Welcome to the Wine Sense TV Glossary! Click on a letter below to learn more about different wine-related terms.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

A.C.

Sometimes called AOC , AC is a common abbreviation for “Appellation Contrôlée”, implying a level of quality in France.  Part of French law guarantees that a wine comes from where the label says it does, that it is made from specific grapes and that it is produced in a certain way.This is a geographically based name defined by French law, with stringent controls on most aspects of winemaking, including the grapes used, maximum yields and permitted alcoholic strength. There are hundreds of different AOCs in France.  Similar designations in other countries are D.O.C. (Italy), V.Q.A. (Canada), D.O. (Spain and Portugal), and A.A. (United States).  For more information, see “AOC” or watch any of the Wine Sense France episodes, particularly the episode “The Truth About Malbec”

Acid/acidity

Acids, primarly citric, malic and tartaric, occur naturally in wine and, in the proper proportion, are essential ingredients, giving the wine character and helping it age. As a rule, cool regions produce wines that are hight in acidity, while warm regions produce wines that are low in acidity.  The right amount of acidity gives a wine freshness.

A.O.C.

Appellation d’origine contrôlée is the controlled name of origin or AOC or A.C. on the labels of French wines. This is a geographically based name defined by French law, with stringent controls on most aspects of winemaking, including the grapes used, maximum yields and permitted alcoholic strength. There are hundreds of different AOCs in France and guarantees that the wine comes from a particular region and adheres to its winemaking regulations, which often contribute to better quality. Also see “AC”.

Aeration

The exposure of a wine to air, and specific to its reactive component, oxygen, which actually “kills” the wine – in a good way! Exposing the wine to oxygen during the winemaking process helps to round, soften and age the wine. It also allows the yeast the necessary oxygen to multiply and expedite the process of fermentation. If the wine is exposed to too much oxygen during this process, the wine will oxidize.  Aeration is also associated with decanting or allowing the wine to breathe.

Aftertaste

The flavor the wine leaves in your mouth after it is swallowed. It is also known as the finish of a wine. A long finish implies the wine is of a higher quality.

Ageing

As a wine ages, one of the natural chemical components in it, called tannin, binds together and makes the wine taste smoother. The flavors mellow and often take on a nutty, smoky or dried-fruit character, depending on the wine. Not all wines benefit from aging. In fact, most are made to be consumed within a year or two of their purchase.

Alcohol

The substance formed by the fermentation of sugar by yeast. In the wine industry, alcohol usually refers to is ethyl alcohol.  Usually ranges from about 6.5 to 14 per cent.

Amarone

Amarone della Valpolicella, made near Valpolicella, Italy, in the northeast region of Italy called Veneto. Amarone is made by harvesting ripe grapes and allowing them to dry, traditionally on straw mats. This concentrates the remaining sugars and flavors. The final result is a very ripe, raisiny, big-bodied wine with very little acid.  These concentrated sugars ferment to complete dryness, which creates a wine with high alcohol around 15%, black fruit flavors and a rich, dark color. Amarone goes well with rich, foods such as cheddar, parmesan, blue cheeses, rustic foods like casseroles and stews, and anything with a touch of dark chocolate!

Angel’s Share

The Angel’s Share is that portion (or share) of wine that evaporates in the oak barrels while it ages in a cellar or cave. If humidity is low, most evaporation is water; but with high humidity, more alcohol than water is lost.  This reduces the alcoholic strength in the wine.  This portion is called the Angel’s Share.  As mentioned in the episode “The Angel’s Share”.

Angular

A young wine that has a tart taste or flavor. This is the opposite of a round, soft, supple wine.

Aperitif

An aperitif is an alcoholic drink served before the meal to stimulate the appetite. It’s usually dry, relatively low in alcohol and is often served chilled for refreshment. Popular aperitifs include white wine, champagne and sparkling wine, dry sherry, Campari and Pernod.

Appellation

The area where grapes are grown and made into wine. Appellations are used to identify most of the wines of France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal. Often laws that govern the type of grapes used, yields and other aspects of winemaking are based on the appellation system. New World countries such as the United States and Canada are embracing a voluntary appellation system as a means of differentiating wines from various regions.

Aroma

The smell of a wine. As the wine matures and takes on more complex characteristics, the term can change to “bouquet”.

Astringent

A dry, mouth-puckering effect derived from high tannin content that should soften and mellow as a wine matures. This effect is similar to drinking over-steeped tea or chewing on a grape stalk.

Austere

A wine that is dry, hard, and acidic, lacking in fruit and character.

B

 

Bacchus

The Greek god of wine. Also the name of a grape variety grown in Germany that is a crossing of silvaner, riesling and müller-thurgau.

Balance

Good balance refers to a wine in which the acids, tannins, alcohol, fruit and flavor are all in pleasing proportions.

Bandol

Bandol wine comes from Provence in southern France. It’s most famous for its red wines that are full-bodied and made from the mourvèdre grape. This robust wine has aromas and flavors of spice and black fruit that marry well with beef and other hearty meat dishes.

Barbaresco

Barbaresco is made from the nebbiolo grape in Piedmont, in the northern region of Italy. This medium- to full-bodied red wine can be sweet or dry and usually has low acidity. Its berry and ripe red fruit aromas, coupled with the flavors of tar and licorice, make it a lovely match for deeply flavored meat dishes such as beef, game, venison and chicken.

Barbera

Barbera is both the name of a grape and the red wine it produces. Its ancestral home is in Italy’s Piedmont region from the vineyards around the towns of Asti, Alexandria and Casale Monferrato. It is Italy’s most common red grape. Barbera is a fairly light-bodied wine with mouth-watering acidity, a bit of tannin and is best consumed young. It has enticing aromas of tar, plum, cherry and vanilla. Barbera pairs well with antipasto, beef stroganoff, fried chicken, pasta with cream-based sauce, pizza, pepperoni, pork, salami, spicy sauces, spices, herbs, bagna cauda marinara, meaty tomato-based sauces, veal agnolotti, vegetables and salads, chanterelle mushrooms and ratatouille tomatoes.

Bardolino

Bardolino is a light ruby red wine from Veneto in northeast Italy and made from the grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. The wine is not as full-bodied as valpolicella, made from the same grapes, and has a pleasant grassy flavor with tangy red currants. Bardolino can be dry or sweet and is well-balanced. This light, easy-drinking wine pairs well with artichokes, white meat, game, vegetable soup, pork or sausages.

Barolo

Barolo is a full-bodied red Italian wine from Barolo, a region of Piedmont, Italy.   Made from the Nebbiolo grape, signature aromas include violets, tar, truffles, licorice, chocolate and earth. The wine typically needs to age about 3-5 years because of it’s high tannins, acidity and alcohol.  Many of these wines last for ten to twenty or more years.

Barrique (French)

The regular Bordeaux oak barrel of 225 litres.  Barriques are referred to in the episode “So You Don’t Like Chardonnay”, while discussing the use of oak (or not) in the production of Chardonnay.

Barsac

Barsac is a fruity, sweet, dessert wine made from the sauvignon, semillon and muscadelle grapes in the southern region of Bordeaux. The wine’s aromas and flavors include honey, dried figs and acacia. Barsac pairs well with blue cheeses.

Beaujolais (Gamay)

Beaujolais is a light red wine made from the gamay grape in Beaujolais, France, the southern region of Burgundy. It has soft tannins and refreshing acidity with flavors of cherries, strawberries, raspberries and bananas. The most famous type is Beaujolais Nouveau, released annually on the third Thursday of November. It should be consumed within three to six months of purchase. However, cru beaujolais, which has more depth and complexity, may age well for five to ten years, sometimes longer. Serve beaujolais with turkey, salmon paté, chicken, pork, baguette, soft cheeses, Tandori dishes.

Bergerac

Bergerac is a robust wine made near the town of the same name east of Bordeaux along the Dordogne River in the southwest of France. White Bergerac wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle grapes, while red Bergerac wines are made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec grapes. The wine is fresh and fruity with the flavors of ripe tree fruit for the whites and berries and red fruit for the reds. Both reds and whites are often oaked, which gives aromas of vanilla, toast and smoke. Pair with laguiole cheese, roast chicken, and lamb chops and steaks.

Blanc

The French word for white.

Blended Wines

Blended wines are made from two or more grape varieties or from two or more grapes of the same variety that have different characteristics. Although blending can be used to mask poor wine or to give more complexity to wine, these wine are not necessarily superior or inferior to single-grape wines. Some of the most famous wines, such as bordeaux and champagne, are blends. Well-known unblended wines include red burgundy (pinot noir) and riesling.

Blending

A wine can be blend of different varieties, different vintages, different areas and even different barrel.

Blind tasting

A tasting of wines where all clues as to the wines’ identities including the labels and shapes of the bottles are obscured from the tasters.

 

Blush Wine

In North America, blush wine now describes what the French call blanc de noir or rosé. These wines are made from red grapes that have very brief contact between the grape skins and juice during fermentation to achieve their light color, which ranges from light pink to salmon.

Body

Term used to describe the weight and the structure of a wine or the weight of wine in the mouth due to its alcohol or other components. For example, a full-bodied wine can have enough density on the palate to feel chewy.

Botrytis Cineria

Also known as “noble rot”. This is a good mold that attacks grapes causing them to shrivel up.  As a result, the grape juice has a higher sugar content and the flavor of the dessert wine made from this juice is more concentrated, complex and delicious. For more information, watch “The Angel’s Share”, the episode about Sauternes, a region which produces amazing wine from these noble rotted grapes.

Bouquet

The scent of a wine that develops as it ages and matures. Namely, the smell formed by the slow oxidation of the fruit acids and alcohol.

Breathing

Allowing a wine to breath or aerate can improve its taste and smell. Exposing the wine to the air allows the wine’s aromas to open up and the flavors to improve. Breathing can occur during pouring, decanting or swirling the wine.

Brix

The measurement of the amount of sugar in a liquid. Grapes gain more brix as they ripen. The sugar converts to alcohol during fermentation, and therefore the higher the brix, the greater the alcohol in the wine.

