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Glossary of Wine Terminology

Acidity                         The main acids found in wines are Tartaric acid and Malic acid, and the amount varies with grape variety, the way it is made and what is added to it during the making. Another acid that we hope not to find is Acetic Acid, vinegar. If the grapes were grown in a warm climate the resultant grapes are lower in acidity, so for example, Chardonnay grapes grown in France’s Burgundy region will contain far more acidity than if they had been grown in Australia’s Barossa Valley. Wines from warmer countries can often be ‘acidified’ up to a level denoted by the local wine laws, and here Tartaric acid is added. See Malolactic Fermentation for ways to reduce the acidity. Acidity is felt in the mouth by a watering / saliva sensation especially around the outer edges of the tongue.

Aftertaste                    After the wine has left the mouth ( either by swallowing or spitting) the taste that remains is called the Aftertaste, it will change with time, and how quickly it changes along with what the changes are is important.

Alcohol                        When the grapes are picked, pressed, separated and then fermented, the grape sugars in the run off grape juice are converted into alcohol with the presence of yeast ( added or natural), the higher the sugar content, the higher the potential alcohol content, so grapes from Australia can produce wine with a much higher alcohol content measured as a %, than grapes from France.

Balance                       Balance in wine refers to the interaction and harmony between the wine's constituents, sugar, acidity, flavour,  alcohol and tannins in red wines all play their part.
Body                           The Body of the wine is the weightiness in the mouth and is often connected to the fullness of flavour and the alcohol/glycerine content of the wine.

Botrytis Cinerea is a fungus that can infect grapes in the correct conditions, good rot is called Noble rot - the desired one ( the bad one - grey rot results in wiping out the harvest), there are areas in the world that this can happen naturally and one of these is the area around Sauternes and Barsac in Bordeaux left bank.The aszu wines of Tokaji wines are also produced having been affected by Botrytis Cinerea. It needs a temperate climate and ideally early morning mists ( off cool water) and sun later in the day so the grapes are kept dry in those autumn afternoons. Not all grapes will be affected, and some may take longer to mature which is why several pickings - called Tries- are needed to get all the grapes at thier ideal condition.
The fungus affects the skins and feeds off sugars in the grape itself, but also uses about 50% of its water contained in the grape, so overall the grapes sugar concentration increases! Additionally acids are also consumed ( 5/6ths of the Tartaric acid in the grape is consumed). By products that are produced include glycerine ( the chemical which makes the wine feel viscous), acetic acidand a selection of enzymes. Phenolics of from the skins are also consumed so reducing the tannic structure.
Due to the reduction in water content of the grape the juice produced from Noble Rot infected grapes is low - often in the range of 15 hl/ha.

Carbonic Maceration     This is when grapes are kept in a sealed environment and are allowed to ‘fermant’ within each grape, it is practised in Beaujolias and in parts on the Languedoc and Rousillion regions. The flavours associated with Carbonic Maceration are bubble gum and banana.

Clean                           A wine that is in good condition and has not been affected by cork taint (ie Corked), does not contain volatile acids – acetic acid and does not have off aromas and flavours can be said to be clean.

Closed                         When a wine bottle is opened, poured and tasted the wine can be said to be closed if the true flavour is faint and is not expressing its true potential, in some cases if it is allowed to stand ( breath) it may open – ie the aromas and flavours mature and become ‘Open’, but in some cases to wine may need many more years in bottle to mature. In some wines from Burgundy and/or Bordeaux, when the wines are bottled they are fruity, tannic and acidic, if opened after 2 years they may have closed up or become tight, they must be allowed to remain in bottle for some time (years) to reach their full potential.

Complex                     A wine is said to be comlex when it has many facets within its character, for example, fruits, vegetal, mineral.... flavours and changes as it is tasted. It is also something that holds the drinks interest.

Core                             The core of the wine is the main body of the wine. When a glass is tilted at an angle over a pale surface ( white preferably), the core of the wine can be seen, where the edge fades – this is called the ‘rim’, depending on the age and quality of the wine this may be wide or narrow.

Corked                        A wine is said to be corked when it is affected by a cork that is in bad condition – and has bacterial infection, the wine smells of wet cardboard and the taste is badly affected.

Creamy                       A creamy texture in a wine is due to the fermentation process, often if a wine is barrel fermented it will have a silky creamy texture. It is also due to the glycerine contained in the wine that in part comes from the grape itself.

