The wineanorak's glossary of
This new feature is very much a
work in progress: while it's already quite comprehensive, there are more terms
to add, more cross-links to insert and a whole bunch of links to articles
elsewhere on this site to complete. I've tried my best to make this accurate,
readable and engaging, and although it's designed for people with no prior
knowledge of wine I hope that serious geeks will find it of some use. Comments are
welcomed. Jamie Goode
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 volatile organic acid often encountered in food, this is the main acid
responsible for the flavour of vinegar. From this you'll have gathered that it
is not a desirable component of wine. If you leave a bottle of wine open for a
couple of weeks, a bug called Acetobacter will turn the alcohol into acetic acid, and you'll have
Used as an adjective to describe sharp or sour flavours. Acidity is a vital
component of wine: it helps red wines keep their colour and gives white wines
their balance. Too much acidity, and a wine is tart and unpleasant; too little
and the wine is 'flabby' and uninteresting. Grapes start out with high
concentrations of organic acids which then disappear as the grapes ripen;
consequently, in warm regions it is common practice to add acids to the
unfermented grape juice to counter the lack of them in the grapes. In contrast,
winemakers from wretchedly cool areas, such as parts of Germany and the UK,
often have to deacidify.
(see also: article on acidity is the
Wine is one of the few foodstuffs that can improve with age, and this is
also one of its key fascinations. The longevity of different types of wine is a
complex and inexact science: real wine bore territory! Given good cellaring
conditions (cool, stable temperature is key among these) fine red wines will
improve for many years after release, as will Vintage Ports and certain sweet
and dry white wines; indeed, some wine styles (such as classed growth clarets
from a good vintage) only begin to show what they are capable of after a decade
in the cellar. But most everyday wines are best drunk on release.
Commonly used term for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, C2H5OH.
It is the product of the fermentation of sugars by yeast. It doesn't taste of
anything, but has profound biological effects, which most wine drinkers are no
doubt familiar with. As well as the acute effects of alcohol on the nervous
system (i.e. drunkenness), the products of alcohol metabolism also have effects
on the body. The pathway of alcohol metabolism in the body involves the
progressive oxidation of alcohol to acetate via acetaldehyde, the toxic molecule
largely responsible for hangovers.
Don't be put off by the shape of the bottle! Alsace, in northwest France,
produces some delicious full flavoured white wines from grape varieties such as
Gewürztraminer, Tokay Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner.
Although these wines aren't cheap, they are generally good value because quality
is often high. This is the only region of France that routinely labels wines by
grape variety. (see also: tasting
notes on Alsace wines)
The French are great bureaucrats, and a wine with Appellation Contrôlée (AOC)
on the label will have had to have met a whole host of regulations regarding
grape variety, maximum yield, minimum ageing and so on. However, this doesn't
mean that what is in the bottle will necessarily be of any interest. (see
also: article on
appellations as brands)
Ranking fifth in the list of global producers, Argentina produces a lot of
wine, most of it destined for the thirsty locals. As the attention of producers
has turned to the more fussy export markets, there has been an increased
planting of better varieties and a general increase in quality. Watch out for
gutsy reds from the Malbec grape, which thrives in Argentina, and also aromatic
whites from the indigenous Torrontés variety. (see also: tasting
notes of Argentinean wines)
The smell of a wine. Fussy wine pros sometimes distinguish between aroma
(the smell of young wines) and bouquet (more complex whiffs that come from
A French term for the process of making a wine by blending the component
parts. In old world wine regions this might mean mixing together different
barrels containing wine from portions of the same vineyard; in Australia it
might involve blending wines from regions thousands of miles apart.
Unflattering tasting term describing an unpleasant, dry, mouth-puckering
sensation usually caused by excess *acidity or bitterness. The excessive tannins in young, overextracted
red wines are the usual culprits.
German term that means literally 'selected harvest'. It is one of the
sweeter official quality levels in German wine. To reach the legislated sugar
level, individual bunches of very ripe -- sometimes *botrytis
affected -- grapes are selected at harvest time. The wines usually taste rich
and sweet, but some trocken Auslese
wines are fermented to dryness.
Wine-buff speak for a wine that is a bit too severe or restrained on the
palate. Usually uncomplimentary, although some young wines destined for greater
things may be 'austere' in their youth. Commonly used to describe young *clarets.
The last decade has been boom-time for the export-driven Australian wine
market. Australia produces approachable, full-flavoured and good value wines
that have taken the UK market by storm. One of the keys to this success has been
Australia's ability to produce reliable, fruity, full flavoured wines in
industrial quantities, while at the same time small producers concentrating on
quality have made world class wines exhibiting true regional character. Of the
red grapes, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon hold pole position, and of the whites,
Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling all do well. Leading quality regions include
the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, Margaret River and Mount
Barker in Western Australia, the Yarra Valley and Rutherglen in Victoria, and
the Hunter Valley and Mudgee in New South Wales. Although prices have been
creeping up over the last few years, Australian wines are still hard to beat for
Austria makes some excellent dry white wines from Riesling, Grüner
Veltliner and Chardonnay grapes. Despite their quality, these wines are poorly
known abroad, mainly because of the healthy local demand. The Neusiedlersee
region also produces some stunning sweet white wines that are usually affected
by noble rot.
A wine is balanced when all the component parts, such as *tannins,
*fruit, *acidity and possibly
sweetness, are correctly matched and in harmony, and none stands out
inappropriately. It's a bit of a subjective call.
A huge bottle that contains a ridiculous 12 litres of Champagne, which is
the equivalent of 16 bottles. You'll most likely need some help drinking one of
The process of fermenting grape juice in small oak barrels. Especially when
the barrels are new, this can add complexity and oak-derived flavours to the
finished wine. Normally done with white wines only (because red wines are
fermented together with the skins, pips and sometimes stalks: gunk which would
be hard to remove from a barrel), and commonly precedes ageing in oak. Somewhat
counterintuitively, wines that are fermented and aged in oak pick up less
apparent oak flavours than wines that have only been aged in oak.
A 225 litre small oak barrel of the type originally found in Bordeaux, but
now used throughout the world. When barriques are new they add a pronounced
flavour to the wine, and even old barrels will have an affect on the wine
through exposing it to small quantities of oxygen.
Sounds a bit risqué, but actually it is the French term for the entirely
innocent practice of *lees stirring.
A technical term for measuring the approximate sugar concentration in grape
juice through assaying total dissolved compounds. The degrees Baumé is an
indication of the final alcoholic strength of the wine if it is fermented to
dryness. Sometimes you'll find technical notes on the back of a wine label
giving the degrees Baumé when the grapes were harvested.
A pretty region just south of Burgundy, Beaujolais makes fresh, fruity but
sometimes rather simple red wines from the Gamay grape. The use of the
winemaking technique *carbonic maceration helps
to preserve the fruitiness of the wines. The image of Beaujolais has been
somewhat devalued by the flood of largely thin, dull Beaujolais Nouveau that
hits our shores in the November following the vintage, but at their best these
are fun, joy-filled wines for early drinking.
