Please select from the menu above
There are a variety of acids in a wine. The principle ones are Acetic Acid, Malic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid and Carbonic Acid.
A wine’s acidity should be detected through the sharpness felt after tasting, particularly on the tip of the tongue. It should neither be too obvious nor completely absent. Acidity helps create a refreshing sensation in white wines and balance in reds. Its absence makes a wine dull and ‘flabby’ – an undesirable defect for any wine, but in particular disaster in sweet wines. Sweet wines become undrinkable without balancing acidity. Even too much acidity can make a wine difficult to drink.
The taste left on the palate after the wine has been swallowed. The persistence of the aftertaste – the length – may be used as an indicator of the quality of the wine.
There are many different compounds that may be described as ‘alcohol’. Here we are referring to ethyl alcohol, the product of alcoholic fermentation of sugar by yeast. It’s presence is measured in percent volume (or “proof”).
- Alcoholic fermentation
The action of yeast upon sugar results in its conversion to ethyl alcohol, with carbon dioxide as a by-product. Fermentation will often start naturally with yeasts on the grapes, but cultured yeasts may be added. The process generates much heat, and temperature control during alcoholic fermentation can have a significant effect on the style of wine produced. The process will cease either when all the sugar has been consumed, or more likely when the increasing alcohol content of the fermenting solution kills the yeast, or when the external temperature drops too low. It may also be arrested by adding sulphur or by fortification with spirit.
A French word that describes an alcoholic beverage served before dinner to stimulate appetite.
Defines the area where a wine’s grapes were grown.
- Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (France)
Often abbreviated to AC or AOC, this is the highest legal classification for French wine, above Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure, Vin de Pays and Vin de Table. In order to qualify for the AC, wines must be produced from grapes grown within a geographically defined area, and conform to regulations concerning grape varieties, yields, alcohol content and so on. Although AC means these features are guaranteed, unfortunately, it is not a guarantee of quality.
The simple, fruity smell of the grape variety used in the wine.
A term used to describe a wine that is unforthcoming – often they are young, tannic wines. They give little pleasure at the time, but it is likely that they will improve with age.
A tasting term. Wines described as backward are undeveloped and not ready to drink. They are often young, tannic and may also be described as austere. This is the opposite, unsurprisingly, of forward.
A tasting term. Wines said to have balance have a harmonious combination of tannin, acidity, texture and flavour. This is a vital attribute.
- Barrique (France)
A wooden barrel, the design of which originated in Bordeaux, France. It has a capacity of 225 litres. It can now be found in the cellars of winemakers worldwide, especially those involved in producing Bordeaux-style blends. The longer a wine spends in barrique, stronger will be the oak flavour. There are dozens of other barrel shapes and sizes – one commonly found in the New World is the hogshead.
A tasting term used to describe the size of the bubbles in a glass of sparkling wine or Champagne. It is believed that smaller and more persistent beads make for finer bead. Serving temperature may affect its appearance – a colder wine will effervesce less vigorously.
A type of clay that can be used as a fining agent
- Bianco (Italian)
- Bin number (Australia)
A bin is a storage area in a wine cellar. After each harvest, wines were allocated the same bin year after year. With time, the bin number becomes associated with the wine – for example, the Shiraz was stored in bin 50, the Chardonnay in bin 65. It is often the case that bin numbers become brand names depicting the style of a wine. The number has nothing to do with the origin of the grapes or where the wine has been stored!
- Blanc (France)
- Blanc de Blancs (France)
This describes a white wine made entirely from white grapes. If this sounds like stating the obvious, it is necessary because black grapes can be used to make white wine. Only grape skins impart colour; the juice and pulp are clear. This is especially true in Champagne, where the few legally permitted varieties are black grapes types like Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. A Blanc de Blancs describes a wine made using 100% Chardonnay, the only other legally permitted variety.
- Blanc de Noirs (France)
This describes a white wine made entirely from black grapes. It is a term commonly used in Champagne, with reference to wines made from the black grapes Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir.
- Blanco (Spain)
- Blind tasting
If you’re ever poured a wine without knowing what it is, this is a blind tasting. The advantage of a blind tasting – usually achieved by simply covering the label – is that it removes all prejudices about the wine, and you have to judge it entirely on its merits.
