by Richard Grant Peterson, PhD
Acetic acid: The primary natural acid of vinegar. In trace amounts acetic acid can occur in wine without being considered a defect. But if present in large amounts, the wine is spoiled. See V.A.
Acidity: The sour or tart taste in wine and other food. The primary natural acid in grapes and wine is Tartaric acid; the second most abundant is Malic acid. Sometimes referred to as the “backbone” of a wine, acidity contributes to a wine’s aging ability. The sour taste of acidity in wine is often pleasantly counterbalanced by sweetness (from sugar or alcohol).
Advection Fog: Fog which forms in shallow horizontal layers when warm, moist air is cooled from below, usually by passing over cold water. This type of fog is typical along west coasts of the world’s continents in summer. California, Australia, Chile and France are example wine growing regions whose climate is tempered by advection fog, which greatly improves their wine quality.
Aftertaste: The “shadow taste” remaining in your mouth just after swallowing a sip of wine. Important in wine tasting because it can reveal an extra attribute or fault.
Aging: Term describing the storing of wine under certain specific conditions for the purpose of improving the wine. Aging of wines (usually reds) for long periods in oak barrels adds oak-flavor and makes the wine more complex. After bottling, further aging in sealed bottles develops a pleasing taste and odor characteristic called “bottle bouquet.” Bottle bouquet usually begins to develop in bottled wine three or four years after bottling, and develops in both red and white wines.
Alcohol: Many different compounds in nature are classed as “alcohols” chemically. In wine only one exists in significant amounts: ethyl alcohol, or “ethanol.” Other alcohols, if present, occur only in minute amounts and are usually thought of as flavor components. Ethyl alcohol adds a sweetish taste to wines, or a hotness if present in too high a concentration. Conversely, if its alcohol content is too low, a wine may be thin, unbalanced and lacking in body.
Aleatico: A wine grape usually used for sweet dessert wines because of its pungent, Muscat-like flavor. The Italian Vino Santos are made from this variety.
Alicante Bouchet: A red wine grape, originally from Spain, used in France’s Burgundy region to add color to Burgundy blends when necessary. Also used in some central California table wines for the same purpose. Alicante wines often lack flavor and the wines are generally of lower quality and price.
Aligoté: A white wine grape used in various blends in many countries but best known for its fruity, light wines from Burgundy in France.
Alliers: Forested region in central France from which come oak barrels of the same name. The Departement of Alliers contains the forest of Troncais. The wood is generally tighter-grained than oak from other regions.
Altus: A town in western Arkansas for which the state’s primary viticultural area takes its name.
Amador: Name of the primary viticultural county in California’s Sierra foothills. The area is best known for Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc wines.
American Hybrids: Grape varieties which did not occur in nature but were produced in America by crossbreeding (usually crosses between one or more native American varieties and one or more European traditional wine varieties).
American Wine: The category name for any wine produced in any state from grapes grown in that state or from a combination of grapes grown in more than one state. The term is usually used to denote blended wines of nonspecific origin.
Ampelography: A book that describes the structural characteristics of various varieties of grape vines. Used for identification of vine varieties in the field.
Amontillado: A type of Spanish sherry, medium in color and sweetness between Fino (light and dry) and Olorosso (heavier and sweet). Amontillados are known for a distinctively nutty flavor not possessed by the other Sherry types.
Amphora: A distinctively shaped jar that was used for storing and transporting wine in Greek and Roman times. Many have been recovered from the Mediterranean floor in perfect condition by modern divers, some still containing traces of the wine or oil they once held.
Angelica: A sweet dessert wine, usually amber in color and lacking in distinctive flavor. It is produced from “any variety or every variety” in California because it often is the final repository for odds and ends of leftover lots of wine. Historically sold as a Sacramental wine for the Christian rite of communion.
Aperitif wine: Any wine served before a meal. Traditionally, aperitifs were vermouths and other similar wines flavored with herbs and spices.
Appearance: A term used in sensory evaluation of wine to describe whether a wine is crystal clear (brilliant), cloudy, or contains sediment. In this context, appearance has nothing to do with color.
Appellation controlee (AC/AOC): French wine laws that dictate which varieties can be planted in specific regions, certain production methods, etc. These tight controls are not a guarantee of quality, unfortunately.
Appellation: A term used to describe the vineyard location where the grapes were grown for a specific wine. It can refer to a broad region, such as Napa Valley in California or Bordeaux in France. Or, it can refer to a more tightly defined sub-region like Oak Knoll within Napa Valley or Médoc within Bordeaux. Wine snobs often proclaim that wines grown within certain highly regarded appellations have a higher quality than similar wines grown elsewhere. Experienced tasters know that this is not necessarily true.All grapes, as all wines, grown within any certain appellation are not necessarily superb; neither are they necessarily plonk. Nevertheless, wines from certain appellations usually sell at higher prices than do similar wines from “lesser” appellations, regardless of how you or I might rank them. Personally, I believe that the producer’s name is a better indicator than appellation to tell you whether the wine in an unopened bottle will turn out to be good or bad.
Appley nose: A tasting term that describes an aroma in wine reminiscent of fresh apples. Most often this character is limited to white table wines, usually Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc.
Aramon: A European wine grape best known not for its wine quality but for its original use as a parent in producing the hybrid rootstock AXR-1. AXR-1 was the predominately used rootstock in California’s coastal counties during the mid to late 1900’s until a new biotype of the Phylloxera root aphid appeared. That biotype was able to attack and kill AXR-1 grapevines, and AXR-1 is no longer recommended for use in commercial vineyards.
Argols: Name given to raw cream of tartar crystals found in chunks adhering to the inside walls and bottoms of wine tanks. Historically, the primary source of the world’s cream of tartar used in cooking and manufacturing has been this by-product of wine production.
Aroma: Smell or fragrance from wine that has its origin in the grape — as opposed to “bouquet,” which has its origin in the processing or aging methods.
Assemblage: The blending together of component wine lots to form a final composite intended for bottling, for aging, for sparkling wine production or some other use by the winemaker. The word is also used to name the formal membership conclaves of the wine fraternity “Knights of the Vine.”
Astringency: Sensation of taste, caused by tannins in wine, which is best described as mouth drying, bitter or puckery.
Atmosphere: Unit of measure for pressure inside a bottle of Sparking Wine or Champagne. 1 Atmosphere equals 14.7 pounds per square inch (the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level in the world). Commercial sparkling wines commonly contain 4 to 6 atmospheres of CO2 pressure at room temperature.
Aurore: (uh-róar-uh) Hybrid grape variety produced in the 19th century by French nurseryman Albert Seibel and still used, especially in the eastern U.S. for sparkling wine production. Sometimes spelled aurora.
Auslese: German word meaning “selection.” In German wine law, auslese has a specific meaning which requires that the wine be made only from selected bunches of grapes, riper than those bunches that were discarded.
Australasia: Australia and New Zealand, taken together.
Axil: see leaf axil.
Bacchus: Roman god of wine. Not to be confused (though it often is) with Dionysus, who was the Greek god of wine before the age of Rome.
Baco Noir: A French hybrid wine variety, used primarily in the eastern U.S. for dry, red table wines.
Bacterial: A tasting term often used by wine judges to describe wines with unpleasant, but ill defined off odors or flavors.
Baking: In wine this term refers to the process of producing “Sherry” by deliberately oxidizing a wine through heating and aerating it for a period of several weeks. It is not uncommon for the process to take place over a 4 to 6 week period at 135 degrees F (57 degrees C).
Balance: A subjective term used in wine evaluation. A wine in which the tastes of acid, sugar, tannin, alcohol and flavor are in harmony is said to be in balance.
Balling: The name of a density scale for measuring sugar content in water solutions. Since grape juice is primarily sugar and water, the balling scale was used for a quick and easy “sugar analysis” of juice. The original Balling scale contained a slight inaccuracy however. Dr Brix (pronounced bricks) discovered that and corrected it. Today the Brix scale is in actual use, but the terms Balling and Brix often are spoken of as if they were identical. The Balling (Brix) scale is simplicity itself: Each degree is equivalent to one percent of sugar in the juice. For example, grape juice that measures 15.5 degrees on the Balling or Brix scale contains approximately 15.5% sugar.
Banyuls: The most famous dessert wines of France (if Sauternes and Barsac are not included as dessert wines). Banyuls wines are similar to light tawny Port.
Barbera: A wine grape best known for producing red wines in the Piedmont district of Italy. It is also grown in other countries and is used as one of the best red varieties in California’s central valley. It also excels in many of the vineyards of Amador County in California.
Barolo: A big, dark, tannic and heavy red wine grown and produced near the town of Barolo in the Piedmont region of Italy. Often seen as one of Italy’s best table wines, Barolo is made from the Nebbiolo grape. The best Barolos are given considerable age prior to release for sale.
Barrel fermenting: The act of fermenting white grape juice in barrels instead of using the more usual stainless steel tanks. Red wines are never fermented in barrels because of the necessity to ferment red wines in contact with the grape skins. It is virtually impossible to move grape skins in and out of a barrel through the small bunghole and nobody attempts to do that a second time.
Barreling down: The act of placing a wine into barrels and sealing them for aging.
BATF: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms – the U.S. federal agency that historically collected alcohol taxes and administered wine regulations. After the insane terrorist attacks of 9-11-01, BATF was reorganized to deal primarily with firearms control, leaving wine regulations under the control of the Tobacco and Tax Bureau (TTB).
Baumé: A system for measuring the sugar content of grape juice by its density. It is not easy to use because the numbers aren’t easy to handle: Each degree Baumé is equal to approximately 1.75% sugar in the juice.
Bead: A colloquial term referring to the bubbles that float in groups on top of a fermenting wine or Champagne/Sparkling Wine in the glass.
Beaune: The “hub” City in Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune district.
Beerenauslese: Literally, “berry selection” in German. Beerenauslese wines are made from grapes that are picked individually rather than a whole bunch at a time. All grapes on a cluster or “bunch” do not normally ripen at exactly the same rates. Berry selection allows the winemaker to make superb wine by insuring that every grape berry is at optimum ripeness. Obviously, Beerenauslese wines cannot be cheap (unless, of course, they are stolen).
Bentonite: A purified natural clay that is used in fining white wines for the purpose of correcting heat instability. When stirred into a white wine, the Bentonite particles quickly glom onto the larger molecules of protein in the wine, collecting them as the Bentonite settles to the bottom of the wine tank. Later, the act of removing the Bentonite from the tank by racking or filtration removes the excessive protein from the wine. It was these larger proteins in the wine that had caused heat instability, so Bentonite treatment corrects the original heat instability of the wine. Bentonite is never used for red wines because the red pigments of wine tend to stick to the Bentonite also. Heavy Bentonite use in red wine would effectively destroy the red color of the wine.
Berry: Common name given to an individual grape.
Biblical Wine References: The Bible mentions wine no less than 191 times according to The Commonsense Book of Wine, by Leon Adams. The references in both testaments often admonish the reader to use wine, but use it properly and not to misuse it. “Forsake not an old friend, for the new is not comparable to him. A new friend is as new wine: when it is old, thou shalt drink it with pleasure.” Ecclesiastes 9: 10. “Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make men drunk. Wine used with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart.” Ecclesiastes 31: 35-36. “Drink no longer water but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.” I Timothy 5: 23.
Big: Subjective tasting term that refers to a heavily flavored, often tannic and alcoholic wine.
Binning: Storage of newly bottled wine or Champagne in bins — for bottle aging prior to labeling and shipping to market.
Bitter: Subjective tasting term. Bitterness usually comes from excessive tannin in wine and is sensed by taste buds along the sides of the tongue at the extreme back.
Black rot: Fungus disease of grape vines. Kills ’em dead, too.
Blanc de blancs: A Champagne or Sparkling Wine term referring to white wine made from only white (usually Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc) grapes.
Blanc de noir: A Champagne or Sparkling Wine term referring to white wine made from black (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or, ahem, Wrotham Pinot) grapes.
Blending: Combining two or more wine varieties, wine types or wine lots for the purpose of correcting (or covering up) some deficiency in one of them. Also, to improve the final blend by a harmonious addition of some other wine which can add a desirable feature to the combination.
Bloom: The grape flower, or blossom. The term also refers to the time of grape flowering in the spring.
Bloom: The grayish, powdery film that occurs naturally on grapes in the field, and which contains wild yeast and dust. Brush your finger across the skin of a ripe grape and you’ll see this bloom easily.
Body: A tasting term referring to viscosity, thickness, consistency, or texture. A wine with “body” often has higher alcohol or sugar content than others. Tannin, also, is a major component of what we call “body” in wine.
Botrytis: Short for Botrytis Cinerea, a fungus that grows naturally on the skins of certain grapes as they ripen on the vine under specific autumn conditions. Botrytis growth concentrates both the sugar and acid inside grapes by making them shrivel and dry up — without spoiling the juice! Botrytis is called “noble rot” because it can turn ordinary wine grapes into precursors of great and luscious dessert wines. Botrytis is responsible for the super sweet “Trokenbeerenauslese” Rieslings and the wonderful dessert wines of Sauternes.
Bouquet: Smell or fragrance in wine that has its origins in the wine production or aging methods. This is in contrast to Aroma, which comes not from aging or handling, but from the grapes themselves.
Brandy: The alcoholic liquid obtained from distillation of wine.