Believe it or not, some wine producers go through their vineyards and select
individual grapes to make wine from; Beerenauslese is the German term used to
describe this, and means literally 'selected berries'. These grapes will be
over-ripe, and usually affected by *botrytis.
This rather fanatical practice results in luscious, complex and very expensive
sweet white wines. A similar selection is carried out by the better producers of
botrytised wines in the Loire and Sauternes regions of France.
It is surprising that Biodynamism has become so widely accepted in wine
circles, because the underlying principles are extremely weird. Biodynamics is a
sort of highly refined version of organic agriculture blended with loopy, semi-occultic
spiritual principles, and it has been adopted by a number of high profile wine
growers such as Lalou Bize-Leroy of Burgundy and Nicolas Joly and Noel Pinguet
of the Loire. It is based on the teachings of an Austrian eccentric, Rudolph
Steiner, who began the movement back in the 1920s, and vineyard interventions
are governed by such factors as the alignment of the planets and position of the
moon. Bizarre liquid applications and the 'ashing' of pests are other aspects of
a such regimes. However, although these principles contravene just about every
known scientific law, biodynamic producers seem to make some excellent wines. No
one knows why. See also: feature
series on biodynamic wine.
A collection of wine bottles stacked on top of each other. Hence the term
'bin end' sale, when a merchant gets rid of their last few bottles of a
A clever winemaking trick often used by quality conscious producers, known
also by the French term of 'saignée'. Red wines gain their colour and *tannins
from the contact between grape juice and skins during fermentation. So in order
to increase the ratio of skins to juice, some producers 'bleed' off some of the
juice before fermentation. The juice bled off in this fashion can be used to
make rosé wine with, because it will be slightly pink.
Opinions are divided about the value of this practice, which involves
tasting a wine without knowing its identity. Many consider it to be the fairest
way of assessing a wine; others think that wines need to be assessed in light of
their background, and that this context is important. Single-blind tasting is
when you know the identity of the wines in the tasting, but their identities are
masked; double-blind is when the identities are hidden and you don't know which
wines are in the tasting. See also: understanding
a wine: where blind tasting fails and blind
tasting tests: compulsory for wine writers?
Tasting term describing the weight of the wine in the mouth. A full bodied
wine will have good concentration, lots of alcohol and plenty of *extract;
a light bodied wine won't. The full bodied wines tend to get all the attention
in big tasting events and competitions, even if they aren't the sort of wines
you'd necessarily want to spend an evening with.
Are you rich? Then you might like to explore Bordeaux, the world's most
famous wine region and home to some of the world's most aristocratic wines. But
you'll need to have deep pockets, because there is no getting round the fact
that Bordeaux is expensive. The easiest way to understand Bordeaux is to split
it into the left and right banks of the Gironde estuary, around which this huge
region is arranged. On the left bank are the Médoc and Graves regions, which
produce some of the most celebrated wines in the world from Cabernet Sauvignon,
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. At the top of the price and
quality pyramid are the *classed growths from the appellations of St Julien, Pauillac, St Estèphe,
Margaux, Pessac Léognan and Graves. On the right bank are found St Emilion and
also the tiny appellation of Pomerol, which is home to super-expensive 'cult'
wines such as Petrus, Lafleur and Le Pin. As if this was not enough, the
Sauternes region, just south of the Médoc, produces stunning sweet white wines.
However, fine wines such as these only represent a tiny proportion of the output
of Bordeaux: as well as producing some of the world's greatest wines it also
makes some of the worst. Each year a wine-lake full of thin, hard, miserable
wines flows from many of the lesser properties, much of it finding its way onto
supermarket shelves. The generally poor value for money of these wines has
devalued the image of Bordeaux in the eyes of many consumers. In fact, it's hard
work finding an interesting wine from Bordeaux that costs less than a tenner.
A fungus that infects grapes, causing them to rot. Scientific name Botrytis
cinerea. If it attacks unripe or damaged grapes, it is a disaster. But this
particular cloud has a silver lining. In certain wine regions, notably Sauternes
in Bordeaux, Vouvray, Bonnezeaux and Coteaux du Layon of the Loire, Tokay in
Hungary, Burgenland in Austria and various regions of Germany, Botrytis attacks
ripe, healthy white grapes, causing them to shrivel. These disgusting, mouldy
looking grapes yield small quantities of extremely concentrated juice that is
then used to make sublime sweet white wines of great complexity and longevity.
This benevolent form of Botrytis is also known as *noble rot
in English, pourriture
noble in French and Edelfäule in
German. What sort of flavours should you expect in a botrytized wine? There is
often the tang of thick-cut marmalade, together with apricot-like flavours. The
texture will be rich and viscous, and although the wine will be sweet, in good
examples there will also be plenty of acidity to give balance. Because of the
risk associated with producing these wines and the low yields involved, these
wines will be expensive, but the Australians are now producing delicious,
affordable botrytized wines from grapes that have artificially been seeded with
fungal spores. Innovative, eh?
A wine-buff term for the smell of a wine. Some old-school tasters reserve
use of this term for the special aromas that develop with bottle age.
Have you ever had a wine that tasted of a mixture of farmyards, cheesy feet
and animal poop? The chances are, this wine was infected by the yeast-like
fungus Brettanomyces (often abbreviated to just 'brett'). It is often
encountered in red wines from warm regions such as the South of France. In small
doses can add complexity, but in higher concentrations is thought to be a fault.
Once present in a winery Brettanomyces is quite difficult to remove.
See also: feature article on
A picture-language tasting term. In common with many descriptors for taste,
it is hard to give a precise definition for this, but imagine a wine that has
flavour and aroma elements that peak across the whole spectrum of tastes and
smells, and you've got yourself a 'broad' wine.
French word meaning 'bone dry' in *Champagne. Not really used for other
Refers to the time in Spring when the dormant vine starts to produce its
first new shoots. It's a nervous time for growers: the new buds are extremely
vulnerable to frost, which has the potential to wipe out the entire year's
production in the vineyard.
The most export-focused of the ex-Eastern bloc countries, Bulgarian Cabernet
Sauvignon took the supermarkets by storm in the 1980s, offering juicy,
blackcurrant-laced wines at bargain prices. The wine industry seemed to lose its
way a bit after the collapse of Communism, but there are still plenty of
value-for-money Bulgarian wines on the market, the reds in general being more
successful than the whites.
One of the world's classic regions, the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir,
but a total minefield for consumers. The heart of Burgundy, known as the Côte
d'Or, is a narrow band of gentle hillside, encompassing some 60 small
appellations. There are four different quality levels: regional (e.g. Bourgogne),
village wines (e.g. Meursault, Santenay or Gevrey-Chambertin), premier cru and
grand cru. But it is not as simple as this: because of French inheritance laws,
vineyards are commonly divided into small plots, each worked by a different
grower. To add to the confusion, some growers make their own wine, others sell
their grapes to a négociant, and some négociants even have their own vineyard
holdings. Because of the extreme variation in vineyard practice and winemaking
competence, one vigneron's basic Bourgogne blanc may therefore be better than
another's premier cru from a famous vineyard site. This is what is most
infuriating about Burgundy: wines from the better vineyards are always
expensive, but you may pay a lot of money and still get a poor wine. On the
other hand, pay very little, and you'll certainly end up with a poor wine. The
key to success in purchasing Burgundy is therefore knowing who the better
producers are. At its best, white Burgundy is the greatest and most long-lived
expression of the Chardonnay grape, combining complex smoky, toasty, buttery,
nutty and mineralic elements with firm acidity that holds everything together.