- Bodega (Spain)
A term meaning winery. Although it may also be applied to a wine-making company.
A tasting term. A wine with plenty of flavour, alcohol, extract and tannin may be described as full bodied. It is a less specific term than texture.
The perfume of wine, often the first indicator of a wine’s quality. Most appropriate for mature wines that have developed complex flavours beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas.
The act of allowing a wine to mix with air by pouring into another container, such as a decanter or wineglass. Breathing is thought to be beneficial for many red wines and also for some young white wines.
A tasting term. It refers to a tawny, brick red colour, which implies age in case of a red wine.
A measure of sugar content in grape juice, used particularly in the New World.
- Brut (France)
A term used to describe a dry wine, usually Champagne or other sparkling wine. Although even dry wines are not generally devoid of sugar, there may be up to 15 g/l of sugar added as dosage before final bottling. Terms used to describe Champagne with more sugar include sec (which still means dry) and demi-sec.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the noblest of the red wine grape varieties. It is mainly cultivated in Bordeaux, and successfully grown in many countries. Often referred to as the king of red wines.
The mass of skins, pips and other solid matter that rises to the surface of the wine during alcoholic fermentation. Pigeage helps to keep the solid matter mixed in with the wine, imparting colour, flavour and tannin. See cuvaison.
- Carbonic maceration
A method of vinification which produces wines with fruit flavours and colour, but little tannin. This makes it immediately drinkable. Because of this effect it is widely used in Beaujolais. The technique involves fermenting whole bunches of uncrushed grapes.
Sparkling wine made in the region of the same name, some 70 miles northeast of Paris. It uses a traditional process in which wines are bottle-fermented, and made only from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes.
- Chaptalisation (France)
The process of adding sugar to the fermenting vat, which is converted to ethyl alcohol by the yeast. The intent is to increase the final alcohol content. A widespread practice in many French wine regions, but particularly in Burgundy. So much so, that French sugar sales absolutely rocket at harvest time.
One of the world’s most well known and noble white grape varieties. It is widely used to produce full-bodied white wines. Varies widely in style from crisp lemon-lime-mineral flavours to rich, oaky, buttery wines. Apple and green apple aromas are classic although vanilla and tropical often show up, especially in U.S. and Australian Chardonnays
- Chenin Blanc
A versatile, noble, French white wine grape used to make the famous dry, slightly sweet whites of the Loire Valley. Can be found in California and other regions too, and is somewhat variable, although pleasant honey overtones along with cantaloupe and honeydew melon flavours and light muskiness are common.
- Classed growth
A literal translation of Cru Classé.
A tasting term to describe a wine having no or very little aroma or flavour. Many wines, after the exuberant flavours they offer in youth, ‘close down’ in this way before they ‘open out’ again as they enter a mature phase.
- Cold stabilisation
This process merely involves chilling wine prior to bottling. This causes tartaric acid to crystallise, thereby avoiding the formation of tartrate crystals, specifically potassium hydrogen tartrate.
A tasting term to describe a sweet aroma/flavour, but more manufactured (like candy) than honey. This can be counted as a negative aspect of a wine.
That part of the vine that is permanent – that is it to say it is left from year to year, whereas other parts are pruned away.
A tasting term used to describe wines contaminated by trichloroanisole (a corked wine is not one with bits of cork floating in it). This chemical compound is the product of mold infection in the cork. Said to affect 5% of bottles (some say more, some less), it is one of the main reasons behind the drive towards the increasing use of screwcaps and synthetic closures. It may result in a wine that simply lacks fruit and can be difficult to spot. Alternately, it may be obvious with cardboardy, musty, mushroomy, dank aromas and flavours, rendering the wine completely undrinkable.
- 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.
- Crémant (France)
A sparkling wine made by the Méthode Champenoise.
- Cru (France)
A term meaning ‘growth’. It is used in a number of French regions as a means of classifying wines. In Burgundy, the best vineyards are Grands Crus. 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 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.
- Dégorgement (France)
Part of the process of making sparkling wine. At this stage, the bottle is opened after the neck has been frozen. A plug of frozen wine pops out, that contains the dead yeast from the second fermentation. The wine is then topped up – dosage – and resealed.