Breathing: The act of allowing a bottle of wine to stand for a few minutes to an hour or so after pulling the cork but before serving it. It is often noticed that wines which exhibit off odors or tastes when first opened may be improved by air exposure prior to serving. Experienced tasters claim that very old bottles of red wines should always be opened an hour prior to serving the wine. Aeration may be enhanced by pouring the newly opened wine into a pitcher with splashing prior to replacing the wine into the bottle. Very young wines rarely need air contact and aren’t usually allowed to breathe before being consumed.
Breeding: Snobbish term referring to the parentage of certain wine grapes. Yep, it finally happened: wine grapes are bred like race horses. Er, that is, not exactly like that but you know what I mean. See Hybrid.
Brilliant: A sensory evaluation term to describe a wine that is crystal clear and absolutely free from sediment or cloudiness.
Brix: Pronounce this word to rhyme with bricks, not the ‘pree’ of Grand Prix. Degrees Brix is the unit of measurement for density, or soluble solids in ripening grapes. Since sugar makes up nearly all the soluble solids in fresh grape juice, and soluble solids give the juice its density, any measure of the density of the juice is also a measure of the “sugar content.” So, the simple act of measuring the density of juice is equivalent to doing a much more complicated chemical analysis of the sugar content in the juice! A reading of one-degree Brix equals one percent sugar in the juice. See Balling.
Brut: French term referring to the driest (least sweet) Champagne. Pronounce Brut to rhyme with foot. Brut is always drier (less sweet) than “Extra Dry.” Wouldn’t you think that anybody smart enough to figure out how to use density as a substitute for sugar analysis would avoid stubbing his toe by using the term “Extra Dry” to mean very sweet? Well, I warned you these are French terms. See Extra Dry.
Bud break: Also Bud Burst. The action of new vine buds swelling, opening and beginning new vine growth in spring.
Bud: Small swelling on a grapevine shoot or cane from which a new shoot develops.
Bung: The primary closure for barrels, hammered into place with a wooden hammer. Bungs are normally made of hardwood (but softer than the oak used for barrel staves to avoid damaging the bunghole when opening and closing the barrel). When bungs are to be removed and replaced repeatedly, winemakers now use bungs made of silicone rubber and they work like a charm.
Bunghole: The hole in the side of a wine barrel through which the barrel is filled and emptied. In barrel manufacture, coopers always use at least one very wide barrel stave (the bung stave) somewhere in the group of staves making up the circumference of a barrel. The bung stave has to be wide enough to allow boring the bunghole without affecting the strength of that stave.
Burgundy: One of the most well-known and finest wine regions in the world, Burgundy is located in eastern France, just southeast of Chablis. It includes the famous Cote d’Or in the north, which itself is divided into two parts, Cote de Nuits as the northern half and Cote de Beaune as the southern half. Three lesser regions of Burgundy lie to the south of the Cote d’Or: Chalonnais, Maconnais and Beaujolais.The early Romans found vines already growing in Burgundy when they arrived and it is not known with certainty from whence they were brought or when. The finest red Burgundies are produced from Pinot Noir grapes; the finest whites, from Chardonnay. Other red varieties are grown (Gamay and Pinot Gris) and there are many, many clones of Pinot Noir in Burgundian vineyards as well. Additional white varieties include Pinot Blanc, Aligote and Melon de Bourgogne.
Butt: A “large” wine barrel, usually just over 100 gallons in capacity. Normal barrel sizes have approximately 50 or 60 gallon capacities, depending upon where they were made. European barrels are normally about 60 gallons in size while American barrels are traditionally only 50 gallons. Butts are always bigger, in wine as elsewhere.
Cabernet: “The” grape variety in the Medoc district of Bordeaux, France. Two true Cabernets exist, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but only the latter is meant when the single word “Cabernet” is spoken. Both varieties are superior for winemaking provided they are grown in a proper climate and, predictably, they blend together beautifully in table wine.
Cambium: The layer of active, living tissue under the bark and phloem tissue of a grape vine. New woody cells (xylem tissue) form at the inside of cambium as it grows, while new phloem and bark cells form at the outside edge. The net effect of this growth is to increase the diameter of the trunk or cane of a vine by adding exactly one “growth ring” to the diameter. Yes, it’s the same with trees.
Cane: The mature (tan or brown, not green) shoot of a vine. If the color is green, it’s a shoot; if the color is brown, it’s a cane.
Cap stem: The small length of stem that connects each individual grape berry to its bunch.
Cap: A tiny green cover on an individual, unopened grape flower in a cluster on the vine. The cap loosens and then falls off, exposing the pinhead-size, female ovary and releasing the yellow, pollinating (male) anthers of an individual grape flower. When this cap falls off, allowing the yellow anthers to open, the flower is said to be in bloom.
Cap: The floating solids (skins and bits of stem) in a tank of fermenting red wine. The floating solids bind together forming a thick mat, which must be wetted at least daily during fermentation of red wine in order to extract the maximum amount of color and flavor from the skins into the wine. Failure to wet the cap during fermentation usually produces lighter, less flavorful and less tannic red wines, which have a shorter shelf life.
Capacity: The quantity, as opposed to quality, of grapevine growth and total crop produced and ripened. See also vigor, which is used in contrast to capacity.
Carbohydrate: The technical name for a class of compounds composed of carbon along with hydrogen and oxygen in their 2: 1 ratio of water (you guessed that from the name). Carbohydrates are made by grapevines and used to store and move energy around inside the vine. Sugar is the soluble (mobile) form and starch is the insoluble (storage) form of carbohydrate in vines. Trees and other plants do it in the same way and I, for one, see this as one heck of a clever system designed by the great chemist in the sky.
Carbon dioxide (CO2): A heavy gas that occurs naturally in air. It gives carbonated drinks their bubbles and, as dry ice (frozen CO2), it is used to keep things very cold. Vine leaves produce sugar from CO2 and water, using sunlight as their source of energy. This sugar is the ultimate source of energy used by the vine for growth and grape production.
Carbonic Maceration: A process in which wine grapes are not crushed, but fermented whole. The process is used to make wines that are particularly light and fruity, drinkable very early, but which do not improve much with bottle aging. This is the process commonly used to produce “nouveau” wines of the Beaujolais region of France.
Cask: Any wooden container used for wine aging or storage. The term includes barrels, puncheons, butts, pipes, etc.
Catawba: An American hybrid wine grape grown in the eastern U.S. wine regions and used to make sparkling wines, rosé and very fruity white wines.
Cayuga White: An American hybrid wine grape grown in many eastern U.S. wine regions. Cayuga White produces wines of greater delicacy than Catawba. It is used for high quality white table wines and blends in the eastern US.
Central Coast: An appellation located along the coast of California well south of San Francisco but well north of Los Angeles. It refers primarily to Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, although small parts of Alameda, San Benito. Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties are legally included. Although well south of California’s “North Coast,” the Central Coast contains major vineyards with the coolest summertime climates in the whole United States!
Central Valley: The common name for the San Joaquin Valley, the largest wine growing region in California. The Central Valley produces 80 to 85% of California’s annual wine gallonage.
Centurion: A wine variety developed at the U.C. Davis campus by crossing Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Carignane. The intention was to produce a Cabernet-like wine that could be grown in the Central Valley. Carignane and Grenache are well suited to the Central Valley climate, but Cabernet Sauvignon requires a cooler growing location. As in the case of Ruby Cabernet, it was thought that the result of the cross might retain the quality of Cabernet wine and the viticultural characteristics of the other two varieties. Centurion hasn’t yet seen widespread acceptance, but the variety is a definite improvement over most traditional Central Valley varieties.
Cepages noble: French term for the group of “greatest grape varieties” used in winemaking.
Chablis: A wine region in central France named for the village near its center. By appellation rules, these wines are produced 100% from Chardonnay.
Chablis: A generic name used in America for common white table wines (especially blends containing more than one grape variety) throughout the 1800s and 1900s. Originally, Chablis was used in America (as well as terms like Burgundy, Champagne, Rhine Wine, Claret, etc) to describe the type of wine in the bottle to new wine drinkers. It helped to familiarize, and therefore, introduce wine to people who had not drunk it previously. Wine producers in Chablis, Burgundy, etc. in France objected to the practice but could not prevent it legally.Few American producers use these terms today because table wines are now produced mostly from a single grape variety – and the wine is named for that variety. Other, “classier” terms have arisen (such as Meritage and White Meritage) to name and describe blended wines in the U.S. See Varietal Wines.
Chambertin: Arguably the finest red table wine produced in Burgundy, although anyone saying so will likely start a fight with those who have their own favorites. Chambertin was Napoleon’s favorite of all wines and that may be one reason for its continuing position of prominence even today.
Champagne: The sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. By treaty, other European countries may not use the name “Champagne” for their sparkling wines (similar to the situation with “Chablis,” above). However, in the United States, the name is not proscribed and some producers still use it. The practice is changing, especially among American producers of higher priced Sparkling wines and, today, most simply call their products “Sparkling Wine.”
Chancellor: A French-American hybrid wine grape grown throughout the eastern U.S. It produces a fruity, medium bodied, red wine.
Chaptalization: The act of adding sugar to grape juice or must early in the fermentation to correct for natural deficiencies in poor vintages when grape ripening is slow or incomplete. It is illegal in California and Oregon, but is permitted in other states by U.S. law and by other nations of the world.European winemakers who are forced to chaptalize because of adverse climate will never volunteer that fact as it carries with it a “substandard quality” stigma. As a tourist, I once asked a French tour guide whether they ever chaptalize their wines. She looked at me in the eye, pointed her index finger in the air to emphasize the point, and said proudly, “only the minimum.”
Character: A wine tasting term referring to the style of taste.
Charbono: A red wine grape originally from Italy but now grown elsewhere as well. It produces full-bodied, often tannic wines, highly prized by some; yet it hasn’t achieved widespread acceptance around the world.
Chardonnay: This is clearly the world’s greatest white wine grape variety. Chardonnay produces many of the finest white wines, both still and sparkling, all around the globe.
Charmat Process: A process for producing sparkling wine or champagne cheaply and in large quantities by conducting the secondary fermentation in large tanks rather than individual bottles. Eugene Charmat, a Frenchman, developed the process in 1910. It is widely used all over the world for making every day, lower priced sparkling wines.Charmat process wines rarely develop the aged yeast “Gout de Champenoise” taste that is so highly prized in Methode Champenois sparkling wines. That’s because fermenting in a bottle keeps the yeast in close contact with the wine. Fermenting in a large tank cannot do that. See Sur lies.
Chateau: French word meaning a wine estate, used especially in the Bordeaux region of France.
Chateau bottled: These words on a wine label mean that the wine was grown, produced and bottled on the same property. “Chateau Bottled” on a label is always seen as a sign of quality.
Chenin Blanc: A white grape variety widely planted in many regions of the world. Produces the distinctive Loire wines in France as well as a great number of blends in California, Australia, South Africa and other countries. It can produce a high tonnage of average quality wine grapes under the conditions of California’s hot and irrigated San Joaquin Valley. For that reason, Chenin Blanc came to be one of the backbone varieties of white winemaking, especially for low priced wines in California. It has mostly given way to Chardonnay for that purpose in recent years.
Chianti: Medium to full-bodied red table wine of Tuscany in Italy. Chiantis are blends, but the primary grape variety used is Sangiovese.
Chloroplasts: Oval, chlorophyll-bearing structures inside the cells of leaves. Chloroplasts act as tiny factories within the leaves — to produce sugar for plant growth from CO2 and water. The energy used for this conversion is sunlight, captured by the chlorophyll.
CO2: The chemical symbol for carbon dioxide. “See Oh Two” is commonly used in conversations among wine people (not just Chemists) to mean carbon dioxide. How lazy we’ve become! It’s easier to learn a little chemistry than use a pair of long words to name this every day compound that we exhale from our lungs and ingest into our stomachs via soft drinks, beer and Sparkling wine.
Claret: Common name, especially in Britain, for the red wines of Bordeaux.
Clarity: In wine evaluation, clarity is a subjective term for the absence of cloudiness or sediment in a wine.
Clone: The descriptor name used for a group of vines all descended from the same individual grapevine. One single vine, if found to have especially desirable characteristics, may be propagated by grafting or budding to produce a whole vineyard that is identical to the original vine. The offspring vines from such a unique source are collectively referred to as a “clone” of the mother variety. For example, Wrotham Pinot is a clone of Pinot Noir and every vine in my vineyard was grown from a cutting of the original old vine found growing wild sixty years ago in the village of Wrotham, Kent, England.
Clos: (pronounced klo) In France, a walled or enclosed vineyard. The word is now used in other countries as part of a fanciful name for a winery or wine label.
Closed-top tanks: Fermentation tanks with permanent tops. These always have doors or vents in the top to facilitate cleaning and for monitoring fermentations.
Cloying: A tasting term meaning the wine is difficult to enjoy because of excessive sweetness which “stays in your mouth” too long after the wine is gone.
Cluster: A “bunch” of grapes, all clustered on a common stem extending from a cane on the grape vine.
Coarse: A wine tasting term referring to an unfinished, rough or crude wine which is difficult to drink.
Cognac: Wine district in western France in which most of the wine produced is not consumed directly but is distilled instead. The brandy produced from distillation in this region is also called Cognac and this product is widely regarded throughout the world as one of the finest quality distilled alcohol drinks available anywhere.
