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Wine Terms Glossary

Acid – A moderate amount of a wine’s acid comes from malic acid, which contributes fruitiness, and a small amount comes from citric acid.

Total acidity – Total acidity is expressed either as a percentage or as grams per liter. The proper acid level of a wine varies, with sweeter wines generally requiring somewhat higher levels to retain the proper BALANCE. Some labels make note of a wine’s acidity. For dry TABLE WINE the acceptable range is usually 0.6 to 0.75 percent; for sweet wine it’s 0.7 to 0.85 percent. In some areas (usually warm growing regions where acidity is lower) like California , natural grape acids can legally be added to wine to increase the acidity.

Aeration – [ay-RAY-shun] The process in which air is deliberately introduced to wine, as in DECANTING, or in swirling the wine in a glass.

Aftertaste – Usually the hallmark of a COMPLEX wine, the aftertaste is the flavor that lingers in the back of the throat or nasal passage after a wine is swallowed.

Aging; age – The process of maturing wines so that they can improve. Those wines that benefit from aging become less harsh, less TANIC, SMOOTHER, and more COMPLEX. Once wines complete FERMENTATION, they begin to change, mainly as a result of air contact but also because the natural components of the new wine begin interacting with one another. All ROSE wines and most white and LIGHT red wines should be bottles soon after fermentation and drunk while still young. But aging is still necessary for some wines to reach their full potential. These include most fine red wines (such as those from France’s BORDEAUX and RHONE regions, California’s better CABERNET SAUVIGNONS and ZINFANDELS, and Italy’s BAROLOS and BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINOS) and many white wine (SAUTERNES, BURGUNDIES, and some California CHARDONNAYS).

Wood aging – A process of maturing wine in barrels or casks prior to bottling. This process allows young wines to SOFTEN and absorb some of the wood’s flavors and TANNINS. The wine’s flavors become concentrated because of slight evaporation. In modern winemaking, wood aging has become very complex, with considerations like size of container, origin and type of wood, and barrel-making techniques.

Bottle aging – Further develops the nuances of wine. After a wine is bottled, the first few weeks of aging allow it to recover from BOTTLE SICKNESS. The length of further aging depends upon the type of wine.

Alcohol – [Al-kuh-hawl] Alcohol is the intoxicating element produced by the yeast FERMENTATION of certain carbohydrates-the sugar in fruit, in the instance of wine. If a wine is fully fermented, from 40 to 45 percent of the grapes’ sugar content is converted into carbon dioxide and from 55 to 60 percent is converted into ethyl alcohol (the only alcohol suitable for drinking). Therefore, a wine whose grapes were picked at 23 BRIX will end up with 12.6 to 13.8 percent alcohol if VINIFIED completely DRY.

Alcoholic – A term used to describe a wine’s hot, burning taste accompanied by a sharp, biting sensation in the mouth. This undesirable trait is caused when an elevated ALCOHOL level is not balanced by other wine components.

Appellation – [ap-puh-LAY-shuhn, Fr. ah-pel-lah-SYAWN] In the wine world, a designated growing area governed by the rules and regulations established by its federal government and local governing body. Such rules vary from country to country but are somewhat similar in their attempt to stimulate the production of quality wines. These regulations are established by the APPELLATION D’ORIGINE CONTROLEE (AOC) in France , the DENIMINAZIONE DI ORIGINE CONTROLLATA (DOC) in Italy , the DENIMINACAO DE ORIGEM CONTROLADA (DOC) in Portugal , the DENOMINACION DE ORIGEN (DO) in Spain , and the AMERICAN VITICULTURAL AREA (AVA) in the United States .

Aroma – In the wine world, the traditional definition of aroma is the simple, fruity smell of the grape variety. Today’s broader definition combines a wine’s varietal fragrance plus any changes that develop during FERMENTATION and AGING. The traditional difference is that a young wine will show its varietal aroma in a more pronounced way. However, in a mature wine-where some of the grape’s intrinsic fragrance has been replaced by other characteristics-the smell transmutes into a BOUQUET.

Aromatic – Wine tasting term that describes a wine with a rich, spicy, or herbaceous aroma and flavor, generally derived from certain grape varieties such as SAUVIGNON BLANC and MUSCAT .

Astringent; astringency – A wine that has a harsh, dry, mouth-puckering effect created by excess TANNINS. High ACIDITY can produce a similar reaction. Wines with astringency may SOFTEN as they mature.

Balance; balanced – Balance in wine is created when all the components –ACID, ALCOHOL, FRUIT, TANNINS etc.-are in perfect harmony. In a well-balanced wine, none of these elements overpowers another. The perfect balance in a particular wine depends on its origin and style.

Barrel fermentation; barrel-fermented – The process of fermenting wines in small barrels instead of large vats or stainless steel tanks. The barrels are usually made of oak and are about 60 gallons in size, although larger ones are used occasionally. Even though barrel fermentation is more expensive and less controllable than fermentation in larger tanks, it’s thought to imbue wine with rich creamy flavors, delicate oak characteristics, and better aging capabilities. On the downside, this technique contributes to some loss of fruit flavor. Barrel fermentation is usually associated with white wine grapes like CHARDONNAY and SAUVIGNON BLANC, although occasionally CHENIN BLANC and Semillon are processed this way.

Berrylike – An intense, ripe, sweet-fruit characteristic found in some young wines such as those made from ZINFANDEL, CABERNET SAUVIGNON, and MERLOT. Such a trait most often suggests blackberries, black cherries, mulberries, raspberries, or strawberries.

Blending – The process of combining different wines with the goal of creating a composite that’s better than any of the wines separately. The wines used for blending might be from different varieties (for instance, CABERNET SAUVIGNON, MERLOT, and CABERNET FRANC), different regions (such as NAPA VALLEY and PASO ROBLES), varying types of COOPERAGE (some new barrels, some older barrels, barrels from different forests or coopers, etc.), and even different VINTAGES (as in non-vintage CHAMPAGNE created by combining wines from different years).

Body; bodied – The perception of TEXTURE or weight of a wine in the mouth, which is a combination of elements including ALCOHOL, EXTRACT, GLYCERLO, and ACID. A wine with RICH, COMPLEX, well-ROUNDED, LINGERING flavor is considered full-bodied; one that’s watery or lacking in body is called light-bodied or thin; a medium bodied wine ranks in between. Not all wines strive for a full-bodied characteristic, namely those whose hallmark may be FINESSE, such as CHAMPAGNE . Dessert wines, like rich SAUTERNES, are considered full-bodied partly because the RESIDUAL SUGAR adds weight and texture.

Bottle sickness – A reaction that occurs in wine immediately after corking, resulting from the large amount of oxygen it absorbed after bottling. Bottle sickness can also be caused if sulfur dioxide was added during the bottling process. The effect on the wine is a flat flavor and aroma, sometimes accompanied by an off-putting odor. Bottle sickness, sometimes referred to as bottle shock, dissipates within a few weeks.

Breathe; breathing – When the cork is removed from the bottle and the wine is exposed to outside air, the wine begins to “breathe”, or aerate. The aeration process is accelerated when the wine is decanted into another vessel (a DECANTER) or poured into a wineglass, allowing even more air access to the wine. There is some debate about the benefits of letting wine breathe. Advocates believe that the practice allows wines to SOFTEN (especially younger red wines with high TANNINS) and the BOUQUET to evolve and develop COMPLEXITY. Detractors say breathing dulls the wine’s flavor and diminishes its liveliness. There’s no argument that many wines simply don’t benefit from breathing-generally most white and ROSE wines, as well as many lower-quality reds. Wines that do benefit are usually higher-quality VINTAGE red wines and some superior whites from BURGUNDY . Care should be taken with very old wines in that too much aeration may cause them to lose some of their fragile bouquet and flavor.