And Pinot Noir reaches its zenith in red Burgundy, making exotic, perfumed red
wines commonly with hints of undergrowth or mushrooms. To the north of the Côte
d'Or, lies the Chablis region, which makes lean, steely white wines of variable
quality from the Chardonnay grape. To the south lies the Mâcon region, which is
notable for its inexpensive and often good value crisp, lemony white wines, also
made from Chardonnay. See: tasting notes of
Taste term for the rich, creamy characters often found in barrel-fermented
Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic
It is easy to forget that as recently as 1933, Prohibition was still in
place in the USA. Since then, California has made tremendous strides and was the
first of the New World wine regions to compete with the classic French regions
both in terms of quality, and more recently price. Most wines are labelled
according to the variety, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel (California's
'own' grape variety) and Merlot are the main red grapes, and Chardonnay is the
key white. Of the various wine regions (now more than 20), Napa and Sonoma lead
the quality stakes, but are being challenged by upcoming regions such as the
Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Ynez Valley. In contrast, the hot Central Valley
produces enormous volumes of dull jug wine. Because of the strong domestic
demand and the fact that American wine geeks are usually quite wealthy, the best
Californian wines are hard to obtain and inevitably expensive. In fact, the
leading Californian Cabernets now cost more than first growth Bordeaux, and the
top Chardonnays match the prices of their counterparts in Burgundy. From the
consumer's point of view, this is unfortunate, because the quality is often
See: tasting notes of wines from California
Process widely used in *Beaujolais where uncrushed
grapes are allowed to begin fermentation in a protective atmosphere of CO2.
What happens is that the largely intact grapes begin fermenting inside their own
skins, which produces light, fruity reds for early drinking. Now commonly used
throughout the world to make gluggable red wines with lots of fruit and not too
Spanish fizz made using the traditional champagne
method. Rarely excites, but can offer good value for money.
A taste term. Mature Bordeaux often smells of cedar
Wine is fragile and needs to be treated with care. Wise counsel suggests it
should be kept away from high temperatures, direct light, large temperature
swings and vibration, although there's a lack of scientific evidence about how
these different environmental conditions affect wine and precisely which the
critical parameters are. Humidity is also thought to be important to stop the
cork drying out.
French term for grape variety.
Slightly naughty winemaking trick in which the
alcoholic strength of a wine is increased by the addition of sugar to crushed
grapes before fermentation takes place. Can be useful if your grapes aren't ripe
enough. Occurs commonly in Beaujolais, Bordeaux and Burgundy, although the best
producers will often shun this practice. Named after the Frenchman who invented
the process, Jean-Antione Chaptal.
Are you looking for attractive, fruity wines with
bags of fruit, but at budget prices? Chile could be the place for you. Chile's
specialty is inexpensive but flavour-filled wines from the international
varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These
are now rapidly filling up the supermarket shelves in the wake of the Aussie
wines that have recently moved to a higher price bracket. At the high end, more
ambitious Chilean producers have tried to compete in the fine wine market by
making aspiring, high-end wines, but while these display stunning fruit
intensity they seem to lack some of the complexity of the established old-world
classics. The key wine regions include Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, Maule and trendy
Old-fashioned English term for red wines from the
Removable of insoluble material from wine, usually
through fining agents or filtration. Is that clear enough?
A literal translation from the French term, cru
classé, that describes a property or Château included in the famous 1855
classification of *Bordeaux, and the subsequent reclassifications that have
occurred since. There are five different tiers to this classification: the
first, second, third, fourth and fifth growths. These are the aristocratic wines
of Bordeaux, and command high prices.
A wine which doesn't have any off-flavours or taints
is called 'clean'. Most wines on the market these days are 'clean'
A wine that doesn't smell much. Many fine wines go
through a 'closed' or 'dumb' period as part of their development.
Have you ever opened a bottle, and instead of clean,
fruity aromas found that it smells of mouldy cellars and damp cardboard? This is
what a corked wine smells like. Contrary to popular opinion a corked wine is not
one that has bits of cork floating in it (this is totally harmless, fish the
bits out and the wine will be fine); instead, it is a wine that has been
contaminated by a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). The human nose is
extremely sensitive to this contaminant (it can be detected at concentrations as
low as parts per trillion!), which is a result of a chemical reaction between
chlorine and cork. It is a major problem, spoiling between 2% and 7% of all
wines, depending on who you listen to. This is why artificial corks are
increasingly being used, especially on inexpensive wines not destined for
ageing. The degree of cork-taint can vary, but you'll find that almost all
retailers will replace a corked bottle without question if you return it.
also: articles on cork taint
French term for 'slope'.
French term for vineyard, often translated as
Transferring a wine from its bottle to another
container, most commonly a decanter. There are two main reasons for decanting.
First, bottle-aged red wines commonly have a lot of crud at the bottom, and
careful decanting separates this from the wine. Second, decanting exposes the
wine to air¾lets
may or may not allow the wine to express itself more fully. Received wisdom
states that tannic young wines 'open out' (smell better) when they are decanted,
although attempts to demonstrate this effect in blind tastings have largely been
unsuccessful. Still, whether or not decanting is beneficial for a wine, the
whole ceremony is immensely satisfying and probably worth doing just for the fun
French for medium dry.
Champagne making is a complex process. First the
wine is fermented, and then a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.
After this, the plug of dead yeast cells is removed, and the wine is topped up
with wine and sugar syrup¾the
dosage. The sweetness of the final *Champagne is determined by the dosage used.
A German oddity made by crushing frozen grapes that
have been deliberately left on the vine until winter, when they are picked on
the first really freezing night. The juice that is released is
super-concentrated and the resulting wines are extremely sweet. Because of the
extreme hassle required to make these wines, they are vastly expensive. Making
eiswein is seen as the pinnacle of the producer's art: a sort of winemakers
pissing contest. Note that unlike
most other expensive dessert wines, the grapes used will not have been affected
by *noble rot.
Literally, the 'bringing up' or 'raising' of a wine,
a French term that can encompass making, maturing and bottling a wine.
Selling method in which substantial amounts of the
output from the leading Bordeaux properties (notably the *classed growths) are offered for sale before they have even been
bottled, in the summer following the vintage. Buying en primeur is often the
only way to get hold of sought-after wines from good vintages at anything like a
reasonable price; otherwise the advantage of tying up your money in wines you
have never tasted and which you won't see for two years is less clear.
Technically, this refers to the amount of dissolved
solid material in a wine, and it's usually a term reserved for red wines. In
tasting, a concentrated red, with a big structure might be described as 'highly
extracted': wines that are so dense that you could eat them with a spoon.