Cold stable: A wine that can be kept in a refrigerator without forming sediment or crystals is said to be cold stable.
Compound bud: The normal type of bud that appears at each node along a vine shoot or cane. It contains not one but three separate, partially developed shoots with rudimentary leaves in greatly condensed (microscopic) form. Usually, only the middle one grows when the bud pushes out in the spring. The others break dormancy only if the primary shoot is damaged or other abnormality occurs.
Cooperage: The common term in general use to describe any container used for aging and storing wine. Cooperage includes barrels and tanks of all sizes.
Cork: A cylinder-shaped piece cut from the thick bark of a cork-oak tree and used as a stopper in wine bottles. Cork is especially well suited for this purpose because of its waxy composition, inertness and springiness. Unfortunately, if cork producers aren’t extremely careful, mold can infect cork bark during drying and processing. If this happens, the mold growth can give that cork bark a “taint” which smells and tastes like mildew.If used in a bottle of wine, a tainted cork can ruin the bottle of wine in which it was used. It is difficult to impossible for a winemaker to detect a few tainted corks mixed in among the good corks of any given batch prior to using the corks on a bottling line. Often it is only after the corks have been placed into bottles and the wine lies in contact with the tainted cork for many months (or years) that a tainted cork ruins the bottle of wine. The taint is normally discovered only after the bottle is opened, and this experience has sometimes ruined an otherwise perfect evening.
Corked: The term used to describe a wine that has been spoiled in the bottle by a cork that was, itself, previously spoiled by mold growth during processing. The spoilage inside the cork had not been visible at the time the winery used it to seal the bottle – otherwise they wouldn’t have used that cork. It only becomes detectable by smell and taste after the bottle is opened for serving. This is the reason that sommeliers pour a small amount of newly opened wine for “checking” by the host at the dinner table prior to serving the other guests. There is no other valid reason for a sommelier to allow checking the wine before pouring.Cork tainted wine can range from an absence of fruit that leaves the wine muted, to an undrinkable off flavor that reeks of moldy cardboard. A chemical called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, “TCA” for short, is the cause of cork taint. TCA arises from mold growing on or very near a natural cork, especially after chlorine had been used to bleach and sanitize it. TCA is harmless but has a potent, musty, moldy smell and can give wine a bitterish taste. Concentrations of TCA as low as 3 parts per trillion can taint a wine since the human nose is extremely sensitive to the smell! Based upon the number of bad bottles wineries report, the common experience is to find up to about 2% – 3% in the United States. It used to be higher before the cork companies began to use better processing methods and TCA analyses.
Corky: A corky (or “corked”) wine has an unpleasant odor and flavor of musty, moldy cork. It is very reminiscent of the smell of a mildewed cloth that has been allowed to sit without drying. The primary cause of this off odor is a compound called “TCA” (for tri-chlor-anisole, which is produced by mold growth on the corks during aging and processing at the factory). There is no known way to repair or recover the original flavor from a so-called “corked” wine. Throw it away and open another, especially if you’re at a restaurant where they recognize the off flavor and will replace it free. Restaurateurs sometimes say this is one of the reasons that fine restaurants charge too much for the wines they serve. Wineries virtually always replace corked wines free on the word of the restaurateur.
Cream of tartar: A natural component of grape juice and wine. The chemical name is potassium bi-tartrate. Removed from wine as a by-product, cream of tartar is used in cooking and as a component of baking powder.
Cremant: A category of champagne or sparkling wine that contains less carbonation than standard champagnes or sparkling wines. Cremant Champagnes are usually quite light and fruity.
Crisp: Tasting term to describe good acidity and pleasant taste without excessive sweetness.
Cru: French word for growth. It refers to a vineyard of especially high quality, such as a classified growth or “cru classe.”
Crush tank: The wine tank that receives the newly crushed “grape must” pumped directly to the tank from the crusher.
Crush: The process of crushing and destemming wine grapes just prior to fermentation. “The crush” refers to the autumn season when grapes ripen and are harvested and fermented.
Crust: The sediment, often crystalline, which forms inside wine bottles during long bottle aging. It is often brittle and can break into pieces as the wine is being poured. It is usually composed of natural cream of tartar.
Cultivar: An “in” word among some academic viticulturists (but not commercial wine people or the wine drinking public). Cultivar originally was intended to mean a “cultivated variety,” but is now in such regular use that some use the word for varieties that are not cultivated as well. Since this can be misleading and is, in any case, superfluous, many texts on viticulture do not use the term widely. Nevertheless, you still hear it spoken with an impressive voice in the highest teaching circles. Use of this term is yet another way for you to gain a little “one-upmanship” among your wine friends if you can pull it off. Say it with a somber and slightly hushed tone, eyes slightly down, preferably while holding your hands in front with each of the fingertips on one hand touching the tips of the corresponding fingers on the other hand. They’ll think you know.
Cutting: (Noun) A piece of grape vine, usually 10 to 20 inches long, cut from a dormant vine in wintertime for use in propagating new vines in spring. Cuttings are taken only from last year’s growth (never two-year old wood) and are a convenient way to store and handle the vine buds. It is the buds on the cutting that have the ability to begin new vine growth next year. Grafted or budded properly, each bud can become a new vine that is genetically identical to all the other vines from the original vine. See Clone, Wrotham Pinot.
Cuvee: A given lot or batch on wine usually held in a single tank or large cask. Cuvee often refers to a specific blend of still wines that was blended purposely for later champagne making.
De Chaunac: (duh-sháwn-ak) French American hybrid wine grape named for a pioneer winemaker from eastern Canada. De Chaunac wines can be very, very good or easily forgotten, depending on where and when the grapes were grown.
Decant: The act of pouring an older wine carefully from a bottle in which loose sediment would otherwise become stirred up. After carefully pouring off the clear wine into a pitcher until only the sediment remains behind, the sediment can be rinsed out of the bottle. Then the decanted wine can be returned to the clean bottle for serving. Decanting is most often done within 1 hour of serving. It is almost never necessary to remove sediment from wines that have been in bottle for less than three or four years. However, decanting can be used for two reasons.
- First: It is a method by which cellar-aged bottled wine with loose sediment can be freed from the sediment for drinking. (Almost always a treatment confined to red wines.) The traditional method uses a candle flame as the light for illuminating the neck of the bottle from below while the pourer looks through the liquid in the neck at the flame to see when to stop pouring.
- Second: Letting old red wine breathe will improve the taste. Young red wines usually are not improved by aeration and do not need to breathe. Decanting is the single most important thing you can do to improve old red wine. Opening an old Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah or blended red 20 to 60 minutes before dinner, pouring it into a decanter and allowing it to aerate will bring out the best in the wine. This short period of aeration does not oxidize the wine. Several hours of air contact would be needed to begin doing that. See Oxidize.
Delaware: American hybrid wine grape grown throughout the eastern U.S. and used for both still and sparkling wine. Delaware is also very pleasant to eat as a table grape even though the berry size is small and each grape contains seeds.
Demi-sec: Champagne term signifying that the product is medium-sweet. See Extra-Dry.
Dessert wine: Any of a class of sweet wines, usually fortified to higher alcohol content, which are served with desserts or as after dinner drinks. Common dessert wines are Ports, Sherries, Muscatel, Madeira, Today and Angelica.
Dionysus: Greek god of wine and revelry. See Bacchus to avoid confusing the two Gods.
Disgorging (Degorgement): In processing, disgorging is the act of removing the frozen plug of ice (containing spent yeast) from a bottle of Champagne or Sparkling Wine, after riddling. Disgorging takes place on a disgorging line just prior to adding dosage and the final corking of the finished bottle of champagne. See Dosage.
Dosage: The few ounces of wine, often sweetened, which is added to each bottle of Champagne after disgorging to make up for the liquid volume lost by disgorging.
Douro: A major river in northern Portugal flowing westward into the Atlantic Ocean at the port of Oporto. It passes through one of the most picturesque and dramatic river valleys in the world, which is the region of Port wines.
Downy mildew: A fungal disease of grape vines, which kills the affected tissue. The disease is native to eastern North America and has spread to Europe and most other regions of the world. It does not occur in California because of the low humidity and lack of summer rains. Don’t get smug, California; you have Powdery mildew. In every variety except Wrotham Pinot!
Drain hopper: A crush tank fitted with a screen to make free run juice separate quickly from the skins and stems in freshly crushed white grape must. By closing the drain valve for a specified time, the winemaker can “macerate” or allow contact between juice and solids for some varieties, if desired.
Drained pomace: In a crush tank, the solids left over after the juice has been drained off. This pomace is primarily skins with a small amount of stem bits.
Dry: In the wine world, dry is never the opposite of wet. Whether in a fermentation tank or in a wine glass, dry means the complete absence of sugar in the wine. That’s all that it means.
Early Harvest: Not what you would guess; early harvest refers to time of year, not time of day. These wines are produced from grapes that haven’t achieved full maturity. They are low in alcohol, light and easy to drink despite having high natural acidity. The German equivalent is trocken or halbtroken
Earthy: Sensory evaluation term for wine with a taste or smell reminiscent of soil, mushrooms or mustiness.
EEC countries: All the countries making up the EEC. EEC is the world’s most important wine region, both for production and consumption.
EEC: European Economic Community (all the nations of Europe taken together as if comprising one nation).
Egg white: Left over albumin obtained by discarding the yolks from eggs. Used in fining red wines after barrel aging to remove excess (usually bitter) tannin.
Enology: The science and technical study of winemaking. From the Greek word for wine “oenos” (pronounced as if the first o isn’t there — “ee-nus”).
Èpernay: City on the Marne River in the Champagne region of northern France. The city is located very near the center of all the vineyards of the Champagne region and it is a major center for the business of Champagne production.
Estate Bottled: Label phrase (implying quality) meaning that the wine was produced and bottled at the winery from grapes owned (and farmed) by the winery owner. The term has lost importance recently because of many relaxations of the original, rigid BATF rules.
Esters: Aromatic flavor compounds which give fruits, juices and wines much of their “fruitiness.”
Ethanol (Ethyl alcohol): The type of alcohol produced by yeast fermentation of sugar under ordinary conditions. Chemically, it is written C2H5OH. The alcohol in alcoholic beverages is always ethanol.
Extra Dry: In Champagne this term usually means “extra sweet.” You knew that already if you’ve checked the Brut entry. Only in Sherry can you rely on the term to mean that the wine is really dry. This is one of the confusions that surround wine for no good reason other than to keep you intimidated. See Demi-sec.
Fermentation: Originally, “to boil without heat.” The process, carried on by yeast growth in grape juice or other sugar solutions, by which sugar is transformed into ethyl alcohol and CO2. The CO2 bubbles out of solution, giving the appearance of boiling without heat.
Fermented “on the skins”: A statement indicating that the wine was fermented with the juice and skins together — the norm for red winemaking. Separation and discarding of solids is done only after the fermentation is completed. With very tannic grapes, the winemaker may draw the new wine away from the solids before the fermentation is fully complete (often at 3 to 4 degrees Brix).
Fermenters: Tanks, barrels or other containers when used for fermentations. Fermenters may be used after the fermenting season as normal storage tanks.
Fined and Filtered: Fining causes the undesirable materials in a wine to settle to the bottom of the tank, along with the fining agent. Filtration clarifies the wine by removing these solids along with suspended particulates resulting from the fermentation process. Many fine wines are made today without filtering or fining because many wine makers believe it detracts from the wine. This is an unproven point, however. So when you find residue in the bottom of your bottle it’s not a spoilage problem, it just has not been filtered or fined.
Fining: The act of clarifying or removing undesirable components from wine. This is usually done by adding a pure material that has the property of reacting with and removing the undesired component. Common fining agents for wine are egg white, gelatin and Bentonite clay.
Fining Agent: A pure substance that may be added to wine for the purpose of removing some undesirable natural component that occurs in excess. For example, immediately after fermentation, red wines may contain excess tannin, which makes the wine too bitter or astringent. This can be removed by adding a very small amount of a protein such as egg white or gelatin. The protein attaches itself to the excess tannin and precipitates, falling to the bottom of the wine tank where it is later removed by decanting (racking).
Finish: The last impression left in the mouth by the taste of a wine.
Finishing: The last steps in processing a wine just before bottling, and may include bottling. Often, this includes fining, blending and filtration or centrifugation.
Fino: Term found on some Sherry labels to denote the winery’s lightest and driest Sherries.
Flabby: A tasting term for a wine that is too low in acidity, too high in pH and difficult to drink. Many California Chardonnay table wines in the 1990s suffered from this defect, as winemakers tried to make bigger and more impressive wines. They didn’t sell very well.
Flat: Tasting term. Similar to flabby, a flat wine is lacking in acidity and crispness. Flat wines are difficult to drink and enjoy even if the flavor is good. In sparkling wines flat means the wine lacks carbonation.
Flinty: A tasting term used to describe white wine having a hard, austere, dry, clean taste. An example might be a Chablis that has a bouquet reminiscent of flint struck by steel. In Chablis, the term is positive and a good descriptor for some of the finest wines.
Flor: “Flower.” A type of yeast that is able to float on the surface of a wine while growing and fermenting. It is no accident that it floats: Flor yeast uses oxygen to produce a distinctive flavor in the classic Sherry wines of Jerez, Spain. If it could not float, it would not have access to both the oxygen it needs and the wine components it wants to oxidize. Ain’t nature wonderful?
