Wines - Glossary and Reference

Wines - Glossary and Reference

Acidity - The essential natural component which gives wine freshness and zing and prevents it cloying.

Aftertaste - The taste that lingers after the wine has been tasted.

Aroma - The particular smell of a grape variety.

Artificial - Used to describe wines, part of whose taste appears to have been created chemically. Also contrived, confected.

Astringent - A characteristic mostly found in young, red wine. Creates a tactile sensation on the palate.

Attack - An immediate effect which makes you sit up and take notice.

Austere - A wine which seems difficult to approach, whose fruit isn't immediately apparent.

Balance - A balanced wine has its fruitiness, acidity, alcohol and tannin (for reds) in pleasant harmony. An unbalanced wine has too much of one or more of these. Balance may develop with age.

Barrel / Bottle age - The length of time a wine has spent in barrel / bottle.

Blanc de blancs - White wine, particularly Champagne, made only from white grapes.

Blending - Mixing together different wines.

Body - A full-bodied wine fills the mouth with flavor. Can also be described as being full, or having weight.

Botrytis - The 'noble rot' of great sweet white wines. A welcome mould which can creep over ripe grapes at the end of the summer, enabling winemakers to produce the finest sweet white wines in the world, most notably Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Bouquet - The overall smell of a wine, often made up of several separate aromas.

Buttery - The rich smell - literally the smell of fresh butter - often found in good Chardonnay wines and sometimes associated with wine which has been left on its lees.

Cabernet Sauvignon - The great Bordeaux Left Bank grape.

Chaptalisation - The process of adding sugar to must to increase the alcoholic degree of the finished wine.

Chardonnay - The great white Burgundy and Champagne grape.

Chenin Blanc - The leading white grape of the Loire.

Claret - English term for red wine from Bordeaux.

Clean - A wine which smells and tastes of fruit.

Clos - A wall-enclosed vineyard.

Cloying - The characteristics of poor sweet wines. A sickly flavor.

Coarse - Probably badly made, rough-tasting wine.

Complex - Some wines have interesting and complex mixtures of smells and flavors. Multidimensional.

Corked - The unpleasant, musty smell and flavor caused by an affected cork.

Crisp - Fresh wine, with good acidity.

Cuve close - Sparkling wine created by re-fermenting the wine in closed tanks rather than in bottles.

Demi Sec - medium to sweet

Domaine - Estate

Dumb - As in 'Dumb Nose' - meaning no apparent smell.

Finish - Wine can taste very different when you first put it in to your mouth from the way it does just before you spit it out or swallow it. The finish is the aftertaste.

Flabby - Lacking balancing acidity.

Flor - Yeast that grows on the surface of some wines, protecting the wine from the air.

Fortified Wine - Wine which has grape spirit added before fermentation is complete.

Gamay - The only grape for red Beaujolais.

Gamey - A meaty smell, reminiscent of hung game.

Gewürztraminer - Aromatic, spicy white grape variety.

Grenache - Peppery flavored Rhône grape variety.

Hot - Highly alcoholic wine can be 'hot', either because of high natural sugar in the harvested grapes (e.g. from a hot climate), or poor winemaking.

Late harvest - Late-harvested grapes contain more sugar and concentrated flavors.

Lie (or lees) - The solid matter (yeast etc.) which drops to the bottom of casks or vats of newly-made wine.

Length - The length of time bouquet and flavor linger after swallowing.

Macération Carbonique (or whole berry fermentation) - The method of winemaking used for Beaujolais and some other young-drinking wines by which the grapes begin to ferment, uncrushed and oxygen-free, beneath a layer of carbon dioxide.

Merlot - The soft Bordeaux grape (Right Bank).

Methode Champenoise - The method of sparkling wine production used in Champagne.

Mousse - The sparkle in fizzy wine.

Müller-Thurgau - Early ripening, high-yielding white grape variety.

Muscat - Perfumed grape variety. Generally for sweet wines.

Must - Unfermented grape juice.

Négociant - Merchant who buys in wine from growers and bottles it for sale.

Nose - Smell or aroma

Oaky - The flavor imparted by oak casks.

Oxidized - Wine the air has 'got at' and destroyed.

Palate - The taste, and what you taste with

Petrol - A not unpleasant overtone often found in maturing Riesling.

Phylloxera - Bug which attacks vine roots.

Pinot Noir - The great grape of red Burgundy and Champagne.

Racy - Crisp, lively wine

Riesling - Noblest of the German grapes.

Sauvignon Blanc - The great grape of the upper Loire and New Zealand. Called Fumé Blanc in America.

Sec - Dry

Sémillon - The luscious grape of great Sauternes.

Soft - Smooth, mellow, easy-to-drink, not hard.

Spritz - Slight sparkle, or faint fizz, also called Pétillant.

Stalky (or Stemmy) - The flavor of the stem rather than the juice.

Steely - Firm, characterful wine with good acidity.

Structure - Wine with good structure is like a well-designed building: all parts fit together harmoniously. Wine with poor structure is probably falling apart.

Sulphur dioxide - Bacteria-killing chemical used in winemaking. Over-sulphured wines can smell of bad eggs and may irritate the back of the throat when sniffed.

Sur lie 'On the lees' - Wine bottled straight from the fermentation vat or cask to impart extra taste.

Shiraz (Syrah) - Deep colored, smoky-flavored Rhône grape.

Tannin - The substance in red wine which comes from the grape skins, stems, and pips and gives the mouth-drying sensation. Necessary for red wine to age.

Tart - Generally over-acid.

Terroir - The term used to describe the growing conditions of the grape, such as the soil, drainage, microclimate, and exposure to the sun.

Tired (or tiring) - Wine which has seen better days.

Tröcken - Dry

Varietal - Used to describe wines made from specific grape varieties, sold under the name of those grapes e.g. Australian 'Chardonnay'.

Vielles vignes - Wines from mature vines.

Vin de pays - The lowest category of French wine - 'country wine'.

Vinification - Turning grapes into wine.

Vintage - A single year's grape harvest; the wine of a single year.

Yeast - Organism that causes grape juice to ferment.

Zinfandel - Quirky American grape variety.

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