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Wine Definition Glossary

by David on June 24, 2009

(Italics indicate that the term is defined elsewhere in the glossary.)

Acidity: The amount of acid in the wine. Acid that’s high, but balanced is often described as crisp or bright (mostly in white wines). If it’s too high, it tastes sour and sharp. Low acidity may give the wine a flat, dull flavor and finish. The main grape acids are malic and tartaric.

Aerate: The deliberate introduction of air into the wine, usually done by swirling or putting the wine into a decanter. The air brings out the aroma of the wine and may also help to blow off unpleasant aromas when they occur. In winemaking the winemaker must be very careful about introducing air. A little exposure helps the wine to ferment and causes it to age. Too much exposure will spoil the wine.

Aftertaste: The flavor that lingers after swallowing. A wine with a long, pleasant aftertaste or finish is described as long or as having good length.

Alcohol: A product of the fermentation, during which yeast converts natural grape sugars to alcohol, heat and carbon-dioxide gas. A little over half the grape sugar converts to alcohol during the fermentation. Wines that are slightly too high in alcohol often seem sweet and have a hot after-taste. If an otherwise full bodied wine is too low in alcohol, it may feel light and unsatisfying on the palate. Legally, table wines are between 8 and 14% alcohol and are not carbonated.

Aroma: All-purpose word for the scent of a wine. Some tasters use the term aroma only for the fruit-like fragrances of a young wine, and refer to the more complex smells of bottle-aged wines as bouquet, but most of us use those two terms interchangeably.

Astringent: The dry, mouth puckering sensation caused by wines (usually reds) that are high in tannin. Astringency tends to decline with bottle age.

AVA or appellation: An AVA is an American Viticultural Area that has been recognized by the federal government (the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau–TTB) for a distinctive combination of soil, climate and identifiable regional wine character. AVAs are often referred to as appellations or districts, such as the Yountville District or the Napa Valley appellation. The word appellation (and the AVA concept) comes from the French Appellation d’Origine Controlee laws, which are laws meant to ensure quality within specific regions of France.

Backbone: A wine with a firm, balanced structure of tannin, acid and alcohol.

Balanced: When all of the wine’s components (fruit, acidity, tannin, oak, sweetness) exist in a harmonious way, are neither too much nor too little, the wine is said to be balanced.

Barrel age: Maturing the wine in wooden, usually oak, containers. Most barrels are around 60 gallons (300 bottles) in capacity. The wine evaporates very slowly in the barrel which softens astringency, and concentrates and integrates the flavors. If the barrel is relatively new, it imparts woody flavor to the wine.

Barrel fermentation: Literally fermenting the wine inside of an oak barrel rather than the usual tank or vat. It’s often done to make white wine richer and to integrate the oak flavor into the wine. It is costly and labor intensive because the barrel is usually much smaller (most often 60 gallons) than the tank, which means the winemaker has more containers of wine to care for.

Bench-grafts: Purchased, pre-made grafts of the varietal (such as Chardonnay) and rootstock hybrid (the root system on which the varietal will grow-it won’t survive on its own roots in most cases) that are grafted by a commercial nursery. The alternative is to graft in the field, called “field-budding.” Planting bench-grafts often gets a vineyard into production sooner than field-budding by hand.

Berrylike: Literally like berries in aroma or flavor, such as strawberries of blackberries. It’s most often used to describe full bodied red wines like Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Blanc: French for the word white, used as a suffix for white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc.

Blanc de Blanc: Literally “white of white,” meaning a white wine made of a white grape variety. It’s most often used in reference to sparkling wine.

Blanc de Noirs: Literally “white of black,” meaning a white wine made of a dark grape (in most cases dark grape varieties have clear juice and can make white wine). It’s most often used in reference to sparkling wine.

Blush wine: A pale rosé wine. It’s made by extracting just a few hours-worth of color from a dark-skinned grape (the grape juice is clear).  It’s an American term that came into use with the introduction of White Zinfandel, but the generic name doesn’t require the use of Zinfandel grapes. The winemaker may use any grape he chooses.

Body: The weight or texture of the wine in your mouth, ranging from light, to medium, to full-bodied.