Brick red – A descriptor for the color of some red wines that signals maturity. The brick-red hue is detectable most obviously at the MENISCUS, or rim of the wine in a glass.

Brilliant – An adjective used to describe a wine of superior clarity, which is usually accomplished through intense filtering.

Brix – [BRIHKS] Name for A.F.W. Brix, a nineteenth-century German inventor. The Brix scale is a system used in the United States to measure the sugar content of grapes and wine. The Brix (sugar content) is determined by a HYDROMETER, which indicates a liquid’s SPECIFIC GRAVITY (the density of a liquid in relation to that of pure water). Each degree Brix is equivalent to 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of grape juice. The grapes for most TABLE WINES have a Brix reading of between 20 degrees to 25 degrees at harvest. About 55 to 60 percent of the sugar is converted into ALCOHOL. The estimated alcohol that a wine will produce (called potential alcohol) is estimated by multiplying the Brix reading by 0.55. Therefore, 20 degrees Brix will make a wine with about 11 percent alcohol. The Balling scale was a comparable measurement procedure that has since been replaced by the Brix system.

Brut – [BROOT] A term applied to the driest CHAMPAGNE and other SPARKLING WINES. Brut wines are drier (contain less RESIDUAL SUGAR) than those labeled “extra dry”. Extra Brut denotes a wine that’s extremely dry, sometimes totally dry. Totally dry sparkling wines (those that aren’t sweetened with a little DOSAGE) are also sometimes called Brut Nature or Brut Integral.

Bung – A plug that’s used for sealing a wine barrel. It’s inserted into the bung hole through which wine can be added or withdrawn.

Buttery – A descriptor used to describe the smell, and sometimes, flavor of melted butter in a wine, most often CHARDONNAY. The term buttery is also used to describe the golden color of some wines.

California – The California wine industry is said to have started during the period from 1769 to 1823 when the Franciscan monks began planting vineyards as they worked their way from southern to northern California establishing their missions. Unfortunately, the grape they planted was the MISSION , which produces wines of poor to medium quality. It wasn’t until about 1830 that Jean-Louis Vignes began to import higher quality VITIS VINIFERA grapevines. In the 1850’s and 1860’s, AGOSTON HARASZTHY expanded the effort by trying to determine which grape varieties would work best in various locations in the state. To this end, he imported thousands of cuttings of about 300 different grape varieties. In addition to planting these vines in SONOMA COUNTY, he sold cuttings in various parts of the state, primarily in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas, The California wine-producing industry went through numerous ups and downs over the next 80 years, but the PHYLLOXERA infestation in the 1890’s and PROHIBITION from 1920 to 1933 severely curtailed wine business growth The industry continued to grow sporadically from 1933 on, but most of the production was fairly ordinary wine from the giant CENTRAL VALLEY. At the time, most wines were made from grapes like THOMPSON SEEDLESS, Emperor, and Flame Tokay, which could also be used for table grapes or raisins. This trend began to change in the 1960’s when Joe Heitz started HEITZ WINE CELLARS in 1964, Dick Graf established CHALONE VINEYARD in 1965, and ROBERT MONDAVI left the family (CHARLES KRUG) winery and established his own in 1966. At that time, the boom for quality wine took off, with dramatic increases in acreage allotted to grapes like CABERNET SAUVIGNON, and CHARDONNAY. Today Chardonnay is the most widely planted wine grape, with over 56,000 acres, followed closely by French COLOMBARD, with just slightly less. (This compares with a 1959 total of about 80,000 acres for all of California’s wine grapes.) After Chardonnay and French Colombard, the white grapes in order of total acreage are CHENIN BLANC, SAUVIGNON BLANC, RIESLING, GEWURZTRAMINER, PINOT BLANC, and MUSCAT . The most widely planted red grape (with about 35,000 acres) is ZINFANDEL, which barely edges out Cabernet Sauvignon. These two are followed in order of total acreage by GRENACHE, BARBERA, CARIGNANE, PINOT NOIR, MERLOT, RUBY CABERNET, PETITE SYRAH, GAMAY, GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS, and SYRAH. Today, California produces about 95 percent of the wine made in the United States . Although it now competes favorably in producing some of the world’s finest wines, it also still produces plenty of ordinary wine. Over 75 percent of California wine production comes from the hot Central Valley . Much of this wine is still undistinguished, although the quality is higher than in the past because of modernized equipment and better crop selection. For fine California wines, the climate of the cooler growing areas along the coast is best. Because of this, the NAPA VALLEY has become one of the premier wine-producing areas in the world. But it is not alone in the production of fine wine, as evidenced by other areas of the NORTH COAST in the counties of LAKE, SONOMA , MENDOCINO, and SOLANO. As the California wine industry continues to grow, other quality VITICULTURAL areas are being discovered, including numerous locations in the CENTRAL COAST region and selected areas in the SIERRA FOOTHILLS. California has many AMERICAN VITICULTURAL AREAS (AVA), however, this system is still in its infancy, and there are myriad confusing issues to be resolved. In an effort to define growing areas around the state, California uses a system known variously as degree days, heat summation method, Winkler Scale, and Regions I-V.

Cap – In winemaking, the mass of grape solids (skins, stems, seeds, pulp, etc.) that floats on the surface of the juice during FERMENTATION of red wine. The cap needs to be broken up and pushed down into the wine frequently to help extract color, flavor, and TANNINS, as well as to ensure that the cap doesn’t dry out and develop unwanted bacteria. In some wineries, workers employ the old method of using a long paddle to punch down the cap into the wine several times a day during active fermentation. Newer techniques include pumping the juice over the cap, thereby breaking it up and forcing it down into the juice. There are also specially designed tanks with screens fixed part way up in the tank. These screens stop the cap from rising to the top, thereby keeping it suspended in the juice. Other specially designed tanks rotate periodically, blending the cap and juice together.

Cask – [KASK] 1. A large, strong, barrel-shaped, leak-proof container generally used for storing wines and other spirits. Most wine casks are made of oak. 2. This term is also used to describe the quantity such a container holds.

Cave – [CAHV] The French term meaning “cellar”. Although often referring to an underground storage place, the word cave is also used to identify a collection of wines wherever they are store.

Central Coast AVA – A huge VITICULTURAL AREA covering vineyards from Los Angeles to San Francisco . The counties it covers are Alameda , Monterey , San Benito , San Luis Obispo , Santa Barbara , Santa Clara , and Santa Cruz . There are numerous smaller AVA’s within the large Central Coast area. Some winemakers use the smaller AVA names on their labels, although those who use grapes from more than one of the smaller AVA’s must use the Central Coast AVA.

Chewy – Descriptor for wines that are rich, dense, intense, and full-bodied. Such wines (which are generally red) give a mouth-filling impression that makes them seem almost thick enough to chew; they are also sometimes referred to as fleshy or meaty.

Chocolaty; chocolate – A rich chocolate aroma and flavor sometimes found in CABERNET SAUVIGNONS, ZINFANDELS, and other red wines.

Citrusy; citrus – A wine tasting term that describes wines with a citrus (generally grapefruit, lemon, or lime) smells and flavor characteristics. Such wines aren’t necessarily high in ACID.

Clean – A clean wine is one without faults, either in smell or flavor.

Closed; closed-in – Descriptor for wine that doesn’t show its full potential, most likely due to its youth. AGING will usually open up such a wine as it develops CHARACTER and intensity.

Cloudy; cloudiness – Descriptor for wine that is visually unclear. Cloudiness is considered a defect and is most often due to faulty winemaking. An older wine with SEDIMENT, though not absolutely clear, should not be confused with a cloudy wine.