Flowery: A tasting term for wine with an exceptionally aromatic character reminiscent of fresh garden flowers.
Foxiness: A tasting term to describe the smell and taste of Concord grapes and wine, and the smell and taste of similar varieties of Vitis labrusca. I grew up in Iowa, eating Concord grapes and jelly for two decades. To this day, I haven’t the slightest idea how anyone could accurately describe Concord, Delaware or Niagara as fox-like or foxy. But they do it, so memorize that if you expect to keep your standing as a wine cognoscente.
Free run juice: The juice that separates from must only by draining or very light pressing.
Fruity: Tasting term for wine that retains the fresh flavor of the grapes used in its fermentation. Sometimes older wines, or wines that have undergone too much processing, can lose their fruitiness. In fine red wines, we often look for a balance between the natural fruitiness and the barrel-aged character added by oak.
Fume Blanc: A name that has come to be synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc table wine. The best ones are dry but there are some Fume Blancs that are sweet.
Gassy: A sensory evaluation term describing a wine that contains residual carbon dioxide left over from the fermentation. Not unpleasant in most white wines, but distinctly undesirable in reds because the CO2 can exaggerate their tendency towards bitterness.
Generic wine: Blended wine of ordinary quality, without any varietal or other special characteristics. Common term for an everyday, low price wine.
Green: A tasting term describing the grassy, herbaceous or vegetal taste of wines which were grown in too cool a climate. Unripe, green grapes in mid-season have this characteristic naturally, but it disappears as warm temperatures mature the berries to full ripeness. The vegetative character disappears as fruity character appears during maturation. Sometimes when grapes are forced to grow in too-cold summertime weather, they appear to ripen outwardly and yet retain some of this green taste. It remains in the wine, even after considerable aging. Years afterwards, the winemaker continues to apologize for the vintage as “an off year.”Savvy winemakers have learned to match their grape varieties to the local climate: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and a few others like cool climates and produce great fruitiness without greenness. On the other hand, Cabernet, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Syrah and most Italian varieties require more warmth during the growing season to attain optimum fruitiness without any green flavors in their wines.During the development of mechanical harvesters for grapes, some of the earliest experimental machines tended to shred leaves and add them to the must, which gave the resulting wines an undesirable green taste. Today’s mechanical harvesters can easily pick fruit quite free from leaf contamination. The result is that mechanical harvesting is now fully as reliable as hand picking for freedom from this green off character.A third source of undesirable green taste in wine can be the pumping equipment in the winery. During the crush, some early types of must pumps shredded tiny cap stems from grape clusters and allowed the green juice inside the stems to get into the wine. Wineries almost universally use piston pumps today because they are free from this tendency. Viticulture and enology now seem so simple and easy. But discussing the word “green” reminds us how treacherous it used to be. The world’s wines are many times better today than they were back when winemakers were just learning of these pitfalls. So enjoy your fine wine — but drink an occasional toast to those pioneering winemakers who learned about all these traps the hard way.
Gypsum: A white crumbly mineral used in antiquity to raise the acidity in the low acid wines grown in warm climates around the Mediterranean Sea. Today’s best remedy for low acidity would be to plant the grapes in a cooler climate, but that option wasn’t always open to our ancestors. Where it is necessary to increase the acidity of a wine, many countries now allow adding the natural organic acid of grapes – tartaric acid.
Hard: A tasting term describing a wine that is excessively tannic, bitter or astringent and which lacks fruitiness.
Hautvillers: Small town very close to, and just north of, Epernay in the Champagne region of France. It was here, at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers, that a monk named Dom Perignon was cellermaster for nearly fifty years in the late 1600s and early 1700s. He is given credit for much of the experimentation and processes leading to the development of today’s Champagnes and sparkling wines. The truth is, we don’t know exactly what happened or when. Undoubtedly the development of Champagne was a result of the work of many people over several years, and not necessarily Frenchmen, either. We might owe more than we know about champagne to English wine merchants. See:
The story of Champagne on this website.
Heartwood: The innermost portion of the woody tissue (xylem) making up the trunk of woody plants, such as grape vines or trees. Heartwood is composed of dead xylem cells that serve to give wood its strength. Wow! Even after the oldest xylem cells die, they perform a necessary function for the vine! See Sapwood.
Heat summation: A measure of the climate of a growing region calculated by adding the mean temperatures for each day (minus a base temperature) over a growing season. For grapes, the base temperature is 50 degrees F (10°C), because nothing much happens inside a vine below that temperature. Above 50 degrees, it comes to life and grows, produces fruit, stores energy for next year’s growth and whatever else vines might want to do. We use heat summations to tell us which grape varieties are likely to grow best (and produce the best wines) in a given location. See Green.
Hectare: Unit of size for farmland in France. One hectare is approximately 2.5 acres.
Hectoliter: Common unit of measure for wines in all European wineries. One hectoliter is 100 liters, 22.03 British imperial gallons or 26.42 U.S. gallons.
Hock: Originally an English term to denote wines which came from Hockheim, Germany. Today the term describes the unusually tall bottle that is used for Riesling and similar wines. Also, hock is a slang term referring to Riesling type wines themselves.
Hot: Taste sensation often found in high alcohol wines. Table wines with hot taste are unpleasant to drink.
Hybrid: In viticulture, a hybrid is a new variety resulting from crossing two other (often very different) varieties.
Ice bucket: Dating back at least as far as the ancient Greeks, this is a container in which ice is placed around a bottle of white wine on the table to chill it prior to drinking. The Greeks, and later, the Romans stored ice and snow in caves and under straw at higher altitudes from cold winter months and harvested it in summer for those rich enough to pay for it.
Ice wine: Wine made from frozen grapes. The grapes are pressed while frozen and only the juice (never the solids) is used in the fermentation. Ice wines are always sweet, usually light and also delicate. Ice wines are almost always served as low alcohol dessert wines.
Ingredient: Any of the components of a mixture. Grape juice is an ingredient of wine but yeast is not, since yeast never remains in the finished wine. Similarly, fining agents that may be added to a wine (but do not remain in the wine) are not ingredients.
Internode: The section of a grape vine stem between two successive nodes or joints on the vine shoot or cane.
Jefferson, Thomas: No wine glossary is complete without this hero of the wine industry. Third president of the U.S., he was a wine lover extraordinaire. Grape grower and winemaker, he went to his grave puzzled that the European grape cuttings he planted did not thrive in the U.S. as they did in Europe. He tried for more than 30 years and finally settled on certain native grape varieties which could stand the harsh new world climate.Jefferson never knew that a microscopic, native American pest now known as the Phylloxera root aphid was killing his European vines. Jefferson believed that table wine is a temperate beverage as opposed to ardent spirits, which he avoided. His was a strong voice favoring low taxes on table wines and high taxes on intoxicating liquor.He is best known to winemakers for his quote: “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.” Personally, I’d vote for him today if only he would come back.
Jerez: Small city in southern Spain (Andalusia). This is the birthplace of Sherry (Jerez, in Spanish).
Jeroboam: Oversize wine bottle; however, the exact size is not standardized. It may be equivalent to 4, 5 or 6 standard (750 ml) bottles, depending upon the wine producer. In Champagne, France and in California, it is often 3 liters in size; in Bordeaux, 3.75 liters; in England, as much as 4.5 liters.
Johannisberg Riesling: (pronounced reez-ling, never ryz-ling — they’ll roll their eyes) Synonym for White Riesling, this grape is responsible for wines of the same name in California. In Australia, wines from the same grape are called “Rhine Riesling.” The most famous regions in the world where this grape is grown for wine are along the Rhine and Mosel rivers in Germany.(The name Johannisberg Riesling comes from the fact that the Schloss Johannisberg estate near the Rhine River has produced many superb Riesling wines.) Susceptible to noble rot (Botrytis), this grape has produced some of the world’s finest dessert wines.
Jug Wines: Common name given to wines sold at modest prices in 1.5-liter size or larger containers.
Jura: Wine region named for the Jura Mountains of eastern France (near the Swiss border). Many different wine types are produced in the Jura region although the region is not large. Best known of the region are wines from the town of Arbois — which is also the birthplace of Louis Pasteur.Vin Jaune is probably the most typical wine from the Jura area. It is unlike other French table wines in that it is often very long lived. Its flavor is reminiscent of Spanish Sherries, which are very long lived themselves. Both Sherry and Vin Jaune owe their longevity to the fact that some of their flavor is produced by a small amount of oxidation. Thus, continued small amounts of oxidation during aging doesn’t hurt the flavor or keeping quality of Sherry or Vin Jaune, unlike the case with practically all other table wines.
Kabinett: German classification for quality wines ranking just below spaetlese. Kabinett wines are relatively low in price, but sugar is never used in their production (which is an indicator of quality).
Keg: Small barrel for wine aging or storage — usually 12 gallons in size.
Keuka: One of the glacier-created Finger Lakes in New York State’s wine country. It’s beautiful, especially in the spring, summer, fall or winter.
Knights of the Vine: A wine brotherhood dedicated to the full appreciation of wine. Founded by National Grand Commander Norman Gates, Sacramento, CA.
Labrusca: A principal species of native North American grapes. Concord is the purest example currently grown on a large scale in the eastern U.S. Concord is also grown commercially in the Midwest and, oddly, in Washington State. There is no Concord tonnage grown in California except for a few individual vines growing in the back yards of mid westerners who miss the good old days before they moved to California. I know that because I’m one of them.
Lactic acid: A natural organic acid that occurs in many foods, including milk. In wine, it exists only in trace amounts unless the wine has undergone a malo-lactic secondary fermentation.
Lambrusco: Not to be confused with Labrusca (though it sometimes is). Produced in northern Italy, Lambruscos are sparkling red wines, usually sweet, light, fruity and pleasant to drink. Lambruscos taste like other V. viniferas and not at all like V. labrusca.
Late Harvest: Name given to dessert or full-bodied table wines produced from overripe grapes. (Late refers to time of year, not time of day).
Leaf axil: The acute angle between a vine shoot and a leaf stem or petiole extending from the shoot. Buds develop in these axils just above each leaf petiole.
Lees: (Lees is both singular and plural, though the word doesn’t look like it ought to be). It is the sediment that settles to the bottom of a wine in a tank during processing. If primarily yeast, as from a fermentation, it is called “yeast lees;” if sediment from fining, it is called “fining lees.” In any case, after it settles, lees has no further use and it is discarded.
Legs: This is a wine appreciation term referring to the colorless “tears” or liquid rivulets which form along the inside wall of a wine glass a few seconds after the wine in the glass is swirled. They usually form about an inch above the surface of the wine and slowly run down into the wine. Legs are formed more readily by higher alcohol wines than by lower — the cause being related to alcohol content. For show-offs, remember that the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the rivulets appear.
Limousin: (pronounced limousine and, sometimes, limo-zan). From a winemaker’s point of view, Limousin is one of the major oak forest regions of central France. Limousin is also the name of the oak wood from that forest, or even oak wood that is shipped from the town of Limoges in central France. Traditionally, Limousin is the favorite type of oak for French barrels in the new world. Its grain is less tight and more open than others, an advantage for Cognac production. The open grain allows oak flavor to become extracted out of the wood quickly, which may be a disadvantage for the more delicate Chardonnays.
Liter: Standard volume of measure in the metric system (used throughout the world for wine). 1 liter = 1.054 U.S. quarts; 1 U.S. gallon = 3.785 liters.
Loire Valley: One of France’s larger wine regions located along the Loire River in west-central France. Major districts within the Loire are: Anjou, Muscadet and Touraine.
M-L: Abbreviation for malo-lactic fermentation. Explained below.
Maceration: The act of soaking grape solids in their juice for certain time periods prior to fermentation of the juice. Often used for Chardonnay production and for making pink wines from black, blue or red grapes. As an example, the pink color of Wrotham Pinot Sparkling Wine comes from maceration of the grapes in their own juice for a few hours to allow just enough delicate flavor and red pigment to dissolve into the juice prior to pressing the juice off the skins. After pressing, the pink juice is fermented without any skins present. If we wanted to make a red wine, we would not press at all until after the fermentation was completed (with the skins present).
Madeira: Portuguese island in the Atlantic from which come rich, sherry-like dessert wines. These are long lasting wines and it is not unusual to find Madeira wines from vintages in the late 1800s that remain in great condition today. Just as in the case of Sherries and Vin Jaune, part of the flavor of Madeira wine comes from deliberate oxidation of the wine during aging. That also explains their longevity.
Maderization: Oxidation of table wines due to improper (or too long) storage. Maderized table wines, both white and red, are recognized by their brown color, lack of fruitiness and oxidized taste. Maderization gives Madeira wines part of their desirable character, which is made more palatable by the natural sweetness; but the same character would be undesirable in normal table wines.
Magnum: Oversize bottle, twice the size of a standard 750 ml. wine bottle.
Malbec: One of the five major red wine grape varieties of Bordeaux. Malbec produces excellent wines in Argentina but is little planted in California because of its history of sparse crops there. No one has determined why that should be true but it may be related the the rootstocks used.
Malic acid: A natural organic acid that occurs in ripe grapes at relatively high concentrations. It is the second most abundant organic acid in most vinifera varieties. Tartaric acid, of course, is the primary grape acid in nearly all varieties. The tartaric is not metabolized by yeast during fermentation or by most spoilage organisms that might grow in the wine. Only the malic portion of the acidity of grapes or wine is easily changed by microbes. See Malo-lactic fermentation.