- Demi-Sec (France)
- Denominação de Origem Controlada (Portugal)
A parameter of high quality for Portuguese wine, often abbreviated to DOC. Equivalent of the French appellation contrôlée.
- Denominación de Origen (Spain)
A parameter of high quality for Spanish wine, often abbreviated to DO. Equivalent of the French appellation contrôlée.
- Denominación de Origen Calificada (Spain)
A parameter of high quality for Spanish wine, often abbreviated to DOC. It is similar to Italy’s DOCG.
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Italy)
A parameter of high quality for Italian wine, also abbreviated to DOC. Equivalent of the French appellation contrôlée.
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Italy)
A parameter of high quality 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.
- Dessert wine
A Sherry or other fortified wine. Sweet wine customarily drunk with, or in place of dessert usually in small amounts or single portions.
The process of removing the stems/stalks from grape bunches before fermentation. Unripe stems will result in a green, unripe taste in the wine.
- Dolce (Italy)
- Domaine (France)
A wine estate
- Double magnum
A large format Bordeaux bottle, equivalent to four standard bottles. In Burgundy and Champagne, this size is called a Jeroboam.
- Doux (France)
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 litre. 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)
- 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).
The science and study of wine and winemaking. Also spelled oenology.
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.
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’.
See alcoholic fermentation and Malolactic fermentation.
A finishing process, performed before bottling. A wine is filtered in order to remove solid impurities, such as dead yeast cells. Although it may help to clarify the wine, it is also accused of stripping wine of flavour and character. There is a vogue towards very light filtration or even no filtration at all. It differs from fining which removes soluble materials.
A finishing process, performed before bottling. A coagulant such as bentonite, isinglass or egg white is added to the wine to collect proteins and other undesirable compounds. As with filtration, a process which removes solid matter from the wine, there is a vogue away from this practice. The focus has been on the controversy of using biological materials such as cow’s blood.
A tasting term. Finish is how a wine tastes at the point of, and just after, swallowing. After finish, comes length. See also entry and midpalate.
The process of adding spirit to a wine. If this is done before completion of the alcoholic fermentation, as with Port, the unfermented sugars will cause the wine to be sweeter than would otherwise be the case. Added later, as is the case with Sherry, the wine will remain dry. In all cases the final alcohol content receives an obvious boost. The process is also used in the production of vin doux naturel.
- Free-run wine
The free-run wine is the juice that runs off the vat without any pressing. The wine released by pressing the cap is known as press wine.
A wine with a generous proportion of flavour and alcohol; feels weighty on the tongue.
The process of growing a cutting of Vitis vinifera on American or hybrid, phylloxera-resistant rootstock.
- Grand Cru
A confusing term. In Burgundy, Grand Cru refers to the best vineyard sites on the slopes of the Côte d’Or. In St. Emilion, however, the majority of interesting estates are classified as Grand Cru; here, the term means very little.
- Grande Marques
A term frequently used to describe the top Champagne houses.
The pleasant, herbaceous aromas and flavours reminiscent of newly cut grass. It is often used to describe the overall character of Sauvignon Blanc. British or European tasters sometimes use the word ‘gooseberry’ to describe this flavour.
The most commonly used measurement of area under viticulture. One hectare is equivalent to 10,000 square metres and approximately 2.5 acres. Yields may be expressed in hectolitres per hectare.
A measure of volume commonly used when expressing yields; a hectolitre is 100 litres.
A tasting term. This describes a wine which lacks flavour and texture, detected often through midpalate.
A hybrid grape, result of a cross between a Vitis vinifera variety – such as Riesling or Pinot Noir, and an American vine. This is different from crossing.
A principally Canadian style of wine. It is named after the Eisweins made in Germany and Austria.
A large format bottle and the most confusing of all, for it can mean different things to different wines. In Bordeaux, it is equivalent to six standard bottles, while in Burgundy and Champagne a Jeroboam contains the equivalent only four bottles (a double magnum in Bordeaux).
- Lactic acid
One of the many acids that contribute to the overall acidity of a wine. This acid, which is also found in milk, makes a much softer impression on the palate than many others, such as malic acid. As a consequence many winemakers encourage the conversion of the harsh malic acid to lactic acid by the Malolactic fermentation.