Botrytis: Also called the “noble rot”. Botrytis Cinerea, while technically a rot that can be devastating, is capable of making exquisite dessert wines by causing the grapes to dehydrate thus concentrating sugar, acid and flavor. It gives the wine a distinctive, honeyed aroma that’s unforgettable. The most famous examples are the French Sauternes (usually primarily Semillon) and German Berrenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short! Usually White Riesling). In the new world some very fine examples are produced that may be called Late Harvest, Botrytis or have a proprietary name. Sweet wines that are late picked but not botrytised are very pleasant, but can’t match the complexity of botrytized wines.

Bottle age: Literally the aging that takes place after the wine is bottled. Some wines are barrel aged at the winery before bottling. Unlike spirits, wine continues to change in the bottle after barrel aging. Some wines, such as full bodied reds and certain dessert wines can develop and improve with bottle age.

Bouquet: Refers to the complex smells in wine due to fermentation and especially bottle-aging. Aroma is meant to describe the fruitiness of a young wine, although most of us use the terms aroma and bouquet interchangeably.

Brettanomyces: Often called “brett” for short, brettanomyces is a spoilage yeast that exists on grapes and grows in wineries and cooperage. Excellent sanitation will usually keep it in check and it is very sensitive to sulfur dioxide, however once it becomes imbedded in a winery or cooperage it presents a serious challenge. In low levels in wine it can lend the wine complexity but if the level is too high it makes the wine smell “mousey” or like band-aids and can make it taste metallic.

Brix: Degrees brix is a measure of the sweetness of grapes or wine and translates roughly to the percentage of sugar. If the grapes are 24 degrees brix, it means they’re about 24% sugar. Degrees brix is measured with a refractometer or hydrometer and indicates the percentage of suspended solids (of which about 90% are sugars in ripe grapes) by weight in the liquid.

Brut: The labeling term for sparkling wine that is dry. The terms “Extra Brut” and “Brut Nature” mean the driest of the dry. To make sure you’re thoroughly confused, the term “Extra Dry” means the sparkling wine is a little sweet.

Bud break: This is the name used for the beginning of the growing season, when the vines emerge from dormancy. Buds swell and push out new shoots and leaves as the soil and daytime temperatures warm up in the late winter or early spring (usually mid-March in Napa Valley).

Bunch rot: This term aptly describes grape bunches that have rotted due to fungus, bacteria or wild yeast. The most common reason for bunch rot is rain at harvest but it can also be caused by mildew, to which grapes are quite susceptible. When the grapes have been pierced by birds or insects it also exposes them to rot problems. Wine made of rotten grapes is quite unpleasant and sorting the grapes before crushing is very important to quality.

Buttery: Literally the aroma of butter or butterscotch, most often associated with Chardonnay that has been through malo-lactic fermentation.

Canopy management: The trellising, pruning, shoot positioning and removal, leaf removal, etc. performed to create an environment that optimizes grape quality. The canopy refers to the green growth. In most cases the main issues are light exposure, air flow (keeping mildew under control) and balancing the canopy to the quantity of grapes on the vine.

Cap: In red winemaking it’s necessary to ferment the juice and skins together because the skins are the source of all of the wine’s color and much of the flavor and texture. As the red wine ferments, the skins rise to the top of the tank and form a thick “cap”. It’s important to break up the cap a few times a day to increase the extraction of color and flavor, and to prevent the cap from drying out and/or developing bacterial problems. This can be done by manually punching the cap down with a tool that looks very much like a giant potato masher or by pumping the wine from the bottom over the top.

Cassis: This is the French word for black currant and a common descriptor for Cabernet Sauvignon. When black currant liqueur is added to white wine the drink is called kir.

Centrifuge: Clarifying the wine through the use of centrifugal force of varying degrees. This is most often done in conjunction with other methods of clarification such as racking and filtration. It is more common to large production wineries than small ones.

Chai: Refers to an above ground cellar as opposed to an underground cave, although the two terms are used interchangeably.

Chaptalization: Named for French chemist Jean-Antoine Chaptal (1756-1832), this refers to adding sugar to the grape juice or must before, or during, fermentation to increase the alcohol in the finished wine (the sugar converts to alcohol during the fermentation). It’s most common in cool wine-growing regions, although some countries and regions prohibit it. There’s little doubt that winemakers experimented with sugar additions long before Chaptal advocated it.

Clarification: The process of making a hazy wine clear and stable. There are many methods most commonly racking, fining and filtration.

Clarity: Literally refers to the degree of clarity and brilliant appearance in wine. Good clarity is considered a sign of good health, and haziness a red flag (although hazy wines may be perfectly palatable).