Color – The color of a wine is an indicator of its condition, quality, age, and even style. In general, the less intense a wine’s color is, the more delicate the flavor and BODY will be. The color of any good wine should be clear. As wines AGE, their colors change-white wines become darker, often with traces of amber; red wines begin to fade and often assume a tawny, brick-red cast. A change of color in a young wine signals premature aging.

Complex; complexity – Complexity is a hallmark of quality in wine. A complex wine is one with multiple layers and nuances of BOUQUET and flavor. Its myriad elements are perfectly balanced, completely harmonious, and eminently interesting. Such a wine is the diametric opposite of one that is simple and one-dimensional.

Cooked – Wine with a heavy, sweet, sometimes caramelly smell and flavor is said to have a cooked characteristic. This trait can be due to several causes including an unusually high temperature during VINIFICATION or the addition of some form of sugar.

Cooperage; cooper – [KOO-per-ihj] 1. The work, as well as the place of business of a cooper, a craftsman who makes or repairs BARRELS or CASKS. 2. Cooperage also describes the articles (barrels, etc.) made by a cooper. 3. In wineries, cooperage refers to the wine storage capacity in such containers.

Corkage – [CORK-ihj] A fee charged by restaurants to open and serve a bottle of wine brought to the establishment by the patron. A quick call to the restaurant will confirm the amount of the corkage fee. Some restaurants charge a lower fee if the patron’s wine is not on the restaurant’s wine list, such as might be the case with an older or particularly distinctive wine.

Corked; corky – Terms used to describe a wine that’s been affected by a faulty cork. This characteristic is caused by a chemical compound (2,4,6-Tricloroanisole-246-TCA) that humans can perceive at levels as low as 30 ppt (parts per trillion). High levels of this compound produce an unmistakably putrefying odor and flavor that many compare to that of moldy, wet cardboard or newspapers. At moderate levels, a corked wine takes on a musty quality; at low levels, it seems AUSTERE and lacking in FRUIT. Wine professionals estimate that 3 to 5 percent of wines are ruined because of bad corks, which is why research is proceeding rapidly for an acceptable synthetic cork.

Creamy – An adjective sometimes used to describe the creamlike impression left on the palate from a sparkling wine’s rich, smooth froth.

Crisp – A descriptor for wine that has a fresh, lively ACIDITY that, although noticeable, doesn’t overpower the other components. Crispness is a desirable trait in white wines.

Crush – A term used in California and other parts of the United States referring to the time when grapes are harvested and crushed to make wine.

Crusher; crusher-stemmer – A crusher is a mechanical device consisting of paddles and rollers that break the grape berries and extract the juice. Crushing must be delicate enough so that the grape seeds are not broken, which would release their bitterness into the wine. With a crusher, a screen is necessary to separate the juice, skins, and seeds from the stems and leaves. With a crusher-stemmer, however, the stems and leaves are automatically expelled. Large commercial wineries have continuous-fee crusher-stemmers that can process up to 150 tons of grapes an hour.

Crystals – Small, innocuous fragments of tartaric acid found in some wines.

Decanter – A glass container into which wine is decanted. A decanter can be a simple CARAFE but it generally more elegant and often made of hand-cut crystal.

Decanting – [dee-KANT-ing] Decanting is done either to separate the wine from any sediment deposited during the AGING process or to allow a wine to BREATHE in order to enhance its flavor. When decanting an older wine, care should be taken not to disturb the sediment. A wine basket (also called cradle or Burgundy basket) can be used to move the bottle in a horizontal position from where it was stored to where it will be decanted. This position keeps the sediment from disseminating throughout the wine. If such a basket isn’t available, stand the bottle upright for an hour so that the sediment can settle to the bottom of the bottle. Once the foil and cork are removed, gently wipe the mouth of the bottle. Then begin slowly pouring the wine into a DECANTER, placing a strong light (a candle is charming, but a flashlight is more practical) behind or below the neck of the bottle. The light lets you see the first signs of sediment, at which point you stop pouring.

Deep – Many aspects of a wine (its COLOR, flavor or BOUQUET) can be deep which, in the wine world, is a word that signifies intensity.

Deposit – The SEDIMENT that settles in the bottle as a wine ages. Such deposits occur in many red wines and occasionally in some whites. It’s a natural process and doesn’t signify that there’s anything wrong with the wine.

Depth – A wine with flavor depth is full-bodied, intense and has multiple dimensions of flavor and BOUQUET. In this context, depth is similar in meaning to COMPLEXITY. Depth of color in a wine refers to the color intensity and is an indicator of quality that, in most instances, accurately predicts (particularly with red wine) how full-bodied a wine will be. The intrinsic degree of color in various grape varieties most certainly influences the depth of a wine’s color. The rule of thumb when comparing like wines is that the deeper-colored wines are generally made from higher-quality grapes and will therefore have fuller flavor and body. A pale color intensity, especially in a red wine, can have several meanings-from over planted vineyards to under ripe grapes, any of which diminish a wine’s character and flavor.

Dessert wine – Generally speaking any of a wide variety of sweet wines (sometimes fortified with brandy), all of which are compatible with desserts. More specifically in the United States, dessert wine is a legal term referring to all FORTIFIED wines (whether or not sweet), which typically range from 16 to 21 percent in ALCOHOL BY VOLUME. Some of the more popular dessert wines are LATE HARVEST RIESLING, PORT, SAUTERNES, SHERRY, and AUSLESE.

Developed – A term that refers to a wine’s state of maturity and drinkability. A well-developed wine is perfectly matured and ready to drink, while one that’s underdeveloped needs AGING before being consumed. An over-developed wine is just that-over-the-hill and on the decline.

Dionysus;Dionysos – [di-uh-NI-suhs] The mythical Greek god of wine, fertility, and drama, Dionysus (also called Bacchus and known as Bacchus by the Romans) was the son of Zeus and Semele. Although known for his following of those who enjoyed licentious binges, it’s said that Dionysus also dispersed information about the art of vine cultivation. The bacchanals (annual festivals held in his honor) became so outrageously lewd that the Roman Senate finally banned them in 186 A.D.

Distinguished – A descriptor for a wine of exceptional CHARACTER, REFINEMENT, and quality.

Dry – A term that describes wine that isn’t sweet; its French counterpart is SEC. In a fully dry wine, all the sugar has been converted to ALCOHOL during FERMENTATION. A medium-dry wine has a small amount of RESIDUAL SUGAR, but not enough to prevent the wine from being enjoyed with a meal. A wine with the barest hint of sweetness is referred to as OFF DRY.

Dull – Just as it sounds, a dull wine is lackluster and uninteresting. It’s devoid of zest and, though drinkable, certainly lacks excitement.

Earthy; earthiness – An aroma or flavor evocative of damp, rich soil. The term is generally used in a positive sense, unless the characteristic is too pronounced.

Elegant; elegance – Descriptor for wines that have FINESSE, lightness, and flair. They’re gracefully BALANCED and of exceedingly high quality.

Enology – [ee-NAHL-uh-jee] The science or study of VINICULTURE (making wine). One who is an expert in the science is called an enologist or enologue. Also spelled oenology.

Enophile – [EE-nuh-file] Someone who enjoys wine, usually referring to a connoisseur. Also spelled oenophile.

Estate bottled – The words on a wine label indicating that 100 percent of the grapes in the wine were grown in the winery’s own vineyards, or from vineyards (in the same APPELATION) controlled by the winery through a long-term lease. Furthermore, such wines must be VINIFIED and bottled at that winery. The term chateau bottled has a comparable meaning. Both refer to a wine that’s considered to be of superior quality and character. European phrases similar to “estate bottled” are: the French MIS EN BOUTEILLE au Domain, Mis au Domaine, Mis en Bouteille a la Propriete, and Mis en Bouteille du Chateau; the Italian IMBOTTIGLIATO ALL’ORIGINE; and the German GUTSABFULLUNG and ERZEUGERABFULLUNG.