Crisp                            A wine is said to be crisp if it has quite a high acid content, the clean mouth feel, and saliva induced is said to be from a crisp wine. If the wines fermentation and maturation process has involved oak, the wine will have lost some of the crispness, and if it has undergone Malolactic fermentation the acidity will be reduced so less crisp.

Cru Bourgeois .       In the 1855 classification of the Medoc, many properties ( Chateau) that were not included. In 1932 a selection of 444 properties were put forward for classification, and this was split into 3 seperate classifications Cru Bourgeois , Cru Bourgeois Superior and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.
In 2003 there was a shake-up of the whole Cru Bourgeois system with the numbers contained in the ranks reduced to 247, this was legally challenged and so annulled by some of those that had been relegated/demoted. The list was to be Exceptionnel (9 properties), Supérieurs (87 properties) and straight Bourgeois (151 properties).
In 2010 in response to the 2003 annulment a new certification adopting the term Label Cru Bourgeois, was created "not as a classification, but as a mark of quality" open to all Medoc wines, based on production and quality standards, and assessed by an independent body. It was to include 180 estates from the defunct 2003 ranking, along with 95 new entrants.
he revision demanded that estates adhere to a new set of production rules and independent quality testing in order to remain in the classification, and the terms Cru Bourgeois Supérieur or Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel would no longer be used. Of the 290 producers who applied for Cru Bourgeois status for their 2008 wine, 243 were successful. In September 2011, the 2009 classification was announced. Of 304 applicants, 246 were successful

Depth of colour         The colour in the wine is due in the main from skin contact of the grapes during the making process. Red wines come from black grapes which actually have red skins, the longer the time spent with the grape juice in contact with the grape skins the more colour leached from them into the grape juice. Some grapes have less colour, for example Pinot Noir grapes have less colour and this is evident when you examine the resultant wine. Cabernet Sauvignon on the other hand has alot of colour contained in the skins and the wines can be deep, deep red/black. The warmer the climate where the grapes are grown, the more colour contained! The colour element comes from ‘phenolics’ contained in the skins, especially ‘anthocyanins’, to get good colour ( and also tannins) the grapes must be ripe, that is not just the sugar content) in the grape but also the phenolics in the skin.

Dry                               A wine is said to be dry when it has less sugar contained in the wine, the acidity can give the impression of dryness.

Earthy                         When used in a positive way – the wine has an aroma of clean freshly turned soil, and this is more intense than truffles or wood.

Fat                                When a wine does not contain enough acidity to keep it ‘fresh’ it can be termed as ‘fat’, or ‘flabby’. The fruit in turn does not appear as fresh as if there was a higher acidity. They can also lack structure and taste heavy.

Finish                           When the wine has left the mouth ( swallowed or spat), the time that the flavours remain and also how quickly they fade define the ‘finish’ of the wine, it may also be termed as the ‘length’, though this is really just the time that the flavours remain, not how they evolve.      

Flabby                         When a wine does not contain enough acidity to keep it ‘fresh’ it can be termed as ‘fat’, or ‘flabby’. The fruit in turn does not appear as fresh as if there was a higher acidity. They can also lack structure and taste heavy.

Flat                               A wine can be termed as ‘flat’ if it does not express itself fully, this may be a temporary condition and if allowed to ‘open’ with time may improve, but it may just be the way the wine is – it may not improve.

Flavour                        A wines flavour is not the same for everyone, some may think the wine is nectarine and peach, while others apricot and apple, the more flavours that can be attributed to the wine – the more complex the wine may be thought to be.

Fruit                             Fruit on nose or palate are what the taster finds, and  everyone will not get the same characteristics for each wine.   Fruit flavours/aromas infer that the wine is young, as those characteristics fade – so does the attraction of the wine for many people. The fruit is a primary aroma / flavour, as they fade secondary and finally tertiary flavours replace them.

Full Bodied                 If a wine has big flavours, alot of alcohol (and so glycerine) it is thought to be full bodied. Heavy in the mouth wines are termed as full bodied and may be silky or velvet in texture.

Legs                             When a glass of wine is swirled, the ‘tears’ or ‘legs’ or ‘dribbles’ that run down the glass can be slow ( high glycerine content) or fast (if the wine is low in glycerine).

Length                         When the wine has left the mouth ( swallowed or spat), the time that the flavours remain and also how quickly they fade define the ‘finish’ of the wine, it may also be termed as the ‘length’, though this is really just the time that the flavours remain, not how they evolve.

Light Bodied              A wine that has low alcohol and/or less fruit flavours, can be termed as light bodied, it often has less texture.