Clone: A clone is a variation within a grape variety, such as Chardonnay, due to spontaneous mutation. Clones of varieties may be replicated because of specific attributes such as flavor, productivity and adaptability to growing conditions.

Closures: The objects that seal the wine bottle. Traditionally, natural cork has been used, but many producers have gone to new closures such as plastic corks and screw caps.

Cold stabilization: This is done to remove tartrates from wine, most often white wine. Tartrates are harmless but they may look like cut glass to some. To remove them the winemaker chills the wine to about 40°F. for about 3 weeks. The crystals form and settle and the wine is racked or filtered to leave them behind.

Complex: A complex wine has multiple aroma and flavor nuances. You might notice something new or different about a complex wine each time you go back to it. It is the opposite of a simple, one dimensional wine (this is not derogatory – many wines are purposely made to be simple and they can be very pleasant).

Cooking wine: This is usually a very ordinary wine to which salt has been added. Chefs generally recommend that you use wine rather than cooking wine. The guideline is not to cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink.

Cooperage; cooper: A cooperage is a barrel building company and the cooper is the person who builds and repairs the barrels. Coopering is an ancient craft that has changed surprisingly little over the centuries. The term cooperage also refers to the barrel itself.

Corked: A wine that’s been affected by a bad cork. It usually smells musty or moldy, like an old, dank basement.

Crisp: The fresh, clean impression a wine of high acidity leaves on the palate.

Crusher-stemmer: This is a mechanical device that removes the stems from the grape clusters and breaks the grape skins open, preferably without breaking the seeds. The best wineries will purchase the gentlest crusher-stemmer they can.

Crush: To crush, is to put the fresh grapes through the crusher-stemmer to remove the stems and break the grape skins open. “The crush” is a phrase commonly used to refer to harvest time.

Cuvee: A French term meaning the blend. It’s used most often in reference to sparkling wine, for instance blending Chardonnay with Pinot Noir or one vintage with another.

Decant; decanter: Decanting is pouring the wine out of the bottle into another container such as an attractive glass decanter. There are two reasons to do this: 1) to introduce air into a young wine to make it more expressive. Simply pulling the cork to “let the wine breath” has very little effect because the bottle opening is so small. Decanting is much better. 2) to remove an older wine from the sediment that has fallen out of solution over time. When serving an older red wine, it’s smart to stand it up for several hours before serving so the sediment settles to the bottom of the bottle. Then, carefully decant the wine off the sediment, leaving the gritty bits behind.

Diacetyl: Diacetyl is a by-product of the malo-lactic fermentation that contributes a buttery flavor and a creamy, viscous mouthfeel to the wine. It is most often associated with Chardonnay.

Dry: The opposite of sweet; the term has nothing to do with style or quality, it just indicates that the wine does not taste sweet (human threshold is about .5%).

Earthy: A scent that reminds you of freshly turned garden soil, mushrooms or truffles-it rarely exists on its own, but is an element that contributes to the wines’ complexity. As an off aroma, it might be described as funky or reminiscent of livestock.

Enology: The science of winemaking. Increasingly, modern winemakers get an enology degree and are called enologists rather than learning solely through apprenticeship.

Extracted, extractive: Usually refers to highly concentrated red wines that have extracted a great deal of color, flavor and texture from the grape skins.

Fat: A positive term for a concentrated wine with soft acid that feels fat and rich on the palate. If the acid is too low, then the wine is described as flabby, a negative term for a big wine of poor balance.

Fermentation: The natural conversion of grape juice into wine by the presence of yeast, whether added or naturally occurring (wild yeast comes in on the grapes and lives in wineries). The yeast sets off a chemical reaction. It consumes the grape sugars, causing them to convert to heat, carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. When the yeast runs out of fermentable sugar, the fermentation ends naturally and the wine is dry. A winemaker may make sweet wine by stopping the fermentation before all of the sugar is gone, among other methods.

Filtration: Clarifying the wine by pumping it through a medium such as cellulose, diatomaceous earth or a synthetic membrane, leaving fine particles behind. Modern filters can remove particles as tiny as yeast cells and other organisms that may spoil the wine.

Fining: This is an old world technique still widely used to clarify or refine wine. A fining agent, such as egg white or clay is added which absorbs or coagulates with microscopic constituents of concern such as proteins that may cause haziness or excess tannins that may cause bitterness. The combined substances settle to the bottom of the tank or barrel and the wine is removed from them weeks later. There are numerous fining agents available and the winemaker chooses certain ones to target specific problems such as bitterness, haze, off aromas or colors or other undesirable characteristics.