Esters – [EHS-tuhrs] Compounds produced by the reaction between ACIDS and ALCOHOLS, which happens in wine during FERMENTATION as well as AGING. The contribution of esters (the most prominent of which is ETHEL ACETATE) to wine is an ACETONE smell that’s sweet and slightly fruity. Esters also contribute COMPLEXITY to wine.

Extract – [EHKS-trakt] The soluble and nonsoluble substances that contribute to the BODY, flavor, CHARACTER, and color of a wine. Wines made form grapes that provide heavy extract are usually described as full-bodied, and have dense, concentrated flavors and dark (for the type), opaque colors.

Exuberant – [ehk-ZOO-buhr-uhnt] Wine tasting term that describes LIVELY wines with lavish fruit.

Faded – A wine that, through the ravages of age, has lost its COMPLEXITY and CHARACTER, leaving it insipid and lackluster.

Fat – A positive descriptor sometimes used for wine that, although concentrated, RICH, and high in GLYCEROL, has low to average ACIDITY. The impression on the palate is full and fat. A wine with almost the same qualities, but not in the same concentration, might be referred to as plump. If a fat wine lacks too much acidity it becomes insipid and is referred to as FLABBY. A sweet wine that’s fat can be overwhelmingly unctuous.

Fermentation; fermenting – [fer-men-TAY-shuhn] The natural process that turns grape juice into wine, fermentation is actually a chain reaction of chemical responses. During this process, technically called the primary fermentation, the sugars in the grape juice are converted by the enzymes in yeasts into ALCOHOL (55 to 60 percent) and CARBON DIOXIDE (40 to 45 percent). In addition, fermentation generates minor amounts of numerous incidental by-products that affect the aroma and taste of wine including ACETALDEHYDE, acetic acid, ETHYL ACETATE, GLYCEROL, and alcohols other than ETHANOL. One of the potential problems winemakers must avoid is a stuck fermentation. This occurs when the yeast stops converting the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, thereby prematurely leaving undesirable RESIDUAL SUGAR in the wine. As more is learned about fermentation, techniques are evolving to manage the process in order to produce optimum wines. For example, managing the temperature during the fermentation-cooler temperatures (45 to 60 F) for white wines, warmer temperatures (70 to 85 F) for heavier red wines-leads to superior wines. Red wines are usually fermented with their skins, seeds, and pulp to extract color and tannins-something not desirable in white wines. YEAST strains are also being experimented with to determine which ones work best for different wines under various conditions. Many winemakers believe BARREL FERMENTATION adds flavor and complexity to some white wines. CARBONIC MACERATION is a specialized fermentation process for producing light fruity red wines.

Fermentation lock – Also called a fermentation trap, this low-pressure valve atop a fermenting vessel allows carbon dioxide gas to escape but inhibits air or bacteria from entering.



Filtering – A step used by some winemakers to clarify wine just prior to bottling. The purpose of filtering is to remove yeast cells and other microorganisms that could spoil the wine, as well as any remaining sediment that would keep it from being crystal clear (which is what most of the public expects). The wine is pumped through one or more various filters including those made of cellulose, pads coated with diatomaceous earth, or especially fine membranes. Today’s modern winery has filters so fine that they can remove infinitesimal particles. When such fine filters are used, the process is called sterile filtering. Some winemakers argue that this precise filtering extracts flavor and character that the sediment lends the wine.

Finesse – Descriptor for a wine that has distinction and grace-there’s perfect harmony among its components.

Fining – [FI-ning] A winemaking process that removes microscopic elements such as protein particles that would cloud the wine and PHENOLIC COMPOUNDS like TANNINS that could cause bitterness and astringency. The most frequently used fining agents are activated carbon, activated charcoal, BENTONITE, CASEIN, egg whites, gelatin, ISINGLASS, nylon, and polyvinyl poly-pyrrolidone (PVPP). When added to wine, fining agents capture suspended particles by absorption or coagulation, causing them to settle to the bottom of the container. Once the particles sink, the wine can be RACKED, FILTERED, or CENTRIFUGED to separate it from the sediment. In addition to clarifying wines, various fining agents can also be used to remove color from white wines, deodorize wines with an off odor, and reduce acids.

Finish – The final flavor and TEXTURE impression that remain on the palate after a wine is swallowed. The finish is part of a wine’s overall balance. A distinctive, lingering (or LONG) finish is the ideal. A wine with a weak or nonexistent finish is considered lacking.

Flat – 1. For STILL WINE, the term flat describes a dull flavor and CHARACTER due to a lack of ACIDITY. 2. A SPARKLING WINE that has lost its effervescence is flat.

Fleshy – Descriptor for wine with high ALCOHOL, EXTRACT, and usually, GLYCEROL. It’s generally full-bodied and smooth. The term fleshy is comparable to CHEWY, the opposite of LEAN.

Floral; flowery – A wine that has an aroma reminiscent of flowers, such as violets, citrus blossoms, or roses. This impression can also be sensed on the palate. Floral characteristics are more likely to be found in white wines like JOHANNISBERG RIESLING and GEWURZTRAMINER than in reds, although those made from NEBBIOLO grapes are known to be suggestive of violets.

Forward – A term used to describe wine that has matured earlier than expected for its age and style. The opposite of BACKWARD.

Fresh; freshness – A descriptor for a well-balanced wine that’s LIVELY, CLEAN, and FRUITY.

Fruity; fruit – Descriptor for a wine that has a characteristic flavor and smell of fresh fruit. Besides grapes, this fruity characteristic can be reminiscent of everything from apples to blackberries to raspberries; it can even resemble cooked fruit. Wines that are high in fruit generally have a FRESH quality and distinctive CHARACTER.

Grapes – Although other fruits are vinified, grapes are the basis for most of the world’s wine and all of its fine wines. That’s because certain grape species (which today have been refined to deliver the utmost in aroma and flavor) comprise the right properties to produce wine naturally-high amounts of fermentable sugar, strong flavors, color in the skins, and TANNINS in the seeds and skins (to assist AGING). It’s surmised that over 5,000 years ago someone discovered a naturally created wine-and that it tasted good. That prompted grape cultivation, along with winemaking techniques to help nature along. Today, wine production has become relatively sophisticated, and the wine, presumably, has become much better. Grapes belong to the botanical family Ampelidaceae, and of that family’s ten genera, the genus Vitis is most important to winemakers. There are numerous species within the genus Vitis, the most important of which is VITIS VINIFERA, the species that yields over 99 percent of the world’s wines. Vitis Vinifera is native to Europe and East and Central Asia , but it has been planted all over the world. There are estimated to be thousands of varieties of this species, some of the best-known being CABERNET SAUVIGNON, CHARDONNAY, MERLOT, PINOT NOIR, SAUVIGNON BLANC, SYRAH, and ZINFANDEL. Other Vitis species that produce grapes suitable for wine include VITIS LABRUSCA, VITIS RIPARIA, and VITIS ROTUNDIFOLIA (all of which are native to the Americas ). Even though these species are not the quality of the vitis vinifera grapes, some of them have played a critical role in worldwide grape production. That’s because the vitis vinifera roots are susceptible to PHYLLOXERA, and the native American vines, particularly vitis riparia, are resistant to this louse. Most of the world’s vineyards now have phylloxera-resistant rootstocks (other than vitis vinifera) that have vitis vivifera vines grafted to them. The resulting marriage allows the roots to survive while still producing the best wine grapes.