'Over-extracted' is used as a criticism of a wine where the winemaker has tried
just a bit too hard and made a clumsy finished product.
Yeasts do a really useful job: they eat up sugar in
grape juice and excrete alcohol. This is called fermentation, and without it all
wine would be sweet and alcohol-free. Just like grape juice.
The removal of suspended solid particles in a wine
by passing it through a filter. It can be a useful alternative to allowing the
solid particles to settle naturally, thereby speeding up the winemaking process,
or it can be used in cases where the wine won't clear naturally. But it is a
controversial practice. Opponents to filtration claim that it strips out some of
the flavour, and marketing people consequently use the term 'unfiltered' to help
sell wines that haven't been treated in this way.
A process used to remove suspended solids from a
wine in order to make it 'clear'. Fining agents include dried blood, casein,
clay and egg whites. As you can guess, some of these substances can cause
problems for vegetarian or vegan wine drinkers.
A much-abused tasting term. It refers to the
flavours left in the mouth after you have swallowed or spat out a mouthful of
wine. For example, a finish can be alcoholic, bitter, hot, dry, acidic, short or
long. But some people the concept too far: examples exist where tasters have
timed the 'finish' of a wine in seconds. This is absurd.
A dry, light style of *sherry that has a distinctive
salty, tangy flavour that comes from being aged under a layer of yeast cells,
called a 'flor'. Although these are usually 15% alcohol or above, they make
quite good food wines due to their dry, savoury character. But beware a bottle
of fino that has been sitting opened in Auntie's sideboard for four months: this
style needs to be drunk young, and once opened a bottle must be treated in the
same way as any dry white wine.
The five elite properties of the Medoc and Graves
regions of *Bordeaux: Latour, Lafite, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux,
which were picked out as 'Premier Cru Classé' in the 1855 Bordeaux
Classification (actually, Mouton Rothschild was promoted from a second growth in
the 1970s). These wines have an iconic status, and they are horribly expensive.
A word used to describe a wine that doesn't have
enough acidity to balance the other elements. Buttery Chardonnays with rich
tropical fruit flavours from warm-climate regions are most likely to show this
sort of character, especially if they are a few years old.
Next time you are taking a stroll through chalk
downland, reach down and pick up two mid-sized flints. Bang them together hard,
and take a sniff: this is the smell that in wines is referred to as 'flinty',
and it's often used to describe young Chablis.
Much maligned breed of mainly Australian winemakers
who, in their off season, fly off to somewhere in Europe and make wine the 'new
world' way out of the indigenous grapes of the region. Beloved by supermarket
wine buyers, they often produce clean, fruity, unexciting but inexpensive wines.
Traditionalist view them with disdain as cultural imperialists.
Port and sherry are the two most famous fortified
wines. With Port, grapes are crushed and allowed to ferment a bit, and then
spirit is added to produce a sweet, alcoholic wine. With sherry, fermentation is
completed and then spirit is added.
This is a bit of a techie term that often appears on
wine labels. When grapes are harvested and crushed, the juice that drains from
the unpressed grapes is called free-run juice, and typically constitutes about
two-thirds of the total juice the grapes will yield. It is usually
better quality than the stuff that is later pressed out of the mush of
Refers to the grape varieties produced in France
that are the result of crossing the classic European varieties with American
species of vines. These hybrids have much of the hardiness and disease
resistance of the American vines but the wine quality generally isn't great.
The French eat lots of fatty foods, yet they have
less heart disease than you'd expect from all this seemingly unhealthy diet.
This phenomenon is known as the French paradox, and one proposed explanation has
been that wine consumption, which is high in France, is protective against heart
See also: article on
wine and health
Tasting term for a wine (usually white) that is
clean, possibly aromatic, light bodied and with good acidity. The sort of wine
that you'd want to chill down and glug on a summer's day.
Technically, grapes are a fruit. It should come as
no surprise, therefore, that some wines are described as fruity. Modern
winemaking techniques help bring out the fruit character in wines that
previously would have been much less attractive.
Imprecise taste term usually reserved for older
wines that exhibit smells and flavours associated with damp undergrowth,
mushrooms, well hung pheasants and unwashed farmers' feet.
German wines have got a grotty image in the UK, and
this doesn't look like it will change in the near future. This is largely due to
Germany's main export consists of huge volumes of sugar-water Leibfraumilch,
made from the high cropping but dull Müller-Thurgau grape variety -- real Alan
Partridge stuff. This is a shame, because the better German wines, made from one
of the world's great white grape varieties, Riesling, offer wonderfully fresh,
intense citrus flavours, often with a touch of sweetness to counter the
naturally high acidity. Another potential obstacle to the consumer is decoding
the labels, which often have a bewildering array of impossibly long German words
on them. The four key components are the quality level (Tafelwein, Landwein, QbA,
Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese), the
producer (they vary in quality), the region and the grape variety (Riesling is
the one to watch out for): it's all very complicated.
See also: tasting notes on German
This may sound a bit fussy, but using the correct
style of glass is really important if you want to get the most from your wine.
The basic requirements are that the bowl should be big enough that there's
enough room above the wine for the aromas to be captured, and that the rim is of
a smaller diameter than the widest part of the bowl¾a tulip shape is ideal. The thinner the rim, the
better. The most famous manufacturer of glasses is the Austrian firm Riedel¾they make a whole range of glasses, each supposed to
be optimized for a certain wine style, but all fiendishly expensive. Fortunately
there are good, cheaper alternatives.
A couple of hundred years ago, if you wanted to
plant more vines things were pretty simple. You just took a cutting, stuck it in
the ground, and you'd have a new vine. Then came *phylloxera, an aphid that likes to munch on vine roots and which
worked its way through the vineyards of Europe in the last century with
devastating effect. As a result, vineyards had to be replanted with vines
grafted onto rootstock from American vine varieties, which make crappy wine but
which are resistant to phylloxera. Almost all commercial vineyards are now
planted with grafted wines the notable exception being the wine regions of
Mention Greek wine and people chuckle about their
bad experiences with Retsina. But this is unfair. Greek wines are undergoing a
renaissance, and as a holidaymaker you'll be presently surprised to find that
even the dingiest tavernas now sometimes serve fresh, crisp white wines and
fruity, herby reds in a very modern style. There are also a number of ambitious
producers making some interesting wines that are now finding their way onto the
A negative tasting term for a wine that tastes
youthful, unripe, raw and acidic. A good example of a 'green' wine would be a
cheap Loire red from a mediocre vintage such as 1998, or just about any
supermarket Claret costing under £4. Why the term 'green'? Well, just imagine
taking a fresh green leaf and chomping on it¾these are the sorts of flavours you'll get.
The grotty feeling experienced the morning after
drinking too much. There are two important components: dehydration, and the
build up of the primary breakdown product of alcohol metabolism, acetaldehyde,
which is toxic.
A negative tasting term for a wine has a tough
tannic structure, perhaps also with high acidity or bitterness, and very little *fruit
to provide balance. Such wines are joyless bottles, unpleasant to drink.