- Late harvest
Wines made from grapes picked later than normal. These have high sugar levels, usually affected with noble rot or botrytis. This produces sweet dessert-style wines.
A heavy sediment consisting of dead yeast cells and other solid matter such as grape pulp, pips and so on. Keeping the wine on the lees, especially if they are stirred from time to time, may be beneficial to the wine. It imparts extra flavour and body to the wine. Eventually, however, they must be removed. This may be achieved by racking the wine off the lees. Residual solid matter may be removed by filtration.
A tasting term. It refers to the tear-like tracks that a wine makes down the side of a glass after it has been swirled. It may be related to alcohol or glycerol content – it’s a matter of contention. Not really essential for assessing the quality of a wine, although some tasters consider it to be important.
A tasting term, describing how long the flavour of the wine persists on the palate after it has been swallowed. A lengthy persistence of flavour may be taken as a sign of quality.
A term used to describe the climate of a large area, such as an entire wine-producing region. Related terms include mesoclimate and microclimate. The macroclimate has an obvious effect on the grapes.
A large format bottle, equivalent to two standard bottles. See my advisory page on wine bottle sizes for more information.
- Malic acid
One of the major factors that contribute to the acidity of a wine. Malic acid has a sharp, green taste – rather like the tangy freshness of a green apple.
- Malolactic fermentation
This is completely separate from the alcoholic fermentation, which results from the action of yeast upon sugar, producing alcohol. The malolactic fermentation, which is a bacterial process, results in conversion of the sharp tasting malic acid to the softer lactic acid. Whether a winemaker permits or blocks the malolactic (or ‘malo’) depends on the style of wine he/she aims to make. Most red wines, and some whites depending on the style, undergo malolactic fermentation.
This term describes the climate of a small area, typically an individual vineyard or hillside. Related terms include macroclimate and microclimate.
- Méthode Champenoise (French)
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.
- Méthode Traditionelle (French)
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.
A large format Burgundy and Champagne bottle, equivalent to eight standard bottles. In Bordeaux this size is known as an Imperiale.
This term describes the immediate climate around the vine. It is influenced by canopy management. Related terms include mesoclimate and macroclimate.
- Mousse (French)
A tasting term. A description of the mousse is referring to how fizzy a sparkling wine seems in the mouth. A soft mousse is not too fizzy. A harsh mousse is too fizzy, like a carbonated soft drink, perhaps.
- Mousseux (French)
A sparkling wine. Generally used outside Champagne to describe wines of lesser quality, quite possibly not made by the Methode Champenoise.
Must is the mixture of fermented grape juice, pips, skins, stalks and so on. It is distinct from marc, which is all of these ingredients once the grape juice has been removed. An assessment of must weight is vital in guiding the winemaker.
A large format champagne bottle, equivalent to twenty standard bottles.
- Négociant (French)
It is a term used to describe a winemaker that buys grapes or juice (fermented or unfermented) and then completes the winemaking process. The wine will then be bottled under their own label, but may sometimes have references of other source of the grapes. Many négociants also own some vineyards as another source of grapes. Although the system does not sound as though it will result in great wine, many négociants – who operate extensively in Burgundy – produce benchmark examples and perform a very important role.
- New World
Broadly the world of wine is divided into Old World and New World. The New World includes North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. New World countries have seen explosions in quality and quantity of wine within the last few decades, although some have been producing wine for centuries. The dividing line between New and Old, however, is not very clear.
- Noble Rot
A fungal infection caused by Botrytis cinerea. Under the right conditions – damp, misty mornings followed by warm, sunny afternoons – Noble Rot a manifest, which leaves the grapes shrivelled, dehydrated, and thus rich in sugar and also unique Botrytis-derived flavours. It is an essential ingredient in Sauternes, Tokay and other sweet wines of Germany and Austria. Under the wrong conditions the result of infection is Grey Rot.
A tasting term. The ‘nose’ of a wine describes how a wine smells.
The oak tree is an important source of wood for barrels. Although other woods such as cherry, have been (and still are used), oak is the number one choice for wine barrels.
The science behind winemaking is called Oenology. Popular locations for studying oenology include the University of Bordeaux and University of California Davis.