Green – Term used in several ways-to describe a very young wine that’s not ready to drink, to describe a wine made from under ripe grapes, or, sometimes to indicate a grassy quality. It generally suggests a wine with high ACIDITY and a lack of fruity RICHNESS.

Grown, Produced, and Bottled by – Label term that is another way of indicating that a wine is ESTATE BOTTLED, meaning that the grapes are grown at the winery’s vineyards or vineyards controlled by the winery and that the wine is VINIFIED and bottled at the winery.

Hard – Descriptor for a wine that’s young and excessively TANNIC and/or ACIDIC. Such a wine will generally MELLOW and SOFTEN with AGING.

Harmonious – A wine tasting term for a wine that is perfectly BALANCED and ready to drink.

Harsh – Descriptor for a wine that’s HARD in the extreme, usually due to high astringency, which gives it a rough tactile sensation on the palate.

Hearty – Wine tasting term generally applied to LIVELY, ROBUST, red wines that are high In ALCOHOL.

Heavy – A wine tasting term used to describe a wine that’s high in ALCOHOL and EXTRACT, combined with a lack of DELICACY.

Hollow – Descriptor for a wine that lacks DEPTH. The wine may taste fine going in, but there’s usually a lack of BODY, and the flavor isn’t sustained. The words empty and shallow are used synonymously with hollow.

Hot – A sensory term used to describe wines with excessive ALCOHOL. Unless balanced with strong FRUIT, high alcohol content creates a burning, prickly sensation in the mouth and throat. Whereas a “hot” sensation may be desirable in FORTIFIED wines such as PORT and SHERRY, it’s not acceptable in most wines.

Lean – The opposite of FLESHY, the term lean describes a wine that is somewhat sparse in FRUIT. Some lean wines are also moderately ASTRINGENT. Such characteristics, however, don’t necessarily translate into an unenjoyable wine.

Leathery – A wine-tasting term used to describe wines, usually BIG, TANNIC reds that have the rich smell characteristic of a new car’s leather interior. This leathery quality is typically the result of the wine’s exposure to wooden barrels.

Lees – [LEEZ] The heavy, coarse sediment that accumulates during FERMENTATION and aging. Lees primarily consists of dead yeast cells and small grape particles. In most cases this sediment is separated from the wine through RACKING. Sometimes the wine is left in contact with the lees in an attempt to develop more.

Legs – After a glass of wine is swirled, it often leaves a coating on the inside of the glass that separates into viscous-looking rivulets called legs or tears. These legs slowly slide down the glass, returning to the wine’s surface. Legs generally indicate a wine that’s RICH and full-bodied. Very wide legs are referred to as sheets.

Length – The length, also known as persistence, of a wine is measured (in seconds) by the amount of time its BOUQUET and flavor linger after swallowing. The longer it lingers, the finer the wine.

Light – In the wine world, the sensory term light has several connotations. It can refer to a wine that’s light-bodied, one that’s young, fruity, and drinkable, or one that’s relatively low in ALCOHOL. None of these meanings are necessarily derogatory.

Lively – A descriptor for wine that has fresh, youthful, fruity characteristics, usually the result of good ACIDITY. Even though this term is sometimes applied to red wines, it’s more apt for whites.

Lodi AVA – [LOH-di] VITICULTURAL AREA in the SAN JOQUIN VALLEY between Sacramento and Stockton that extends east until it runs into the SIERRA FOOTHILLS AVA. Although this area is part of California ’s huge, hot CENTRAL VALLEY , San Francisco Bay ’s cooling breezes can lower temperatures by as much as 10 degrees F compared to areas farther south. Lodi is considered a Region III/Region IV area, and ZINFANDEL and SAUVIGNON BLANC do well here. There are also increased plantings of CHENIN BLANC, CHARDONNAY, and CABERNET SAUVIGNON. ROBERT MONDAVI’S huge Woodbridge Winery is located here, producing some 2,500,000 cases of wine each year. Las Vinas Winery is one of the better-known smaller wineries.

Long – In wine tasting, a reference to the length of time a wine’s presence remains in the mouth after swallowing. A long (or lingering) FINISH is generally an indicator of a fine wine.

Lush – A term applied to wine’s that are RICH, SOFT, VELVETY, sweet, and FRUITY- in other words, exceedingly drinkable. In wine tasting, the term luscious is synonymous with lush.

Maceration – [mas-uh-RAY- shun] The period of time grape juice spends in contact with the skins and seeds. Extended maceration, which is used only with red wines, takes place after PRIMARY FERMENTATION and prolongs this contact period. The objectives of extended maceration are to increase the wine’s depth of color, intensify its aroma, and, according to some winemakers, SOFTEN any harsh, bitter TANNINS so a wine is better suited for aging. In the cold maceration process, the grape juice mixture (MUST) is held at a temperature of about 50 degrees F for 5 to 10 days before fermentation is triggered. It’s a somewhat controversial procedure-many winemakers want fermentation to start as soon as possible after the grapes are picked, whereas others believe better extraction occurs with cold maceration.

Malolactic fermentation – [ma-loh-LAK-tihk] A biochemical reaction, sometimes called SECONDARY FERMENTATION, where bacteria converts malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide-no alcohol is produced. Because lactic acid is milder than malic acid, wines that undergo this process become softer and smoother. In addition, malolactic fermentation produces diacetyl (or biacetyl), which resembles the smell of heated butter and adds complexity to wine. Malolactic fermentation is a positive event in some cases, and most high-quality red wines and some white wines (including Burgundies and California Chardonnays) undergo it. On the downside, the fruitiness of wines undergoing this process is diminished, and sometimes off-odors can result. Many white wines need malic acid’s higher acidity to retain their crisp, lively character, and some are too delicate to withstand the potential off-odors that might be introduced. Many winemakers now encourage malolactic fermentation for some batches of their Chardonnay while inhibiting the process in others, thereby giving the final blend improved complexity while retaining fruitiness and higher acidity.

Meaty – A term used to describe wine (primarily red) that’s so RICH and full-bodied that it gives the sense of being chewable. A synonym for CHEWY.

Mellow – A descriptor for a MATURE, well-AGED wine that’s SOFT (but not FLABBY) and pleasant.

Must – The juice of freshly crushed grapes that will be FERMENTED into wine. Must can include pulp, skins, and seeds.

Mutage – [meu-TAZH] A French term for the process of stopping FERMENTATION either by using sulfur dioxide and sterile FILTERING or by adding grape alcohol or brandy. The latter technique is how PORT wines or VINS DOUX NATURELS are made.

Native American grapes – A term used for grape varieties indigenous to the Americas . There are four main species that are related to wine production-VITIS AESTIVALIS, VITIS LABRUSCA, VITIS RIPARIA, and VITIS ROTUNDIFOLIA-none of which produce grapes used to make the world’s fine wines. That honor goes to VITIS VINIFERA (which includes CABERNET SAUVIGNON, CHARDONNAY, and SAUVIGNON BLANC grapes), an Asian and European species used in over 99 percent of the world’s wines. Native American varieties have made an important contribution to the wine world in that they are PHYLLOXERA-resistant, particularly the vitis riparia species. After European vineyards were devastated by the phylloxera infestation in the 1800’s, it was discovered that grafting vitis vinifera BUDWOOD to native American ROOTSTOCKS produced phylloxera-resistant vitis vinifera grapes.

Neutral – A term used to describe wine that, although perfectly acceptable, is somewhat ordinary and lacks distinction.

Noble – A wine tasting term used to describe a superior wine of remarkable CHARACTER and great BREED. The word noble may also be used to describe an eminent vineyard or grape variety known for producing superlative wines.