Brut

The term given to a dry champagne.

Buttery

A wine with the taste or aroma of butter comes from the wine’s contact with yeast during the primary alcoholic fermentation, the conversion of harsh acids into softer ones during the secondary malolactic fermentation, or the flavors imparted from oak barrel. New World chardonnays from California, Chile, and Australia in particular, are often described as having buttery aromas and flavors.

C

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the five grapes in Bordeaux blends, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. (Cabernet Franc, along with Sauvignon Blanc, is actually one of the genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon.) This thin-skinned, early-ripening grape has lighter body and acidity than the robust Cabernet Sauvignon, but is more susceptible to spring frosts. In France, which boasts the most vineyard acreage of Cabernet Franc in the world, several regions have more plantings than others, such as St.Emilion, the Loire Valley’s Chinon (where it’s called Breton) and southwest France (where it’s called Bouchy). Romania, Hungary, the Balkans, and the Friuli region of north eastern Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Long Island, New York, southeast Napa Valley, California and Washington State all grow this wine. Cabernet Franc is rarely bottled as a stand-alone varietal. This medium-bodied, ruby red wine has the signature aromas of Cabernet Franc which tend to be herbaceous or vegetative, like green bell peppers or stems, especially when the grape hasn’t ripened sufficiently or is over-cropped. Other notes include allspice, dark plums, violets, raspberry, black cherry, red currant, vanilla, coconut, smoke, toast, tar, mushroom, earth, cedar and cigar box. Pair Cabernet Franc wines with goat cheese, chicken, duck, Asian-styled noodles, babaganoush, lightly spiced curries, game birds, lasagna, cheese pizza, mint sauce, rosemary, choucroute garnie, Mexican dishes and turkey (dark meat).

Cabernet Franc is a thin-skinned red grape that grows particularly well in cooler climates, and is originally from the Bourdeaux and Loire Valley regions of France. The Cabernet Franc has been grown with success in France, Australia, Chile, Canada, South Africa, California and Washington, producing a fruity wine that is softer and more subdued than its regal relative, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry red wine that can age for decades and becomes more complex and subtle as a result. Signature aromas in its youth include blackcurrant, cassis, blackberry, herbs and cedar or oak. If the grapes were not fully ripened when picked, it can have green bell pepper or weedy notes. As it ages, it takes on notes of seductive spices, anise, violets, leather, olive, tobacco and cigar box. It’s often aged in oak from 6-24 months. It can be quite tannic when young (so decant it for an hour or two if you aren’t going to age it). The tannins smooth out with age. Just how long it can age depends on how well it was made (quality of the fruit, etc). It is most famous in Bordeaux, France, where it’s part of a blend that can include any or all of the following grapes to increase the complexity of the final wine: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. Cabernet is also planted worldwide because its tough skin resists disease and rot. It does especially well in regions with warm,dry conditions and a long growing season such as California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Paso Robles and in Chile, Argentina and South Africa. In Australia, it’s often blended with Shiraz and in Tuscany, with Sangiovese or stands alone in the coveted and pricey Super Tuscan wines. Cabernet was originally created by crossing the white grape Sauvignon Blanc and the red grape Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon, like Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, is one of the world’s most popular wines. Pair Cabernet Sauvignon with beef casseroles and stews, chateaubriand, cheeseburgers, beef stroganov, rare roast beef, lamb dishes , game (venison, partridge, ostrich, pheasant), cheddar, parmesan, grilled cheese sandwiches or a delicious parmigiana.

Cabernet Sauvignon is not only a noble grape variety but also an adaptable one, growing well in just about any climate that isn’t very cool. It became famous through the age-worthy
red wines of the Médoc district of Bordeaux (that usually also contain Merlot and Cabernet Franc, a related grape, in varying proportions). But today California is an equally important region for Cabernet Sauvignon – not to mention the rest of the U.S, and vineyards in Sourthern France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Chile and so on. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape makes wines that are high in tannin and are medium-to full-bodied.

Carbonic Maceration

A process of winemaking in which whole grapes are fermented without crushing them or breaking the skins. The flesh of the grape starts to ferment inside the skin. This produces a wine that is less tannic, less acidic, and more light and fruity and ready to drink quickly. Beaujolais nouveau is most famously made this way. Just saying “carbonic maceration” will make many people think that you are a wine expert.

Cave

The French word for Cellar.

Cepage

The French term for grape variety.

Chambrer (French):

To allow a wine gradually to reach room temperature before drinking.

Champagne

The sparkling wine Champagne is named after the northern region of France where it’s produced. Other regions of France, as well as other countries, make sparkling wine, but only those from Champagne may be called Champagne. Supposedly the eighteenth-century blind Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, accidentally discovered how to put the bubbles in Champagne when his wines started fermenting again in the spring after the cold winter had stopped them. Other records attribute this discovery to the British scientist Christopher Merret thirty years before Pérignon. Pérignon is credited widely with improving the techniques of blending wines from different years as well as the three principle grapes used: the white grape Chardonnay and two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The process today still involves a first fermentation to make the still, acidic wine. Then, before bottling, a small amount of wine, sugar and yeast is added (“liqueur de triage”) to trigger a second fermentation in the bottle, where the carbon dioxide bubbles are trapped. The bottle is gradually tilted upside down (riddling), by hand or machine, and eventually the dead yeast cells gather in the neck and are disgorged so that the wine is clear. Before the final cork seal is affixed, the wine is topped up with a small amount of wine and sugar (liqueur d’expédition). The amount of sugar determines whether the bubbly will be Brut (very dry), Sec (off-dry) or Demi-Sec (medium-sweet). Rosé bubbly is made either by blending red and white wine or by limiting the skin contact of the red grapes during maceration, when the grapes soak in their own juice before fermentation. Blanc de blancs Champagne is made only from Chardonnay while blanc de noirs is only from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The grapes for vintage Champagne that show a year on the label were harvested from one year only, while non-vintage Champagne are grapes and wines blended from many years. While Vintage Champagnes age well, non-vintage bubblies are meant to be consumed within a year or two of purchase while they still have their fruit freshness. Many producers outside of the Champagne region use this process and grapes to make their bubbly and often put méthode traditionnelle on their label. The words Champagne and méthode champenoise may not legally be used by producers except those from Champagne itself. Bubblies made in Burgundy, France, are called Crémants de Bourgogne while those from Alsace are Crémant d’Alsace. Spain makes Cavas (“cave”), Italy makes either Prosecco (lightly sparkling) or Spumante (fully sparkling and sweet), Germany makes Sekt or Deutscher and those from New World regions, such as Canada, California, Australia and elsewhere, are simply called sparkling wine. Some bubblies outside of Champagne are made from a cheaper and quicker carbonation process, during which bubbles are injected into the tanks of fermenting wines. This method doesn’t create wines with the same refinement and nuance as the Champagne method. The bubbles tend to go flat quickly. Drink bubbly from a flute glass that preserves its bubbles and concentrates its aromas. (Forget those old coupe glasses molded to the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breasts.) Signature bubbly aromas include toast, yeast, fresh-baked bread, green apple, lemon, lime and orange zest. Sparkling wine is one of the most versatile wines with food because of its zesty fruit aromas, mouth-watering acidity and palate-cleaning bubbles. Pair dry styles with quiche, spring rolls, almonds, canapés, brioche bread, Brillat Savarin cheese, goat cheese, chicken with creamy sauces, fried chicken, chicken tika, sashimi, Thai coconut shrimp, pasta with cheese-based sauce, caviar, crab, shrimp, clams, oysters, lobster, halibut, swordfish, scallops, seafood risotto, tuna with rosemary & citrus, nachos, potato chips, pretzels, onion rings, scrambled eggs with truffle oil, avocado salad, guacamole, pâté, grilled cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese, turkey, charcuterie, veal piccata, salad nicoise and vegetarian casseroles. Sweet bubbly (doux or spumante) goes well with curries, fruit flans, cobblers, biscotti, nuts, soft cheeses, Christmas pudding, lemon soufflé, mille feuilles, pavlova and tiramisu.

All Champagnes are made from grapes grown in France’s northeastern region, the Champagne province. Most Champagnes are non-vintage: that is, they are made from a blend of grapes from different years, aged in the bottle for 18 months. Vintage Champagne is made with high-quality grapes from the same year; they must be aged three years before they are released

Chardonnay

This popular and versatile grape thrives in many different climates so the wine is produced in many parts of the world. The wine can be soft and subtle or rich, buttery and full-bodied. In warmer regions, aromas can include ripe pears, melon and pineapple. It adapts well to oak, which adds scents of vanilla, butter, cedar, smoke and spice. However, the wine is sometimes criticized for having too much oak and alcohol. In cooler regions, and especially with unoaked styles, the wine is more lean and acidic and offers notes of green apples, lemon and lime. In Burgundy, chardonnay makes some of the world’s finest whites, referred to by their regions, such as Meursault, Chablis and Pouilly-Fuissé. Chardonnay will pair well with rich dishes such as roast chicken, lobster in butter sauce, corn dishes, beef bourguignonne, breads, cheese, chicken and poultry, egg dishes, Asian dishes with black bean sauces, pork, seafood or recipes that have a cream base.

Chardonnay is today’s darling white grape. Chardonnay, is a shoo-in for Miss Congeniality. But despite its populist appeal, Chardonnay is actually quite a regal grape, producing the greatest dry white wines in the world – white Burgundies Chardonnay is also one of the main grapes of Champagne.