- Old World
In wine-speak the Old World refers to the European nations – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and so on – with a long history of viticulture. In some instances, particularly in Burgundy and the Mosel, grapes have been grown for the express purpose of making wine for over a thousand years. In many cases we have the local monasteries and noble families to thank for maintaining these great vineyards for centuries, often through difficult times.
- Organic Viticulture
Like any other branch of agriculture, some winemakers wish to rely less on fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals. Those that meet certain criteria may be labelled as organic. It is often compared to biodynamic viticulture, although this is much more extreme.
The degrading action of oxygen on a wine (or any other substance) is known as oxidation. Hence exposure of the wine to oxygen in the winery is carefully controlled, although not necessarily completely avoided. Exposure to oxygen during racking and ageing in barrel can be of benefit to the wine. Once a bottle of wine has been opened for some time, or if oxygen has seeped past a faulty cork, the oxidised wine will taste off.
A vine louse which devastated the vineyards of Europe in the late 18th Century. The cause of the disease was initially uncertain, but eventually the Phylloxera vastatrix louse was identified on the roots of the affected vines. It was imported from North America, where the indigenous American Vitis labrusca vines are resistant to the effects of the louse. The solution: graft the European Vitis vinifera vines onto American rootstock.
- Pinot Noir
A highly regarded noble red grape variety originally from Burgundy, proven to produce some of the most velvety, voluptuous red wines.
A red grape that is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, grown commercially only in South Africa, where it is fermented at higher temperatures and matured in new oak for finesse and elegant berry flavours.
The skins, seeds, pulp, and stems left in the fermenting vat or cask after wine making, and one of the necessary ingredients in the distillation of French marc and Italian grappa.
Essential vineyard practice, important in canopy management.
The process of racking involves transfer of wine from one container, such as a barrel, to another. Carefully done, the lees may be left behind in the first barrel, resulting in a partial clarification of the wine.
Red wines actually vary in colour from dark pink to almost black. The colour comes from a natural organic pigment called anthocyan that is present in the skin of red grapes, and not from the juice of the grapes (which is, in fact, clear).
- Residual Sugar
It is the amount of sugar left in the wine after alcoholic fermentation. Residual sugar may be the result of high must weight, or the termination of fermentation before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol with the addition of sulphur or spirit. The vast majority of wines have less than 2 g/l. Sweet wines have more, some reaching amazing levels – up to 480 g/l has been recorded.
A pale pink wine, ranging from dry to sweet. Traditionally made by removing the skins from red grapes early on in the fermentation process, before they have the time to impart too much colour. Less traditionally, rosés are made by the blending of red and white wines.
A large format champagne bottle, equivalent to twelve standard bottles.
- Sauvignon Blanc
A noble white grape variety grown in the Loire and Bordeaux regions of France, with plantings now in other regions as well. It produces soft, assertive, herbaceous and sometimes complex wines.
The new alternative to sealing a wine with cork (made of tree bark). Another alternative is to use a synthetic cork. Cork, being a biological material, cannot be sterilised, and the fungal infections it harbours result in tainted (‘corked’) aromas which ruin about 5% of all bottles.
- Sec (French)
This term describes a dry wine.
Shiraz is a dark-skinned variety of grape used in wine. A term used mostly in Australia or South Africa; same as Syrah, a red grape. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries, chocolate, espresso and black pepper.
French term for the steward or waiter in charge of wine. The sommelier is expected to have extensive knowledge of wines and their suitability with various dishes.
- Sparkling Wine
Sparkling Wine is a wine with significant levels of carbon dioxide in it making it fizzy. The carbon dioxide may result from natural fermentation, (either in a bottle, as with the méthode champenoise, or in a large tank designed to withstand the pressures involved, as in the Charmat process) or as a result of carbon dioxide injection. The classic example of a sparkling wine is champagne, but many other examples are produced in other countries and regions, such as Cava in Spain, Asti in Italy (the generic Italian term for sparkling wine being Spumante) and Cap Classique in South Africa. In some parts of the world, the word “champagne” is used as a synonym for sparkling wine, although laws in Europe and other countries reserve the word champagne for a specific type from the Champagne region of France.
A tasting term. When a wine is described as having structure, the taster is referring to the tannin and acidity levels. These elements give the wine a presence in the mouth; without them wine would tend towards a flabby, fruit flavoured drink.