Hardness can be contributed by unripe grapes, too long a maceration, or
overextraction. However, all is not necessarily lost, because some wines
destined for long ageing often start out tasting 'hard' in their youth, and then
mellow with time. A good example of a hard wine might be a young Barolo, from
Piedmont in Italy.
Next time you mow the lawn or trim your hedge, take
a good sniff of the cuttings. The neighbours may think you're crazy, but the
smell you'll pick up, which is usually described as herbaceous, is commonly
found in red wines, especially those made from slightly unripe Cabernet Franc or
Merlot grapes. It doesn't sound very appealing, but herbaceousness in a wine is
not necessarily a fault, unless it is so prominent that it becomes out of
balance. You'd be most likely to encounter this odour in full bodied *Loire reds
(they are made from Cabernet Franc), inexpensive Chilean Merlot (the expensive
stuff is usually riper and thus doesn't display so much herbaceousness) or any
cheap Claret with a reasonable proportion of Merlot in the blend.
This small (126 Ha) hillside appellation in the
Northern Rhône region of France is famous for being the home of the Syrah grape
(aka Shiraz). Because the wines are usually of high quality and very little is
made, they are invariably expensive. These dense, perfumed red wines need years
to reach their best, and from a good vintage they'll go on improving for
decades. A little bit of white wine is made from Marsanne and Roussanne, and
these can also be very long-lived.
Another name for a small oak barrel (see barrique),
used to ferment or mature wines in.
A country with a great wine tradition, and home to
one of the world's classic wine styles, the botrytised dessert wine Tokaji, which is currently undergoing a
renaissance spurred by foreign investors. However, the Hungarian wines you will
most likely to encounter will be the increasing band of inexpensive varietal
wines, often made by flying winemakers,
that line the supermarket shelves. Quality is a bit patchy, but there are some
bargains to be had.
Grape vines need water, and if there isn't enough of
it in the environment, it is necessary to supply this artificially, by
irrigation. Although it is frowned upon in European wine regions, used carefully
it can be used in the production of high quality wines.
One of the world's great wine nations, Italy
produces more wine than any other country, and the thirsty Italians also drink
more wine than anyone except the French. From the north to the south, Italy has
a profusion of wine regions, each of quite different character. Indeed, the
myriad of unfamiliar grape varieties, wine styles and regions can appear
confusing to the uninitiated. The northern region of Piedmont makes Italy's most
long lived and expensive red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, from the Nebbiolo
grape. This region is also responsible for tasty and more affordable reds from
the Barbera and Dolcetto grapes. In
the north east, the Veneto region churns out lots of Valpolicella (a light,
cherry-laced red) and Soave (crisp, often watery white), as well as some
intriguing wine made by part drying the grapes before fermentation (Amarone and
Recioto). In the centre, Tuscany is home to Chianti (variable quality reds made
primarily from Sangiovese), Chianti Classico (much more consistent), Brunello di
Montalcino (rare, expensive reds from a special strain of Sangiovese) and the 'Supertuscans'
(high-end, aspiring wines made largely from non-local grape varieties). But
perhaps the best value for money in Italian wine is to be found in the new wave
of wines coming from the southern regions of Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily.
A negative tasting term. It's good for wines to be
fruity, but jammy wines are those that taste of baked, cooked or stewed fruit,
which is unappealing. This usually happens when grapes have been grown in areas
which are just too warm for that particular variety. You'll most likely find
this in wines made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in hot climate regions, which
invariably have a jammy character.
An enormous bottle holding 4.5 litres in Bordeaux
(that's the equivalent to six normal bottles) or 3 litres in Champagne (four
bottles' worth). Either way, you'll probably need to invite some friends round
to help you drink it!
The main acid present in yoghurt, and which is also
found in varying quantities of wine. It is much softer in flavour than the other
two main acids in wine, malic acid and tartaric acid. After alcoholic
fermentation, most red wines and some white wines undergo a malolactic
fermentation, in which lactic acid bacteria transform the harsher-tasting malic
acid into lactic acid. The result is that the wine tastes softer and less
acidic. For instance, a lemony, acidic Chardonnay that undergoes malolactic
fermentation will taste fatter, softer and more 'buttery'. The choice to allow
or prevent malolactic fermentation is therefore quite an important decision in
the making of white wines.
Plural 'lagares'. A shallow stone trough
traditionally used for the foot-treading of grapes. They are still in use in
some regions of the Douro, in Portugal. In Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine there is a wonderful old picture of some chaps
crushing grapes in a lagar without a stitch of clothing on. I believe they wear
shorts these days.
An instant turn-off to most aspiring wine geeks.
Supermarket Lambrusco is usually a semi-sweet, bland, fizzy concoction, low in
alcohol and designed to appeal to those who don't really like wine: yours for £2.29.
You probably didn't know this, but Lambrusco is actually a red Italian grape
variety, and the best examples are dry, slightly fizzy, rustic red wines with
high acidity, best with food. Anyone with an interest in wine should shun the
standardized white alcopop Lambrusco, and seek out the traditional styles.
Traditionally the region that made the largest
contribution to the European wine lake, churning out millions of litres of
inexpensive table wine. Over the last couple of decades, things have begun to
change, and many producers have begun to shift their focus from quantity to
quality. The best wines are made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes, and
sub-regions such as Faugères, Pic St Loup, Montpeyroux, Minervois, St Chinian
and Corbières are leading the field in terms of quality. The best producers
make robust, full-flavoured earthy red wines that offer good value for money.
If you see a wine labelled as 'late harvest' it
means that the grapes were harvested later than normal, and thus with a higher
sugar level. The wine will probably be quite sweet, although in some cases may
have been fermented to dryness, in which case the potential alcohol will be
higher. The French term for this is 'vendange tardive', in German it is 'spätlese'.
Rather quaint term for cellaring wine, referring to
the fact that bottles to be kept must be stored on their side in order to keep
the cork moist.
Tasting term referring to a wine that has high
acidity and not much fruit.
Dreadfully subjective red wine descriptor that's
really hard to pin a definition on. In some cases this will refer to the texture
of the wine, indicating that a wine is tough and chewy, but in others it may be
used to describe a wine that smells of old leather. Who's to know which?
The gunk that settles at the bottom of a
fermentation or ageing vessel. This consists of dead yeast cells, grape skin
fragments and other insoluble material, and if the wine is left on the lees for
a while, it can encourage *malolactic
fermentation and add complexity to a wine. If you want to get really
technical about this, there are two sorts of lees. The initial gunk that is
deposited is quite crude and is called the gross lees. The wine is usually racked
off this into a fresh container, in which it will deposit what are known as fine
lees. You don't want to leave a wine on its gross lees for very long (and you
certainly don't want to do *lees stirring with
the gross lees), because this may result in the dead yeast cells dissolving
themselves, producing a reductive
environment in which any sulphur traces will result in the development of
hydrogen sulphide, which reeks of rotten eggs and worse.