Château

Term given to a wine-growing property.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc has an incredible stylistic range among white wines, including light and dry, crisp and sparkling and luxuriously sweet. However, it’s often accused of being a forgettable, bland jug-wine, especially when it’s over-irrigated and overcropped. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc remain far more popular grape brands in North America. Careful pruning and vineyard attention though can produce spectacular, long-lived wines with zesty acidity and notes of honeysuckle, melon, quince, cantaloupe, flint, straw and hay. The wine usually isn’t oaked, but if it is, it also has notes of vanilla, wood and smoke. Dessert styles, affected by botrytis, have rich, honeyed notes. France’s Loire Valley is best known for Chenin Blanc, particularly the sub-regions of Saumur, Savennières, Anjou, Vouvray, Montlouis, Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume and Crémant de Loire. It’s also known as Pineau de la Loire and Pineau d’Anjou. Almost a third of South African vines are Chenin Blanc, where it is known as Steen. California, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil (Pinot Blanco), New Zealand and Australia also make this wine. Chenin Blanc does well in warm climates because of its early bud break and late ripening. It grows quite vigorously in many soils, especially the calcareous, chalky soils found in the Loire, and resists most diseases. Drink Chenin Blanc as an aperitif on its own or pair it with Chinese, Indian, Thai and Mexican dishes, Tex-Mex, peanut sauce dishes, spring rolls, sushi, fish in creamy sauces, mussels, oysters, crab, lobster, camembert cheese and game birds. Dessert styles go well with almond and fruit-based desserts.

Chewy

Chewy refers to a wine that is full-bodied, robust and often tannic. The texture or mouthfeel of the wine is therefore often rich and chewy.

Chianti

The name of a specific geographical area between Florence and Siena in the central Italian region of Tuscany, associated with tangy, dry red wines of varied quality.

Clarify

Wines are clarified using either fining or filtering. Fining agents such as egg whites attract any unwanted particles, which either settle at the bottom or float along the top of the wine where they are removed or filtered.

Clos

The French word for an enclosed vineyard, used particularly in Alsace and Burgundy.

Closed

A young, undeveloped wine that does not easily reveal its character.

Cloudy

A cloudy wine is visually dull and hazy because particles haven’t been removed during winemaking. This sediment can be removed by fining or decanting.

Cloying

An overly sweet wine that lacks balancing acidity and is therefore unpleasant and not refreshing. This should not be confused with the false praise that some winery visitors lavish on the vintner in the hope of a free bottle or two.

Coarse

Although a coarse wine may be full-bodied, it’s also harsh in flavor and texture and often too tannic. Its lack of balance and flavor is usually the result of inferior grapes. A coarse wine is a person whose opinions are too blunt: you can’t swallow too much of either of them.

Cognac

Cognac is a type of brandy named after the town of the same name in the Charante region France. It is made from white grapes that are distilled twice in a double-heating process. This is why it’s often called “burnt wine” (from the Dutch word brandewijn). However, Cognac, like all brandies, is a spirit rather than a wine. It is then aged in oak barrels for at least three years. The entire process from growing to maturing is strictly regulated. In addition to being a favorite after-dinner drink, Cognac is used for cooking sauces, marinades and preserves, as well as in chocolates and truffles. Pair cognac with cornish hen, duck, roast chicken and foie gras. It is a great match for Asian dishes and spicy curries. Try it with squab or pork.

Complex

Wines with a combination of flavors and aromas.

Corked/corky

A musty, wet cardboard smell and taste. This is most often caused by TCA (trichloroanisole) found in a defective cork, hence the name. A wine that has been corked is unsalvageable.

Crisp

A wine with fresh, brisk character, usually with high acidity.

Cru

A French term meaning growth that is used in classifying vineyards. Often, but not always, grand cru refers to the best wine.

Cru

The French word for a growth or vineyard.

Cru Classé

A term which translates into English as “classed growth”. in 1855, 61 red wines of the Médoc (including one from graves: Chateau haut-Brion) were classified as “cru classé”, which were divided inti five ranks determined by price (and therefore, in theory, quality), ranging from “premier cru” (first growth) down to “cinquième cru” (fifth growth). At the same time, the sweet white wines of Sauternes were divided into three categories: “premier grand cru, premier cru and deuxième cru”, or first great growth, first growth and second growth. Although now hopelessly outdated, these classifications do still denote a lot of prestige to a property and its wines. In 1955, also in Bordeaux, the wines of St-Emilion were similarly classified into three ranks “premier grand cru classé, grand cru classé and grand cru”, while “grand cru classé (without subdivisions) has also been used since 1953 for red wines of Graves and, since 1959, for white wines of that area.

Cru Bourgeois

The term given to Médoc wines categorised just below those of cru classé status.

Cuvée

A blended wine or a special selection.

Cuvée

The word Cuvée comes from the French word “vat”. The term is unregulated, but often refers to a blended wine of high quality. This is part of the process of making champagne, though not exclusive to sparkling wine styles.

D

Dark

This describes red wine that has intense color and/or flavor, and often it’s full-bodied in both depth and texture. A brooding heart of darkness wine.

Decant

To transfer wine from a bottle into a crystal or glass container (a decanter).

Delicate

A delicate wine is mild and light in fragrance, flavor, and body. It may have many flavors but none is so strong that it overpowers the rest.

Demi-Sec

The French term for medium-dry.

Digestif

A digestif is an alcoholic drink served at the end of the meal, often after dessert. Wines served as digestifs are often sweeter and higher in alcohol content than the wines consumed with the meal. Examples include port, madeira and cream sherry. They are generally served at room temperature.

Disgorging

A part of the process of making sparkling wine. The dead yeast from the second fermentation is frozen in the neck of the bottle. When the bottle is opened, this mass comes out.

Domaine

A wine estate or property in France.

Dosage

After disgorging the wine, the bottle is topped up with the dosage until it reaches the desired level of sweetness. This is a mixture of wine and sugar syrup.

Doux

The French word for sweet.

Dry

The puckering sensation that wine imparts.It is the opposite of sweet. It’s often caused by tannins in the wine.

E

Earthy

A characteristic smell that suggests the soil in which the grapes were grown.

Eiswein

Eiswein is produced when grapes are left on the vine well past the regular harvest into the cold winter months. These grapes are picked at -8 degrees Celcius or 18 degrees Farenheit and then pressed while still frozen. Canada and Germany are most famous for this dessert wine. In Canada, it’s called icewine whereas in Germany it’s eiswein. Canadian vintners use both the vidal and riesling grapes while Germany uses mostly riesling, which has more balancing acidity for this sweet wine. This wine has a medium to full body, with a long finish and surprisingly low alcohol of, on average, just 10%. The aromas include tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, melon, apricot, lychee as well as honey. Eiswein is especially lovely with fruit-based desserts, flans, cobblers, biscotti, nuts, foie gras, cheeses and dishes with a touch of sweetness such as glazed ham.

Elegant

When a wine exhibits refined character, distinguished quality, stylish, not heavy.

Elevation

The height the vineyard is, either above sea level or above some local landmark, such as that of a valley floor.

Enology

The science of wine production.

En Primeur

The system in France whereby each spring, following the vintage, the Chateaux of bordeaux reveal the opening prices of their new wines. Customers pay in advance for these wines through wine merchants and take delivery of them after bottling some 18 months later. this method ensures that customers get the wines that they want, and almost always at the most advantageous prices. Prices rarely fall after the opening offer.

 

Essence

Refers to “odor kits” containing vials of representative flavor essences.

Estate Bottled

Wines that are estate-bottled (“mise en bouteille” in French) are bottled at the winery where the grapes were grown and made under the control of the winemaker. Most wineries originally sold their wines in barrels to merchants for bottling, however they started bottling their own wines as a measure of both control and of quality assurance against tampering, dilution or substitution.

Ethyl Acetate

Acid and alcohol combine during fermentation to produce esters, one of which is ethyl acetate. It has a sweet, vinegary smell like nail polish remover and it’s considered a fault in wine.

Expectorate

Before giving any fancy definition, let’s just call this what it is: spitting. It may seem socially aberrant, but when you’re tasting many wines, you need to do it unless you’re sleeping overnight at the tasting room. Simply form your mouth into a circle and lean over the spittoon (spit bucket) and let go. Practice in the shower will reduce the incidence of unsightly dribbles and carpet stains.

Extra Dry

A sparkling wine that is slightly sweet. This term often leads to confusion since Dry means without sweetness, but Extra Dry means slightly sweet.

Extracted/Extraction

Extraction is the process of taking the flavor, color and tannin out of the grape skins during maceration when the grape skins are steeped in the grape juice during fermentation. It’s a similar process to steeping tea and gives wine the color, flavor and structure that the winemaker desires. The challenge is to extract the right amount of these compounds so that the wine is still balanced. Highly extracted wines are described as full-bodied, intense and alcoholic, with powerful fruit flavors and tannins. This can be a criticism if it means that the wine is out of balance. These wines are often referred to as fruit bombs.

F

Fat

A descriptor that usually refers to the texture of a wine that is smooth, round and slippery on your palate. Often these wines are high in glycerine, low in acidity and generous in their fruit flavors. In the wine world, fat is usually a positive term … I like that.

Fatigue

When a wine is subjected to shaking and jostling, either through the winemaking process, or during shipping, it is said to become fatigued.

Fault

A fault in wine is a serious characteristic often caused by improper winemaking or wine storage. Examples include oxidation or cork taint, but not over-pricing. (The latter is a fault of the winery marketer, not the wine itself.) A fault can spoil the wine.

Fermentation

The process that turns grapes into wine. It is the metabolization of the sugars by the yeast, into alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat.

Fined

A winemaking process to remove small particles from the wine in order to clarify it. Some vintners believe that this removes some flavor and body from the wine, and therefore do not use the technique. Their bottles may be labeled as “unfined” or “unfiltered.”

Finesse

A wine with finesse exhibits elegance, refinement and delicacy. There is balance and harmony among its components.

Finish

The impression left in the mouth after a wine has been swallowed. To be good, it should be distinctive and memorable rather than watery or short (the flavor isn’t sustained).

Flinty

Flinty usually describes dry white wines, such as chablis and sancerre, with an aroma of flint striking steel. This character is believed to come from the limestone soil in which the grapes were grown and is a positive attribute.

Flowery

A wine is said to be flowery when the aroma suggests flowers.

Forward

A wine which is felt to be developing quickly and is ready to drink before it might otherwise be expected.