This is an important element in winemaking, with a wide variety of uses, often as part of the compound sulphur dioxide. It is widely used in the vineyard as a prophylactic for Oidium, whereas in the winery it may be used as a disinfectant in between vintages, and may be added to must and finished wines as an antibacterial agent to prevent spoilage.
It may also be used in winemaking as a method of terminating fermentation. Excessive use may result in an unpleasant mothball or burnt match aroma from the wine.
- Synthetic closure
Type of a plastic cork. The intention is to prevent cork taint.
Found in grape skins, pips and stalks, tannins are harsh, bitter compounds which if present in large amounts make a wine difficult to drink as they leave a dry, puckered sensation in the mouth. The amount of tannin can be increased by enhancing extraction, achieved by prolonging the cuvaison. Tannins may also enter the wine from oak barrels. Tannic wines are generally destined for ageing, the tannins polymerising to form sediment with time.
- Tartaric acid
One of a number of naturally occurring grape acids which contribute to the acidity of a wine. Other important acids include acetic, malic, lactic, citric and carbonic acid.
- Tartrate crystals
During fermentation tartaric acid may be converted into potassium hydrogen tartrate, formed through its reaction with potassium. This compound may crystallise, 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 stabilisation. The crystals themselves are harmless and natural so the decision is a matter of aesthetics.
- 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-coloured 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.
- Terroir (French)
There is much discussion of terroir, a French term which has no simple translation into English. It refers to the external influences on the ripening grapes, including the soils (depth and type), bedrock, exposure to sun and wind, water table and so on. Others include rootstock (really an intrinsic part of the vine, even if it is grafted) and local climate.
The texture of a wine describes how the wine feels in the mouth – is it silky, velvety, rounded, or smooth? It is a more specific term than body, which describes the general impact of the wine.
A tasting term. Toasty literally means – smelling or tasting of toast. It may reflect ‘toasting’ of the barrels, when they may be placed around a fire (sometimes as they are made), the flames altering the physical and chemical composition of the surface of the wood, and subsequently this will have a significant effect on the flavour of the wine.
A term used in the production of Champagne or sparkling wine referring to the first bottling step in the process.
- Vin de Pays (French)
Essentially ‘country wines’; there are numerous good wines 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 unpleasant Vin de Table.
- Vin de Table (France)
The lowest category of French wine. By law, such wines may not even declare grape varieties or vintage on the label.
The term ‘vintage’ simply refers to the year the grapes were grown. 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.
The science, cultivation and study of grape growing.
- Vitis vinifera
The vinifera species includes some of the best wines – 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.
White wines are made with much less grape skin contact than red wines, and vary in colour from virtually colourless to deep gold or even deep tawny. Most white wines are made from grapes with yellow or green skins, although if the juice is separated from the skins gently and soon enough, white wines can also be made from black-skinned grapes.
A micro-organism which converts sugar into 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 flavours as the multiple strains present in the vineyard.
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.
Versatile, red wine grape variety most common in California, producing a wide range of wines styles.
The wine tasting process is a natural one. All that needs to be done when ‘learning’ to taste a wine is to remember and express what you experience when tasting wine. Remember that there is no right or wrong answer in wine tasting, and writing down your thoughts will help you recall these wine experiences in the future.
Just by looking at the wine, you can determine its age and condition. Pour a small sample into a glass, tilt it slightly away from yourself and observe against a white plain background. Its colour and clarity can give you clues about its quality.
Brilliant and clear appearance is a sign of good condition. Cloudy or murky appearance is definitely a very poor quality.
As white wines age their colour deepens to a rich, golden colour. With excessive age they will go brown, a sure sign that the wine is past its prime and probably unpleasant to drink. If a young wine has a brownish tinge it is possibly oxidised.
The rules about the colour change slightly when it comes to red wines. Aged reds tend to lose their deep, youthful purple colour and go a paler, brick red colour over time.
A wine’s colour will also depend on the variety. Young Sauvignon Blancs are almost clear with green tints; while a barrel fermented Chardonnay can have a deep straw colour. The same is true for red wine. Lighter styles of reds, such as Pinot Noir are usually a light red colour, Cabernet Sauvignons are deep purple.
