Wine Terminology

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Here’s our list of wine terms commonly used when describing the growing, production, and tasting of wine.

acidity: a combination of fixed and volatile acids present in a wine. Acids include malic, tartaric, citric, acetic, and lactic. Acidity helps wines age properly and makes it refreshing. Excessive acidity gives wine a vinegary, prickly aspect. Most dry wines are 0.6% to 0.75% in total acidity. Dessert wines are higher.

agronomy: field science; that is, management of the vineyards, both vines and soil.

alberello: an ancient Greek technique for training vines. Literally “little tree,” it is a spur-trained bush generally without any supports.

alcohol by volume: alc. by vol. must be stated on the wine’s label. Table wines range from 8% to 14.9%. Fortified and dessert wines are higher, usually 15% to 20%.

alcoholic fermentation: yeasts convert sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

ampelography: study of identifying vine types.

anthocyanins: phenolic substances that give color to red wines.

argilla: soil rich in clay.

aroma: fragrances of a wine derived from the grape varietals.

astringency: unattractive roughness in the mouth due to imbalanced tannins and acidity.

autoclave: an enclosed, pressurized tank which traps the carbon dioxide bubbles to produce sparkling wines. Commonly used for Asti Spumanti, Moscato d’Asti, and Prosecco.

barrel fermentation: wine fermented in wood barrels instead of stainless steel or glass-lined tanks. This will assure subtlety, richness, and harmony, but will increase the risk of oxidation. Many wines are blends of barrel fermented and non-barrel fermented must. Barrel aging helps to stabilize a wine and adds some wood tannins and flavors.

barrique: small oak casks, generally about 225 liters (50 gallons). Coopers generally char the staves to varying degrees. Barriques have historically come from the forest of France – Allier, Limousin, Troncais, Vosges – but now you find barriques from the U.S., Hungary, and other countries. Botticella is Italian for barrique. Both new and previously used barriques are used to store and to mature wines, especially reds.

battonage: a stirring of the lees to extract more flavor in a wine after the alcohol fermentation.

biodynamism: a system of cultivation and vinification management in combination with the cycles of nature. Organic principles are employed. Synthetic chemical treatments are forbidden.

botrytis: funghi that will often rot grapes. In some cases, as in Botrytis Cinerea (Ashy or Noble Rot), the grapes shrivel and concentrate sugar, producing opulent, honeyed, sweet wines.

bouquet: fragrances emanating from the vinification and aging processes of wine.

brix: aka balling or baumé (in Australia), oechsle (in Germany). An indicator of the level of sweetness in the grapes at harvest. Roughly half the brix equals the potential alcohol level of a wine after a complete fermentation; eg, 25˚ brix will produce a dry wine of about 12.5% alcohol.

calcareous: a soil rich in limestone, typically well-drained and positive for viticulture.

canopy: the vine and leaf structure above ground.

capovolto: a variation of the Guyot method of vine training along wires, widespread in Tuscany and Friuli.

carbonic maceration: a process whereby the weight of the grape causes the fermentation, without crushing or pressing. This technique is used in Beaujolais and for the vini novelli (new wines) in Italy. It makes fruity wines, best drunk young.

centrifuge: a machine used to separate solids from clear wine.

chaptalization: adding sugar during fermentation in order to produce a stronger wine. Usually done in cooler climates; eg, France and Germany. Named for the Frenchman who developed the practice. In Italy it is forbidden, but the addition of dried grapes or grape concentrate is permitted in some cases.

charmat method: a technique developed by Frenchman Eugene Charmat, to produce sparkling wines, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in large pressurized tanks, instead of in individual bottles. Prosecco and Asti are produced by charmat, aka “cuve close.”

clone: a variety replicated from a mother vine for a particular attribute; eg, to mature more quickly or to adjust to a specific climate. You may see the term clonal selection.

cold fermentation: a scientific breakthrough, by which at low temperatures usually in stainless steel tanks, the fresh fruitiness of a wine can be preserved.

cold stabilization: a clarification method used to clarify wine without filtering out too much flavor.

cordone speronata: a vine training technique employing wires close to the ground to take advantage of the reflected heat of the ground.

cross: a varietal bred from two or more varietals of the same species; eg, Kerner = Schiava and Riesling.

cru: a French term for a special wine from a special vineyard. In Italy it often refers to a single vineyard site.

cryomaceration: chilling grapes before the fermentation process to assure a more controllable fermentation.

cuvee: a French term indicating a blending of different wines to create a special wine.

diatomaceous earth: a type of soil used to filter wines.

drip-irrigation: a system of watering vines through hoses which trickle drops slowly directly to the root structure. This is much more efficient than spraying. In Italy irrigation systems are usually reserved only for young vines.

esters: fragrant substances formed as a result of fermentation.

extract: a tasting term referring to the amount of flavor, body, and texture of a wine. Scientifically it refers to all of the solids in a wine; that is, everything other than alcohol and water. Extracted wines are rich, full, chewy, and persistent.

fining: adding material to capture practices suspended during fermentation in order to clarify wine. Fining agents include egg whites and diatomaceous earth.

galestro: the rocky soil of Tuscany.

glycerine: a sweet, thickly structured substance produced during the fermentation process.

