wine from Tasting 2. Ramey also offered a few other markers for determining oak source: intense smoke and clove prove most common in French oak while vanillin is more pronounced in American oak. Tasting 4: Influence of Open-Air Seasoning Duration Taransaud's Jean-Pierre Giraud introduced this tasting. He indicated that when oak is not properly seasoned, the wood's green tannins can show up in a wine. Not only does the seasoning length play a determinant, so does the method in which the wood is seasoned. A tip to those buying barrels on a budget: If you choose less expensive, shorter-aged oak, splurge on heavier toast, which can cover up the wood's shortcomings to a degree. Seasoning stabilizes wood so that it can be formed into barrels. That means the moisture content of freshly split wood must drop from 55 percent to 15 percent. Coopers procure such a dramatic decrease in three ways: A kiln dryer, which extracts moisture through the circulation of hot air through an enclosed space; a combination of kiln dryer and natural exposure; or 100 percent natural-air seasoning. Wood for the highest quality barrels comes from 100 percent natural-air seasoning. This method takes the longest because the wood actually takes on moisture from rain, fog, snow and other precipitation during the process. Seasoning at approximately one centimeter per year, coopers usually wait three-to-four years for the material to reach its prime state. "Prime" is the point at which the wood loses all of its gross tannins. Because of stocking large amounts of wood well in advance of use and special palletizing requirements, this method is extremely expensive. The reward, however, is the contribution of elegant Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • spice and richness to the wines. Kiln drying is more economical and allows coopers to rush big orders, but their use can "bake in" green tannins, which impart bitterness and astringency. Samples of Château La Lagune from oak aged outside for 24, 12 and six months proved insightful. (Note: all wines were aged in these barrels for the same period of time. The aging variation only applies to open- air seasoning prior to the barrel's construction.) Astringency and tannins followed a bell curve. At the peak of the curve, Silacci said the 12-month-seasoned wine showed the "leanest and driest of samples." Oak aroma and flavor also showed most noticeably on this wine. Surprisingly, instead of showing harsh, green notes, the six-month-aged sample imparted soft tannin and little astringency. At the far end of the chart, the 24-month-aged oak sample offered the smoothest mouth feel, with a more pronounced character than the six-month-aged wine. The seminar then reverted to refreshing whites, scrutinizing the same outside seasoning effects on the Sauvignon Blanc of Château Malartic Lagravière. Puzzling even to the winemakers, the 12-month-aged wine again showed the most pronounced oak. The bell curve held consistent here, with the six-month- aged sample withdrawn and showing little fruit, and the 24-month-aged sample proving well-rounded with mineral and waxy notes and a smooth, long finish. Ramey declared the 24-month-aged wine a good sample and proposed tasting the same wines in another 12 months to look for better potential integration. Tasting 5: Toasting Level Toasting develops aromas. Both the intensity of and the duration over the flame contribute to the overall sensory experience. The classic scale is: • Light or Medium-Minus • Medium • Medium-Plus • Heavy or Strong • Intensive Toast or Grande Chauffe Light toasting is achieved when the wood temperature reaches 120-180° C (248-356°F), and the wood begins to soften. After 10 minutes, the staves' surface temperature reaches 200°C (390°F) and qualifies for medium toast. Another five minutes ratchets the surface temperature to 225°C (437°F) as the staves receive a heavy toast. During the toasting process, wood structure degrades and transforms into aromatic compounds. Wood tannins soften and disappear as the heat index rises, and smoke and clove notes become more pronounced. At the highest toast levels, however, aromatic compounds begin to disappear. Long, soft toasting produces the most aromatic barrels. Finally, the length of toasting, not the intensity alone, contributes to the roundness and length of finish barrels can impart. Four samples each of a Sauvignon/Semillon blend from Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan and a Merlot from Château d'Aiguilhe in Côtes de Castillon composed the final tasting. The reference wine received only stainless steel aging while the three others absorbed "raw," medium and heavy toast. As with all levels of toast, different coopers have different standards for "raw." In Taransaud terminology, raw wood is heated only enough to bend the staves into shape. In both trials, the heavy toast barrels resulted in the most complex wines. The reds showed no color differential; the whites showed deepening yellows with increased toasting. Jean-Pierre Giraud commented, "When you have no toast, you have no link between the wine and the wood." David Ramey concurred, "The untoasted oak has a coarse, short effect on the palate." The white wine aged in raw oak Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide
  • tasted of bitter nuts on the finish while the red exhibited green pyrazine flavors. No classic oak aroma or flavor characteristics were evident, though tactile sensations were. The medium toast red showed just as much tannin as the raw, but the wine was less drying. At the medium level, notes of vanilla, caramel, cream and clove surfaced in the white. In sum, while the raw and medium wines seemed somewhat incomplete, the heavy toast combined the most appealing aroma and tactile qualities of the first two and raised them to a much higher level. Interestingly, a winemaker in the audience pointed out that most French barrels have non-toasted heads. "So, you're getting the benefit of complexity right in the same barrel," concluded Hanson. As the tasting wrapped-up, Ramey gave the group a wise reminder: "Winemaking is like a film, and the wines we are looking at are snapshots in time." With the possible exception of some of the whites, few of the wines tasted would be commercially available at such a young stage of their development. While their youth permits the study of the effects of variations on oak, drawing anything more than tentative conclusions oeffects were clearly exaggerated by the wines' age as well as the small size of barrels used. Milliliter per milliliter, thbsorbed as mucperating procedures. Covering 31 wines over the course of the afternoon, a more comprehensive tasting is hard to imagine. Were a few more glasses added to the crowded tables, a study across oak alternatives, such as staves and powder, would have proved another interesting comparison. However, as the brief discussion on alternatives pointed out, oak substitutes, even when supplemented by micro-oxygenation, simply cannot produce the benefit of slow oxygenation that barrels provide. While the official commentary was unfolding, hushed whispers and muttered declarations among the trade in the audience revealed deep, dividing lines on oak treatment. New or Old World, light or heavy toast, under-oaked or under-wined, the conflicting messages from the heart of the conference room pointed precisely to the intrigue of oak use in wine: differing opinions and room for them all. Sommelier Terminology and Tasting Guide