Fragile

This doesn’t refer to the emotional stability of wine lovers who open their $350 bottle of cabernet to discover it’s corked. Rather this describes an older wine, fully mature, but of such age that it’s declining. Its aromas can be fleeting and therefore it’s often better to pour it straight from the bottle into the glass rather than decant it and risk losing those delicate aromas and flavors. Carpe diem and don’t decant ‘em!

Fruit bomb

A wine that’s fruit-forward in that the fruit aromas dominate over others. The wine may lack balance, with too much fruit for the wine’s acidity. Think Jim Carrey rather than Jeremy Irons, or Carmen Electra not Helen Mirren.

Fruity

An attractive fruit flavor that comes from healthy, ripe grapes.

Full-bodied

Wine that has a full proportion of flavor and alcohol. It is also know as big or fat.

G

Gamay

These grapes produce light, fruity red wines and are used to make beaujolais nouveau and beaujolais. Grown in France, Canada and many other countries.

Garagistes

Winemakers whose production is so small it could fit into a home garage.  This does not imply poor quality as some garagistes have been known to produce world-class wines.

Garrigue

The aromas of rosemary, lemon verbena, lavender and marjoram that perfume the air of southern France, especially in the Midi region.

Gewürztraminer

The Gewürztraminer grape was first grown in Northern Italy, where it produces a white wine of the same name. Today Gewürztraminers are produced in Alsace, Germany, New Zealand, America, Canada and many other regions. This grape grows well in a cool climate and most famously in Alsace, France. Gewürztraminers range from pale peach to a deep golden tone in color and from bone-dry to dessert-sweet in style. This vibrant wine has mouth-watering acidity as well as aromas of flowers (especially roses), nutmeg, cloves and lychee nuts. Drink this crisp wine young because it generally ages only for about five years. Gewürztraminer pairs well with many foods depending on the degree of sweetness. “Gewürtz is German for “spice,” which is why this wine is often considered the best match for spicy dishes. Some terrific matches include beef bourguignonne, fresh fruit, cheese, fish, poultry, spicy foods, curries and Asian dishes.

Gewürztraminer: Late Harvest

The Gewürztraminer grape was first grown in Northern Italy, where it produces a white wine of the same name. Today Gewürztraminers are produced in Alsace, Germany, New Zealand, America, Canada and many other regions. This grape grows well in a cool climate and most famously in Alsace, France. Gewürztraminers range from pale peach to a deep golden tone in color and from bone-dry to dessert-sweet in style. This vibrant wine has mouth-watering acidity as well as aromas of flowers (especially roses), nutmeg, cloves and lychee nuts. Drink this crisp wine young because it generally ages only for about five years. Gewürztraminer pairs well with many foods depending on the degree of sweetness. “Gewürtz is German for “spice,” which is why this wine is often considered the best match for spicy dishes. Some terrific matches include beef bourguignonne, fresh fruit, cheese, fish, poultry, spicy foods, curries and Asian dishes. Late Harvest Gewürztraminer grapes are picked later when they are very ripe, producing a wine with high sugar content. The honeyed flavors of this wine pairs well with Roquefort cheese, fruit flans, biscotti, tarts, sweet pastries, pumpkin pie and cobblers.

Glycerin

A chemical compound (sugar alcohol) in wine that is a natural byproduct of fermentation. Glycerin, also known as glycerol, improves wine’s quality by making it taste richer, more full-bodied and viscous. Although glycerin is colorless and odorless, its slightly sweet taste and syrupy texture gives the impression of smoothness on the palate.

Grand Cru 

The French term used for top-quality wines in Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy and champagne.

Grand Vin

French for “grand or great wine,” and refers to the best quality wine made by a chateau. Many wineries make second and third labels that aren’t considered as good as their grand vin. Although it sounds impressive, it actually has no legal or official designation. However, giving a bottle of wine with this on the label to friends may increase its value (and yours) in their eyes.

Grassy

Wines that have slight vegetal-tasting undertones as part of the overall character like sauvignon blanc and certain other grape varietals.

Grey Rot

Grey rot grows on unripe grapes after long stretches of humid weather and spoils them for winemaking.

H

Harmonious

A wine that has a perfect balance of fruit, acid and tannins. At this point, it is perfectly ready to drink, and usually so am I (ready to drink that wine).

Harsh

A wine with excessive acidity. The acid accentuates the tannins and increases the drying sensation known as astringency.

Harvest

The process of picking the ripe grapes from the vine and transferring them to the winery.

Hearty

An adjective for a full-bodied wine with high alcohol content. It often refers to a tannic red wine.

Heavy

The wine is out of balance in favor of the tannins.

Herbaceous

A wine that has a green, vegetable smell. For example, sauvignon blanc is grassy when subtle, herbaceous when overpowering.

Hermitage

Hermitage, pronounced without the ‘h’ (air-mee-tahj), is a wine region in southern France in the Rhône Valley. It’s rich, robust wines are made, primarily, from syrah, Grenache and mourvèdre grapes for the reds and marsanne, rousanne and viognier for the whites.

Hollow

A wine which lacks flavor and texture.

Honeyed

The smell or taste in wine reminiscent of honey and is characteristic of late-harvest wines affected by “noble rot.”

I

Icewine

Icewine is produced when grapes are left on the vine well past the regular harvest into the cold winter months. These grapes are picked at -8 degree Celsius or 18 degrees Farenheit and then pressed while still frozen. Canada and Germany are most famous for this dessert wine. In Canada, it’s called icewine whereas in Germany it’s eiswein. Canadian vintners use both the vidal and riesling grapes while Germany uses mostly riesling, which has more balancing acidity for this sweet wine. This wine has a medium to full body, with a long finish and surprisingly low alcohol of, on average, just 10%. The aromas include tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, melon, apricot, lychee as well as honey. Icewine is especially lovely with fruit-based desserts, flans, cobblers, biscotti, nuts, foie gras, cheeses and dishes with a touch of sweetness such as glazed ham.

Inert Gas

Used to protect wine from spoilage or oxidation by the air. These include nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon.

Insipid

A descriptor for a wine that is bland and devoid of character and body. Think of the sequels to many Hollywood movies and you’ll know what I mean.

Integrated

When the components of wine, such as tannin, oak and acidity fade as the wine develops.

Intricate

The interweaving of subtle complexities of aroma and flavor in the wine.

J

Jammy

The natural berrylike taste of the grape.

K


Kosher wine

Is produced according to Judaism’s religious law, specifically, the Jewish dietary law.

L

Label

It’s everything you need to know about a wine. most wine laws insist that labels reveal the following: the wine’s name, the size of the bottle, The wine’s vintage, The wine’s alcoholic strength, The producer’s name and address, The wine’s quality level.

 

Late Harvest

Produces grapes that are riper and sweeter. This makes sweet, dessert-style wines.

Leafy

Describes wines that smell like leaves and sometimes herbs. A hint of this can add to the complexity of the wine, however a strong whiff of it is unpleasant and vegetal.

Lees

A heavy sediment consisting of dead yeast cells and other solid matter such as grape pulp, seeds and other grape particles.

Legs

The rivulets of wine that slowly glide down the glass after swirling the wine are often called legs or tears. They’re related to surface tension differences between water and alcohol. Contrary to popular belief, these aren’t related to the compound glycerine in wine. The more alcoholic the wine, the slower the legs go down the glass and the more defined they are. This doesn’t indicate a better wine, just a more alcoholic one.

Length

How long the flavor of the wine persists on the palate after it has been swallowed. This is also called the finish.

Light

Wines light in alcohol but also in texture and weight. It also describes how the wine feels in the mouth.

Lively

Describes a fresh, young, thirst-quenching wine with crisp acidity. Don’t be afraid of acidity: it is to wine what salt is to food in that it brings the flavor forward. Think of it as a dinner party guest who’s willing to talk about more than the weather.

Luscious

The rich, opulent, and smooth taste of sweet wines and intensely fruity ones.

M

Maderized

Wine that has been oxidized. It has a brown or amber color and stale odor.

Magnum

A large format bottle equivalent to two standard 750 ml bottles, containing about two fifths of a gallon or 1.5 liters of wine or liquor. This is a dramatic size and just placing it on the table tells your guests that the evening is going to be a festive one.

Malbec – As discussed in the episode “The Truth About Malbec”

Malbec is a purple grape variety used in making a red wine from grapes that tend to have an inky dark color and robust tannins. Malbec is bottled as a single varietal, but is most famously known as one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of Bordeaux reds. The French plantations of Malbec originated in Cahors in the South West France region, though it’s rise to fame has been most recently Argentina, which produces a different style of Malbec.  The Malbec grape produces wines that stylistically fall between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with more plummy richness and roundness than Cabernet but firmer tannins and structure than Merlot.  Signature aromas of Malbec include plums, blackberries, black cherries, spices, earth and wood smoke. Drink Malbec with stews, beef, spicy dishes, cassoulet, burgers, sausages, and earthy foods such as those with mushrooms.  And as suggested in “The Truth About Malbec”, another great pairing is chocolate.

Malic acid

One of the main contributors to the acidity of a wine. Malic acid has a sharp, green apple like taste.

Malolactic Fermentation

A bacterial process which results in conversion of the sharp tasting malic acid to the softer lactic acid.

Mature

The wine is fully developed and ready to drink.

Mellow

Smooth and soft, with no harshness.

Merlot 

Merlot is a smooth, rich, easy-drinking wine which is the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux, especially in St. Emilion and Pomerol, where it usually leads in the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Similar to it’s role in Bordeaux reds, Merlot is also a key component of Meritage, another name for Bordeaux reds in North America.  (For more information on Meritage, watch the episode “The Balance of Blending”.  Signature notes of Merlot are dark fruits like plums, currants, black cherries, blackberries, vanilla, coconuts, violets, roses, cloves, bay leaves, green peppercorns, mushrooms, coffee, mocha, cedar, cigar box, bell pepper and green olive. Its color ranges from medium dark red to deep blue. Merlot, with its juicy, smooth, dark fruit flavors, pairs well with many meat dishes such as grilled steak, beef bourguignonne, stew, hamburger, casserole,  meatloaf, pot roast, roast beef and prime rib. Other great pairings include cheddar, parmesan, chicken stir-fry, grilled chicken, coq au vin, cornish hen, duck, goose, roast turkey, venison, and dark chocolate.