Nose – A general term referring to the olfactory sense of wine. Some wine experts use the word nose to describe an extremely intense BOUQUET, although common usage doesn’t generally connote quality.

Nutty – A term used for some wines, such as SHERRY or tawny PORT, that have a crisp, nutty (usually hazelnut or walnut) characteristic. Full-bodied CHARDONNAYS sometimes also have a very subtle nutty trait. An overt nutty trait in TABLE WINE is considered a flaw.

Oak – The preferred wood for making the barrels and casks in which wine is AGED. Oak barrels impart flavors and TANNINS, both of which are desirable for most red wine as well as some white wines. Oak is slightly porous, which creates an environment ideal for aging wines. Redwood and chestnut are distant second choices to oak, and neither do the job as well. Sometimes these woods are used for larger casks because the expense of using oak is a luxury. Despite oak’s unique capabilities, more delicate wines do not do well with oak aging of any length, and some wines can easily become over-oaked. In either case, oak flavors and tannins can overpower a wine’s VARIETAL CHARACTER, which results in a poorly BALANCED wine. Oak is also a matter of personal taste. For instance, some wines lovers prefer big, oaky CHARDONNAYS, while others prefer leaner, cleaner styles where the oak character isn’t so prominent. Choosing the right barrel requires some knowledge of and experience with various types of oak, as well as the COOPERS who make the barrels. The favorite wood for wine barrels is white oak (red oak is too porous), with the U.S. species differing slightly from European. In Europe, the primary sources of oak are France and the former Yugoslavia . The best-known French sources are: LIMOUSIN , a forest in south-central France ; central France ’s forests of Allier, Nevers, and Troncais; and Vosges, a forest in northeastern France . The leading sources of white oak in the United States are Kentucky , Minnesota , Missouri , Ohio , Tennessee , and Wisconsin . There's a great deal of discussion about how the oak from different locations affects various types of wines. Some feel that Limousin oak, which has a looser grain, imparts more oak flavor, while others say it delivers less. Most agree that American oak imparts a slightly sweeter character than European oak. However, it’s also argued that the cooper’s barrel-making technique has as much to do with the barrel’s effect on wine as the wood from which it’s made. Barrel making in America (which was primarily for the distilled spirit industry) was much different than that found in Europe . This is now changing, with many European barrel makers opening COOPERAGES in California to handle the expanded demand from California winemakers. Oak barrels loose their ability to impart flavor in 4 to 5 years, and most high-quality wine estates and CHATEAUS replace all or part of their oak barrels with new ones each year so a high level of new oak character is imparted to each new VINTAGE.

Oaky; oakiness – A wine tasting term describing a TOASTY, VANILLA flavor and fragrance in wines that have been aged in new OAK barrels. An oaky characteristic is wonderful in the proper balance. Exaggerated oakiness, however, can overwhelm a wine’s other components and is considered undesirable.

Off – A term used for wine that’s obviously spoiled or seriously flawed. Some wine tasters also use the term to describe a wine that’s not true to CHARACTER.

Open; opened – A wine tasting term that describes a wine that’s accessible or ready to drink.

Opening – The opening of a wine is the first impression it gives and can apply to smell, flavor, or both. The characteristic of a wine can change between the opening (or first taste) to one a few minutes later. For instance, the smell of SULPHUR on the opening may blow off and be entirely indistinguishable on subsequent tastes.

Overripe – Descriptor for a wine that usually has been made form grapes that have remained on the vine too long before being picked. Such grapes are generally high in sugar and low in ACID. In some wines, such as ZINFANDELS, slightly overripe grapes can be desirable; a CHARDONNAY made with such grapes, however, can be HEAVY and out of BALANCE.

Oxidized – A term used to describe wine that has undergone oxidation (exposure to air), which causes chemical changes and deterioration. Oxidized wines have a stale, sherry like smell and flavor, and their color takes on a brownish cast. Although this trait is considered undesirable in a TABLE WINE and can render it undrinkable, it’s deemed an asset in wines like SHERRY and MADEIRA . Even though the term oxidized is often used synonymously with that of MADERIZED, the latter infers that, in addition to air exposure, the wine has also endured storage in an overly warm environment.

Penetrating – A wine described as penetrating, or having a penetrating nose, is one with an intense, almost tactile aroma, generally the result of high ALCOHOL and overt ESTERS.

Peppery – A wine tasting term for wines with spicy, black-pepper characteristics, sometimes accompanied by high ALCOHOL. A peppery trait is often found in RHONE wines and some vintage PORTS.

PH – A standard used to measure the ACIDY or alkalinity of a liquid on a scale of 0 to 14. A pH greater than 7 represents alkalinity, 7 denotes neutrality, and less than 7 indicates acidity (the lower the number, the higher the acidity). The pH measurement represents the intensity of the acid, whereas titratable (total) acidity measures the volume of acid. The desirable pH range for TABLE WINES is approximately 3.0 to 3.6. As the pH level drops below 3.0, the wine becomes unpleasantly SHARP; above 3.6 and it becomes FLAT and FLABBY. Even though the volume of acidity might be in the proper range, if the pH is too high or too low, the wine won’t be well BALANCED. Low pH also deters bacterial growth (which translates to better AGING) and helps wine keep its color. Winemakers use pH, along with other factors such as grape ripeness and volume of acid, to help determine the resulting wine‘s potential quality.

Pips – Another term for grape seeds that, if broken during CRUSHING, can impart bitterness to the wine.

Pomace – [PAH-muss] Called MARC in France , pomace is the residue (skins, pips, seeds, and pulp) that remains after the juice has been PRESSED from the grapes. Sometimes the pomace is further processed to make a brandy variously known as pomace brandy, EAU DE VIE, marc, grappa, or SUGAR WINE.

Powerful – Bold, high-ALCOHOL, full-flavored wines can be referred to as powerful or strong. This term is more likely to be used with red wines than with white.

Press – n. A device used to squeeze juice from grapes. Of the many types of presses in use today, the basket press, designed to squeeze out as much juice as possible, is one of the earliest. It uses a plate to push down on the grapes in the basket, forcing out juice through small slots. Numerous versions of this press have evolved over time and many are still used today. A bladder press uses an inflatable bladder that forces the grapes against a perforated outer shell through which the juice drains into a container. The most recent generation is the tank press, which uses an airtight tank lined with a membrane that lightly presses the grapes. The tank press is currently thought to be one of the best because the gentle pressure and lack of air exposure produces high-quality juice. v. press – To extract juice from grapes using one of several various presses. Pressing usually follows CRUSHING and precedes FERMENTATION of white wines, but follows the fermenting of red wines.

Produced and Bottled by – This phrase indicates that the named winery CRUSHED, FERMENTED, and bottled a minimum of 75 percent of the wine in that particular bottling. The phrase, however, does not mean that the winery grew the grapes.

Puckery – Descriptor for wines that are so high in TANNINS that they make the mouth and teeth feel extremely dry. The term ASTRINGENT is more appropriately used for the same sensation.

Pulp – The soft, fleshy, juice-laden part of the grape.

Pumping Over – A process of pumping juice over the CAP during FERMENTATION to expedite extraction of color, flavor, and TANNINS and to ensure that the cap doesn’t dry out and develop unwanted bacteria.

Punching Down – A process of pushing the CAP down into the juice during FERMENTATION to facilitate extraction of color, flavor, and TANNINS and to ensure that the cap doesn’t dry out and develop unwanted bacteria. Workers use a long paddle to punch the cap down.

Punt – The indentation in the bottom of a wine or champagne bottle. The punt’s design serves two purposes, catching sediment and reinforcing the bottle.