Malo-lactic fermentation: A bacterial fermentation that sometimes occurs in new wines after the primary yeast fermentation. Malo-lactic, or secondary fermentation changes natural malic acid into lactic acid and CO2. From the wine taster’s point of view, malic acid, which has a sharp flavor, is removed. Carbon dioxide is given off, and the much less acidic and softer tasting lactic acid appears. This smoothes the flavor of the wine. Usually a wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation is less acidic and can take on buttery and creamy overtones, as lactic acid is the type of acid found in milk.
Manhole: Large opening in the sidewall of a wine tank through which spent pomace or lees is removed after the wine is racked (drained) off. Cellar workers can enter through the manhole for tank cleaning.
Manzanilla: A Sherry-like wine from Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain, always bone dry. Warner Allen says, in his History of Wine, “I learned to wind up lunch with a glass of (sweet) Madeira costing only a shilling but which, after my father’s bone-dry Manzanilla, seemed like nectar of the gods.”
Medoc: (may-doc) Red wine district within the Bordeaux region of France in which are produced many of the greatest red wines of the world.
Meristem: Region of active growth in a grapevine, made up of meristematic cells that divide to form new cells during growth.
Meristematic tissue: The actively growing tissue of a grape vine. Meristem cells are located in the cambium, shoot tips, buds, root tips and flower. Meristematic tissue is composed of thin-walled actively growing cells that form new cells by dividing.
Meritage: A blend of Bordeaux varietals bottled and marketed under the name “Meritage” because the winemaker thought the blend was a better wine than any of the varietals alone. Meritage has special rules: Red Meritage must contain at least three of the five permitted varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot). White Meritage may contain Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and, maybe, Muscadelle or Merlot Blanc, but no other varieties.
Merlot: (mer-lów) One of the great red varieties of Bordeaux. Also produces fine red wines in California, Chile, Australia, Argentina and in many other regions where it is often blended with its cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon. However, it must also be said that in head to head competitions, it is unusual for the best Merlot wines to rank higher than the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Methode Champenoise: Literally, “made by the Champagne method” the classic, time-consuming way to produce Champagne and many other sparkling wines. This is the traditional bottle-fermented method for producing sparkling wines, including fermenting, aging, riddling and disgorging — all in the same bottle that will eventually reach the consumer.
Microclimate: The localized climate in a specific, small area as opposed to the overall climate of the larger, surrounding region. A microclimate can be very small, as to encompass a single vine, or cover a whole vineyard of several acres or more. Microclimates can be caused by slope of the land, soil type and color, fog, exposure, wind and many other factors.
Midi: A very large wine growing area in southwestern France, west of the mouth of the Rhone river on the Mediterranean, which supplies most of the vin ordinaire consumed by the French.
Mildew: Grapevine disease. Can be devastating but is usually controlled by dusting the vines with sulfur or spraying with organic fungicides. The two major types of mildew are Powdery mildew, which occurs in (low humidity) California and Downey mildew, which occurs in (higher humidity) Europe and other wine regions of the world.
Mineral ions: Electrically charged forms of minerals, usually occurring in solution in the soil moisture and available for take-up by roots. Some examples used by grape vines are: potassium, calcium, phosphate, boron, nitrate, sulfate, iron, manganese and magnesium.
Mission: The first, and probably the worst, of California’s long line of grapes that have been grown for production of table wines. Introduced by Spanish Catholic missionaries in the late 1600’s. This is a tough grape, which travels well, but the wine quality is poor because of lack of flavor, color and keeping quality.
Mosel: German wine river valley which produces excellent quality Riesling wines. This region is known for its slate soil on very steep cliffs. It is said, “Only Germans have the tenacity to farm the sides of these cliffs” but the resulting wines are worth it.
Moselle: Same as Mosel, but now we’re reading in French instead of German.
Muscatel: Wine made from Muscat grapes, usually sweet and usually high in alcohol.
Must: The sloppy mess that results from crushing fresh grapes (before fermentation). Includes pulp, skins, seeds, juice and bits of stem.
Napa: Town 50 miles northeast of San Francisco; it is at the entrance to Napa Valley, one of California’s prime vineyard and wine areas (and now containing well over 300 wineries).
Natural: Term used on the label to designate a champagne or sparkling wine that is absolutely dry.
Nevers: (nev-are) One of the types of French oak used for wine barrels. Similar to Alliers in that both come from central France and both woods are tight-grained as opposed to Limousin, which has a looser, more open grain.
No Topping Method: In the late 1960s it occurred to me that it might be better for winemakers not to top barrels every few weeks, as was then the industry practice. I wrote and talked extensively to other winemakers about avoiding aeration during barrel aging by eliminating topping altogether. The cause of all this was something that I noticed in 1967. From time to time at Beaulieu, cellar crews had noticed that when bungs were removed from barrels after long term storage, a sucking sound was often heard and air appeared to suddenly rush into the barrel at the instant of bung loosening. It was as if a vacuum had developed inside the barrels during wine aging.I did experiments to understand what was happening from 1968 through 1974 and published results clearly showing that this vacuum was real. As wine slowly evaporates through the staves of sealed barrels,
nothing goes back in! The barrels are left with varying degrees of vacuum, depending upon how much evaporation has taken place from each barrel. Until that time, winemakers had believed that air constantly leaked into barrels through pores in the wood during wine aging to replace the void left when alcohol and water (from the wine) seeped out through wood pores and evaporated. We knew that alcohol and water did slowly evaporate from the barrels — but only assumed that the empty space was being filled by air leaking in. Everybody thought they had to top barrels to keep air from oxidizing the wine in barrels. Everybody was wrong. Air does not seep in. A vacuum develops inside barrels instead.I then realized that proper barrel aging, like bottle aging, is anerobic — and wine would age better in barrels if no air were allowed inside. The practice of topping barrels was doing more harm than good, since opening each barrel and pouring wine into the barrel was also pouring air into each barrel. I used this no topping approach at Beaulieu Vineyard from 1968 through 1973 with complete support from Andre Tchelistcheff, then continued it elsewhere afterwards with excellent results. Even today, wine knowledgeable collectors consider the 1968, 1969 and 1970 BV Private Reserve Cabernets to be among the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines to be produced in California up to that time.But winemaking has changed since the late 1960s. I don’t see many winemakers today trying to produce long aging red wines. Today’s goal is more likely to make and sell each vintage for consumption when released (or only a few years longer) and go on to the next. The alcohol contents of table wines since the 1990s are higher, as are pH levels, and the wines just don’t live as long as they once did. I miss the finesse of 1970s “fine red” winemaking and, who knows?, maybe it will return. Perhaps this is an idea whose time will come back.
Noah: The first man to plant a vineyard and make wine, according to the author of Genesis. Unfortunately, he was also the first to overdo it in the drinking department and had to pay the price for that.
Noble Rot: Common name for Botrytis cinerea, the famous fungus of more than a few fabulous dessert wines.
Nodes: Slight enlargements occurring at more or less regular intervals along the length of vine shoots and canes. One leaf develops at each of these nodes and a new bud forms in the axil at the node also.
North Coast: A viticultural area in California comprising all the grape growing areas of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Solano, Lake and Marin Counties.
Nose: The odor of a wine, including aroma and bouquet.
Nouveau: Term used to describe a Beaujolais-like wine: Young, fresh, fruity and neither wood-aged nor complex. Nouveau wines are not designed for long aging but are made for prompt consumption.
Oak: A type of hardwood commonly used for building wine barrels. American oak has a distinctive, bourbon-like flavor but French oak flavor is much more subtle. Both types of oak barrels contribute considerable tannin and vanillin (vanilla) flavors to wines during aging.
Oaky: Excessive oak flavor in a wine.
Oenology: (“ee-nol-o-gee,” ignore the initial
o altogether) Oenology, also spelled enology, comes from the Greek word oenos, which means ‘wine’. Enology is the study of wine and winemaking. This is thought of differently than viticulture, which is the study of grapes and grape growing. Someone experienced at winemaking is called an “oenologist” or “enologist.” Remember not to embarrass yourself by pronouncing the “o.” Oenology is pronounced ee-nol-ogy, period.
Oidium: French name for the fungal vine disease “Downey mildew.”
Oloroso: One of the categories of Spanish Sherry. Olorosos are “bigger” and fuller in body, flavor and sweetness than Fino Sherries.
Open-top tanks: Wine tanks without permanent covers, used only for red wine fermentation. This is the traditional design for fermenters, but modern wineries normally use only the closed-top design. Open top tanks are more difficult to keep clean, allow loss of wine flavor during fermentation and require some type of surrounding building or roof in case of rain.
Oporto: Largest seaport city in northern Portugal. This is the gateway to the port wine region.
Ordinaire: From “vin ordinaire,” the term means any common wine of everyday quality. Some people think that Ordinaire is a notch higher than “Plonk” on the quality scale. I don’t know that it makes any difference.
Osmosis: The natural movement of fluids through a membrane or porous partition such as a cell wall. Fluid tends to move through the membrane towards a solution of higher concentration so as to equalize the concentrations on both sides of the membrane. That’s important to a grower watching his vines grow or to a winemaker who wants to process a wine to remove excess volatile acidity, alcohol or other component by “reverse osmosis.” This is one more example of how complex winemaking has become since the advent of technology.
Over cropped: A vine that carries more crop than it can reasonably ripen. Vines that aren’t pruned drastically enough tend to set too much crop. Wine produced from fruit of an over cropped vine is always poorer in quality than if the crop were normal size. An over cropped vine can be corrected, if it’s done in time, by simply thinning the crop in late June or early July. The grower sends in a crew to cut off from 10 to 40% of the over cropped fruit while it is small and green. The remaining fruit will then develop, ripen correctly and produce better wine than it would have if the thinning had not taken place.
Over cropping: The act of allowing vines to set too much fruit (usually by pruning too lightly in winter).
Oxidation: The chemical reactions involved in combining oxygen with wine to produce “oxidized” changes in the flavors and color of the wine. In table wines, oxidation is almost always undesirable, and irreversible. Once ruined, the wine stays ruined. Oxidation can be defined as any adverse change in wine flavor, stability and/or color caused by excessive exposure to air.It is important to know that allowing a table wine to contact air (oxygen) doesn’t oxidize the wine immediately. At room temperature, it usually takes several hours to do that. The loss of fruitiness and development of what we recognize as “oxidized” character might not begin to appear until the next day. A good rule to use is “if a wine becomes aerated (by opening the bottle and pouring the wine into glasses), it must be consumed within two or three hours.”
Oxidized: Flavor term to describe a wine that has suffered excessive oxidation through exposure to oxygen. During oxidation, wines lose their original fruitiness and take on a darker color, eventually becoming quite brown and taking on a Sherry like, “vegetable soup” flavor.
Parts per million: A comparative unit of small measure which is exactly as it sounds — pounds of something per million pounds of something else, grams per million grams, etc. One red grain of sand among a million white grains is one part per million.
Pasteur: Louis Pasteur, the “father of modern winemaking and pasteurized milk,” did his famous research at the town of Arbois in France’s Jura region. He correctly identified yeasts as the causative organisms for fermentation and developed a heat process (Pasteurization) for stabilizing wine, milk and other liquid foods from spoilage. Pasteur wrote, “Wine is the most healthful and hygienic of beverages.”
Pauillac: One of the four great wine communes of the Medoc peninsula just northwest of the city of Bordeaux along the Gironde River in France. Some say it is the greatest of them all, since so many first growths of the Bordeaux region lie within the Pauillac commune. In fact, lesser regional wines from Pauillac are scarce because most of the wine produced in the region belongs to those famous first growths and is bottled under their names.
Pedro Ximenes: Grape variety used in Spanish sherries, where it often adds sweetness.
Petillant: Term describing a wine which is noticeably sparkling or bubbly with CO2 — but which is less carbonated than Champagne/Sparkling Wine.
Petiole: The stem that attaches a leaf to its main branch or shoot. Petioles are well designed for conducting water, sugars and mineral ions between the leaf and the rest of the vine.
pH: A mathematical term for describing and identifying the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution (such as wine). Since hydrogen ions are the most accurate definition of acidity, pH is an accurate measure of acidity in juice and wine. Winemakers who understand the relationship between pH and taste would rather know the pH of a wine than its titratable acidity (T.A.). Titratable acidity is another measure of acidity but T.A. is less apparent to the taste than is pH.
Phenolics: A term to include all of the various types of compounds having the general chemistry of phenols. Grape and wine pigments are phenolics, as is tannin. See polyphenols.
Phloem: Living plant tissue located just beneath the bark and outside of the cambium layer. Phloem cells conduct sugars and other organic materials downward from the leaves towards the trunk and roots. The xylem tissue, by contrast, is just inside the cambium layer and it conducts water and minerals from the roots upwards towards the leaves.It’s just like a two-lane highway where the cambium is the double yellow line; outside the cambium layer the phloem conducts downward but inside the cambium the xylem conducts upwards. And, just as with highways, there are pores between the two layers, which allow traffic going in one direction to cross through the cambium and go the other way.
Photosynthesis: The biochemistry that manufactures carbohydrates (sugars) in green tissue of living plants from CO2 and water. The CO2 enters leaves directly from air and the water comes up from the roots. The reaction uses sunlight as its energy source and it is catalyzed by chlorophyll.