Finish: See Aftertaste

Firm: A positive reference to the tannin or acid (see acidity) structure of the wine and the way it feels on your palate.

Floral: Literally aromas similar to flowers in bloom such as orange blossom or honeysuckle.

Flowering: This is a crucial stage of seasonal vine development. Tiny, self pollinating flowers that will form the new grapes bloom a few months after the beginning of the growing season. The success of the pollination depends upon the weather. Too much heat or heavy rain can impair pollination and lead to crop loss (also called “shatter“). Flowering is usually mid to late May in Napa Valley.

Fortified wine: Wine that has been fortified by the addition of alcohol such as Port, Sherry or Madeira. These wines are generally between 17 and 22% alcohol. They are often sweet because the alcohol is added before the fermentation is over, killing the yeast and leaving residual, unfermented sugar in the wine. Originally this was done to preserve the wine and allow it to travel well, but it became a sought after wine style in its own right.

Fruit set (also called cluster set): The overall formation of the grape cluster following flowering. Normal clusters will be fully formed, with very few “shot berries” (missing grapes) and uniform grape size, depending on the variety or clone.

Fruity: Literally aromas and flavors that are fruit-like, it refers to red and white wines that are relatively young.

Grassy: A fresh, lively aroma reminiscent of freshly cut grass, usually considered pleasant unless in excess.

Green: Multiple meanings: 1) wine that’s too young-harsh, tannic or severe 2) wine that smells herbal or vegetal 3) a wine that’s overly acidic and tart.

Grip: The drying, astringent sensation in the mouth due to tannins; usually a positive description of a young wine with balanced tannins.

Hangtime: Literally the number of days the grapes spend ripening on the vine. As long as the weather is fair a long hangtime is desirable for full flavor development.

Herbal or herbaceous: Collective term for aromas hinting of fresh or dried herbs such as sage, dill and mint, usually considered pleasant unless in excess.

Hot: used to describe a wine that’s too high in alcohol, leaving a hot sensation on the palate and at the back of the throat.

Icewine or Eiswein: Wine made of grapes picked and pressed in a frozen state. Since the grape juice is mostly water, pressing the grapes while they’re frozen yields a very small amount of highly concentrated, high-sugar juice that’s made into exquisitely sweet wine. The concept originated in Germany, but Canada has surpassed Germany in the quantity of production of Icewine.

Jammy: literally jam-like; used to describe extremely fruity wine most likely made of very ripe grapes.

Late Harvest wine: Wine made of grapes harvested later than normal, in a shriveled state. The semi-dried grapes are higher in sugar than normal wine grapes and are used to make sweet, concentrated wines for dessert. The grapes may simply be shriveled or may also be infected with the “noble rot”, Botrytis Cinerea. Botrytis, while technically a rot that can be devastating, is capable of making exquisite dessert wines by causing the grapes to dehydrate thus concentrating sugar, acid and flavor. It gives the wine a distinctive, honeyed aroma that’s unforgettable. The most famous examples are the French Sauternes and German Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short!). In the new world some very fine examples are produced that may be called Late Harvest, Botrytis or have a proprietary name. Sweet wines that are late picked but not botrytised are very pleasant, but can’t match the complexity of botrytized wines.

Lean: The opposite of fat or fleshy; usually a positive term used to describe a wine that’s restrained of fruit and of relatively high acidity.

Lees: The spent yeast cells and grape solids that settle to the bottom of the tank or barrel. In most cases the winemaker will remove the wine from the lees following fermentation, but some white wines are aged on the lees (“sur lies“), to give them greater complexity.

Legs: Also called “tears”, they are rivulets of wine that come down the sides of the glass after swirling. They are most noticeable in full-bodied wine with relatively high alcohol. They do not signify good or poor quality.

Maceration: The time the grape juice or wine spends with the grape skins. Extended maceration is done in red wine production to increase the extraction of color, flavor and body from the skins for days or weeks after the fermentation is over. Advocates believe that it also has a softening effect on the tannins. Cold maceration or cold soak is done before the beginning of fermentation for a similar reason. The soaking of skins and juice without the presence of alcohol increases extraction without increasing astringency. Once the alcohol is present it acts as a solvent, extracting bitter seed tannins. Decisions like these are made by tasting.