Racking – The process of siphoning off the clear juice from the SEDIMENT that has fallen to the bottom of the container either naturally or with the help of FINING agents. During the winemaking process, racking can occur three or four times before the wine is clear. After racking, some wines are also FILTERED prior to bottling to remove any remaining miniscule particles.

Raisiny – A sensory term that, in some LATE HARVEST and FORTIFIED WINES, is used in a positive sense to describe a rich, concentrated, almost caramelly flavor. However, this trait is considered a fault in DRY wines and is usually because they were made with dried-out grapes grown in an excessively hot climate.

Raw – A wine tasting term for wine that is usually young and underdeveloped. Such a wine is often HARSH because of unbalanced ALCOHOL, TANNINS, and ACIDITY. With time, raw wines will usually become BALANCED and quite drinkable.

Refined; refinement – In wine tasting vernacular, a refined wine (or one of refinement) is one that’s high in quality, as well as being in perfect CHARACTER and BALANCE for its origin and style.

Regional – A regional wine is generally one that’s a blend of several wines from different parts of a region or district instead of from a single vineyard or proximate vineyards. The use of a term such as NAPA VALLEY , SONOMA VALLEY , CALIFORNIA , MEDOC, BORDEAUX , or RIOJA indicates that the wine is regional.

Reserve – Even though this term is found on U.S. wine labels, it has no legal definition, which means it can’t be relied on to have any special meaning. Reserve appears on labels in a number of ways-Private Reserve, Special Reserve, Vintner’s Reserve, or simply Reserve. For some producers-like BEAULIEU VINEYARDS and BERINGER VINEYARDS-the term Private Reserve means the wines are their top quality. These wines are either produced from grapes coming from special vineyards or blended from superior batches of grapes. But the terms do not always indicate high quality and are often used simply as a marketing ploy. The bottom line is that wines using any of these terms should be judged on their own merit and not on the labeling.

Residual sugar – The natural grape sugar that is either unfermented at the end of the FERMENTATION process or added back into the wine, as with a DOSAGE added to a SPARKLING WINE. In some cases there is so much natural sugar that fermentation can’t complete its process, as is the case with some DESSERT WINES like Germany ’s trokenbeerenauslese. In other instances, fermentation is purposefully arrested by adding a soup can of SULFUR DIOXIDE, which inhibits the yeast, or by adding ALCOHOL (as is done with FORTIFIED wines), which raises the alcohol to a level (15 to 16 percent) above which the yeast cannot work. DRY wines may have little residual sugar (0.1 to 0.2 percent), semisweet wines usually range from 1 to 3 percent, and LATE HARVEST wines may range as high as 28 to 30 percent. Residual sugar is sometimes referred to as reducing sugar.

Rich – A wine tasting term depicting wines that have an opulently full and balanced complement of intense flavor, FRUIT, ALCOHOL, and EXTRACT.

Ripe – Wine tasting term that describes a wine made from perfectly ripened grapes, which contribute RICH, ROUND, naturally sweet, FRUITY, characteristics.

Robust – A wine tasting term similar in meaning to BIG, describing wine that’s full-bodied, ROUND, and full of FRUIT-in short, a big mouthful. This term is more apt for red wines than for white.

Rough; roughness – A wine tasting term used for COARSE, generally ordinary wines that are overly TANNIC and/or ACIDIC. However, some wines that exhibit roughness eventually mature and become full-bodied.

Round; rounded – In the world of wine tasting, a well-BALANCED, MELLOW, full-bodied wine is sometimes referred to as round, its flavor rounded. The term is similar to FAT.


Savory – A general descriptor for wines that are RICH, full-bodied, SPICY, and all-around wonderful.

Sediment – The grainy, bitter tasting deposit sometimes found in wine bottles, most often with older wines. Sediment is not a bad sign but in fact may indicate a superior wine. It’s the natural separation of bitartrates, TANNINS, and color pigments that occurs as wines AGE. Although generally associated with finer red wines, sediment occasionally appears in white wines, usually in the form of nearly colorless crystals. For PORT drinkers the term CRUST, synonymous with sediment, is often used. Sediment should be allowed to settle completely before the wine is DECANTED into another container so that when the wine is served none of the deposit will transfer to the glass.

Select – A label term that, though not legally defined, is used often as a marketing term to infer there’s something special about the wine. Such a conclusion, however, may not be true.


Sharp – A wine tasting term for a wine that has a biting sensation due to excess ACIDITY or ACETIC ACID. Some sharp wines will mellow with age.

Short – In wine tasting terminology, a wine that’s short has an abrupt FINISH, not an admirable quality.

Silky – A wine tasting term for wines that are incredibly smooth, LUSH, and finely TEXTURED. Its synonym is VELVETY.

Simple – A wine tasting term for wine that, though not COMPLEX, is forthright and quite good.

Skin contact; skin contact time – A process associated with making white wines that is the step between CRUSHING and FERMENTATION. Unlike red wine, white wine isn’t fermented with the skins and seeds so it doesn’t extract any of the skins’ flavors and aromas. However, winemakers get favorable results by leaving the freshly expressed juice in contact with the skins and seeds for a short period-2 hours to 2 days. The major concerns are that the white wine would extract too much color from the grape skins and/or extract some bitterness from the skins or seeds. These factors can be controlled by keeping the juice at a cooler temperature during the skin contact time.

Smoky – A wine tasting term for a smoky character found in some wines-usually the result of the soil in which the grapes were grown or the barrels in which the wine was aged.

Smooth – In wine tasting, this self-explanatory term can be used to describe a variety of things including a wine’s TEXTURE, FINISH, and the tactile impression of flavor and BODY.

Soft – A descriptor for a wine that’s well BALANCED, fruity, mellow, and pleasant, which is generally the result of lower ACIDITY and/or TANNINS (or the perfect fusion of the two). The term soft is the antonym for HARD.

Soften – A term used to describe the mellowing process of a wine that’s young, TANNIC, and/or ACIDIC. Such a wine generally will soften with AGING.

Solid – A descriptor for wine that is full-bodied and loaded with ACIDITY, ALCOHOL, FRUIT, and TANNINS. The term sometimes refers to youthful wines that will develop well with AGING.

Sommelier – [saw-muh-LYAY] The French term for a steward or waiter in charge of wine. For hundreds of years, sommeliers were responsible for the cellaring and serving of wines for royalty. Eventually, the tradition of the sommelier spread to restaurants, where such an individual is expected to have extensive knowledge of wines and their suitability with various dishes.

Sound – A term describing wine that’s without faults in clarity, color, aroma, or flavor.

Specific gravity – The ratio of the density of a substance (such as MUST or wine) to the density of pure water, measured by an instrument called a HYDROMETER. A liquid with precisely the same density as water has a specific gravity (s.g.) reading of 1,000. If it’s denser than water (as would be the case if sugar is added), its reading will be over 1,000. When grape juice begins to ferment-converting the sugar into alcohol-the specific gravity drops because the s.g. of pure ALCOHOL is 0.792-lower than that of water. Therefore, a DRY wine, which contains little or no sugar, would have a specific gravity reading below 1,000. In the United States , specific gravity is measured on the BRIX scale, in Germany on the OECHSLE scale, and in France on the BAUME scale.

Spicy – An analogous wine tasting term for the lively, fragrant aroma and flavor of some wines. It’s an umbrella term that may cover any of many spices including allspice, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, and pepper. This spicy characteristic is usually related to the grape (GEWURZTRAMINER has a lot of spiciness) but can also come from the wine’s contact with new oak barrels.