Phylloxera: A microscopic aphid that lives on vine roots by sucking their juice. Unfortunately this is never good for roots. The aphid kills European wine varieties but native American vine roots are resistant. This is the reason that Thomas Jefferson wasn’t able to farm European vines in America even though his American vines thrived. See Thomas Jefferson.
Pinot: One of the world’s most important family names among the world’s wine grape varieties. The most famous member is Pinot Noir, although its white-fruited variant, Pinot Blanc, deserves special recognition as well. Chardonnay was incorrectly called “Pinot” for many decades in France and America, but that has changed in recent years. The Chardonnay grape has never been a member of the Pinot family. This web site is partial to a very special clone of Pinot Noir called Wrotham Pinot, which developed naturally over 2000 years in Southeastern England. Cuttings from the one surviving vine in England have been imported into Napa Valley, where Wrotham Pinot vines now produce very small amounts of well-aged Richard Grant Sparkling Wine. See Wrotham Pinot.
Pipe: A large barrel or cask used for storing, transporting or aging wine, especially dessert wine. Pipes vary in size between about 110 and 140 U.S. gallons.
Pitch: Black, tar-like and Gawd-awful to smell and taste, pine-cone pitch was used to seal amphora and other wine containers for shipping in early Greek and, especially, Egyptian times. The amphorae were made of clay and some were liable to show cracks that had to be filled with pitch to avoid loss of the contents. Also, the mouths of the amphora were not perfectly round and no stopper could make a perfect seal unless gasketed with something soft and pliable. Unfortunately the easiest material available for many centuries was pitch and it’s a wonder wine consumption survived at all.
Political Area: A viticultural area defined by political borders as opposed to geographic or geological divisions. As an example, Napa County is a political area. Napa Valley, on the other hand, is supposed to be a geographical/geologic area by definition (although it is delineated by political boundaries on many borders, contrary to the rule).Could you tell the Napa Valley definition was established by a committee of bureaucrats, none of whom had ever made or sold wine before? All I can tell you is, “That ain’t the only U.S. example of a “geographic, climatologic or geological Viticultural Area” that has large parts of its borders defined by political borders instead of truly geologic boundaries — not by a long shot.”
Polyphenols: Chemical class of compounds which occur naturally in wine, giving it an astringent, bitter or mouth-drying taste sensation. Tannins and grape skin pigments are two prominent classes of polyphenols.
Pomace: The solid residue (primarily skins, seeds and stems) left over from draining juice from white must, or draining new wine from a red fermentation tank.
Port: Any of the rich, sweet, alcoholic and full-bodied wines from the Oporto region of Portugal. Other countries also use the term for wines of similar type, but the original name is Portuguese.
Powdery mildew: A devastating fungal disease of grape vines that, unlike most fungal diseases, thrives in dry climates. Also called oidium, it occurs in most of the wine regions of the world. This is the most troublesome fungus disease of grapes in California by far. It can be controlled by timely application of sulfur dust directly onto the vine leaves and immature fruit. New fungicides have been introduced in recent years that greatly improve a vine’s recovery from severe attacks. See Downey mildew.
Precipitation: The sudden formation of solids within a solution, as happens in the fining of wines. The solids normally settle to the bottom as sludge within a few hours or days and can be easily removed by filtration, centrifuging or, many times, by simple racking.
Press juice: The juice obtained not by draining but by pressing fresh pomace. It is usually far more tannic (often bitter) than drained or lightly pressed (free run) juice.
Press wine: Wine obtained by pressing newly fermented red wine from spent pomace. It is invariably more tannic than free run wine.
Press: The act of squeezing the last remaining drops of juice or wine from pomace. Also, the machinery used to do such a thing.
Pressed pomace: The spent pomace after pressing has removed all the usable juice or wine. Pressed pomace can be sweet or dry, depending upon whether the pressing took place before or after fermentation. The pomace, after pressing, is discarded — usually by spreading it back onto the vineyard between rows of vines. In this way, minerals in the pomace are recycled into the soil from which they came originally.
Primativo: An Italian grape variety originally thought to be identical to, or at least the closest European relative of, Zinfandel for many years. Now, Primativo is known (through DNA detective work) to be a natural daughter vine of Zinfandel. Zinfandel has been traced to the Zrljenac Kastelanski variety from an island off the Croatian coast of Yugoslavia. The DNA shows Primativo to be a natural offspring of Zrljenac Kastelanski, but Zinfandel is identical to Zrljenac.
Produced: Legal term used by U.S. governing authority, BATF (now TTB), to define the moment when fermenting grape juice becomes wine legally. “Made,” “vinted,” “cellared,” “perfected” and other similar terms are not quite as legally restrictive as “produced,” but all are close.
Proof: Scale for measuring and expressing the alcohol content of high alcohol liquids. Proof is never used for wine. The proof of a liquor is twice its alcohol content, i.e., 80 proof = 40% alcohol. Since wine is always much lower in alcohol than the range commonly used for proof, the term has no use in wine production and is not used on wine labels.
Pruning: The act of cutting off various parts of grape vines, usually in winter when the vines are dormant. Pruning develops the shapes of vines when they are young and controls the growth, fruit quantity (and therefore, quality) of producing vines.
Pumping over: The act of pumping wine out from a bottom valve of a fermenting tank up onto the top of the fermenting mass in the same tank to keep the floating “cap” of skins wet. This is necessary during fermentation of red wine in order to achieve complete extraction of color and flavor from the skins.
Punching down: The act of pushing the cap down into the fermenting liquid to wet it and facilitate color and flavor extraction. This is the traditional method, but it can only be used for small tanks. Larger tanks are “pumped over,” which means pulling fermenting liquid from the bottom valve of a fermenting tank and spraying it over the top surface of the cap in the same tank. This wets the cap with new wine and helps to extract color and flavor from the skins in the cap.
Punt: The concave indentation in the bottom of certain wine bottles, especially those containing sparkling wine. Several reasons for it may be found in literature: to collect crystals or sediment (this only works if the bottle is standing upright) so that the wine may be decanted easily; to add “apparent size” to a bottle which contains exactly the same measure as a bottle which lacks the punt; to facilitate snobbiness by allowing the sommelier to pour a wine flamboyantly, with his thumb in the punt and the bottle cradled in his other four fingers; etc, etc. Reason #1 is more correct than the others.
Pupitre: (pup-ée-ter) French name for the hinged, wooden “A-Frame” rack used for riddling Champagne bottles prior to disgorging. (Riddling settles the yeast sediment into the neck so that it can be easily removed by the disgorging step.)
Quinta: “Farm” in Portuguese. The name on a Portuguese wine label identifies the source of grapes used for the wine.
Rachis: The skeleton of branched stems that gives a grape bunch or cluster its shape. The rachis isn’t obvious when covered with grapes, but very obvious after the individual grapes have been removed by shaking or picking.
Racking: Decanting clear juice or wine from above the sediment in a tank. This is the easiest method for getting rid of solids that have settled to the bottom in a tank. Wine tanks commonly have a built-in “racking valve” placed 20 inches (~half a meter) above the bottom valve for use in racking wines during production.
Reduced: The technical term describing a state which is the chemical opposite of “oxidized.” It is sometimes instructive to think of the reduced state as “negative oxidation.” In wine, the reduced state is usually recognized by the obvious smell of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide, or H2S) which nearly always accompanies the reduced state.
Reims: (pronounced “ranss”) Beautiful cathedral city in northeastern France. Along with the town of Epernay, Reims is the center of the Champagne region.
Residual sugar (R.S.): Term commonly used in wine analysis referring to the content of unfermented sugar in a wine already bottled. Wine snobs often take on a knowing look, lowering their eyes slightly, and call it “the R.S.”
Respiration: The clever biochemical process whereby plants use oxygen to burn fuel (usually sugar) to create energy for their own growth, development and fruit production. Animals use these same reactions except that animals take in oxygen through lungs, whereas plants absorb it through leaf pores and by diffusion of dissolved oxygen across membranes in leaves, roots, etc.
Rhine: Famous wine river in Germany. The common name given to all German wines produced from vineyards near the Rhine River.
Rhone: A major river in southeastern France, flowing from Switzerland to the Mediterranean. The name is commonly given to all the wines produced from vineyards along the river.
Riesling: A shortened name for the wine variety “White Riesling;” see Johannisburg Riesling.
Rioja: (re-ó-ha) Spain’s best and most well known region for table wine production. Located just south of the Pyrenees Mountains on the French border with Spain.
Rosé: French word for pink wine, the word is in common use all over the world.
Sack: Shakespearean era name for Sherry wine. “Sack” sounds enough like “sec” (dry) that sack was assumed to be a corruption of sec for a long time. But there is no support for that erroneous belief in historical writings. Actually, as was pointed out by H. Warner Allen in his book “A History of Wine,” sack is derived from the Spanish verb sacar, to take out (or, export). Sherry wines intended for export were officially designated “vinos de saca” (wines for export). After continued and familiar use in England and elsewhere, it didn’t take very long for this “saca” to become “sack.”
Sapwood: The outer portion of woody (xylem) tissue, located just inside the cambium and just outside the heartwood. Sapwood forms the primary highway for transmission of water and minerals from the roots up through all parts of the vine towards the leaves.
Sauternes: Singular, like all those other malicious French words that end in an unspoken s. Sauternes is a region in southwestern France which produces fine dessert wines of the same name from the Semillon and Sauvignon varieties. Chateau Y’Quem is the most famous and usually one of the yummiest.
Sauvignon (Sauvignon blanc): White grape, second only to Chardonnay for table wines in many quarters. Used around the world for its ability to produce fine wines in regions a little too warm for the best Chardonnays. Often blended with its sister variety, Semillon.
Schloss: A German word for castle; on a wine label it is equivalent to the French word “Chateau.”
Scuppernong: One of the two major classes of Native American grapes. The wines are too pungent in flavor for most wine aficionados. However, the wine has its followers, especially in the Carolinas. Interestingly, Scuppernong varieties produce their grapes on individual stems from the branches rather than in “Bunches” or “clusters” of grapes that we see in both European vinifera and American labrusca grape types.
Sec: French term meaning “dry,” or lacking sugar. However, on French Champagne labels it means that the wine is sweet. This is just one of the many pitfalls awaiting the unsuspecting initiate to the world of fine wines. See Brut, Extra Dry. Better yet, don’t buy French Champagne — buy Richard Grant Wrotham Pinot Sparkling Wine instead.
Secondary fermentation: Any fermentation that happens after the primary (yeast) fermentation has been completed. Malo-lactic is a secondary fermentation that occurs in most red, and some white, still wines. Another secondary is the yeast fermentation that is used to change still wine into sparkling wine.
Sekt: German word for sparkling wine. (The word “Champagne” is not used on German labels, even for export.)
Semillon: One of the primary white wine grapes of the Bordeaux area (Graves and Sauternes). It doesn’t have a large following in the U.S., but it should. Some of my favorite dry, white table wines are not the Chardonnay currently in vogue, but Semillon!
Set: The fixing of tiny, newly pollinated grape berries to the cluster stems. Without set, the pistil (containing an ovary) would simply dry up and fall off. But after set, it becomes more firmly attached to its stem and develops into a grape berry.
Seyval Blanc: “French Hybrid” grape variety grown mostly in France and the eastern U.S. The wines can be quite good — or mediocre. The best dry table wine I’ve tasted that was grown in England was a Seyval Blanc!
Shatter: The drying up of a large percentage of unsuccessfully pollinated pistils leaving a nearly bare stem skeleton (with few berries attached) where a fully populated grape cluster should be. If you were expecting a crop of, say, 5 tons per acre but suffer considerable shatter in June, you might eventually get only 2 tons per acre, even with good weather for the rest of the season.
Shoot: The elongating, green, growing vine stem that holds leaves, tendrils, flower or fruit clusters and developing buds. It might also be what the grower first says out loud when he realizes his crop has suffered shatter in a given June or July.
Shot berries: Small, BB size, grape berries on a cluster that are not fully developed and contain no seeds. These are often caused by adverse weather at bloom time but may be caused by some aberration in the clone of grapes you are using. Since shot berries make lousy wine or champagne, clones found to produce excessive shot berries are weeded out in favor of better clones.
SO2: The chemical shorthand symbol for sulfur dioxide, the primary antioxidant/preservative in table wines.
Soave (swa-vay): One of the better types of Italian white wine. Always a blend, the wine is produced in northern Italy. Soaves are especially good when only 1-2 years old and aren’t expected to age.
Soft: Legal term for a wine that is low in alcohol. Also a term to describe the taste of a wine that is low in acidity, flavor, body and which often tastes somewhat sweet.
Solera: Spanish system for aging and slow blending of Sherries in barrels. It is also the preferred method of blending used to make Tawny Ports and many dessert wines.In this method, the first sherry is “laid down” in a row of casks. The next year, the next vintage is stacked above the bottom row. Next year, the third vintage casks are placed into position above the second row, etc. Over time, as some sherry is removed from the bottom casks, it is “replenished” with liquid from the casks immediately over it, which is replenished from the casks over it, and so on. The “series” of casks is called a criadera, and the cascade method is called “running the scales.”Only 33% of the solera is removed per year. In this manner, the sherry maintains a consistent taste. Often, wine produced by this method can contain wine from up to 30 vintages. Solera wines are quite consistent year after year because of uniform blending of many different vintages together.