A snazzy winemaking trick in which the gunk at the
bottom of a barrel is wiggled around with a stick (hence the French term for
this, bâttonage). It is usually reserved for white wines that have been *barrel-fermented,
and can add a creamy richness and complexity to the wine.
This large region in Northern France is a source of
diverse and fascinating wines, and because it is overlooked by most wine lovers,
prices are very reasonable. Reds, mainly from Cabernet Franc, can be an acquired
taste, but the varied styles of white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin
Blanc are often stunning. Arranged along the course of the Loire river, starting
from the West the region encompasses the appellations Muscadet (bone dry, acidic
whites), Anjou, Coteaux du Layon (sweet Chenin blanc-based whites, often with *botrytis),
Samur, Bourgueil (lean, herbaceous reds), Chinon (leafy, raspberry-laced reds),
Vouvray (Chenin blanc-based whites, ranging from bone dry to sweet and *botrytised),
Touraine (racy, inexpensive Sauvignon blanc), Sancerre (classic bone dry whites
from Sauvignon blanc) and Pouilly-Fumé (bone dry, aromatic Sauvignon blanc).
There are also a host of smaller subregions, each making their own styles of
Long or length
One of the most widely abused wine tasting terms.
Technically, a wine with good 'length' is one whose flavour persists in the
mouth. In practice, some tasters use a judgment of 'length' as an addendum to
their tasting notes to reinforce their preferences and prejudices. Thus a
diehard *claret drinker of the old
school may finish his tasting note on his favourite *classed growth with the words, 'Displays great length'. The same
taster, describing a top-notch Californian Cabernet may end his note with,
'Finishes a bit short'.
When someone uses this term, what they're trying to
say is, 'I'm fabulously wealthy'. Heck, I can hardly afford claret with dinner.
Red winemaking process in which tannins, pigments
and flavour compounds are released from the grape skins in the fermentation
vessel. Fermentation is usually over pretty quickly with red wines, so many
winemakers like to leave the wine in contact with the skins for longer; this is
known as extended maceration and results in deeper coloured wines. Even flashier
is the process called cold maceration, in which grape skins and juice are held
at low temperature: the theory is that this results in the extraction of a
better class of molecules from the skins. The deeper colour and enhanced
structure that results from extended maceration must be weighed against the risk
of extracting bitter or unpleasant compounds from the skin -- known in the trade
as 'over-extraction'. See also *carbonic
Machine harvesters pass through the rows of vines
literally beating the individual grapes off the vines with rubber paddles, which
are then collected and separated from the non-grape material for transport back
to the winery. It may not be as romantic as teams of pickers working their way
through the vines, but in relatively remote regions of Australia and New
Zealand, where casual labour is scarce, it is the only way to pick the grapes.
There are two other advantages: harvesting can be done quickly when the grapes
are at peak ripeness, and in hot regions it means the grapes can be picked at
night, to preserve their freshness.
1. A gun. 2. A type of delicious ice cream. 3. A big
bottle that holds 1.5 litres of wine, equivalent to two full bottles. Rather
fun, and wine in magnums is supposed to age better than in standard 75 cl
An acid found in high concentrations in unripe
grapes, it has a tart, sharp flavour. It is lost as the grapes ripen, which is
one reason why wines from very warm climates often have a low natural acidity
and can taste *flabby. It is also lost
through *malolactic fermentation
during the winemaking process.
The conversion of the tart, sharp malic
acid into the softer, less harsh
lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria, which takes place after alcoholic
fermentation. An important winemaking decision in the production of white wines
is whether to allow this to take place, and if so, to what degree. A Chardonnay
that has had full malolactic fermentation (known in the trade simply as 'malo')
will taste soft and buttery; one which has had no or only partial malo will be
crisper and fresher, with sharp lemony acidity.
The solid stuff left after pressing grapes, which is
also used to describe the spirit made from distilling this.
Large-format bottle that holds an enormous six
litres of Champagne (eight bottles' worth). Go on, impress your friends. Let's
hope it isn't *corked, though.
French term which translates as 'mellow', but in the
context of wine means sweet or medium sweet. You'll often find this term on
bottles from the Loire.
The mixture of grape juice, stems, pips and skins --
and to a lesser degree, dead insects, bits of leaves and other crud -- that
comes out of the grape crusher. Sometimes used more generally to refer to
unfermented grape juice.
Think of damp cellars, think of mouldy potatoes at
the bottom of the bag, think of railway arches -- these smells can be described
as musty, and when you encounter mustiness in a wine, it could well be because
it is *corked.
You'll often names of people in the wine trade
followed by the words MW. This stands for Master of Wine, and indicates that
these dedicated individuals have passed the gruelling professional exams set by
the Institute of Masters of Wine. Only a few hundred people have so far gained
this demanding qualification.
French term for someone who deals in wines.
Commonly, small growers who lack the facility to make wine will sell their
grapes to a négociant, who then makes, bottles and markets the wine.
A term used to describe wines from non-European
regions such as Australia, California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New
Famous for being home to the world's most
startlingly aromatic expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. A good example
from the Marlborough region of New Zealand will show a remarkable flavour array
of gooseberries, elderflower and freshly cut grass, with grapefruit-like
acidity. In addition, New Zealand also produces good-quality Chardonnays. The
red wines are not usually up to the same standard, with the notable exception of
Pinot Noir, which excels in the Martinborough region. See also: tasting
notes of New Zealand wines
Imagine the following scenario. It's almost harvest
time, and your vines have lovely healthy bunches of ripe white grapes hanging
off them. Then, after a succession of damp misty mornings the grapes are
infected by a fungus called Botrytis, with the result that they shrivel up and
go all furry. A disaster? Quite the opposite. This is what is known as noble
rot, and although the grapes look disgustingly inedible, infected bunches yield
small quantities of concentrated juice that produces some of the world's most
complex, sublime and long-lived sweet white wines. What sort of flavours should
you expect in a wine affected by noble rot? There is often the tang of thick-cut
marmalade and apricots. The texture will be rich and viscous, and although the
wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of acidity to
give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these wines and the
low yields involved, these wines are invariably expensive, but the Australians
are now producing delicious, affordable botrytized wines from grapes that have
artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative, eh?
1. The thing between your eyes on the front of your
face. Your nose gives you much more useful information about the characteristics
of a wine than your tongue. 2. Another term for the smell, aroma or bouquet of a
Oak barrels are an important and complicated
variable in the production of the majority of serious red wines and an
increasing number of whites. Many white wines, and in particular Chardonnays,
are fermented in small oak barrels. This adds some complexity to the wine, and
also imparts toasty, nutty and vanilla-like flavours to the wine, especially
when the barrels are new. Red wines are rarely fermented in barrels, but will
often spend a lengthy period of ageing in them. Barrels allow a small amount of
oxygen to come into contact with the wine, thus accelerating the development of
more complex flavours, and when new oak is used, the wine picks up flavours of
vanilla and spice and tannins from the wood. Different effects can be achieved
depending on the type of oak used (commonly French or American, but Portuguese
oak is quite different and is commonly used in Portugal, and Slovenian oak is
often used in Italy). The quality of the wood used is important, as is the size
of the barrel. It all gets rather complicated. Oak barrels are expensive,
though, and for cheaper wines the effects of barrel fermentation and ageing are
simulated by the use of oak chips or even used barrel staves bolted to the
inside of stainless steel tanks. This practice is illegal in some more
traditional wine-producing countries, and as you might expect, results can be
A pejorative taste term for a wine that has been
given too much oak treatment, perhaps through unsuitable ageing in new oak
barrels. An oaky wine will usually taste and smell of freshly sawn wood, or may
have sweet vanilla flavours. Like many taste judgments, it is a bit of a
subjective call: people differ in their tolerance for oaky wines.