Microclimate

The climate immediately around the vine.

Mis en bouteille au château (French)

The wine was bottled at which it was made.

Moelleux (French)

Sweet.

Moldy

Wines that have the smell of mold or rot, usually from grapes affected by rot or from old moldy casks used for aging.

Mousse 

The French word for the froth that fizzes in a glass of champagne or sparkling wine.

Mousseux

The French word for Sparkling.

Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is red wine usually mixed with sugar, lemon, and spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and sometimes honey). The spices were often used to mask poor wine, much the way oak is sometimes used to hide plonky wine. It’s served hot and often around Christmas.

Muscadet

Muscadet is a white French wine. It is made at the western end of the Loire Valley, near the city of Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region neighboring the Brittany Region. More Muscadet is produced than any other Loire wine. It is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, often referred to simply as melon. The name seems to refer to a characteristic of the wine produced by the melon grape varietal : vin qui a un goût musqué – ‘wine with a musk-like taste’. Muscadet wines are often light bodied and almost always dry with very little, if any residual sugar. Left over carbon dioxide from the bottling process can leave the wines with a slight “prickly” sensation. Muscadet that have been aged sur lie can have very subtle “yeasty” aromas. The acidity keeps the wines light and refreshing. Some examples can have a slight “saltiness” about them. Muscadet has been described by at least one wine critic as the “perfect oyster wine”. The classic food and wine pairings in the Pays Nantais region is of Muscadet with the local seafood-particularly oysters. Other seafood dishes that Muscadet pair well includes lobster, shrimp and mullet. The moderate alcohol levels of Muscadet (always under 12%) allows them to complement many types of dishes without overwhelming them. The light, crisp acidity can “cut through” (meaning it stands out against) rich, creamy dishes which can be a refreshing change of pace for the palate.

Muscat

One of the oldest grapes grown to make wine, Muscat has hundreds of varieties, but Muscat Blanc is most widely planted and considered the best. It’s signature aroma is actually grapes/raisins along with coriander, peach, orange, flowers and musk. It’s often scorned for being a simple wine with its grapey notes and low acidity; the white sister of Beaujolais that’s best consumed young. However, when well made, it is a refined wine that’s beautifully aromatic, almost perfumed. Stylistically, it is light, dry and refreshing; slightly sparkling; and a lovely unctuous fortified dessert wine called Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise in the southern Rhone Valley of France, Muscat de Rivesaltes in Roussillon, Liqueur Muscat (made from Black Muscat) in Australia (“stickies”), and Moscatel de Setubal in Portugal. Most Mediterranean wine regions make Muscat-based wines, including Greece and Spain (Moscatel de Málaga). In many areas of France, it’s called Muscat Frontignan, but in the Loire Valley it is known as Muscadet. In Italy, it goes by the alias Moscato di Canelli where it is also the base for asti spumante sweet sparklers. In South Africa, it goes by Muscadel and makes the wonderful and historic wine, Vin de Constance. California and Chile also produce this wine as it likes temperate climates, but it is prone to disease. Muscat is often blended with California’s White Zinfandel and Alsace’s Gewurztraminer to add more fruitiness to the final wine. Muscat Orange, with its orange blossom aromas, does well in California where Quady Winery makes lovely dessert wines called Essencia and Elysium that are perfect with chocolate-orange desserts. Dry and sparkling styles of Muscat pair well with nuts, melon balls with smoked ham, soft cheeses, light curries, shellfish, seafood, vegetarian, quiche, omelets, Asian noodles, turkey butternut squash risotto and avocado salad. Drink dessert-style Muscats with dark chocolate, almond-flavored desserts, orange spice cake, coffee cake, caramel, toffee, gorgonzola and cambozola cheese, bananas flambéed or fritters, fruit cake, mince pies and rhubarb crumble.

Muscular

Vigorous fruit and powerful body and flavor; robust.

Must

The term used to describe the grape pulp and juice after crushing the grapes during the harvest, before the wine is fermented.

N

Négociant

One who buys grapes and grape juice from different vineyards throughout the region. They make wine from these grapes and sell it.

Neutral

A neutral wine is void of any notable characteristics. However, this ordinary wine is not necessarily a bad wine.

New World Wine

Wine from North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Noble

Great; of perfect balance and harmonious expression. Noble grapes are those that produce the world’s finest wines, such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, riesling and so on.

Nose

The way a wine smells.

Nouveau

Young, immediately drinkable wine.

Nutty

The nutlike aromas that develop in certain wines, such as sherry.

O

Oaky

The number one choice of wood for wine barrels. It imparts toasty, vanilla, and smoky aromas to the wine.

Oenology

The science behind winemaking.

Off

A general word for any wine that is not quite as it should be. The wine could be faulty.

Off-dry

Not quite dry, with a touch of sweetness.

Old World Wine

Wine from European nations, such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and others with a long history of viticulture.

Open

This describes a wine that’s ready to drink, often because it’s been decanted (a process of opening up the wine by exposing it to oxygen). I also think of many people as open, especially around 5 pm when they’re ready to drink.

Organic Viticulture

The approach some winemakers take when they rely less or not at all on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. Those that meet certain criteria may be labeled as organic.

Oxidation

The distructive action of oxygen on a wine.

P

Pasteurization

The process of sterilizing liquids by heating.

Peak

A subjective evaluation of when a wine reaches its prime for drinking. This is usually expressed as a year or range of years rather than say this Thursday at midnight.

Perfumed

An aromatic wine, often with a floral fragrance, that is usually due to the grapes from which the wine is made. See also Bouquet.

Pétillant

Slightly sparkling.

Petit Verdot

Petit Verdot is one of the five grapes in Bordeaux blends, usually added in much smaller proportions than Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot (rarely more than 6%) for its spicy, dark fruit notes, deep red-purple color and mouth-gripping tannins. Malbec is the fifth grape and is also added in small proportions for its dark color and plum notes. Sometimes, Petit Verdot and/or Malbec aren’t used at all in the blend. Too much Petit Verdot can make the wine coarsely tannic. The grape is rarely bottled on its own. This late-ripening grape does best in warm climates with cool nights where it gets the necessary hang time on the vine. Australia now has the largest plantings of the grape worldwide; it’s also grown in California and Chile. Signature aromas include blackberry, black cherry, black raspberry, leather, vanilla, coconut, toast, tar, pencil shavings, molasses, tar, nettles, cedar, cigar box, earth, leather and smoke. Its firm tannins can only be tamed through extended oak aging. Pair Petit Verdot blends with beef bourguignonne, stew, hamburgers, meatloaf, pot roast, roast beef, grilled steak, prime rib, gruyeres cheese, coq au vin, duck, marinated chicken on the grill, brisket, mild curries, Tourtière, ostrich, rabbit, venison, lamb kabobs, bolognese sauce with herbed tomatoes, charcuterie, roast pork, seared tuna with a pepper crust, veal marsala and grilled portobello mushrooms.

Pinot Blanc

Produces crisp and refreshing white wines that appeal to many people as the aromas and flavors are not pronounced.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Gris, called Pinot Grigio in Italy, is a white variant-clone of the red grape Pinot Noir. The Italian region of Friuli produces the best Pinot Grigio in a crisp, refreshing style. Other Italian regions produce it too but it can be over-cropped and taste insipid. Benchmark Pinot Gris is best known from Alsace, France, where it’s known as Tokay d’Alsace (unrelated to Hungarian Tokay), and produces a full-bodied wine. In Oregon, vintners are shifting away from Chardonnay to produce a lively style of Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have delicate floral and citrus aromas such as lemon, lime, pear, melon and green apple. When oaked, they have notes of vanilla, almond, toast and smoke. Depending on how they’re made, they can be light- to medium-bodied with a tangy acidity or be more full-bodied with a rich, voluptuous texture. They’re usually made in a bone-dry style, unoaked and unblended. The wine generally has a light straw color that may have a pink or salmon tinge. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio make terrific aperitifs before a meal. Pair them with potato salad, liver paté, brie, camembert, chicken tangine, duck, turkey, quiche, Chinese, Indian, and Thai dishes, Tex-Mex, risotto with mushrooms, cheese pizza, pork, clam chowder, fried shrimp, clams, oysters, smoked fish, breaded veal cutlets, tomato and mozzarella salad.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris, called Pinot Grigio in Italy, is a white variant-clone of the red grape Pinot Noir. The Italian region of Friuli produces the best Pinot Grigio in a crisp, refreshing style. Other Italian regions produce it too but it can be over-cropped and taste insipid. Benchmark Pinot Gris is best known from Alsace, France, where it’s known as Tokay d’Alsace (unrelated to Hungarian Tokay), and produces a full-bodied wine. In Oregon, vintners are shifting away from Chardonnay to produce a lively style of Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have delicate floral and citrus aromas such as lemon, lime, pear, melon and green apple. When oaked, they have notes of vanilla, almond, toast and smoke. Depending on how they’re made, they can be light- to medium-bodied with a tangy acidity or be more full-bodied with a rich, voluptuous texture. They’re usually made in a bone-dry style, unoaked and unblended. The wine generally has a light straw color that may have a pink or salmon tinge. Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio make terrific aperitifs before a meal. Pair them with potato salad, liver paté, brie, camembert, chicken tangine, duck, turkey, quiche, Chinese, Indian, and Thai dishes, Tex-Mex, risotto with mushrooms, cheese pizza, pork, clam chowder, fried shrimp, clams, oysters, smoked fish, breaded veal cutlets, tomato and mozzarella salad.

