Glossary

Tasting Terms:  A B C D E F G H J L M O P R S T V

Winemaking Terms:  A C F L M R S T Y

Tasting Terms:

Aftertaste: The flavors that linger in your mouth after you swallow (or spit) a wine. If there is a single reliable indicator of wine quality, it is the length of the aftertaste (see "finish").

Aroma: The primary smell of a young, unevolved wine, consisting of the odors of the grape juice itself, of the fermentation process, and, if relevant, of the oak barrels in which the wine was made or aged.

Astringent: Having mouthpuckering tannins; such a wine may merely need time (in some cases as much as a decade or more) to soften.

Austere: Tough, dry and unforthcoming, often due to an unyielding tannic structure or high apparent acidity, or simply to the extreme youth of a wine.

Balance: The way in which a wine's key components, including fruitiness, sweetness, acidity, tannin, and alcoholic strength, co-exist??. A well-balanced wine displays a harmony of components, with no single element dominating.

Body: The weight of a wine on the palate, determined by its alcoholic strength and level of extract. Wines are typically described as ranging from light to full in body.

Bouquet: The richer, more complex aromas that develop as a wine ages in bottle.

Bright: Vibrant and fresh, generally the result of lively fruit flavors and sound acidity.

Closed: Not aromatically forthcoming, most likely due to recent bottling or to the particular stage of the wine's development. "Dumb" is a synonym.

Corky, corked: Contaminated by a tainted cork (technically a mold known as 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole), which gives the wine a musty, wet cardboard smell and can compromise its fruit component and dry out its aftertaste. Bad corks are a major problem, as they can ruin otherwise sound bottles. By most accounts three to ten bottles out of 100 are affected, to varying degrees, by bad corks.

Crisp: Refreshingly firm, thanks to sound acidity.

Dense: A textural descriptor for a tactile, mouthfilling wine that conveys an impression of thickness and weight.

Earthy: Often used as a pejorative descriptor for a rustic wine that's not entirely clean, but can also be a component of complexity deriving from the wine's distinctive soil character.

Expressive: Displaying its aromas and flavors. Similar to "open"; the opposite of "closed" or "dumb."

Extract: Essentially, the minerals and other trace elements in a wine. Sugar-free dry extract is everything in a wine except water, sugar, acids and alcohol. High extract often gives wine a dusty, tactile impression in the mouth, frequently serving to buffer, or mitigate, high alcohol or strong acidity.

Fat: Rich to the point of unctuous, with modest balancing acidity.

Firm: Perceptibly tannic and/or acidic, in a positive way. Firm wines are generally more flexible at the dinner table, as they serve to cleanse the palate??.

Flabby: Lacking acidity and therefore lacking shape; virtually the opposite of "firm."

Finish: The final taste left by a wine after you spit or swallow it. Wines made with dilute or underripe fruit tend to have very short finishes while those that are highly concentrated or strong in extract can linger for 30 seconds or more.

Fleshy: Having good body and conveying a glyceral palate impression, usually the result of elevated alcohol and/or high extract.

Fruity: Aromas and flavors that come directly from the grape, rather than from the winemaking process or from the barrels in which the wine was aged.

Generous: A well-constituted wine possessing good texture and a pliant quality; usually a sign of thoroughly ripe fruit.

Green: Too acidic, raw, vegetal or herbal; a wine can taste "green" due to underripe grapes or stems, but such an impression may simply mean the wine needs time to develop.

Grip: Jargon used to describe an emphatically firm, tactile finish.

Hard: A wine that's too tannic or acidic for its underlying fruit. This may also be a characteristic of an unevolved wine that needs more time in bottle.

High-toned: Lively and aromatically expressive, due to a level of volatile acidity that is just short of excessive.

Hot: Noticeably alcoholic on the nose or palate. This characteristic is more acceptable in fortified wines like port and sherry than in table wines like cabernet and chardonnay.

Jammy: Slightly cooked flavors of jam rather than fresh fruit; often a characteristic of red wines from hot climates but may also be the result of overripe fruit.

Juicy: An impression of freshness (i.e., like fruit juice) due to lively acidity.

Layered: A descriptor for a rich, tactile wine with an almost three-dimensional texture.

Lean: Lacking flesh and body. Not necessarily pejorative, as some types of wines are lean by nature.