Lively                          If the wine has a high acidity and quite ‘spiky tasting’ in the mouth it may be termed as lively, it means that it tastes fresh and jumpy on the palate and is often young and exhuberant.

Malolactic Fermentation   The malolactic fermentation (MLF) is an important natural process for adjusting acidity. The MLF lowers the acidity by converting malic acid to lactic acid and carbon dioxide. It is a process that is encouraged in many White wines and in most Red wines. If the wines contain little Malic acid, MLF will not shape its profile as much as a wine containing alot.

Mature                        A wine can be said to be mature when it has reached its ‘peak’ condition, for some this may be 1 year while for others it may be 20+ years.

Midpalate                   When tasting wines, the flavours will show themselves in different places, sweet and fruit flavours are tasted better in the front portion of the tongue and bitterness in the back third with salt and acidity at the sides of the tongue, in the midpalate some wines lack complexity, for example Cabernet Sauvignon has a ‘blind spot’ in the mid palate often filled by another component in a blend eg Merlot.

Oak                              Oak is used in the making of wines, it may be that fermentation or Malolactic Fermentation takes place actually in a barrel, , or maturation using oak planks called staves, or even large’tea-bags’ of oak shavings are used to flavour the wine. The type of oak used imparts a flavour, it may be Hungarian, Romanian etc Most of the oak used in quality wines is either French oak ( from a named forest) which imparts different flavours to American oak. The amount of ‘toast’ (burning) the oak is subjected too will also affect the flavour it imparts to the wine.

Passito                         Where grapes used to make wine have been dried before the fermentation stage, resulting in increased  concentration of sugars in them. This is a practice which is traditionally used in the Veneto, of Northern Italy in the production of Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella, but also for Recioto di Soave and other sweet wines. 

Racy                            Often used to describe a wine that is high in acids, it is fresh, crisp and fruity.

Rich                             Wines that are high in flavour compounds (and sometimes called extract) and often also have high alcohol levels which imparts silky textures due to the high glycerine contents.

Rim                              The core of the wine is the main body of the wine. When a glass is tilted at an angle over a pale surface ( white preferably), the core of the wine can be seen, where the edge fades – this is called the ‘Rim’, depending on the age and quality of the wine this may be wide or narrow.

Sharp                           Often used to describe a wine that is high in acids that is fresh, crisp and maybe even astringent.

Silky                             This may be used to describe a wines texture, rich, high alcohol wines also have a high glycerine content that impart a silky or velvety texture.

Soft                              A wine may be described as ‘soft’ when it lacks acidity and also in some cases structure, it may be used in a negative way when the wine would normally have higher acidity. The wine may tend to be ‘flabby’ or ‘fat’.

Solera System            It is essentially a blending/mixing system normally made up of casks that hold wines of varying ages. It is a method that results in a 'drawn off wine' mimicing the maturity of the oldest part of the wines it barrels contain. It is used in the production of sherry in Jerez and in the production of Port / Portugal. It should mean if the correct amount is removed and added each year that the samples drawn in year X equal the samples removed in year X+10 and X+20 and so enabling a 'house - style ' to be produced that does not change. The wine produced is Non-Vintage but will often have on the average age.
Spices                          A wine that has had contact with oak, either in the fermentation stage or for maturation, may have a spicey character on nose or palate. The spices in this case are often sweet spices, vanilla, clove, cinnamon.

Structure                     A wines structure is normally defined in part by its balance of acidity, alcohol and tannins, it is the framework of the wine itself. If a wine lacks structure it is often flabby or soft.

Sweet                           Sweetness of the wine is due to residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation has stopped, in some wines the fermentation is stopped on purpose, while with others it will stop of its own accord. It is expressed in grams per litre in many cases. A wine with very little residual sugar can appear sweeter if it has prominent fruit flavours, and if the acidity is high this can make the sweetness appear reduced.

Swirl                             A glass is often swirled to exhibit the character of the wine, by overfilling the glass the wine will spill, by under filling there will not be enough wine to show its true form.

Tannin                         Tannin is contained in the skin, stem and pips of the grapes and on pressing the grapes tannins are released. Tannins can also be released from wood used in the making of wines especially in the maturation of the wine. On the palate, tannins show themselves as a textural element on the gums, they can appear as chalky, gritty, grainy, silky, depending on the ripeness of the grapes, how much of the tannins were derived from stems and pips, and the length of maturation in new wood barrels.

Texture                        Wines that have a high glycerin content ( either due to the grape variety, or high alcohol content of the wine) are said to be textural, they may be silky, velvety for example, thin wines can have a thin watery texture.

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