Pinot Noir

A wine of great sensuality, a silky texture and seductive aromas such as strawberries, cherries, black cherries, raspberries, violets, cinnamon, sassafras, mushrooms, truffles, rose petal, fresh earth and something called “barnyard,” which is actually meant to be a positive descriptor though not everyone agrees with that. Sometimes, this means fresh earth as you would find on a farm, but it can also refer to bacterial spoilage called Brettanomyces. The character Miles in the hit 2004 movie Sideways discusses the virtues of Pinot Noir with Maya. He considers it the antithesis of plummy Merlot that can lack acidity. Pinot Noir is now one of the fastest growing red wines in North America, thanks to this commercial boost. This is also due to its purported health benefits because the grapes must work hard to protect themselves from disease and rot in cool climates and therefore produce more anti-oxidants, up to four times more resveratrol than other wines. The famous California winemaker André Tchelistcheff said: “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.” This thin-skinned berry is known as the “heartbreak grape” because it’s difficult to grow and is unstable even bottled. That’s why you often pay more for Pinot Noir than most other red wines. Among the oldest of grapes grown to make wine by the ancient Romans, Pinot Noir now thrives in many regions such as Austria and Germany (in both regions known as Spätburgunder), Niagara, Okanagan Valley, Italy (Pinot Nero), New Zealand, Switzerland (Dole), Oregon and California’s cooler regions such as Carneros, Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley in the Sonoma Valley, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County) and Monterey County. The most famous region is Burgundy, France, and especially the Burgundian sub-region Côte d’Or (Slope of Gold), where famous names such as Domaine Romanee-Conti and Laflaive grace labels. Pinot Noir loves a cool climate where is can ripen slowly but maintain vivacious acidity. Soils of chalk and limestone that drain well make the vines work hard to survive and thus produce great wine. Pinot Noir pairs with a wide variety of dishes because it is flavorful but not heavy in alcohol, oak or tannin. The best matches include prime rib, roast beef, brisket, turkey, pork tenderloin, mushroom and truffle dishes, coq au vin (chicken cooked in red wine), beef bourguignonne (beef cooked in red wine), grilled salmon, cassoulet, roasted and braised lamb, pheasant, duck, shark, swordfish and tuna with rosemary.

Pinotage

Pinotage is the name of both the red wine and the grape grown and made mostly in South Africa. The Pinotage grape was originally bred in 1925 from a cross between the grapes pinot noir and cinsaut. Well-made Pinotages are medium- to full-bodied wines, with rich red fruit aromas and flavors. Poor versions often have a rubbery aroma. This wine pairs well with hearty meat dishes.

Plonk

A common slang term for bulk or jug wines.

Plump

A plump wine has low acidity but tastes full and rich due to lots of fruit flavors and glycerol. A plump wine is often delicious, though it may not age well due to its low acidity. When there’s too little acidity, the wine is criticized for being flabby: as equally unattractive in wine as it is on thighs and underarms.

Port

Port is a fortified wine made by adding brandy to stop the fermenting grape must.  It results in a wine, red and sometimes white, that is both sweet and high in alcohol.   Port derives its name from Oporto (Porto), a city in Portugal, the city from where wine has been shipped for over 300 years.  For more information on Fortified Wines, watch the episode “Liquid Gold”.

Pungent

A pungent wine has strong aromas that are often out of balance with the others in its bouquet. Often, pungent wines are intensely sour, astringent and grating on the palate … much like the dinner guest whose voice is too loud and whose opinions are tiresome.

Q

Q.B.A.

Entry-level German wines are labeled QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete), meaning a quality wine that has enough character to taste like its growing area. The best rieslings are labeled QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat), meaning a quality wine of special distinction.

Q.M.P.

Entry-level German wines are labeled QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete), meaning a quality wine that has enough character to taste like its growing area. The best rieslings are labeled QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat), meaning a quality wine of special distinction.

Quality Control

The series of analyses and tests that verify a wine’s palatability, stability, compliance with regulations, and absence of faults.

R

Racking

The process of transferring the wine from one container, such as a barrel, to another.

Récolte (French) : Crop or vintage.

 

Reserva

Reserva is the term for reserve in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Latin American countries, such as Chile and Argentina. Spanish red wines labeled that have received a minimum of three years ageing prior to release. At least one year must be in oak. Those from Portugal must be from good vintage and need an extra half a degree alcohol but the term is increasingly used for premium bottlings. In Italy, reserve wine means that the wine has been given more ageing before release and has a higher alcoholic strength by a half or full degree than the non-Riserva wine. The word Riserva can only be used for DOC or DOCG wines and it indicates the wine is of superior quality and has been aged at least 3 years before being released. In Chile and Argentina, the term isn’t legally-defined so it can mean what the winemaker wants it to mean, from the producer’s highest quality wine to simply a marketing term to help sell the wine.

Reserve

Reserve wine is a term given to a specific wine to imply that is of a higher quality than usual, or a wine that has been aged before being sold, or both. Traditionally winemakers would “reserve” some of their best wine rather than sell it immediately, coining the term.

Residual Sugar

Residual sugar is the unfermented grape sugar in wine and is measured in grams per liter of wine. The more the residual sugar the sweeter the wine.

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a natural compound in the skins of red grapes. Its presence in red wine has been linked to health benefits such as fighting cancer, aging and heart disease. The most famous of these studies is the “French Paradox ,” which hypothesized that the inhanbitants of southern France, who enjoyed foods high in saturated fat, experienced a relatively low incidence of heart disease because they consumed moderate amounts of red wine daily.

Retsina

Retsina isn’t a grape but rather a way of making wine in Greece since ancient times. Pine pitch is added to white wine or rosé during fermentation to protect the wine from oxidation, traditionally a high risk during long sea voyages. Retsina pairs well with Greek cuisine and is served well chilled.

Rich

High flavor concentration with balanced astringency, alcohol and fruit.

Riesling

Riesling is a noble grape that produces some of the world’s finest, most long-lived whites. A light, vibrant white wine that often has citrus, floral and mineral notes. It’s mostly associated with Germany, but other well-known regions making it include Alsace, Washington, Niagara, Finger Lakes, Okanagan and Australia’s Clare Valley and Eden Valley. Styles range from bone dry to intensely sweet. Aromas and flavors include apricot, peach, wet slate, minerals, flowers and petrol (when it’s aged). They are the second level of six in the German prädikat system of classifying Rieslings based on ripeness of the grapes: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese. Kabinett refers to high quality German Riesling that is usually light and dry to slightly off-dry and made from fully ripened grapes. The sweetness in kabinett Rieslings comes from natural fruit ripeness, not sugar. Spätlese is the German word for “late harvest,” used to describe Rieslings made from grapes with sugar levels at harvest that are higher than Kabinett and lower than Auslese. They are therefore more full-bodied than kabinetts and less so than ausleses. These grapes are picked at least seven days after the main harvest. Because spätlese contains more sugar than the grapes from the main harvest, they are typically medium sweet. Auslese is the German word for “selection,” used to describe a specially selected, perfectly ripened bunches of grapes for this style of Riesling. Often, the grapes have started to over-ripen, becoming affected by the desirable mould botrytis cinerea or noble rot (edelfaule in German). They are hand-picked and then pressed separately from other grapes. The wine made from these grapes is sweet. Beerenauslese is made from overripe grapes that are hand-picked and are pressed separately from the other grapes. These grapes are fully infected with botrytis cinerea or noble rot which shrivels them. This concentrates the sugar. Beerenauslese is very sweet but has enough acid to balance the wine. In Canada, it’s called icewine whereas in Germany it’s eiswein. Canadian vintners use both the vidal and riesling grapes while Germany uses mostly riesling, which has more balancing acidity for this sweet wine. This wine has a medium to full body, with a long finish and surprisingly low alcohol of, on average, just 10%. Trockenbeerenauslese is the German word which means “dry berry selection” and describes wines made from specially selected, overripe grapes. They are left on the vine until nearly dry, having been shrivelled to raisins with noble rot. These grapes are picked individually at the height of their maturity, so they’re very concentrated in flavor and sugar and produce extremely rich, sweet wines. These wines are very rare, very expensive and considered to be among the world’s finest dessert wines. They have excellent aging potential. When the Riesling grapes are left on the vine several weeks to several months after the normal harvest time, they dehydrate and become more concentrated in their flavors and sugars. Sometimes a benevolent mold called botrytis cinerea (a.k.a. noble rot) causes this dehydration which also increases sweetness. This Riesling has higher residual sugar levels producing a thick, sweet, rich dessert wine. Food matches for dry Riesling and Kabinett styles include beef, poultry, game birds, pork, cheese and pizza. A festive turkey dinner with all the fixings calls for Riesling. Some egg dishes, spicy foods and seafood go well with this wine. Pair late harvest and Auslese Rieslings with nuts, melons, soft cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, curries, deep fried foods, Italian dishes spicy food and Thai dishes. Icewine, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese go beautifully with fruit-based desserts, flans, cobblers, biscotti, nuts, foie gras, cheeses and dishes with a touch of sweetness such as glazed ham.

Ripe

A mature wine that’s ready to drink. If used to describe the grapes, this term means they were picked at sweet full maturity and richness.

Robust

Full-bodied, powerful, heady.

Rosé/Champagne

Rosés are generally made from red grapes pressed lightly. Champagnes are made from either red, white or a combination of the two.

Rouge (French): Red.

Round

Smooth and well-developed flavor, without angularity or rough edges.