Middle palate: Literally, that part of the tasting experience between the "entry" of a wine onto the palate and its aftertaste. The impact of a wine in the mouth.

Mouth feel: The physical impression of a wine in the mouth; its texture.

Nose: The aroma or bouquet of a wine determined though one's olfactory senses.

Oaky: Smelling or tasting of the oak barrels or casks in which the wine was vinified and/or aged. Oak notes can include such elements as vanilla, spices (clove, cinnamon) cedar, smoke, toast, bourbon and roasted coffee, among others. Vanillin scents typically come from the oak itself, while roasted or toasty characteristics often derive from the way the barrel has been dried.

Open: Expressive and easy to taste; the opposite of "closed."

Oxidized: Possessing a tired or stale aroma or taste due to excessive exposure to air. An oxidized white wine may have a darker than normal or even brown color.

Pliant: A wine with a supple, giving texture.

Plump: Similar to fat: rich and generally very ripe, with low acidity; usually rich in alcohol and glycerine.

Powerful: High in alcohol, tannin and/or extract, often with assertive flavors.

Ripe: Suggesting aromas and flavors of thoroughly mature grapes. Ripe wines generally display richer texture and a stronger impression of fruit than wines with technically similar levels of sweetness made from less mature grapes.

Seamless: Harmonious and smooth; a wine with no rough edges.

Sharp: Unpleasantly bitter or hard-edged, in some instances due to a high level of acetic acid (vinegar).

Soft: Low in tannin and/or acidity.

Spine: The structural underpinning (provided by acidity and tannin), or backbone, of a wine. A wine with flesh but insufficient spine can come across as flabby or shapeless.

Spritz: The faint prickle on the tongue of carbon dioxide (p tillance in French), generally found in young, light white wines.

Steely: An almost metallic taste often shown by wines high in acidity and/or made from mineral-rich soil.especially riesling.

Structure: The backbone of a wine, generally provided by acidity and/or tannins, which gives shape to its flesh and holds its various elements together.

Supple: Round and smooth, as opposed to noticeably tannic or acidic. As red wines age and their tannins begin to resolve, they typically become more supple in texture.

Sweet: A term applied not only to wines with significant residual sugar, such as fortified or dessert wines, but also to those with intense, thoroughly ripe fruit flavors, which can convey a sweet impression even though they may be technically dry.

Tart: Sharply acidic or sour; not necessarily pejorative as some whites made for early consumption with ?? foods are prized for their tart qualities.

Thick: Dense in texture, usually due to low acidity and/or high extract.

Tough: A term generally used to describe an ungiving, distinctly dry red wine that is dominated by its tannins.?

Vegetal: A normally pejorative term used to describe underripe fruit (such as asparagus, bell pepper or snap peas??). But a lightly vegetal, grassy, leafy or herbaceous aspect may be a characteristic of certain varieties, such as bell pepper in cabernet sauvignon or grassiness in sauvignon blanc. ?? These aromas can add complexity in small doses but when too pronounced (excessive weediness in cabernet or merlot, an aroma of canned asparagus in sauvignon blanc), often due to insufficiently ripe grapes, can dominate a wine.

Vinous: Literally, "wine-like" in terms of liveliness and sound acidity, but this term is often used to describe the overall impression conveyed by a wine beyond its simple fruitiness, including subtle flavors that come from the soil that produced the grapes, as well as from the winemaking and aging process.

Volatile: Slightly vinegary due to a high level of volatile (or acetic) acidity (VA). But a minimum level of VA often helps to clarify?? and project a wine's aromas without resulting in an unstable bottle. "High-toned" is jargon for faintly volatile, and is not necessarily pejorative.

Winemaking Terms

Acidity: The acidity in a wine (principally tartaric, malic, citric and lactic) provides liveliness, longevity and balance: too much leaves a sour or sharp taste on the palate, while too little results in a flabby, shapeless wine. If tannin is the spine of a wine, then acidity is its nervous system. Generally speaking, the sweeter a wine is, the more acidity it needs for balance.

Acidification: The addition of acid (usually tartaric or citric) during fermentation, a step that is frequently necessary in hot climates where grapes tend to overripen and become deficient in acidity, thereby losing freshness.