Maderized: Refers to a specific baking process used in the production of Madeira to give a caramelized, nutty character. The term is often used to describe a table wine that has browned and gone stale due to oxidation and heat (the chemical and flavor result is different depending on the alcohol level). Maderization can make a fortified wine more rich and nutty, while it spoils wines of lower alcohol.

Malo-lactic fermentation: The conversion of tart malic to soft lactic acid, caused by bacteria either native or added. Diacetyl is a by-product of the malo-lactic fermentation that contributes a buttery flavor and a bit of weight to the wine and is most often associated with Chardonnay. Virtually all red wines undergo Malo-lactic fermentation, but the effects are not nearly as noticeable as they are with whites. It is often called a secondary fermentation, because it usually follows the primary fermentation.

Mercaptans: Mercaptans create and unpleasant skunky, garlicky aroma in wine and are formed after alcoholic fermentation by yeast reacting with the sulfur in the lees. This can be avoided in production by timely racking and aeration if necessary.

Meritage: A Meritage is usually a blend of red Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot) without any one variety necessarily dominant (the Meritage Association requires that no one variety compose more than 90% of the wine). In America, when we name a wine for a variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, federal law requires that we use at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Meritage designation, an American term, gives the winemaker the freedom to blend the varieties together in the way he prefers, regardless of varietal percentage. It may also be a blend of white Bordeaux varieties-Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon-but it’s not common.

Mesoclimate: The climate of a vineyard site, hillside or valley. The term “microclimate” is used in its place extremely often. Microclimate correctly refers to the climate immediately surrounding the individual vine canopy (or green growth) and clusters. Vineyard and canopy management will strongly influence the microclimate, but not the mesoclimate. The mesoclimate belongs to Mother Nature.

Microclimate: refers to the climate immediately surrounding the individual vine canopy (or green growth) and clusters. Vineyard and canopy management will strongly influence the microclimate. This term is very frequently used, incorrectly, in place of the word mesoclimate.

Mouthfeel: Literally the impression the wine makes on the palate, whether light or heavy, silky or astringent.

Must: Freshly crushed grapes, ready for fermentation. Usually includes juice, skins and seeds; everything but the stems

Noble rot: See Late Harvest wine

Noir: French for black; it’s used to describe the color of dark grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir (black Pinot), some of which are almost black in appearance.

Nose: The smell of the wine; the combination of aroma and bouquet.

Oaky: The aroma and flavor extracted from oak barrels; usually described as woody, toasty or vanilla-like.

Oxidized: Refers to wine damaged by over exposure to oxygen during production or storage. Oxidized wine can be dull and sherry-like and is usually brown-ish in color. This term is often used interchangeably with the term “maderized” because the effects are similar, but maderized wine is damaged by both oxidation and heat.

Phylloxera: A tiny, aphid-like pest that feeds on the roots of wine grapes, slowly killing them. The feeding scars the roots, badly impairing their ability to absorb water and nutrients and also exposing them to bacteria and fungus. Native American grape varieties are highly resistant, but wine varieties (Vitis vinifera) are not. The only solution is to remove the declining vines and replace them with vines that have been grafted onto resistant American rootstock. There are very few wine producing regions in the world where phylloxera doesn’t exist, so most wine grapes worldwide are grafted rather than grown on their own roots.

Pomace: The solids (skins, seeds, pulp) that remain after pressing the juice or wine out of the grapes. Quite often it is returned to the vineyard as mulch.

Press: As a noun the press is a mechanical device designed to squeeze the juice or wine away from the grape skins and seeds. There are many styles, but generally speaking, the gentler the better. As a verb, it’s the act of using the press to separate the liquid from solid. White wines are usually pressed the same day as harvest, immediately following crushing so only the juice is fermented. Reds are pressed days or weeks after harvest because red wines are fermented with the skins.

Pump over: Pumping over is done to keep the wine and skins mixed up during red wine fermentation. As the wine ferments, the skins rise to the top of the tank and form a thick “cap.” It’s important to break up the cap a few times a day to increase the extraction of color and flavor, and to prevent the cap from drying out and/or developing bacterial problems. The wine is pumped from the bottom of the tank, over the top and down through the cap.

Punch down: Punching down is done to keep the fermenting wine and skins mixed up during red wine fermentation. As the wine ferments, the skins rise to the top of the tank and form a thick “cap.” It’s important to break up the cap a few times a day to increase the extraction of color and flavor, and to prevent the cap from drying out and/or developing bacterial problems. A punch down means the cap was manually pushed back into the fermenting wine using an instrument that looks like a huge potato masher.