S

Sangiovese

Sangiovese is indigenous to Tuscany, where is makes Chianti, the flagship wine of the region. Sangiovese is also the primary grape in the wines Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano. The quality ranges from ordinary table wine (vino di tavola) to the impressive classico superiore. Sangiovese represents 10% of Italy’s entire vineyard acreage, the most-planted grape in the country, with 247,000 acres. This grape matures and ripens slowly, and has a thin skin therefore it thrives in warm, dry climates. Limestone soil tends to produce more robust aromas in the finished wine. Chianti was traditionally a blend of about 70% Sangiovese, 15% of the red grape Canaiolo, 15% of the white grape Trebbiano and sometimes a dash of the red grape Colorino. Today, producers must have a minimum of 90% Sangiovese in their Chianti with no more than 5% white grapes. The white grape Malvasia Toscana, better quality than the traditional Trebbiano, is now also permitted in the blend. The Latin name for Sangiovese, Sanguis Jovis (San Gioveto), translates to “blood of Jove or Jupiter.” The first written reference to the grape was in 1722. Until the 1980s, Chianti was bottled in squat oval straw-covered fiasci. It was viewed a modest bistro wine rather than one for collectors. Then winemakers started experimenting with premium blends of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, creating what is now known as Supertuscans. These wines were not permitted the D.O.C. quality designation because they used grapes not permitted by law. However, the wines started commanding prices much higher than the traditional wines and eventually one of the most famous, Sassacia, was granted its own D.O.C. status. However, even today, it can produce cheap, thin wines or remarkably complex and concentrated reds. In the late 1800s, Italian immigrants planted Sangiovese in California. (I profile the Serghesio family believed to have first planted these vines in my book Red, White and Drunk All Over.) Sangiovese-based wines have never succeeded in New World regions as well as have other transplanted European varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah/Shiraz. Sangiovese’s signature aromas include black cherries, raspberries, blueberries, violets, black plums, prunes clove, thyme, anise and if oaked, smoke, tar and vanilla. The wine has a medium- to full-body, a supple texture and a pleasant bitter-tinged finish. It also has pronounced acidity, which makes it especially companionable to many Italian dishes with tomato sauce. Drink Sangiovese with parmesan, pecorino Toscana, turkey scaloppini, pasta Bolognese, spaghetti with tomato or meat sauce, salami Toscana, olives, capers, anchovies, broiled light-fleshed fish (sole), breaded veal cutlets, veal escalope layered with smoked ham, spicy sausage, lasagna, pepperoni pizza and truffles.

Sauternes

Sauternes is the name of a region in the Graves district of southern Bordeaux, France as well as the namesake of the dessert wine made there. The wine is made by blending semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes, all affected by “noble rot” (botrytis cinerea) that concentrates their sweetness. Sauternes is a smooth, creamy wine with flavors of apricot, peach, pineapple and vanilla. It can be paired with cheeses, desserts, egg dishes and nuts. The classic pairing is with foie gras.

Sauvignon Blanc

One of the most refreshing and vibrant white wines, Sauvignon Blanc’s signature aromas include freshly mown grass, lemon-grass, gooseberry, green bell pepper, green melon, grapefruit, canned peas, asparagus, lime, nettle, acacia, hawthorn and herbal notes. Sauvignon Blanc vines are vigorous and growers must trim back leaf canopy so that the grapes get sufficient nutrients to ripen and develop their flavors. When under ripe, the grapes can have a cat litterbox aroma that writer Jancis Robinson famously referred to as “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush.” Not attractive. In the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc makes wines known as Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre, named after their respective towns and usually made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and unoaked. Fumé refers to the smoky or flinty character Loire wines achieve from their marvelous minerality. In California, this wine is often labeled as Fumé Blanc, a play on the Loire name and a rebranding of the wine that hadn’t been successful when introduced as Sauvignon Blanc. Although barrel fermentation and oak aging aren’t as common for Sauvignon Blanc as it is for Chardonnay, some producers do this to add some complexity, and others, unfortunately, to hide aggressive vegetal odors. Many people prefer the crisp, fresh fruit style and zesty attack of the unoaked style and its mouth-watering acidity. This is also why many people prefer to drink most of the dry styles in their youth up to about three years after the vintage. Sauvignon Blanc is the leading white wine of New Zealand that Cloudy Bay winery made famous in the Marlborough region. South Africa also makes excellent, underpriced Sauvignon Blanc as does Rueda, Spain; Syria, Austria; Collio, Italy; and Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys in Chile. Australia is generally too warm to maintain the wine’s vibrant acidity. Blending with Semillon adds richness and complexity, and creates the legendary dessert wine Château d’Yquem in the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, France. There and in neighboring Barsac, the grapes are left to hang past the normal harvest period so that they are infected with the benevolent mold known as botrytis cinerea (noble rot) that concentrates their flavors. Semillon brings notes of figs and ripe tree fruit to the final wine. In the Graves district of Bordeaux, the two grapes are blended to create world famous dry white wines. Sauvignon Blanc is incredibly versatile with food. Try the dry style with bell peppers, cilantro, smoked cheeses, shellfish, Caesar salad, Jarlsberg cheese, corned beef and cabbage, cheese fondue, goat cheese, turkey pot pie, egg dishes, asparagus quiche, guacamole, sushi, pasta with cream-based sauce, pizza and grilled salmon. Dessert styles go well with angel food cake, biscotti, bread pudding, cheesecake, fresh fruit, fruit tarts, and fruit-based desserts.

Second Label or Wine

A concept that started in Bordeaux but is now used in many winemaking regions. After the winery has made its first wine using the best grapes, it produces the second wine from grapes that may be less ripe or grown in less prestigious vineyards. This wine is less expensive and can usually be consumed earlier than the first wine.

Sec

The French word for Dry.

Sediment

The small particles in wine from the grape skins, seeds, and other grape particles. Sediment often settles at the bottom of the bottle and should be left behind when pouring or decanting as it tastes bitter.

Semillon

Semillon has a rich, voluptuous, waxy almost fat texture but low acidity, which is why it’s often blended with zesty Sauvignon Blanc. Semillon is a vigorous vine but a thin-skinned grape so it’s susceptible to sunburn and raising. It resists most diseases, except rot, both the bad kind (Gray Rot) that destroys the grapes and the good kind (Noble Rot or botrytis) that shrivels the grapes to raisins, concentrating their flavors to create some of the world’s most famous and expensive dessert wines. For Château d’Yquem, generally a blend of 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, pickers pass through the vineyards ten times or more during the harvest to select only the bunches affected by botrytis. Other exquisite sweet wines in the Bordeaux regions of Sauternes and Barsac are made from this blend as are the dry styles of Graves, such as the renowned Domaine de Chevalier. Other regions notable for Semillon include Chile, where more vines are planted than anywhere else on earth, and Australia, especially in the Hunter Valley. Signature aromas include fig, lemon, pear, lime, nectarine, saffron, bell pepper, asparagus and grass. Oak aging and malolactic fermentation add notes of lanolin, vanilla, buttered toast, cream, smoke and oak. Dessert styles also have notes of honey, apricot, lemon curd, meringue, quince, peach and pineapple. Food matches for dry styles of Semillon include almonds, hazelnuts, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, mussels, shrimp, oysters, coquilles St. Jacques, fish and chips, antipasti, roast chicken, turkey, pasta with cheese or cream sauce and Caesar salad. Dessert styles go well with foie gras, pears stuffed with blue cheese, goat cheese, rocquefort cheese, angel food cake, biscotti, bread & butter pudding, coffee cake, creme brulee, fruit tarts, treacle pudding and fruit cobbler.

Shiraz

Shiraz and Syrah are both originally from the same clone, but various regions have chosen one name or the other. They both create rich, robust wines with a smooth texture and signature aromas of spice, pepper, clove and licorice leading, followed by dark fruit such as blackcurrant, blackberry, plum and black cherry, as well as truffle, earth, violets, vanilla, smoke, sandalwood, cedar, cigar box, earth and leather. The greatest of these wines can age for 25 years or more. The grape was originally believed to be from Persia, now Iran, from the city of Shiraz, but has since been proven to be indigenous to France, where more than half the world’s Syrah vines are planted. The legendary wines of the Rhone Valley’s Côte Rotie and Hermitage are made from 100% Syrah. Syrah is also part of the blend in other Rhône wines, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape that often includes Grenache, Mouvèdre and up to nine other grapes. This wine is also the flagship red wine of Australia, where it’s called Shiraz (easier to pronounce than Syrah), and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Australia’s Barossa Valley is particularly famous for its complex, multi-layered Shiraz. It is also becoming South Africa’s leading red. California grows it successfully in Paso Robles where it’s usually called Syrah. Shiraz and Syrah pair with robust dishes such as grilled meats and vegetables, beef stew, meat lover’s pizza, barbecued ribs and hamburgers, beef wellington, bison steak, brisket, meatloaf, peppercorn steak, grilled or spice-rubbed chicken, chicken sausage, fajitas, ostrich, game casseroles, venison stew, braised lamb shanks, barbequed pork spareribs and Mexican Mole.

Soft

The mellowness found in either a mature wine or a young wine with low tannins and acids.

Sommelier (French)

A wine expert with a Sommelier certification.