You'll often find the term 'old vine' (in French 'vieilles
vignes') on the label of a wine; it's becoming an increasingly popular marketing
term. There is no legal definition, but it's usually used to refer to wine made
from grape vines that are over 30 years old. Older vines, so the story goes,
produce fewer grapes but those they do produce are of a better quality than
fruit from younger vines.
Catch-all term referring to wines from the classical
European wine regions.
A dark, nutty, rich form of sherry that takes most
of its flavour from long ageing in an oak cask. Most are dry, although sweetened
versions do exist, in which case this will be indicated on the label.
A term describing a commonly encountered wine fault,
caused by the exposure of a wine to oxygen, which eventually turns the alcohol
to *acetic acid. Net result is
vinegar. Yuk. A mildly oxidized red wine will have a brownish colour, with high *volatile
acidity. A mildly oxidized white wine will have a deep yellow/gold colour
and unappealing flavours of butterscotch and coffee, perhaps also with some
volatility on the nose. The most common cause of oxidation is cork failure,
letting air into the wine, although white wines intended for early consumption
that have been cellared for too long will also display these characters to
Remember using litmus paper at school? This measures
pH, which is a scale for assessing acidity. The lower the pH (red litmus paper),
the higher the acidity; neutral pH is 7 (green litmus paper) and higher than 7
is alkaline or basic (blue litmus paper). Most wines have a pH of between 3 and
4, so they are acidic. Nowadays, the use of litmus paper has largely been
superseded by snazzy pH meters which give a digital readout.
A truly nasty aphid that just about wiped out the
vineyards in Europe in the second half of the last century. Phylloxera has an
insatiable appetite for the roots of grape vines, and once a vineyard is
infected there is no cure, except for ripping the vines out and replacing them
with the plants that have been grafted onto resistant rootstock from native American vines, which have strong roots but
make crappy wine. As a result, all the vineyards in Europe, with a few minor
exceptions, consist of grafted vines. Debate rages about whether the classic
wines pre-phylloxera were better than those made today, although there is no
evidence that Cabernet grapes, for example, from grafted and ungrafted vines are
any different in quality. Chile and Argentina are currently free of phylloxera,
and still have ungrafted vineyards.
A really nasty vine disease caused by a bacterium
carried by an insect called the sharpshooter. It is currently causing havoc in
Californian vineyards, but fortunately hasn't yet spread to Europe.
The Portuguese are thirsty people, ranking fifth in
terms of per capita consumption. This creates a strong domestic demand for the
fascinating wines that Portugal produces. For those bored with the flood of
'international' style Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, Portugal is a happy
hunting ground of obscure grape varieties and unusual flavours. Its wines are
also often good value for money. The Douro valley, in the north, is home to the
Port industry, making *fortified wines
of varying styles, and increasingly good table wines from the same terraced
hillside vineyards. Other regions such as Bairrada, Dão and the Alentejo are
producing some exciting wines from traditional varieties. At the bottom end,
there's still a lot of rustic plonk being produced, but there's now a growing
band of quality minded properties making some serious wines.
See also: tasting notes of Portuguese wines
A device used to squeeze juice out of grapes. Most
modern devices use an inflatable bladder; older devices called basket presses
are still encountered. Some producers think that these give better results and
will advertise their use on the label.
The solid gunk left over after squeezing all the
juice out of crushed grapes.
An unpleasant process popular during the Spanish inquisition (though not with non-Catholics, apparently).
These days the word is more likely to be used to describe a fundamental
winemaking operation in which the clear wine is separated from the accumulated
crud at the bottom of a barrel or fermentation vessel.
An obscure tasting term that describes the pungent
smell of a (usually fortified) wine that has been intentionally oxidized or
exposed to heat. Examples of wines showing rancio include some Madeiras or
Australian liqueur muscats.
Another of the big Champagne bottle sizes, this one
holds 4.5 litres (six bottles' worth). Enough for a quiet celebration with a
couple of friends.
You'll often find the term 'reserve' on the label of
a bottle, as it is a term used throughout the wine world. There is no formal
definition of what makes a 'reserve' wine: producers usually use this to
indicate a wine that is made from selected grapes or has been given lavish oak
Another statistic you might find on the back of a
wine bottle. It refers to the amount of sugar left over after fermentation and
is given in grams per litre. Below 2g/l, the wine will taste bone dry. Bear in
mind that the perception of sweetness is altered by the other flavour elements
in a wine, such as acid, tannin and fruitiness.
This important French wine region can neatly be
divided into two. The Northern Rhône is the home of the Syrah grape (aka
Shiraz), which makes full flavoured, meaty, structured red wines in the
Appellations of Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie and St Joseph.
White wines are also produced, the most well know of which is Condrieu, made
from the exotically flavoured Viognier grape. Because quantities of wine
produced in the Northern Rhône are small and quality is good, prices are
invariably high. In contrast, the warmer Southern Rhône produces a huge amount
of wine, much of it inexpensive Côtes du Rhône from the Grenache grape. More
ambitious are the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and
Rasteau, which are often of very good quality.
Romania has a great tradition of wine production,
stretching back thousands of years, and thanks to a large-scale state-driven
replanting programme in the 1960s now has the fifth largest area under vine in
Europe. Yet in common with other Communist countries, emphasis was on quantity
rather than quality, and the few bottles of Romanian wine you are likely to
encounter on shop shelves in the UK will tend to be cheap and a bit plonkish.
However, given the ideal grape growing conditions that exist in Romania, there
is the potential for better things in the future.
Because of the consequences of the deadly root
disease phylloxera, most vines in commercial vineyards are now grafted onto a
suitable American variety (these are resistant to phylloxera). The precise
choice of rootstock is a critical viticultural decision, as they all have
A taste term. A less extreme variant of green.
French term for 'dry', as in the opposite of sweet.
A fortified wine from Jerez, in southern Spain. It comes in many different
styles, most of which are dry. Fino is fresh and tangy and needs drinking as
soon as it is opened - and ideal match for tapas. Amontillado styles are richer
and nuttier, and Oloroso is darker with complex raisiny, nutty flavours. Pedro
Ximenez is the sweetest style: rich and viscous with immense raisiny sweetness.
A system for ageing sherry, consisting of a series
of barrels (known as butts), arranged next to and top of each other. It's all
rather complex, but in simplest terms when wine is drawn off for bottling from
an old barrel, this barrel is then topped-up with younger wine from another
barrel. Thus, if a solera was set up 100 years ago, the wine that is bottled
today would technically contain some wine that was 100 years old.