Racking: Removing clear wine from the solids that have settled. This is done a number of times after fermentation and before bottling as the sole method of clarification or in combination with other methods of clarification such as fining or filtration.

Residual sugar: Natural sugar in wine that either wasn’t converted to alcohol (see fermentation) or was added back in. All wines, even dry wines have some residual sugar, but if the level is below .5% we can’t taste it. The sweetness begins to become noticeable as it approaches 1%, and some wines are bottled at very high levels of sugar, for instance some late harvest wines may be over 20% sugar. Winemakers can stop the fermentation to make sweet wine, or the alcohol will stop the fermentation if it is high enough to kill the yeast. Sweet wines may also be made by fermenting the wine dry and adding back grape juice to sweeten it up.

Rootstock: Wine grapes cannot be grown on their own roots in most parts of the world, due to lack of resistance to certain soil pests (see Phylloxera). They are grafted onto various rootstock hybrids that are resistant to the pests. Additionally, the hybrids are chosen for other beneficial traits, such as low or high vigor, drought resistance, etc.

Rosé: A pink wine, usually made by allowing a small amount of pigment to bleed from the skins of dark grapes into the clear grape juice. Rosé wines otherwise are treated as white wines in the cellar. In the Champagne region of France the Rosé is made by blending red and white together, but still Rosé wines are traditionally made of dark grapes.

Sediment: The gritty deposit that collects in the bottle of older red wines. It is a natural part of aging. Wines with sediment should stand upright for several hours before serving, and then be decanted off of the settled sediment.

Shatter: This term is used to describe crop loss due to impaired pollination. Normally this will mean missing grapes from within the cluster rather than the loss of the whole cluster. The most common cause of shatter is heavy rain, hail or extreme heat.

Smoky: An aroma derived most often from heavily toasted oak barrels; hints of smoke are inherent to some grape varieties like Syrah.

Smudge pots: Also called “vineyard heaters”, smudge pots look like stove pipes surrounding the vineyard and burn diesel fuel or oil to warm the vines in frost conditions.

Sommelier: A wine steward or server; normally the term is reserved for those with a great deal of knowledge and experience with wine. A Master Sommelier has passed a rigorous course of study in wine, spirits and formal table service.

Sparkling wine: a wine that contains bubbles of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. The three most common production methods are 1) the Champagne method or Methode Champenoise: a wine is bottled and fermented again in the bottle, trapping the bubbles 2) the Bulk or Charmat method: the second fermentation takes place in a tank instead of a bottle-it’s more efficient 3) Carbonation or Injection: the wine is injected with CO2. In the European Union, only wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. In other countries, such as the USA, we may use the name Champagne, but many choose not to in deference to the region that invented it and perfected it.

Spicy: Literally a spicy aroma or flavor, suggesting cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper.

Still wine: The term for a wine with no carbonation.

Structure: All wines have structure. When a wine is well structured, it’s usually due to a good balance of tannin, acid and alcohol.

Suckering: Removing unwanted young shoots to keep the vine and crop in balance.

Sulfites: a naturally occurring by-product of the fermentation; Sulfur dioxide (SO2) dissolved in wine is called sulfites. The naturally occurring SO2 is normally not enough to keep the wine healthy, so the vast majority of wineries worldwide add very small amounts of it during winemaking as an anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent. It keeps the color bright, fruit flavors fresh and prevents spoilage. See GCU article on Sulfites in Wine.

Supple: A harmonious, smooth texture; mouth filling but not astringent.

Sur lie: A technique of aging wine on the spent yeast cells and grape solids to gain a creamy, round, toasty character. It is common technique for Chardonnay, Muscadet and South African Steen.

Table Wine: A wine that is neither fortified nor sparkling. In the USA, it’s defined as a still wine that is between 7 and 14% alcohol (none added). In common usage, the term table wine is used to describe an ordinary or every day table wine.

Tannin, tannic: Tannin is a substance found in many plants. In wine, it’s acts as a natural preservative, an anti-oxidant that helps wine to age gracefully. It has almost no flavor, but will cause a drying, astringent sensation in the mouth. A wine high in tannin is said to be tannic. The grape skins are the greatest source of tannin in wine, therefore red wines tend to be more tannic than white wines because reds are fermented with the skins and whites usually are not. A white wine that has been aged in new barrels may contain a small amount of wood tannin.