Sparkling Wine

The sparkling wine Champagne is named after the northern region of France where it’s produced. Other regions of France, as well as other countries, make sparkling wine, but only those from Champagne may be called Champagne. Supposedly the eighteenth-century blind Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, accidentally discovered how to put the bubbles in Champagne when his wines started fermenting again in the spring after the cold winter had stopped them. Other records attribute this discovery to the British scientist Christopher Merret thirty years before Pérignon. Pérignon is credited widely with improving the techniques of blending wines from different years as well as the three principle grapes used: the white grape Chardonnay and two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The process today still involves a first fermentation to make the still, acidic wine. Then, before bottling, a small amount of wine, sugar and yeast is added (“liqueur de triage”) to trigger a second fermentation in the bottle, where the carbon dioxide bubbles are trapped. The bottle is gradually tilted upside down (riddling), by hand or machine, and eventually the dead yeast cells gather in the neck and are disgorged so that the wine is clear. Before the final cork seal is affixed, the wine is topped up with a small amount of wine and sugar (liqueur d’expédition). The amount of sugar determines whether the bubbly will be Brut (very dry), Sec (off-dry) or Demi-Sec (medium-sweet). Rosé bubbly is made either by blending red and white wine or by limiting the skin contact of the red grapes during maceration, when the grapes soak in their own juice before fermentation. Blanc de blancs Champagne is made only from Chardonnay while blanc de noirs is only from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The grapes for vintage Champagne that show a year on the label were harvested from one year only, while non-vintage Champagne are grapes and wines blended from many years. While Vintage Champagnes age well, non-vintage bubblies are meant to be consumed within a year or two of purchase while they still have their fruit freshness. Many producers outside of the Champagne region use this process and grapes to make their bubbly and often put méthode traditionnelle on their label. The words Champagne and méthode champenoise may not legally be used by producers except those from Champagne itself. Bubblies made in Burgundy, France, are called Crémants de Bourgogne while those from Alsace are Crémant d’Alsace. Spain makes Cavas (“cave”), Italy makes either Prosecco (lightly sparkling) or Spumante (fully sparkling and sweet), Germany makes Sekt or Deutscher and those from New World regions, such as Canada, California, Australia and elsewhere, are simply called sparkling wine. Some bubblies outside of Champagne are made from a cheaper and quicker carbonation process, during which bubbles are injected into the tanks of fermenting wines. This method doesn’t create wines with the same refinement and nuance as the Champagne method. The bubbles tend to go flat quickly. Drink bubbly from a flute glass that preserves its bubbles and concentrates its aromas. (Forget those old coupe glasses molded to the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breasts.) Signature bubbly aromas include toast, yeast, fresh-baked bread, green apple, lemon, lime and orange zest. Sparkling wine is one of the most versatile wines with food because of its zesty fruit aromas, mouth-watering acidity and palate-cleaning bubbles. Pair dry styles with quiche, spring rolls, almonds, canapés, brioche bread, Brillat Savarin cheese, goat cheese, chicken with creamy sauces, fried chicken, chicken tika, sashimi, Thai coconut shrimp, pasta with cheese-based sauce, caviar, crab, shrimp, clams, oysters, lobster, halibut, swordfish, scallops, seafood risotto, tuna with rosemary & citrus, nachos, potato chips, pretzels, onion rings, scrambled eggs with truffle oil, avocado salad, guacamole, pâté, grilled cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese, turkey, charcuterie, veal piccata, salad nicoise and vegetarian casseroles. Sweet bubbly (doux or spumante) goes well with curries, fruit flans, cobblers, biscotti, nuts, soft cheeses, Christmas pudding, lemon soufflé, mille feuilles, pavlova and tiramisu.

Steely

Steely wines are high in acidity, well-balanced and firmly structured. These wines are often described as taut or lean.

Stemmy

A stemmy wine results from leaving the grapes in contact with the stems too long during fermentation. It will taste harsh, bitter and astringent. These wines are also referred to as “stalky” or “green.”

Structure

Structure refers to the interplay and balance among the following characteristics in wine: flavor, acidity, alcohol and tannin. (Tannin is often less a factor in white wines, especially those that aren’t aged in oak.) If one of these elements dominates, the wine is not well-structured. However, when these elements are balanced with each other, the wine has good structure. It will likely age well for years, as each element develops in proportion and knits together with the others.

Sweet

Generally, this depicts a wine with high sugar content. Desirable for ice wines and other dessert wines. The sweetness should be balanced by acidity and alcohol to be good.

Syrah

Shiraz and Syrah are both originally from the same clone, but various regions have chosen one name or the other. They both create rich, robust wines with a smooth texture and signature aromas of spice, pepper, clove and licorice leading, followed by dark fruit such as blackcurrant, blackberry, plum and black cherry, as well as truffle, earth, violets, vanilla, smoke, sandalwood, cedar, cigar box, earth and leather. The greatest of these wines can age for 25 years or more. The grape was originally believed to be from Persia, now Iran, from the city of Shiraz, but has since been proven to be indigenous to France, where more than half the world’s Syrah vines are planted. The legendary wines of the Rhone Valley’s Côte Rotie and Hermitage are made from 100% Syrah. Syrah is also part of the blend in other Rhône wines, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape that often includes Grenache, Mouvèdre and up to nine other grapes. This wine is also the flagship red wine of Australia, where it’s called Shiraz (easier to pronounce than Syrah), and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Australia’s Barossa Valley is particularly famous for its complex, multi-layered Shiraz. It is also becoming South Africa’s leading red. California grows it successfully in Paso Robles where it’s usually called Syrah. Shiraz and Syrah pair with robust dishes such as grilled meats and vegetables, beef stew, meat lover’s pizza, barbecued ribs and hamburgers, beef wellington, bison steak, brisket, meatloaf, peppercorn steak, grilled or spice-rubbed chicken, chicken sausage, fajitas, ostrich, game casseroles, venison stew, braised lamb shanks, barbequed pork spareribs and Mexican Mole.

T

Tannic

A wine is called tannic when it has perceptible levels of tannin, a naturally occurring preservative that’s essential to a wine’s long life. Tannin is found in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes as well as in the wood of barrels often used to age reds and some whites. Young tannins can feel unpleasantly dry and gripping in the mouth.

Tannin

Found in grape skins, seeds 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.

Tart

A wine with a high degree of acidity that still tastes in balance with other elements, such as fruit flavor or sweetness, is described as tart. Too much acidity and we criticize the wine as harsh or even sour.

Tawny port

A wood-aged style of port. 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.

Tempranillo

Lush in texture, low in tannins, this grape has an affinity for oak. It’s renowned in Spain’s Rioja region and is very much in vogue today.

Terroir

At its simplest, the word mean “soils”, but winemakers use it to refer to the unique combination of differing types of soil, climate, drainage, elevation, topography and position of a vineyard.  These elements give a wine its flavor and character.  Some may argue it even includes the people who help to produce the wine as each person adds his or her own personality or character.

 

Texture

The way the wine feels in the mouth. Is it silky, velvety, rounded, or smooth?

Tired

A tired wine is uninteresting, old and dull. It has oxidized and the taste long since peaked, much like a wine writer who has been at his craft too long and is grumpy in all his assessments.

Toasty

Toasty describes a wine that smells or tastes like toast. This characteristic comes from the wine’s contact with the inside of a charred oak barrel.

U

Ullage

The small pocket of air in the bottle between the top of the wine and the cork.

Underripe

A description of the flavor when grapes fail to reach optimum maturity on the vine.

V

Varietal

A wine named after the grape from which it is made.

Varietal wines

Any wine that takes its name from the predominant grape variety. This is common in the New World, but in Europe wines are usually labeled with the place name.

Velvety

A velvety wine has a smooth, silky, lush texture and is often rich in flavor.

Vendange 

The French word for harvest or vintage.

Vendage Tardive

The French word for Late harvest.

Vigneron/Vigneronne 

The French words for winegrower.

Vigorous

Firm, lively fruit, strong body; assertive flavor.

Vin

The French word for wine.

Vin de pays (french)

Country wine of a level higher than table wine.

Vin de table (French) 

Table wine. Law quality wine.

Vin doux naturel (French)

A fortified sweet wine.

Vin ordinaire (French)

Basic wine not subject to any regulations.

Vinegary

Having the smell of vinegar. It is a fault in wine.

Viniculture

Viniculture, also known as enology or oenology, is the study of making wine and of the grapes produced for the purpose of making wine.

Vinification

The process of making wine.

 

Vintage

The year that the grapes were picked to make the wine, usually indicated on the label. The vintage is important in cool climates, such as France, Canada and Germany, where the weather varies significantly from year to year. In warmer climates, such as Australia, Chile and California, it’s of less importance since the climate is more consistent and hospitable to grape growing.

Viognier

Viognier’s home is France, especially in the northern Rhône Valley regions of Condrieu and Château-Grillet (the latter has just ten acres and one owner), where it’s the only white grape used and produces magnificently fragrant, voluptuous and expensive wines. It’s also grown in Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence, Australia, Brazil, California, Oregon and Washington. The grape is difficult to grow because its prone to mildew and produces small yields. If left to overripen, it will have a bland, winery taste and high alcohol. Signature aromas include ripe apricots, orange blossoms, peaches, mango, pineapple, guava, kiwi, tangerine, honeysuckle, spring blossoms, musk and acacia. Viognier often has a viscous, opulent, creamy texture, even without oak aging. With oak aging, it also has notes of butter, cream, oak, smoke, tobacco and toast. Late-harvest and dessert styles have deeply ripe tropical fruit aromas. Viognier is as intensely aromatic as Gewürztraminer and suffers the same problem of being difficult to pronounce. To wit: VEE-ohn-yay. Viognier is often blended with other white grapes, such as Marsanne, Rousanne, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Sometimes, Viognier is blended with Syrah in the Rhône Valley’s Côte Rotie or with Shiraz in Australia to soften the red wine and to give it an aromatic lift. This “seasoning” of about five percent of Viognier also helps stablize the wine’s color and enrichs its texture. Viognier is best consumed young, no more than three to four years after its vintage date before its heady, hedonistic fragrance fades. The exceptions are those made in the Condrieu and Château-Grillet, which can age for decades because they’re aged in oak for several months before bottling. Pair Viognier with mild curries, grilled fish, scallops, shrimp glazed ham, grilled chicken, oily nuts such as macadamias and cashews, Emmental cheese, chicken in a ginger or orange sauce, turkey tetrazzini, chicken korma or tika, fried food, sashimi, sushi, lamb tagine with raisins, almonds and honey, butternut squash risotto, pork chops, smoked ham, tarragon, lobster thermidore, carrot soup and roast vegetables.

Viticulture

Viticulture is the science of grape growing, which includes the cultivation of grapes and their vines.

Volatile, Volatile Acidity (VA)

The smell of acetic acid and/or ethyl acetate. It is quite disagreeable when excessive though a tiny amount may enhance aromas.

W

Weighty

Strong, powerful, full-bodied, and forceful.

Wein

The German word for wine.

Wine

An alcoholic beverage produced by the fermentation of the juice of fruits and berries, but usually grapes.

Woody

An excessive aroma of wood, common to wines aged too long in cask or barrel.

X

Xérès

The French name for sherry and the town of Jerez in Spain.

Y

Yeast

A micro-organism that converts the sugar to alcohol in a process known as alcoholic fermentation.

Yield

The amount of fruit any given vine or vineyard produces.

Young

Simple wines signifies youthful freshness. In finer wines, young refers to immaturity.

Z


Zinfandel

These famous grapes of California produce wines with a vibrant berry character.