Swirling the glass and resting it upright can also give you a clue to the alcohol content of the wine. The drops running down the side of the glass (referred to as the tears or legs) are an indication of how alcoholic the wine is: the more numerous and thicker the drops, the higher the alcohol level.
The aromas released from swirling the wine around can reveal many secrets. You can gauge its variety, whether it has had oak treatment or if it is faulty.
The aroma should be clean and fresh. If the wine is young, you should be able to smell the characteristic scents associated with each variety
- Shiraz is peppery
- Cabernet Sauvignon smells like blackcurrants
- Chenin Blanc smells like honey and lemon
- Sauvignon Blanc is herbaceous with ripe tropical fruits
- Viognier is predominant apricot with floral notes
With experience, you may even be able to detect what type of oak a winemaker has used – American oak can smell like Vanilla while French oak has a restrained lemony/cashew-like scent.
Beyond sight and smell, the ultimate measure of wine is taste. One sip should completely take over your palate and immerse your senses into the richness of its flavour. Beyond that, tasting can reveal some specific aspects about wine like its complexity. It is the combination of the aroma and flavour sensations.
Tasting a wine will also tell us about its richness, texture and balance.
The perfect sip: The best way to taste wine is to take a small mouthful and move the wine around your mouth covering all of your taste buds. Next, purse your lips and suck air across the wine. This process helps to aerate the wine and bring out its flavours and any faults. Humans can detect four basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter and salty) and it is the first three that we normally encounter when tasting wine.
Pay attention to the wine’s flavour and style, the balance between acid and sweetness, and the persistence of flavour. The key to a wine’s quality and complexity is whether all of its different elements are in harmony with one another.
The tasting will also tell you about the wine’s texture: whether it is thin, luscious, smooth, dry or astringent (excessive tannin) or hot and harsh (high alcohol).
After spitting or swallowing the wine the next step is to determine the wine’s finish – how long you can still taste the wine’s flavours. Well-made wines have a long, lingering finish.
A glass of wine is said to contain immense health benefits for the entire body. It pleases your palate and nourishes your body.
As part of a normal diet, wine provides the body with energy. It helps in digestion and stimulates appetite. In addition to this, wine restores nutritional balance, relieves tension, sedates and acts as a mild euphoric agent.
Here are some more benefits:
- Red wine is a rich source of antioxidants, flavonoids and phenolics
- Resveratrol (found in grape skins and seeds) increases HDL cholesterol and prevents blood clotting
- Flavonoids exhibit antioxidant properties helping prevent blood clots and plaques formation in arteries
- Consuming a glass of wine along with a meal may favourably influence your lipid profiles following that meal
1. Improved lung function from antioxidants in white wine (American Thoracic Society, 2002)
2. Arteries kept clean by polyphenols in red grape skins (William Harvey Research Institute, 2002)
3. Anti-aging effects in red grape skins (Harvard Medical School in Boston, 2004)
4. Lower risk of heart attack for men with high blood pressure (Worcester Medical Centre in Massachusetts, 2004)
Research Studies on Wine related to health
Simply by serving wine correctly, you can elevate its quality manifold. Here’s how:
White wines and rose wines should be served chilled (8-12ºC) and red wine at room temperature (15-18ºC).
Don’t serve red wine at “room temperature” if the room is sweltering (often the case in many parts of India). A 15-minute plunge into a bucket of ice water will do just fine for the reds.
For whites, a couple of hours in the fridge are good. If you’re pushed for time, then put the bottle in an ice bucket filled half with ice and half with cold water. This will bring the wine down to the desired temperature in about twenty minutes.
Light, fruity reds, like Beaujolais, are best served a little cool (12-14ºC), especially on a warm summer day.
Champagne, sparkling wines should be served at a 6-8ºC. At a lower temperature, the aromas are trapped. The wine cannot breathe and the bouquet is inhibited from being released.
Over time, sediments may get deposited in a wine bottle. Before serving wine, it needs to be decanted to remove these sediments to create ‘clean wine’.
Simply pour the wine slowly into a glass decanter or jug, keeping an eye on the neck of the bottle. When you see sediment in the neck, it’s time to stop. Decanting can also help the wine “breathe”.
It is frequently done with vintage port or older red wines that have spent many years in a bottle.
If the wine has spent years locked away in an air-tight bottle, it needs to “breathe” a little after being opened.