Tartrates: Also called “wine diamonds”, potassium bitartrate or cream of tartar, they are harmless crystals that separate from some wines during fermentation or aging. They result from a high level of tartaric acid (one of the main grape acids). They can be seen shining inside of just emptied barrels, and also on wine corks. To the inexperienced, they may look like cut glass, but they are completely harmless. Many wineries remove them by using a technique called cold stabilization.

Terroir: It’s hard to pin down, as there’s no literal translation from the French. Most often it refers to all of the elements in nature that influence the character of the fruit: soil, subsoil, microclimate, mesoclimate, drainage, elevation, sun exposure, and prevailing winds. The varietal character of a wine is strongly influenced by the local terroir, which begins to explain why a Napa Valley Chardonnay may seem different from a Chardonnay grown in another region or country. In some cases the influence of viticultural practices is included in the concept but purists would shun that idea.

Toasty: refers to the fragrance of toasted bread that is common to wine that has been barrel aged in relatively new toasted (bent around a fire) barrels, or a sparkling wine with yeasty character.

Top up, Topping: Cellar workers top up aging barrels, periodically, to replace wine that’s lost to evaporation. Topping schedules vary from producer to producer, but once a month is common. If there’s oxygen in the headspace the wine begins to spoil.

Trellis, trellis system: a framework of stakes and wires used to train and arrange the vine growth in the most advantageous manner. Without training the vines would grow like bushes on the ground. There are countless ways to train vines, each with advantages and disadvantages.

Ullage: The ullage is the head space in a bottle, barrel or any other wine container. Although the ullage increases a little with bottle age, it’s a red flag to see a large ullage space because it may indicate that the bottle has leaked and the wine may be spoiled. In winery production, the cellar workers regularly “top up” the barrels with more wine to prevent oxidation.

Vanilla: Literally a vanilla-like character most often extracted from oak, especially American oak.

Varietal wine: A wine made of and named for predominantly one grape variety, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Varietal labeling is far more common for new world wines than those of old world, which are traditionally named for a place like Bordeaux. Varietal regulations vary from country to country. In America, the minimum required to name the wine for a variety is 75%.

Varietal character: Aroma and flavor characteristics typical of a variety, for instance apple or pear for Chardonnay or black currant for Cabernet Sauvignon. When evaluating a wine, the most important thing is that the wine smell and taste good, but if it has a varietal name, then you also expect it to demonstrate varietal character.

Vegetal: Literally a vegetable-like aroma or flavor, for instance bell pepper or asparagus. It can be a positive descriptor, but most often is used to describe a wine that is too vegetal or herbaceous.

Veraison: The time of year in a vineyard when the grapes begin to soften and change color (mid to late July in Napa Valley). White varieties change from green to yellow-green and reds change from green to purple.

Vertical trellis system (also called vertical shoot positioning): refers to vines that are trained in such a way that the shoots grow vertically. As they grow longer, the shoots are tucked into trellis wires above them to maintain the vertical direction, providing maximum light exposure to the leaf surface. This is a particularly prevalent system in California at present.

Vintage: This refers to the year of the harvest and also to the wine itself. American law requires that a wine with a vintage date consists of at least 95% grapes harvested in the year stated on the label. A wine that’s a blend of more than one vintage is called a non-vintage wine. A vintage wine is not necessarily better than non-vintage because some years the weather, and therefore quality is better than others. In regions with difficult weather conditions it’s common to blend different vintages together for consistency of quality.

Vitis vinifera: The vine species that makes almost all of the world’s wine. The 1000+ varieties within the species, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, were native to the Middle East and Asia and eventually traveled to Europe where they were made famous. There is evidence that these varieties have made wine for over 7000 years. Other vine species may be suitable for making wine, but as consumers, for the most part, we have rejected them.

Viticulture: The cultivation of grapevines or the study of grape cultivation.

Volatile: Describes a wine high in volatile acidity, which may smell like vinegar, paint thinner or have other off aromas.

Wind machines: Wind machines are powerful fans placed in the vineyard for frost protection. They mix warmer air above, with the colder air settling on the vineyard to prevent frost damage. They can be used alone, or in conjunction with smudge pots.

Woody: Describes a wine that has a strong oak aroma and flavor.

Yeasty: An aroma similar to freshly baked bread often found in sparkling wines that have been aged on the yeast extensively, or white wine that has been aged on the lees (sur lies).

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