Glossary of Wine Terms
acidity is what gives wine, and most other drinks, its tang.
Lemons have lots of it; potatoes very little. A wine's acidity
comes from the acids (mainly malic and tartaric) in grape juice. which
diminish as grapes ripen. A hot summer may reduce acids to such an
extent that some have to be added, a process known as
acids - group of chemical compounds which give grape juice and
wine its tang and ability to refresh. Most common acids in grape juice
are tartaric and malic.
American hybrid - variety bred from American and European vines.
ampelography - science of identifying grape varieties by detailed
description of the appearance of the vine, especially its leaves
alcohol is the potent mood-changer that differentiates wine from
grape juice. A wine's alcoholic strength is its concentration of
analysis, operation to which almost all modern wine subjected
which measures its vital statistics - alcoholic strength, total
acidity, residual sugar - and usually much more besides.
anthocyans, phenolics which most strongly influence a red wine's
colour, which is directly affected by its pH.
ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, is often added to must during
winemaking since it prevents oxidation, usually together with
sulphur dioxide to keep white wines fresh.
barrel, the winemaker's most fashionable tool. barrel ageing or
barrel maturation -keeping a wine in cask between fermentation and
bottling so that it stabilises naturally in the presence of small
amounts of air and also absorbs some flavour and possibly tannins from
the wood, depending on its age and size, and duration of barrel ageing.
barrel fermentation - fermentation in small barrels rather than a
large tank, common for top quality white wine
bâtonnage, French for lees stirring.
Baumé, measure of sugar concentration in grape juice (and
therefore grape ripeness) or must common in Australia.
botrytis, fungus affecting grapes benevolently (as in the 'noble
rot' responsible for great sweet wines) or simply spoiling them with
mould, depending on conditions.
Brettanomyces, wine fault so fashionable in the US that it is
sometimes just called Brett. Wines affected by this spoilage yeast
smell offputtingly mousey.
Brix, measure of sugar concentration in grape juice (and
therefore grape ripeness) or must common in the US.
canopy - the above-ground parts of the vine, especially its
canopy management - viticultural techniques designed to
manipulate the canopy to achieve a specific end, usually optimising the
quantity of grapes and quality of wine
cap - thick cake of grape skins floating on top of a vat of
fermenting red wine.
carbon dioxide is the harmless gas given off during fermentation
and that responsible for the bubbles in all fizzy drinks, including
sparkling and slightly gassy wine.
carbonic maceration, special way of making fruity, early-maturing
red wines, most notably Beaujolais, by fermenting them in a sealed vat
filled with carbon dioxide.
chaptalization, common cool climate winemaking procedure which
compensates for underripe grapes by adding sugar to the fermentation vat
in order to produce a more alcoholic wine. Named after French statesman
Jean Antoine Chaptal and usually strictly controlled.
classed growth, classified growth, Anglicisation of cru classé.
term used in Bordeaux for the 60 or so wine estates, or crus, that were
included in the 1855 classification of top MÈdoc and Graves properties.
They were ranked, as in football divisions, into first (premier), second
(deuxième), third (troisième), fourth (quatrième) and fifth (cinqième)
growths. There are only five first growths: Chx Lafite, Latour, Mouton,
Margaux and Haut-Brion.
clarification, umbrella term for a host of processes designed to
ensure wine is crystal clear, including fining,
filtration and refrigeration.
clone - an example of a variety replicated from a particular
mother vine specially selected for a particular attribute(s).
concentration, new technique for concentrating flavour (and acid
and tannin) in less ripe vintages.
coulure - deficient fruit set which may substantially reduce the
size of that year's crop. Just after flowering, an excessive proportion
of the nascent berries fall off, often because of unsettled cold, wet
weather. Some varieties are more prone than others.
cultivar - South African term for vine or grape variety
crossing - variety bred from members of the same species
cru classé, French for classed growth
downy mildew - fungal vine disease.
élevage, French term with no direct English equivalent for the
wine-maturing processes involved between fermentation and bottling.
enology, US spelling of oenology.
ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is the sort of alcohol found in
alcoholic drinks such as wine.
fanleaf - virus vine disease.
fermentation - the process whereby sweet grape juice is
transformed into alcoholic wine, thanks to the action of yeast
field grafting - grafting a new variety on to an established
rootstock in the vineyard. Increasingly common.
filtration, controversial clarification
process of pumping wine through various different sorts of filter to remove suspended solids. It
may also strip out flavour if overdone.
fining, clarification technique
involving adding a fining agent
(such as egg whites or bentonite) which attracts solids to fall to the
bottom of a container.
flavour compounds, complex, still under-explored maze of
phenolics responsible for the flavours of different wines.
foxy - distinctive taste of the grapes and wine of some American
vines, especially Vitis labrusca and some of its hybrids. Methyl
anthranilate is the (often) offending compound.
free-run is the name given to the juice or wine which flows
French hybrid - vine variety bred from American and European
fruit set - early summer phenomenon which immediately follows
flowering. As soon as the vine flowers, a proportion of them are
fertilized, or 'set', to become berries, and eventually grapes. The
higher the proportion, the bigger the crop is likely to be.
grafting - broadly, inserting a section of one plant into another
so that they unite and grow as one plant. In a viticultural context,
usually grafting a European fruiting vine on to a rootstock, often
chosen for its resistance to phylloxera .
ha - hectare, or 2.47 acres
hl - hectolitre, 100 litres, or 26.4 US gallons
hybrid - variety bred from members of different species
inert gas, one such as nitrogen which does not react with wine
and can be useful filling the head space of a container to prevent
leafroll - virus disease of the vine
lees are the solids left at the bottom of a fermentation vat
after fermentation. Relatively neutral-tasting white wines are often
deliberately given prolonged lees contact and even lees
stirring to generate more flavour and make them more stable.
malic acid, the sharp, appley acid most notable in grapes from
malolactic fermentation (MLF or 'le malo'), increasingly common
second fermentation in which harsh malic acid is converted to softer,
lactic (milky) acid making the resulting wine is more supple.
mercaptans, wine fault popular with Australian tasters. A skunky
smell results from yeast reacting with the lees.
It can be cured by assiduous racking.
millerandage - abnormal fruit set in which bunches contain
berries of very different sizes because of poor fertilisation, often
because of unfavourable weather.
must, useful word for the pulpy mass at any stage between grape
juice and wine.
must weight - measure of grape ripeness, or sugar concentration
noble rot - the benevolent form of botrytis
oak, the most common sort of wood used for barrels. Usually
either soft, sweetish American oak or tauter, more savoury French oak.
Oechsle, measure of sugar concentration in grape juice (and
therefore grape ripeness) or must common in Germany.
oenology is the science of winemaking, practised by a (usually
oxidation, potentially serious calamity that can strike grapes,
grape juice and wine if they are over-exposed to oxygen,
making them go brown (like a cut apple) and taste flat. Wines suffering
from oxidation, sometimes from a less-than-airtight stopper, are
oxygen, both good and bad fairy in the winemaking process. A
small amount of oxygen at the beginning of fermentation encourages the
yeast and during barrel maturation deepens colour, smooths flavour and
makes the wine more stable. But too much oxygen causes oxidation and
may eventually turn the wine to vinegar.
pH. All but the most technically-minded should skip this
explanation of one of the wine bore's buzz words. pH is a measure of the
concentration of acidity in a liquid but higher readings mean lower
acid. Water, for example, has a pH of 7 while most wines have a pH of
between 3 and 4 with very acidic wines having a pH of less than 3. pH
and colour are also closely related.
phenolics, varied group of compounds found mainly in skins, stems
and seeds in the case of grapes. They include anthocyans, tannins and
many flavour compounds. Precipitated, they form an important part of
wine's sediment and play a considerable role in wine ageing. Red wines
are much higher in phenolics than white, which is why red wine is better
at protecting against heart disease.
phylloxera - fatal vine pest which chews vine roots. The only
remedy is to replant on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks.
potential alcohol of a liquid is the acoholic strength it would
reach if all the sugar were fermented into alcohol.
powdery mildew - fungal disease of the vine.
pressing, important winemaking operation involving literally
pressing the juice (white wines) or astringent press wine out of
the skins. The quality of the resulting juice depends on how hard the
grapes are pressed (as explained on p 67).
protective winemaking involves protecting the grapes, juice,
must and wine from oxygen,
typically by using sealed containers, low
temperatures, sulphur dioxide and sometimes ascorbic
pruning - arguably the most important operation of the vineyard
year in terms of wine quality. During winter the vine is cut back
leaving a specific number of buds responsible for producing the next
year's crop. Although many other factors come into play, low-yielding
vines in general tend to produce more concentrated wine.
pulp - the fleshy part of the grape containing most of the water,
sugars and acids in grape juice. Apart from red fleshed Teinturiers,
the flesh of all grapes is the same dull grey, no matter what the colour
of the grape's skin.
racking is the operation of transferring wine from one container
(typically a barrel) to another, leaving behind the lees. It can
usefully expose the wine to oxygen and avoid reduction.