Carbonic maceration: A fermentation technique designed to extract fruit rather than tannins from the grapes; the most famous example of wine generally made via carbonic maceration is Beaujolais. Grapes go into the fermentation vat unbroken, and some or most of the fermentation takes place within the uncrushed berries. The minimal contact between the fermenting juice and the grape skins brings much lower tannin levels and emphasizes the fruity character of the grape; they are virtually always meant for early consumption. Many regions have adopted this technique to make wine for immediate drinking (e.g., Cask/Barrel: Most of the world's greatest wines, especially reds, are at least partially aged in barrels, usually made from oak. A barrique is the standard Bordeaux barrel, holding 225 liters, or the equivalent of about 300 bottles of wine. But casks may be as large as 100 hectoliters (i.e., 10,000 liters) or more. Barrels are a key element in the levage [maturing, or raising] of a wine, in creating a wine capable of further development in bottle. The right barrel used cleverly can go a long way toward adding early sex appeal to a wine by sweetening and framing its aromas and flavors. The wrong barrel, or a barrel used poorly, can also dominate a wine and dry out its fruit.

Chaptalization: The addition of sugar during fermentation to increase a wine's alcoholic strength. Strategic additions of sugar can draw out the fermentation, giving the ??

Fermentation: The conversion of grape juice into wine through the action of yeasts present in the juice, which through their enzymes transform the grapes' sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This alcoholic fermentation is also known as primary fermentation. (See "malolactic fermentation.")

Filtration: A method of clarifying and stabilizing wine to give it a pleasingly lucid color and to remove yeasts, bacteria or other solid matter that might otherwise cause the wine to spoil after it has been bottled. Excessive filtration, like excessive fining, can strip a wine of aroma, body, texture and length.

Fining: A method of clarifying wine by adding a coagulant (such as egg whites) to the top of the wine and allowing it to settle to the bottom, carrying suspended particles with it. In general, a fining agent is allowed to fall through the wine, while in filtration, the wine is passed (and sometimes pumped) through a filter.

Lees: Solid residue (mostly dead yeast cells and grape pulp, pips and skins) that remains in a barrel or tank after the wine has been drawn off. Many white wines and some reds are kept on their lees for a period of time to protect them from oxidation, enrich their texture and add complexity. Wines protected by their lees can often be made with less addition of the preservative and antioxidant sulfur dioxide, but careful technique is essential to ensure that off aromas don't develop.

Malolactic fermentation: A secondary fermentation in which the more tart malic acid in a wine is converted by lactic bacteria into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide. Malolactic fermentation, which generally follows the alcoholic fermentation, is nearly always carried out in red wines. Some producers of white wines encourage malolactic fermentation, while others, especially those in hot regions that produce grapes naturally low in acidity, avoid it in order to maximize freshness.

Must: Grape juice not yet fermented or in the process of being fermented into wine.

Racking: Transferring the wine from one cask to another to separate it from its lees. Racking can be used to aerate a wine, and the process of leaving precipitated matter behind also helps to clarify the wine.

Sediment: Solid matter deposited in a bottle during the course of the maturation process. While a wine with substantial sediment requires special handling (the bottle is generally stood upright and then decanted off its sediment), sediment is generally a sign that the wine was not excessively filtered prior to bottling.

Sulfur: The most common disinfectant for wine. Most winemakers today feel that it is nearly impossible to produce stable, fresh wine without judicious use of sulfur products at one or more stages of vinification: just after the harvest to thwart fermentation by the wrong yeasts, in the cellar to prevent microbial spoilage and oxidation, and at the time of bottling to protect the wine against exposure to air. But as a general rule, the amount of sulfur used in the production of fine wine has never been lower than it is today.

Tannin: A bitter, mouthdrying substance found in the skins, stalks and pips of the grapes.as well as in the wood barrels in which wines are aged. Tannin acts as a preservative and is thus an important component if a wine is to be aged over a long period. Tannins are frequently harsh in a young wine, but gradually mellow or dissipate as the wine ages in the bottle. Excessively tannic wines can lose their fruit or dry out before the tannins soften.

Yeast: The various microorganisms that cause fermentation. Wild yeasts are naturally present on grape skins, but special cultured yeasts are frequently used to ensure more predictable, controlled fermentations.

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