Emerging from the shadow of Apartheid, South Africa
is increasingly making better wines which usually represent good value for money
at all levels on the quality scale. Although South Africa is classed as a new
world region, wines it produces are often nicely poised between the new
world and old world in style. Look out for reds from South Africa's 'own'
variety, Pinotage, which makes striking gamey and earthy-tasting wines, often
with a savoury, cheesy edge to them. The most famous regions are Stellenbosch,
Paarl and Constantia, although cooler regions such as Walker Bay are beginning
to attract attention.
Sparkling red/sparkling Shiraz
A wonderfully Australian invention. Take red grapes,
most commonly of the Shiraz variety, and instead of making a full bodied red
wine, vinify them like you would Champagne,
producing a fizzy, frothy red wine, usually with a touch of residual sugar to
offset the tannins. Well worth seeking out, you'll either love them or hate
Surprising fact: Spain has a greater area under vine
than any other country, although because the yields from these vineyards are
generally low, it only ranks third in the list of wine producers. In the north
west, the cool damp region of Galicia produces some fresh aromatic whites from
the Albariño grape, and Rueda is beginning to produce tasty, modern whites from
Verdejo and Sauvignon blanc. Otherwise, Spain is largely known for its red
wines. Rioja, with its attractive, sweetly fruited and oaky reds, is probably
the most famous region, but not the best. This accolade is currently being
fought over by Ribera del Duero (rich Tempranillo-based reds) and Priorato
(small quantities of dense, mineralic wines from low yielding Grenache and
Carignan planted on steep terraces). Other regions that deserve a mention are
Navarra (easy drinking rosé and full flavoured reds), Penedés (the home of
Cava), Somontano (modern varietal wines from the foothills of the Pyrenees),
Jumilla (chunky Mourvèdre-based reds) and La Mancha (the vast central plain
that produces largely plonk). Spain is also known for sherry: its stunningly
unique and undervalued fortified wines from Jerez.
A German term for late harvest. The Germans love
rules, and there are a stack load of regulations that wines labelled spätlese
must satisfy. Suffice to say, all the consumer needs to know is that these wines
will probably have a touch of sweetness, usually with good balancing acidity,
unless they are labelled 'trocken', in which case they will be dry and fresh.
A tasting term that is a close relative of sappy and
green, usually used to describe young, raw red wines.
A popular tasting term for the elements of a wine
that confer longevity, mainly *tannins
and *acidity. Most Bordeaux style reds
will have in their youth a structure mainly comprised of tannins, both from the oak they have been
matured in and also the
If you find these words on a wine label, it means
that the wine was aged on the lees: the gunk at the bottom of a barrel or tank
that consists mostly of dead yeast cells. It can add complex, yeasty flavours to
a white wine. See also *lees stirring.
Collective name for a bitter, astringent group of
chemicals that are found in skins, pips and stems of grapes, and also in the oak
barrels that are commonly used to age wine in. Take a young, dark monster of a
red wine and swish it around your mouth. That bitter, tongue curling,
tooth-coating, drying sensation you get is from the tannins. Tannins are used in
the leather-making industry to turn cow hide into shoes, belts and posh sofas,
so no wonder it feels like tough young wines are turning your mouth into
leather! However, even though this description doesn't sound too appealing,
tannins are a vital component of red wines. They contribute structure, which in
turn facilitates ageing and thus the development of the complexity that comes
from long-term cellaring. And without tannins to counter the fruit, most red
wines would taste flabby and unbalanced.
Not a dance, but an obscure cross between a
Portuguese grape variety with the Sultana grape, that is sometimes used in
Australia to make simple, fruity red wines with piercing acidity.
The most important grape-derived acid in wine.
Sometimes you'll find little crystals at the bottom of a bottle of wine: these
are crystals of tartarate salts, and they are harmless and flavourless. Because
some uninformed consumers worry when they find these in their wine, many
producers subject wine to low temperatures before bottling (a process called
cold stabilization) to precipitate the tartarates out.
An abbreviation for the chemical trichloranisole,
which ruins an enormous amount of wine every year (see *corked).
Imagine that on your property you have three
vineyards, one that has a clay-based soil, one that has a gravelly soil, and one
that has chalky soil. Each of these vineyards is planted with the same grape
variety, and the grapes are all handled the same way in the winery. Yet when you
taste the finished wines from each site, each will have its own unique
characteristics. Terroir is a French term which refers to exactly these
site-specific differences in wines that are caused by factors such as soil
types, drainage, local microclimate and sun exposure. Debate rages about the
importance of terroir versus the role of the winemaker, and also exactly how
factors such as soils influence the flavour of the wine.
German term for 'dry'.
If you ever buy old fine wines, you'll be interested
in the ullage level: it refers to the loss of wine from the bottle with time¾the
gap between the cork and the surface of the wine. It can vary widely, even
between bottles from the same case, and terms like 'low neck' and 'high
shoulder' are used to describe it. These descriptors will probably become less
important as a combination of digital photography and the internet will mean
that prospective purchasers will soon be able to actually see the condition of
any bottles they are interested in.
If you paid attention in biology lessons at school
you'll recall being taught that there are four basic tastes: sweet, salty,
bitter and sour. It turns out that there are in fact at least five, and the
Japanese have known this for ages. Sake blenders in Japan long ago identified a
fifth taste, which they called 'umami' (translated this means 'deliciousness'),
and scientists have shown that this is the taste of monsodium glutamate, picked
up by glutamate receptors on the tongue. Now you know. Some wines have 'umami'
If you detect the scent of vanilla in a wine, it's a
tell-tale sign that new oak (and in particular American oak) has been used at
some stage in the wine making process.
A wine named after the single grape variety it was
made from. This consumer-friendly practice began in earnest in the USA in the
1950s and is now so popular that the majority of wines from the new
world now have the grape variety on the label.
A big container for fermenting, ageing or storing
Portuguese grape variety, originally from Madeira
but now becoming popular in the Hunter Valley of Australia, where it produces
fresh lemon and melon flavoured dry white wines.
French term for *old vines.
Posh term for winemaking.
Tasting term used for wines that are thick,
heavy-textured and concentrated. Sweet wines made from grapes that have been
affected by *noble rot are commonly
A wine fault describing a wine with an unpleasant,
vinegar-like nose, caused by *acetic acid
a volatile acid that is a result of the oxidation of alcohol. Known in the trade
as simply VA. All wines have a tiny bit, but too much and the wine is vile.
1. Underpaid, dedicated, hard-working journalists
who write about wine. 2. A device for extracting juice from crushed grapes.
A handy microorganism, without which we wouldn't
have bread, beer or wine. Yeasts eat the sugar in grape juice and excrete
alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste products. They keep going until all the
sugar is gone, or until the alcohol level reaches about 16%, at which point they
die. The selection of the appropriate yeast strain -- or indeed the decision
simply to allow fermentation to occur with the wild strains of yeast that live
on the grape skins -- is an important choice in winemaking.