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Twenty Important Wine Words
Twenty Wine Terms you Should Understand

Ever find yourself tripping over "wine speak"? Here are 20 important wine words and what they mean...

Appellation
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 their grape skins. This tends to impart a creaminess to the wine because of the lees contact with the juice.

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 their grape skins.

Botrytis
"Botrytis Cinerea," a mold or fungus that attacks grapes in humid climate conditions, causing the concentration of sugar and acid content by making grapes at a certain level of maturity shrivel. Botrytis is responsible for the super-sweet "Trokenbeerenauslese" Rieslings and the wonderful dessert wines of Sauternes.

Corked
Cork tainted wine can range from an absence of fruit that leaves the wine muted, to undrinkable corked wine that reeks of moldy cardboard. Cork taint is caused by a chemical called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, "TCA" for short. TCA arises from the molds on natural cork when chlorine is used to bleach and sanitize them. TCA is harmless but has a potent, musty, moldy smell and can give wine a bitter taste. Concentrations of TCA as low as 3 parts per trillion can taint a wine! Based upon the number of bad bottles we experience, I put the number at about 2% - 3% here in the United States, and it used to be much higher.

Decanting
Decanting can be used for two reasons.

First: It is a method by which cellar-aged bottled wine is poured slowly and carefully into a glass decanter, in order to leave any sediment in the original bottle before serving. 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 while the wine is passing by.

Second: Letting any young tannic red wine breath will improve it. Decanting it in a container with plenty of surface area is the single the most important thing you can do to improve any red wine. Opening a young Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah or blended red 20 to 40 minutes before dinner, pouring it into a decanter and allowing it to aerate will soften it up.

Filtered and Fined
Filtered wines have had suspended particulates resulting from the fermentation process removed. Fining uses various materials for clarifying wines. These materials precipitate to the bottom of the fermentation process vessel carrying any suspended particulate matter with them. More and more fine wines are made today without filtering or fining because many winemakers believe that it detracts from the wine. So when you find residue in the bottom of your bottle, it's not a problem it just has not been filtered or fined.

Late Harvest
Name given to dessert or full-bodied table wines produced from overripe grapes.

Lees
The sediment which settles to the bottom of the 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."

Legs
Term used to describe the liquid rivulets that form on the inside of a wineglass bowl after the wine is swirled. Usually, the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the rivulets appear.

Malolactic Fermentation
What happens during this fermentation is that malic acid, which has a sharp flavor, is acted on by special bacteria. The result is that carbon dioxide is given off, and the malic acid is converted into lactic acid. 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.

Méthode Champenoise
Literally, "made by the Champagne method" the classic, time-consuming way to produce Champagne and many other sparkling wines. It involves a secondary fermentation within the bottle.

Oenology
Oenology, also spelled enology, comes from the Greek word oinos, which means 'wine'. It means the study of wine and winemaking. This is thought of differently than viniculture, which is the study of grapes and grape growing. Someone who studies winemaking is called an "oenologist."

Oxidized
Flavor term to describe a wine which 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 flavor.

Solera
The method of blending used to make Sherry, Tawny Ports and many dessert wines. In this method, the first sherry is "laid down" in a cask. The next year, the next vintage is put above it. Some sherry is taken from the bottom cask, and it is "replenished" with liquid from the cask over it, which is replenished from the cask 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.

Sulfite
Sulfur dioxide has been used in the winemaking process for thousands of years. It has three important functions in winemaking. First, it has antiseptic qualities that kill the wild yeasts and bacteria that are present on the fruit. Second, it has anti-oxidative qualities that help protect wine from oxidation. And third, it destroys the enzyme that causes browning in the juice. Without it, our wine would be brown, taste like Sherry and be plagued by bacterial spoilage. 

I know that labels in Europe don't say a word about sulfites but they are still there  So why do ours? Plenty of products contain sulfites and don't carry warnings.  A snack size box of raisins contains ten times the sulfites as a bottle of wine and you would pick up more sulfites from a fast food lunch than from an entire bottle of wine.  

Why the warning on wine... enlightened leadership.  Senator Strom Thurmond, a legendary alcohol opponent, inserted the health warning label into the Drug Act of 1988 simply to do anything he could to make wine look dangerous.  The fact is that all wine includes sulfites.  Even if it is not added, the yeasts that ferment the wine produce it as a byproduct.   

Tannin
A naturally occurring substance in grape skins, seeds and stems. Is primarily responsible for the dusty or dry and sometimes bitter component 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.

Tartrate
Tartrate crystals are clear, glassy crystals that form in the bottle or on the cork. They are harmless and do not affect the flavor of the wine.

Terroir
A French word describing a special sense of "place." The characteristics of the vineyard site thought to be imparted to a particular wine. It is a term that includes geographic, geological, climatic and other attributes that can affect an area of growth as small as a few square meters.

Ullage
Ullage comes from the French word ouillage. It means the space in the top of a bottle that is empty. Older wine bottles typically have more space, or ullage, because more of the wine has evaporated away as it has aged. 

Varietal
Term used to describe wines made totally or predominantly from a single variety of grape. i.e., Cabernet Sauvignon is a varietal.