Uncork your bottle of Zampa Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Syrah half an hour before drinking.
Pour the wine into a decanter (a clean water pitcher will do) and swirl it around to allow it to open up a bit. Even young wines can benefit from a little breathing time as it allows the wine to open up and really show what it’s made of. Compare the two tastes, you’ll find a marked difference.
On the other hand, whites generally don’t need to be opened ahead of time, as the goal is usually to retain their freshness.
The best glasses for appreciating wine are made of plain, thin, clear glass. The glass should have a wide bowl tapering to a narrow opening shaped like a tulip. This allows room for the wine to be swirled in the glass while concentrating the aromas at the rim. A glass with the stem (4-5 cm) is easier to hold without transferring the heat of the hand to the wine. Champagne should be served in tall flutes or tall, thin tulip-shaped glasses.
Heavy, cut glass makes it difficult to see the wine properly. Avoid them.
The glass should be filled till it’s about half full. This allows room for swirling the wine around in the glass to release its aromas without splashing it. Hold the stem of the glass and swirl it around; inhale the aromas and taste the flavours.
In case you don’t finish the bottle, seal it with the cork. Most wines remain in good condition for a couple of days (You can even purchase a vacuum pump from wine shops to remove the air altogether, which will buy you another day or two).
White wines do better when stored in the refrigerator whereas red wines should be kept at room temperature.
It’s impossible to say exactly how long a wine will stay from spoiling once open because each wine is different. In general, the higher quality the wine, the longer it will be consumable.
Fine wines can lose their magic if not stored properly. We at Grover Zampa do our best to educate distributors and stockists about proper wine storage techniques. Simple precautions need to be taken to ensure your wines retain their beauty.
Here are some tip and tricks for you:
Direct sunlight and Ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause the wine to be ‘light struck’, picking an unpleasant smell. Dark bottles are ideal; some even have UV filters in the glass but light can still penetrate, so protection is a must. If complete darkness is not possible, keep it lightly wrapped up in a cloth or a box. Exposure to incandescent or sodium vapour lamps is however not harmful.
Store all wines away from light
If they are stored upright for a long period of time, the corks will dry out, and air will eventually get to the wine, spoiling it. If you store it label side up, it’ll be easier to spot any sediments that may have formed in the wine over time when you do eventually pick it up.
Store corked wine bottles on their sides
For extended ageing of wine (over 1 year), refrigeration is a must in most parts of the world; even a below-ground cellar is not cool enough.
Wine storage temperature should never go over 24°C as it begins to oxidise. An ideal temperature for storing a varied wine collection is 10-15°C. Letting the temperature drop below 10°C will slow down the ageing process if the temperature doesn’t fluctuate drastically.
The temperature in a wine storage area should be as steady as possible. Changes should be gradual. Rise in temperature forces wine through the cork while a drop causes air to be sucked back in. The temperature should never fluctuate more than 1.6°C a day and 2.7°C a year, especially with red wines, which will suffer more temperature-related problems than white wines.
Keep the temperature constant
If possible, store in such a way that minimum movement is required to reach a bottle to drink. Try not to move a bottle at all once it is stored. Even vibrations from heavy traffic, motors or generators may affect the wine negatively.
Keep the humidity at around 70%. High humidity keeps the cork from drying and minimises evaporation. Don’t allow the humidity to go too high over 70%, however, because it can encourage the growth of mold and cause labels to loosen. You can purchase a hygrometer to track the moisture conditions and use humidifying or dehumidifying techniques as needed.
Isolate the wine. Remember that wine “breathes”. Keep it away from strong smells as they will permeate the cork and taint the wine. Good ventilation may help prevent musty odours from entering the wine.
Store for an appropriate amount of time. Not all wines improve over time. Red wines can be stored and aged for anywhere between 2-10 years (depending on the type and the balance of sugar, acid and tannins). Most white wines should be consumed after 2-3 years of storage. However, select White Burgundies (Chardonnays) can be aged for over 20 years.
Don’t move the wine
Leftover wines should be refrigerated immediately and consumed within a day or two. Minimise air contact by replacing the original cork, or better still, use a vacuum-type stopper. This keeps the wine in good condition for up to a week with only slight deterioration.