Sommelier: The (usually) pompous guy in the restaurant who looks down his nose all the time while making it clear that you should’ve ordered something more expensive from the wine list. A high class “wine steward” or waiter.
Sonoma: A coastal county north of San Francisco and one of the top wine producing areas of California. Many Sonoma wines are fully as acceptable, qualitywise, as the finest of Napa Valley. Sonoma and Napa Counties have a common border from San Francisco Bay northward along the ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains.
Sour: The taste sensation of acid. Not to be confused with bitter or astringent, which are taste sensations of tannins.
Spätlese: German word meaning “late harvest.” These wines are usually sweet, high in quality and more expensive than ordinary table wines.
Spicy (or Spicey): Tasting term to describe a wine that tastes as if it had spices added during production (it didn’t, of course). Gewurztraminer is the wine variety that is most often referred to as spicy. Also, the smell or taste sensation reminiscent of spices. The Gewurztraminer varietal flavor is naturally spicy, especially when grown in cool climates.
Spumante: The Italian word for sparkling wine. Equivalent to Sekt in German.
Spur: A shortened stub of cane, usually formed by pruning the cane to a length of only two to four nodes (buds). Spurs are obvious in the spring, after pruning but before new growth obscures the pruners’ handiwork.
Stabilization: Any treatment or process that makes a wine stable, i.e., unlikely to suffer physical, chemical or microbial change during later storage.
Stalks: The word (in every English speaking country but America) for “stems.” In the U.S., stalks means big stuff (like corn stalks). But in England, stalks can be little, too. Grape stems = grape stalks and an American “stemmy” tasting wine is “stalky” tasting in England.
Stems: The pile of skeletal remains of grape bunches or clusters (rachis parts) left over after the grapes have been removed at the crusher. The crusher spits these out in a pile as waste material when crushing grapes for fermentation. Often during grape crushing the rachis gets broken, allowing bits of stem to remain in the must during fermentation. These bits of stem make up part of the cap in a red fermenter and part of the pomace after the new wine is drained from the tank. Generally, leaving the stems in contact with the juice during fermentation is undesirable because stems can supply “bitter” or “green” tasting tannin to the liquid.
Still wine: Wine that is not sparkling, i.e., does not contain significant carbon dioxide in solution.
Stomata: Tiny openings on the undersides of grape leaves through which pass gases (sorry) and water. The important gas that passes through stomata is carbon dioxide, which is on its way in — to get captured by the chlorophyll and be turned into sugar.
Stuck fermentation: A yeast fermentation that stops prematurely and refuses to start up again even though live yeast and fermentable sugar still remain in the liquid. Stuck fermentations are bad news, because, when the yeast stops, bacteria usually take over, using up the rest of the sugar and turning your precious wine into vinegar.
Sugaring: Called “chaptalization” in France, probably hoping that nobody would know what they were talking about. Sugaring is the addition of common sugar to fermenting grape juice or must (from underripe fruit) for the purpose of raising the eventual alcohol content in the wine. Illegal in California, sugaring is usually needed only in very cool climates (or off vintages) in which the fruit fails to achieve full ripeness naturally. See Chaptalization.
Sulfite: The dissolved form of sulfur dioxide. Plural: sulfites, as in “this wine contains sulfites.” Sulfur dioxide has been used in the wine making process for thousands of years. It has three important functions in wine making. (1) It has antiseptic qualities that kill the wild yeasts and bacteria that are present on the fruit. (2) It has anti-oxidant qualities that help protect wine flavor from oxidation. (3) It destroys enzyme systems that cause browning in the juice. Without it our wine would be brown, taste like Sherry and be plagued by bacterial spoilage.
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2): A pungent gas used in wine to inhibit wild yeast growth, to protect wine from air oxidation and to inhibit browning in juice and wine. It works quite well but, dang! it smells like burning match heads. It’s used for wine in parts per million amounts only; at those levels the smell and taste are not generally noticed. It is safe for human consumption except for a miniscule minority of brittle asthmatic persons, who must avoid it like the plague. For those few unfortunates, SO2 can be life threatening, even in ppm amounts. This is the reason wine labels always say, “contains sulfites.”
Sur lies: French term meaning “on its lees.” In new wine after fermentation, aging the wine in contact with its lees allows pleasant flavor compounds to escape from the yeast cells into the wine. After bottling, sur lies wines are often more lively, aromatic and subtle, with a characteristic freshness that is highly prized by experts and occasional drinkers alike.This is especially true in Champagne and Sparkling Wines. Sur lies can turn a good wine into a superb one because the yeast contact takes place inside a sealed bottle where oxidation is impossible. Generally, a longer time on yeast lees means a higher quality sparkling wine. Richard Grant Wrotham Pinot, for example, is held on its secondary fermentation yeast lees for a minimum of three years prior to disgorging, often four years. Precious few other Champagnes or Sparkling wines anywhere in the world hold to this strict standard of quality.
Sweet pomace: Solid grape residue that is left over after the juice is drained off, but prior to fermentation. Primarily composed of skins, stems and seeds.
T.A.: Abbreviation for Titratable Acidity, one of the two primary methods for determining acidity in wine. See pH also.
Table Wine: Legally defined category of wine that includes all wines with lower than 14% alcohol content. Colloquially, “wine meant to be enjoyed at the dinner table with meals.” However, today’s consumer must beware. In only the last decade, a great many wines that traditionally contained less than 14% now routinely contain more than 14% alcohol! Winemakers have allowed the alcohol contents of their wines to creep to ever-higher levels in the quest for more and more intense varietal flavor. Riper grapes often contain more flavors. The problem is that riper fruit also contains higher amounts of sugar — the same sugar that becomes alcohol through fermentation.The winery pays a higher tax for the additional alcohol and cannot use the term “table wine” on the label. Otherwise, the label might look the same as before, when lower than 14% alcohol vintages prevailed. Higher alcohol wines usually taste “hot” and are more difficult to drink than their lower alcohol peers. Many consumers find them less satisfying because they are not able to enjoy them without the problems of too much alcohol too early in the evening. Every bottle must state the alcohol percentage and the consumer will do well to check the fine print before accepting these difficult to drink “higher than 14%” wines.
Tanks: The largest wine containers in a winery. Over the centuries, as technology improved, it became possible to build larger and larger wooden tanks for efficient storage of wine. Winemakers knew from early experience that larger tanks protect wine from oxidation much better than smaller tanks. The ratio of air leakage to wine volume gets less and less as tank size gets bigger, giving large tanks a natural advantage over small ones for safe wine storage. The Germans took this to the ultimate in building some truly gigantic “Tuns” for wine storage as early as the fifteenth century. See Tuns.
Tannin: Any of a class of natural polyphenolic materials that can react with proteins, as, for example in the tanning of animal hides – “tanning” them into leather. Tannin is a desirable component of most red wines, adding considerable “body” and a pleasant, mouth-drying taste. Most types of tannin have an astringent (sometimes bitter) taste, making the mouth pucker. Tannin in wine comes from grape skins, stems, or seeds (especially if seeds are crushed or broken open by mistake or sloppy winemaking) and from wood contact during barrel aging.Seed tannin is the least desirable in wine because this type of tannin is usually quite bitter and most crushers are designed to avoid breaking the grape seeds. Tannin is primarily responsible for the dusty or dry and sometimes bitter taste in red wines like Cabernet. Tannin is the component that allows red wine to age, acting as a natural preservative, helping the development and balance of the wine. It is considered a fault when present in excess.
Tart: Acidic (used as a pleasant descriptor in wine tasting).
Tartaric Acid: The most prominent natural acid of grapes, juice and wine, tartaric acid is not usually found in other fruits or vegetables. Tartaric acid is recovered from “cream of tartar,” which is scraped from the insides of wine tanks and sold as a by-product of winemaking. Cream of tartar is used in cooking as well as in paints, cleaners and for other chemical formulations. See Argols.
Tartrate: Chemically speaking, a “salt” of tartaric acid. The only tartrate you care about is cream of tartar, aka Potassium bi Tartrate or Potassium acid Tartrate. Cream of tartar crystals drop out of new wines when they are cooled to near freezing for a few days. The crystals are clear, glassy, harmless and do not effect the flavor of the wine. Once the tartrates have been removed from a wine, the wine is said to be “cold stable.”
Tastevin: A shallow silver (sometimes gold) wine tasting cup originally used in the Burgundy region of France. Now widely used also by sommeliers in select restaurants, where it might make them look more threatening.
Tendrils: String like, coiling growth from nodes of grape shoots that support vines by curling around objects and hanging on for dear life. Tendrils are thought of as sterile or undeveloped grape clusters, since the two have a common origin.
Terroir: Earth or soil, used in the special sense of “place,” which includes localized climate, soil type, drainage, wind direction, humidity and all the other attributes which combine to make one location different from another. This word is often mis-translated to mean simply “soil type,” giving rise to a great deal of further misunderstanding and argument in which both sides are wrong.
Terroir: See above. Also, the characteristics of a vineyard site thought to be imparted to a particular wine, as in “taste the terroir”. It is used to describe geographic, geological, climatic and other attributes that affect an area of growth as small as a few square meters.
Thief: A type of pipette, used for sampling wine from the top of a tank.
Thin: Term used in sensory evaluation referring to a wine that lacks body, viscosity, alcohol or sugar. Often this term refers to wine from a poor vintage in which the grapes failed to ripen fully.
Tirage: (Tier-âhh-j) Production term that describes the first bottling step, which begins the process that turns a new wine into Champagne or Sparkling Wine. After the tirage, the new Sparkling Wine is aged on the yeast, then riddled, disgorged and, finally, labeled for sale.
Tokay: Upstream from the intersection of two Hungarian rivers, the Bodgrog and Hernad in the town of Tokaj, (I couldn’t make this up) there is a triangular swath of volcanic soil that has been sheltering vines since before the Magyar tribes arrived more than a thousand years ago. Their wines were already famous by the time of the crusades and have only gotten better if we are to believe the history books.The grape variety is called Tokay-Furmint and the process seems quite similar to those of both French Sauternes and the German Trockenbeerenauslesen of the Rhine. Noble rot abounds and the result is extreme richness in the grape berries by the time of harvest. The wine is rich, sweet, flavorful, luscious and long lasting. Drink all you can hold and rub the rest on ya’.
Topping: The act of filling a barrel or tank to the very top with wine, usually wine of the same type and vintage. For many decades winemakers have topped barrels during barrel aging of wines because it was assumed that topping was needed to protect the wine from oxidation due to air leaking into the barrels as small amounts of wine evaporated out (leaving “air space”). Because of experiments done in the early 1970s, we now know that a natural vacuum develops in barrels as wine evaporates out — air does not enter barrels at all. Topping barrels actually adds air to the barrel being topped rather than protecting the wine in the barrel from air. Since the 1970s at U.C. Davis the “No Topping” technique was taught as well as topping and many winemakers stopped topping their red wines altogether.In recent years a new approach called “Micro-oxygenation” has come into fashion because it can make new wine appear to be older than it is, especially young wine from warmer climates. Winemakers in warmer climates can sell their new wines earlier by using oxygenation to “take the newness away” and make some wines salable earlier than before. Since topping is a way to add a little oxygen without the expense of using micro-oxygenation equipment, topping got a new shot in the arm.Which method do I believe is right, you ask? I believe it would be a crime to reduce the ageworthiness of high quality, cool climate, varietal wines by using either micro-oxygenation or topping. Aeration takes away from a wine’s ability to age well, whether the aeration is added to barrels deliberately, or by leakage. Oxygen uses up a wine’s protective levels of pigments, tannins and other polyphenols and I think fine red wines should be protected from air at all times. So my rule is: Use No Topping and stay away from micro-oxygenation for cool climate fine wines. But, winemakers using warmer climate wines (which tend not to produce long-lived wines anyway) have a different situation. They can go ahead and make their wines salable earlier by aerating a little in the early stages of winemaking without causing a problem. Either of the two methods can be used: topping while aging in barrels and/or micro-oxygenation at will.
Translocation: Movement of water and nutrients from one part of a grapevine to another.
Transpiration: Loss of moisture from a vine by evaporation through tiny pores in the leaves.
Trockenbeerenauslese: The highest category of nectar-sweet and expensive dessert wine produced in Germany. The word means “dry berry selection,” which indicates that the raisined berries are individually picked to insure that only fully raisin dried grapes are used for the wine. Luscious.
Troncais: Name of a forest in central France and the French oak wood (for barrels) shipped from the Troncais region. Troncais oak is tight-grained compared to Limousin. See Alliers, Limoges.
Trunk: The main, vertical body of a grapevine that supports all the top growth.
T.T.B.: (Tobacco and Tax Bureau): The surviving federal agency, having been split off from BATF, which governs the production, labeling and sale of wine in the U.S.
Tuns: The name given to gigantic German wooden wine casks, dating at least from as far back as the 15th century, many as large as 30 to 50,000 gallons and more. The largest known was probably that of the town of Königstein, with a capacity of nearly one million gallons, built in 1725! You can see a nice one in Heidelberg on your next trip. Just ask anyone.