residual sugar (RS), the amount of unfermented sugar left in a
wine after fermentation is complete, usually measured in grams per litre
(g/l) or per cent. A residual sugar level of less than 2 g/l (0.02 per
cent) is imperceptible to most palates. Although acidity
counterbalances residual sugar, most wines with 25 g/l (2.5 per cent)
residual sugar taste distinctly sweet.
reducing conditions are those which favour reduction, or losing
oxygen, the opposite of oxidation. In excess, where a (usually red)
wine is starved of oxygen, they can result in off-putting mercaptan or
rootstock - plant specially selected to form the root system of a
fruiting vine of another variety by grafting
seed - part of the grape containing tannins. Care is usually
taken not to crush them.
skin - very important part of the grape which contains most
flavour compounds, pigments, and tannins - all highly desirable, not to
say essential, for red wines but a more debatable ingredient in the
white winemaking process
skin contact, deliberate policy of trying to extract as many
flavour compounds and/or anthocyans as possible from grape skins into
juice (in the case of white wines) or wine (in the case of reds).
sorbic acid, additive widely used in the food and drink
industries to stun yeasts and moulds. Sometimes used for inexpensive
sweet wines, it smells of crushed geranium leaves, excessively to a
small proportion of particularly sensitive humans.
soutirage, French for racking.
stabilization, umbrella term for all the winemaking operations
designed to stop wines developing a fault in bottle such as a haze,
cloud or fizz, no matter what the storage conditions. It is practised
most brutally on everyday wines.
stem/stalk - woody attachment of grape to bunch, high in often
harsh tannins. All or most are usually deliberately eliminated by a
mechanical destemmer prior to fermentation.
sulfur, alternative spelling of sulphur.
sulphides, off smells reminiscent of bad eggs which can taint
heavily reduced wine.
sulphur dioxide, the most common and most useful winemaking
additive used since Roman times, used mainly as a preservative,
disinfectant and to ward off oxidation. Its use has been declining as
consumers have become less tolerant of the freshly-struck match smell
associated with sulphur. Some asthmatics also react badly to high doses
of sulphur, which has lead to some countries' requiring the legend
'contains sulfites/sulphites' on wine labels. A tiny but
increasing proportion of wines are made using no sulphur at all but they
tend to be more fragile than most. Sulphur reacts readily with many
other wine ingredients to form bound sulphur; it is only free
sulphur which can be detected, although sensitivities vary
considerably between individuals.
sugar - carbohydrates accumulated in the grape pulp during the
ripening process which are transformed into alcohol by fermentation.
See also chaptalization.
sur lie, French for a wine treated to lees contact.
tannins - cheek-drying, astringent phenolic compounds similar to
stewed tea in effect on the palate which are found mainly in red wine
and are derived from grape seeds, skins, and stems. They can help
preserve red wines while they mature in bottle. Tannin management is one
of the red winemaker's most important jobs.
tartaric acid, the most common and distinctive wine
is a particularly good preservative. A lot of the acid is precipitated
as crusty desposits called tartrates, usually seen as harmless
white crystals in white wine, and dyed deep red in red wines.
topping up, cellar operation of filling barrels regularly to
training - shaping a vine into a specific shape, usually to
effect some form of canopy management
triage, French word for sorting, typically grapes for health and
quality in the vineyard or as they are brought in to the winery.
ullage is the head space between wine and the top of a container
such as a barrel or bottle. If it is excessive it can cause oxidation.
vieilles vignes - French for 'old vines', which generally produce
more concentrated wine than young ones.
vigour - a vine's natural tendency to sprout forth leaves.
vine density - important vineyard parameter, the number of vines
planted per unit of area
vinifera - vine species of European origin, as almost all the
well known wine producing varieties are.
vintage - can mean either the particular year in which the crop
was harvested or the process of harvesting itself
Vitis - the vine genus.
whole bunch pressing and fermentation - as opposed to destemming
before pressing or fermenting. These two techniques, common in Champagne
and Burgundy respectively, physically help drainage, the stems acting as
yeast, micro-organisms of many types which can encourage all
sorts of chemical changes, including fermentation. Traditional wine
producers tend to rely on ambient, invisible yeasts whereas modernists
prefer specially cultured yeasts chosen for their suitability for a
yield - the amount of wine or grapes produced per unit area,
usually measured either as ton/acre, tonnes/ha or, in much of Europe,
hl/ha. Many factors such as pressing regime, grape variety, and style of
wine affect the conversion of weight of grapes into volume of wine but 1
ton/acre is very approximately equivalent to 17.5 hl/ha.
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