Stabilization – A process that clears a wine of tartrates and small protein particles that might cause it to be cloudy or contain small crystals. Heat stabilization is a process for ensuring that wine doesn’t develop a haziness or cloudiness when stored at warm temperatures. It’s usually accomplished by FINING with an agent such as BENTONITE just prior to bottling. Fining collects the minute particles that cause cloudiness and settles them to the bottom of the storage vessel. The wine is then RACKED to separate the clear wine from the SEDIMENT. Cold stabilization is a method of removing tartrates by storing wine at a very low temperature (26 to 32 F) for up to 3 weeks. The flavorless tartrates, which are removed only for aesthetic purposes, fall to the bottom at such cool temperatures, leaving the wine clear.

Starter – A term used for a YEAST culture added to fresh grape MUST to “start” the FERMENTATION process. Many winemakers use commercially developed yeast cultures with specific characteristics to ensure that fermentation proceeds in a desired fashion.

Steamy – Also called stalky, this wine tasting term describes wines that have an astringently harsh, “green” flavor, usually due to prolonged contact with grape stems during winemaking.

Stem retention – A technique used by some winemakers in the making of red wine (particularly PINOT NOIR) where some of the grape stems are added back into the MUST in order to make the wine richer, as well as more TANNIC and VISCOUS. The risk with this process is in making the wine too ASTRINGENT.

Still wine – A descriptor for wine that contains no CARBON DIOXIDE, which would make it sparkling or effervescent.

Structure – In wine tasting, the term structure refers to a wine’s architecture-its plan-which includes all the main building blocks of ACID, ALCOHOL, FRUIT, GLYCEROL, and TANNINS. It’s not enough, however, to say that a wine simply has “structure” (which all do). The term should be clarified with adjectives such as inadequate or strong; one can also refer to a wine as well structured.

Sturdy – Descriptor for a wine that is generally substantial, powerful, and assertive.

Sulfites; sulfiting – [SUHL-fites] Sulfites are the salts of sulfurous acid. The words “Contains Sulfites” are mandatory on labels of wine sold in the United States if the wine contains 10 ppm or more of sulfites. They’re a signal that sulfur dioxide (SO2)-a colorless, water soluble, nonflammable gas-was used somewhere in the grape-growing or winemaking process. This practice is called sulfating and is utilized by winemakers in a variety of ways. Before harvest, sulfur is often sprayed directly on the vines in an effort to deter many insects and diseases. Once the grapes are crushes, sulfur dioxide is used to inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and wild yeasts in MUST, as well as to prevent spoilage or OXIDATION in the finished wine. After the must is treated with sulfur dioxide, the winemaker inoculates it with a YEAST culture that’s been selected specifically for that wine. Sulfur dioxide can be added to wine as a gas or as POTASSIUM METABISULFITE, often in the form of Campden tablets. It reacts with the natural acids in grapes to create sulfur dioxide gas. Sulfur wicks are sometimes burned to create sulfur dioxide in empty or partially filled wine barrels to prevent the growth of mold. During these processes, some sulfur dioxide combines with the wine, in which case it’s called fixed or bound sulfur dioxide; it has no odor so it isn’t noticeable. Free sulfur dioxide is that which doesn’t combine with wine. Excessive amounts of it produce an undesirable trait indicated by a slight biting sensation at the back of the throat and in the upper part of the nose. Total sulfur dioxide includes all bound and free sulfur dioxide in wine, the allowed amounts of which are regulated by law. Sulfites can cause severe allergic reactions in certain sulfite-sensitive individuals.

Supple – A wine tasting term for well-STRUCTURED wines that are HARMONIOUS, SOFT, and VELVETY-in short, extremely pleasing.

Sur lie – [soor LEE] The French expression for “on the lees”. LEES is the coarse sediment, which consists mainly of dead yeast cells and small grape particles that accumulate during fermentation. Winemakers believe that certain wines benefit from being aged sur lie. CHARDONNAY or SAUVIGNON BLANC wines are thought to gain complexity if aged in this way for a few months. This happens as a matter of course with SPARKLING WINES made via METHODE CHAMPENOISE because the second fermentation occurs in the bottle where the wine is aged (sometimes for up to 10 years) until the lees are DISGORGED. MUSCADET wines from France's LOI’E region occasionally have the phrase mis en bouteille sur lie on the label, which means the wine was bottled from barrels where the lees were not drained (although the sediment has fallen to the bottom of the barrel). These wines have a creamy, yeasty flavor and a touch of CARBON DIOXIDE, which gives a slight prickling sensation on the tongue.

Syrupy – A wine tasting term generally used to describe RICH, almost thick sweet wines such as a TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE.

Table wine – 1. Any wine that is not FORTIFIED or SPARKLING. 2. In the United States the official definition is a wine that contains a minimum of 7 percent alcohol and a maximum of 14 percent. This definition does not define quality in any way, although some connote table wine with lower-quality, inexpensive wine. That’s a mistake because many wines that simply say “Red Table Wine” or “White Table Wine” are excellent and not at all inexpensive. 3. European synonyms for table wine include Germany 's DEUTSCHER TAFELWEIN, France ’s VIN DE TABLE, and Italy ’s VINO DA TAVOLA. Each country has its own definition for table wine.

Tannins – [TAN-ihns] Any of a group of astringent substances found in the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes, as well as in oak barrels, particularly new ones. Tannins are part of a grouping technically called PHENOLIC COMPOUNDS. They are important in the production of good red wines because they provide flavor, STRUCTURE, and TEXTURE and, because of their antioxidant traits, contribute to long and graceful AGING. Tannins also give young wines a noticeable astringency, a quality that diminishes as the wine ages, mellows, and develops character. Wines with noticeable tannins are referred to as tannic. Tannins are detectable by a dry, sometimes puckery, sensation in the mouth and back of the throat.

Tar – A positive wine tasting term sometimes used to describe the smell of hot tar occasionally found in some CABERNETS and ZINFANDELS.

Tart – A term used to describe wines that are high in ACID, which produces a harsh, sharp impression on the palate.

Tartrates – [TAR-trayts] One of the by-products of tartaric acid is tartrates, also called potassium bitartrate, cream of tartar, and tartar. These small innocuous crystals can appear in wine unless removed through the COLD STABILIZATION process. Tartrates aren’t harmful and only impact the wine visually.

Texture – A wine tasting term used for wines that are dense, intense, and full-bodied. Such wines produce a weighty, mouth-filling impression on the palate that makes them seem almost thick.

Thick – A wine tasting term used for wines that are extremely RICH, almost HEAVY, combined with a lack of ACIDITY.

Tired – A wine tasting term for a wine that’s DULL, past its prime, and generally uninteresting.

Toasty – In wine tasting parlance, a descriptor that refers to the appealing smell of toasted bread, which is particularly in some CHARDONNAYS and SPARKLING WINES. This characteristic is the result of the wine being stored in oak barrels that have charred (or toasted) interiors.

Tobacco – A descriptor for the BOUQUET of some wines, such as many reds from GRAVES , which is uniquely similar to that of freshly lit tobacco. Such a characteristic is considered desirable.

Unfiltered – A term for wine that has not been filtered, a process which, according to some winemakers, removes some of a wine’s flavor and body along with any SEDIMENT. An unfiltered wine may undergo other processes such as CENTRIFUGING, COLD STABILIZATION, FINING, or RACKING to remove particles from the wine. Unfiltered wines, which are usually labeled as such, often leave a small deposit of sediment in the bottle.

Unfined – Some winemakers believe that FINING takes too much flavor and body out of wines, so they rely on the other processes (CENTRIFUGING, COLD STABILIZATION, FILTERING, RACKING) to remove the particles from wine. Wines bottled without fining are sometimes labeled “Unfined” to point out that wine should be more flavorful. Unfined wines may throw off a small amount of SEDIMENT in the bottle.