Ullage: The empty space above the liquid in a wine bottle (or wine barrel or tank) usually after long storage. Ullage comes from the French word ouillage. Older wine bottles typically have a little more space, or ullage, than younger wines because more of the wine has seeped out and evaporated away with time. Ullage is used as an indicator of how well a cork seals its bottle (in a very old wine, little or no ullage usually indicates that the wine will be sound and unspoiled when opened). Large amounts of ullage in an old bottle of table wine is a sure sign that the wine is dead, since some of the wine has leaked (or evaporated) out past the cork. When liquid has leaked out, you can bet that air has leaked in.
V.A.: Volatile Acidity. See below.
Vacuum in Wine Barrels: A vacuum develops inside wooden wine barrels if the wine is not disturbed for several weeks after filling the barrels and sealing the bung. It is caused by small amounts of alcohol and water evaporating out of the barrels but not being replaced by air from the outside. Sound barrel staves do not allow air to enter the barrel through pores in the wood! To me, this means that winemakers, especially in cool climate vineyards which can produce long-lived wines, should not continue the common practice of regular topping of barrels. This is because topping barrels tends to oxidize their wine and lessen the wines’ bottle aging potential.
Varietal wine: A wine produced primarily from a single grape variety and so labelled.
Varietal: Term used to describe wines made totally or predominantly from a single variety of grape. For example, Merlot is a varietal.
Veraison: The first grape color change, from green to purple (black grapes), or green to yellow-green (white grapes), accompanied by a softening of the texture. This is considered to be the first step in the maturation of grapes on the vine.
Vermouth: A fortified wine, red or white, which has been flavored by addition of various herbs and barks (originally wormwood but wormwood is not used any more because of health concerns). Vermouth is used primarily as an aperitif.
Vigneron: Common French word for winegrower or winemaker.
Vignoble: Common French word for winegrowing area.
Vigor: A measure of
quality of the growth shown by a grape vine, as opposed to capacity, which measures
quantity of the growth and development of a vine.
Vin: French word for wine (vino in Spanish or Italian); widely used in other languages as well.
Viña: Spanish word for vineyard. Widely used in California as part of the name of a wine property.
Vinegar: Literally, “sour or bitter wine.” See acetic acid, volatile acidity.
Vinho verde: (pronounced veen-yo ver-dee) A specific type of Portuguese wine that is noted for its youth, freshness and newness in the taste. These wines are always best if consumed young without bottle aging.
Viniculture: Same as viticulture.
Vinifera: Scientific name of the primary species of Vitis (vines) used for winemaking. Vitis vinifera produces nearly all the world’s wines (certainly all the world’s best wines).
Vinification: The act of winemaking, including all the operations and processes involved. Somehow if you’re talking to an audience, “vinification” seems so much more important than “winemaking.” Knowing when to use this word (along with my other favorite, cultivar) is certain to add a special pizzazz to your image and get you a notch ahead of the crowd. See Cultivar.
Vinous: Tasting term to describe the “wine like” smell or taste which is common to all grape wines, whether varietal or not. Sometimes wine judges, when confronted with a so-so wine that lacks varietal flavor may call the smell simply “vinous.” Without other special attributes, that wine usually gets “No Award” or, maybe a Bronze.
Vintage: In short, the “year” or season of winegrowing. But vintage wine, by U.S. rules, is defined differently depending upon whether the wine label shows a lowly political appellation (like a state or county) or a stronger one (like a Viticultural Area). For wines with a Viticultural Area, the rule is 95%; for lesser appellations, the rule is only 85%: i.e., either 95% or 85% of the wine in the bottle has to have been harvested in the stated calendar year.In most other wine producing countries, the rule is simpler and less strict: A wine qualifies as vintage if at least 85% of the wine in the bottle was produced in the year stated on the label. Somehow bureaucrats think it’s desireable to protect the consumer a little better for smaller appellations than for the larger ones. Bless their hearts. Winemakers know that, very often, blended wines have higher quality than unblended ones, but there is no consistency on that, either. Occasionally, a single vineyard might have a higher quality than a comparable blended wine, but not very often.
Vintage wine: Wine which was produced from grapes harvested in a single calendar year. Government records must be associated with vintage the wine to prove its identity. If records have been kept, the winemaker is allowed to state the vintage year on the label.
Vintner: Common term for anyone in the wine business.
Viognier: A grape variety used for white wine blends in the Rhone Valley of France. It has a distinctive, though difficult to describe, character. Expect to see this used more and more in California.
Viticulture: The science, art and study of grape growing.
Volatile acidity (V.A.): The acetic acid or vinegar content of a wine. The “V.A.” is used as an index of bacterial activity since volatile acid arises only from microbial spoilage of wines in the presence of air. The bacteria, growing in the wine, actually oxidize a little of the alcohol into acetic acid, using whatever oxygen they can find. If a wine bottle (or tank) is left open in the presence of air, it’s a slam-dunk for the little buggers and you’ll have a bottle (or tank) of vinegar on your hands pronto.
Weingut: (Vine-goot) Any wine producing property in Germany.
Weinstrasse: (Vine-strass-uh) “Wine road” in Germany. A tourist route that connects many wineries in a given area. Following a Weinstrasse is an excellent way to spend part of your vacation in any wine country.
White oak: The variety of American oak that is used for barrel manufacture. The wood from all other varieties of oak is more or less porous, and cannot be used for containers to hold liquids. Many more white oak barrels are used for whiskey than for wine.
White Pinot: We don’t often hear this term used much today. Thirty years ago in California it was a common name given to any unidentified white wine grape of uncertain parentage. Any variety was called White Pinot if you didn’t know exactly what it was. That is, except the true and classic Pinot Blanc, which should never be called “White Pinot”.
White Riesling: True name of the so-called Johannisberg Riesling or Rhine Riesling grape and its wines. Viewed at a distance in the field, there is a distinctly whitish natural cast on the fruit as if powdered by a Japanese make-up artist. Immediately recognizable, this grape looks like no other on the vine.
Wine: A natural, alcohol-containing beverage produced by the yeast fermentation of grape juice or must. Wine has a specific legal definition in (probably) all countries of the world.
Wine Institute: A trade organization of winery members headquartered in San Francisco for the purpose of advancing the business interests of its member wineries. Wine Institute keeps its members constantly informed and advised on the legal and social status of “anything important to the wine industry.”
Wine Trade: Common name given to the collective group of retailers, wholesalers, restaurateurs, wine salesmen and wine producers which make up the “wine industry.”
Wine Vinegar: Vinegar which was made from wine — as opposed to standard, kitchen run vinegar which is usually made from apples, pineapples, pears or any other fruit which happened to be cheap and available.
Winegrowing: One of the most accurate descriptive words in the science of wine, but one of the most misunderstood also. It means that quality in wines is not made in a winery but outside in the vineyard. The grower who merely “grows grapes” tries to maximize his tonnages to get maximum dollars — without caring what the eventual use for his crop might be.By contrast, the winegrower tends his crop according to which farming practices will make the best quality wine. He avoids over cropping, uneven fruit ripening or the use of spray chemicals that could interfere with later fermentation. He works diligently to harvest his fruit as nearly as possible to the optimum ripeness level for the type of wine intended. He studies the latest viticultural practices and what they may mean to the quality of wine.Most of all, he understands that a winemaker in a winery cannot improve on the quality that existed in the grapes at the time of harvest. Either quality is in the grapes or it isn’t. The winemaker can only hope to avoid ruining the wine by preserving whatever quality is there. He cannot produce quality wine from poor grapes. The wine is truly grown, not made.
Winemaker: The person in charge of winemaking in a winery. Formerly called “production manager,” until “winemaker” was discovered to have lots more pizzazz with the wine buying consumer. The winemaker may be in overall charge of the whole (small) company or only the fermentation, aging and bottling of a single wine in a large winery.
Winery: A place where wine is made. A winery can be made up of one or more buildings or no building at all; it can be a cave or an open-air assortment of tanks, barrels or other containers.
Wood tannin: Tannin that came originally from wood, as in a wine that was oak-aged.
Woody: Tasting term for a wine in which the effect of prolonged (perhaps too much) contact with wood is noticeable. In general, wood tastes exactly as it smells — same as anything else. You can tell I’m getting near the end of this Glossary.
Wrotham [pronounced root-um] Pinot: In the early 1950s an unusual wild grapevine was noticed growing against a stone wall near the village of Wrotham in Kent, southeastern England. None of the village residents knew where the vine had come from. Estimated to be around 200 years old, it had been there as far back as anyone could remember and its origin was shrouded in mystery. The grapevine leaves were distinctly blue-green and each had an unusual “hairy” appearance. Close inspection revealed many tiny white hairs growing on the upper surfaces of all the leaves, especially the youngest leaves. From a distance the small white hairs made new leaves look as if they were covered with a light coating of white dust or flour! Residents gave the grape vine a nickname “Dusty Miller” because it reminded them of local flour mill employees who often were seen with a coating of flour dust all over their clothes.
This vine appeared to be unlike anything grown commercially in continental Europe then or, indeed, today. Although its leaf color and appearance were unlike the Pinot Noir vines of France or Italy, the fruit clusters looked remarkably similar to the great Pinot Noir grapes of those famous regions! It most resembled the Pinot Meunier of Champagne in France, which itself is a natural mutation of Pinot Noir. However, Wrotham Pinot differed from Pinot Meunier in that Wrotham has somehow developed a considerable immunity to the powdery mildew disease that affects all other Vitis vinifera vines now cultivated in the world.
English winemakers took cuttings from this wild Wrotham vine to propagate a small vineyard as a test for commercial winemaking in England. Because today’s cooler English climate could not always develop a full black fruit color in the grape skins, the Wrotham fruit in England was treated as a Champagne grape. It was used only for sparkling “Blanc de Noir” wines. The surprise was that these wines were surprisingly fruity, balanced, rich and quite remarkable to sip. The wines were so exceptional that it was only a matter of time before the outside world would take notice.
California winemaker Dr. Richard Grant Peterson liked the sparkling wine so much he imported dormant Wrotham cuttings back to California in the early 1980s. Working with the University of California, he began to propagate new vines from this antique bud wood in a private nursery. The DNA of these vines was analyzed at the University and the report came back that Wrotham Pinot DNA is identical to that of Pinot Noir! Evidently, Wrotham Pinot vines are the final offspring of many successive generations of wild seedlings from the original Roman Pinot Noir vines grown in England two thousand years ago!
The village of Wrotham has a long history of Roman influence. The Wrotham Historical Society has records and artifacts that show the area was populated for many centuries by Romans and their descendants. Indeed, even today, occasional Roman coins dating from the third century have been found there while digging in gardens or in construction projects.Obviously, the Wrotham grape vine and its ancestors had considerable time in which to acclimatize themselves to the cool and wet weather conditions in Great Britain. One of the pleasant discoveries awaiting Richard Grant was that none of his Wrotham vines in the Napa Valley has ever needed to be dusted with sulfur to protect against powdery mildew! Sulfur dusting happens routinely with all other commercial vines in California and most of the world. Only Wrotham Pinot vines remain healthy without the use of Sulfur dust — or, indeed, any other chemical sprays.
Xylem: The woody, center portion of a vine trunk, arm or cane, including everything inside of the cambium layer. Xylem includes heartwood at the center of a vine trunk (composed of older, dead cells) and sapwood outside of the heartwood but inside the cambium layer (composed of living cells), which transport water and dissolved substances upwards from the roots towards the leaves.
Yeast lees: Solid sludge-like sediment, primarily spent yeast, which settles to the bottom of a fermentation tank after the fermentation is completed. Yeast lees should not be allowed to remain in contact with the wine any longer than necessary. This is because spent and decomposing yeast is the primary source of H2S (the odor of rotten eggs) in wine. This can be confusing: the world’s best sparkling wines are produced by deliberately leaving wine in intimate contact with spent yeast in sealed bottles during the secondary fermentation. The answer is in the strains of yeast used and the oxygen-free conditions inside a champagne bottle compared to the tank.
Yeast: Unicellular microorganisms which occur naturally in the air, on the ground and coating everything else you can see around you. This is especially true in areas where fruits are grown. Whether “wild” or “cultured,” yeast can quickly metabolize natural sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (called fermentation). When all, or most, of the natural sugar of grape juice has been transformed into alcohol, the juice is legally “changed into wine.”
Zinfandel: A black grape variety, well known in California but almost a total stranger elsewhere in the winegrowing world. Historically, for many decades, Zinfandel has been the most widely planted and important wine grape variety in California. It is certainly similar to the variety called Primativo in extreme southern Italy (and to no other widely planted European variety).
Only through DNA studies and not until the 21st century was its true nature discovered. Zinfandel is identical to the Zrljenac Kastelanski of coastal Croatia, where it is anything but widely planted. DNA studies also show that Italy’s Primativo sprang from a natural cross between Zrljenac Kastelanski and another nearby grape, making Primativo a natural daughter of Zinfandel.
The exact date and pathway of Zinfandel’s entry into California is hidden in obscurity. It is easy to grow in most of the widely varying microclimates of California, from the coldest coasts to the hot, inland deserts. A flexible grape for winemaking, Zinfandel can produce virtually all of the types of wine now produced in California, including delicate white or pink carbonated refreshers, medium bodied red “vin ordinaire,” “Beaujolais” style nouveau red wines, heavy bodied, aged, rich, red table wines, dessert wines similar to Port and even sweet, late harvest red table wines! It is truly amazing that California’s most prominent and important grape is only sparsely planted in the other warm, dry regions of the world.