goudron: a special “tarry” bouquet found in aged, great, red wines.

grafting: innesto in Italian, this is the practice of joining one varietal onto the rootstock/shoot of another.

guyot: named for the Frenchman who developed a system of vine training along low wires. Similar to cordone speronata.

hectare: standard measurement of vineyards in Europe. One hectare (ha) equals 2.4712 acres.

hectoliter: for measuring wine volume, one hectoliter equals 100 liters, or about 11 cases of 750 mL – 12 pks, or 26.4 U.S. gallons.

horizontal tasting: tasting different wines from the same vintage.

late harvest: the longer a grape remains on the vine, generally, more sugar is developed. Usually this results into dessert wines, but it can also lead to more powerful dry whites.

lees: solids, primarily yeast cells, that collect during fermentation in barrels or vats.

maceration: leaving the skins in contact with fermenting wines to extract tannins, color, and flavor. A few hours of maceration gives you a rose. Days or weeks, even a month or more, will result in a red wine.

malolactic fermentation: a secondary fermentation which would take place naturally in the spring, but is often induced earlier by wineries by warming their wine storage areas. For big reds and whites, the sharper, apple-like malic acids are transformed into softer, milk-like lactic acid.

marl: a soil of clay and limestone.

metodo classico: aka champenoise and tradizionale. In this expensive and labor intensive practice, sparkling wine is made by adding sugar and yeasts to a base wine, not in a large tank, but in individual bottles in order to create a secondary fermentation. Examples in Italy include Ferrari, Rotari, and DOCG Franciacorta sparklers, such as Bellavista, Ca del Bosco, and Berlucchi.

microclimate: a small area even more special than the zone in which it is located.

micropore filtration: a very fine filtration which removes micro-organisms. For important wines, the movement is toward unfiltered, not micro-filtered wines.

must: in Italian mosto. Unformed grape juice or grape juice during the fermentation process before it becomes wine.

mutation: a genetic development that causes a noticeable change within a varietal. An example is: Pinot Grigio is a mutation of Pinot Noir.

oxidation: when wine is exposed to air, oxidation takes place, generally causing a darker color and a spoiling of the wine. In certain cases oxidation will transform the wine into something special (eg, Sherry).

pergola: a vine training system in which the vines are draped over high trellises. This system is prevalent in Trentino-Alto Adige.

perlage: this refers to the stream of tiny bubbles in sparkling wines, aka mousse in French. A fizzy Italian sparkler is frizzante; one that is fully effervescent is a spumante.

PH: a way of measuring the level of acidity/alkalinity of a wine. Acid is a low number. Alkaline is high. From 0 – 14, a lemon is 2.0; table wines are 3.0 – 3.5; dessert wines are higher.

phylloxera: this devastating, destructive root louse – full name phylloxera vastatrix – hit France in the 1860’s. It destroyed most of the vines of Europe within a few decades. The solution was to graft European vines onto resistant American rootstock. Phylloxera is still on the loose today, as are other disease, such as oidium (powdery mildew), Pierce’s disease, peronospera (downey mildew), plus molds, funghi, bacteria, viruses, insects, birds, and other animals.

polyphenols: compounds found especially in the seeds, skins, and pulps of grapes. They provide color, depth of flavor, and contribute to a wine’s longevity. Phenolic terms include anthocyanins and flavonoids.

pomace: skins, seeds, pulp, and some stems – what is left after the grapes have been pressed. This is distilled to make grappa or marc in French.

racking: transferring wine from one vessel to another in order to separate clear wine from its lees.

sabbia: sandy soil.

saccharomyces: micro-organisms in grape must that cause alcoholic fermentation.

spalliera: espalier in French. A vine training system, widespread in northwestern Italy.

tannins: an astringent substance from the skins and pits, especially in red wines. There are also tannins in wooden barrels. The harshness becomes milder as a wine ages – actually, tannins are an important contributor to the aging process. Tannins strike the roof of the mouth and the gums. Tannins strike the roof of the mouth and the gums. It’s not so much a taste, but the feeling of a presence, as with strong tea.

tappo: Italian for cork, derived from the bark of a cork oak tree. Cork oaks grow in Portugal, Spain, and North Africa. They also grow in Sardinia. A corked wine, sentore di tappo, tappato in Italian, or sa di tappo, refers to a moldy, damp smell that renders a good wine useless.

tartrates: solid crystals of tartaric acid, usually found in unfiltered whites and in dessert wines. They are sometimes called “wine diamonds.”

tendone: a variation of the pergola system, used in flatter, lower lying zones.

terroir: in Italian, it is territorio. It refers to a combination of the soil, climate, altitude – everything that contributes to the environment of a vine.

varietal: a specific grape variety. For an Italian wine to be named after a varietal, it must always be combined with a specific geographic area or zone (eg, IGT Pinot Grigio del Veneto, DOC Barbera d’Asti). Varietally named wines are generally 85% to 100% of the mentioned varietal, according to the wine laws of Italy.

vertical: a tasting of several vintages of the same wine.

yeasts: microorganisms that create the alcoholic fermentation process. Yeasts are naturally on the skins of grapes, but other starter yeasts are frequently added.

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