Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Glossary - updated 04/06/12

For those that are newer to wine terminology I decided to write a glossary for some common terms in wine tasting. Some of these words have many definitions (especially aroma and bouquet), but this is how I learned them over the years from various classes and books.

Feel free to ask about any other terms you come across in the comments section. As I know this is far from complete.  I will update it whenever I have of things to add.

acetic acid bacteria:  Bacteria that can grow during the fermentation that convert alcohol into acetic acid (think vinegar) and ethyl aldehyde (think nail polish remover).  AABs grow too slowly to convert all the alcohol before they die from either the addition of sulfites or the elevated levels of alcohol produced by the fermenting yeasts.  They are spread by fruit flies.

aroma: The fruit, vegetable, and herbal flavors that are imparted by the grapes. See bouquet for contrasting.

barnyard:  Off odors caused by Brettanomyces that smell like manure or wet animals.

black fruit: A grouping of flavors that resemble darkly colored fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, black currants (cassis), etc. This is often used when a single fruit doesn't stand out whether from the taster's palate or because the wine doesn't present the full flavor molecule of a particular fruit.

Bordeaux varietals: For a red wine to be labeled as a Bordeaux it must be made in the Bordeaux region of France and it can only be made from these five varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. So when someone says a wine is a Bordeaux blend they usually mean it it is made of a combination of some to all of those grapes.

bouquet: The flavors imparted by the oak and yeast. These flavors lie in the spices, vanilla, smoky, buttery, toffee range.

Brettanomyces claussenii (aka Brett):  A spoilage yeast that can live on the skin of grapes.  If it colonizes a batch of wine it will impart off odors such as manure and band-aid.  Poor cleaning procedures and lack of sequestering wine can spread Brett from one lot to the whole winery.  Some people do not recognize Brett as a fault either because they like the taste or they don't notice it.  I am very sensitive to it and hate it in wine.  I also had a teacher that said that a tiny amount of Brett will lift the fruit flavors and make them more noticeable.  It is common in beers where it is less noticeable and imparts in Heineken a skunkiness and in Belgium ales the floral notes is said to be elevated by Brett.    

Burgundy: A region of France where all the reds are 100% Pinot Noir and the whites are 100% Chardonnay.

cork taint:  A flaw in wine that masks fruit flavors and smells like wet dog, wet cardboard, or moldy basement.  You will often only notice it in the first sniff or two and then your nose will get accustomed to it, but the wine will remain flavorless.  It is caused by naturally occurring fungus in wood (cork or barrel) coming into contact with chlorophenol and/or bromophenol and creating 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA) and/or 2,4,6-Tribromoanisole (TCB).  This is one reason by wineries do not use bleach to clean their equipment.

forest floor: The smell of a forest after a rain. It usually signals mushroom, wet earth, and/or woodiness.

mouthfeel: The way a wine's structure feels in your mouth. The main influences on mouthfeel are tannins, acidity, and alcohol.

natural fermentation (aka wild fermentation): Wine made without added yeast. This can be misleading as the yeast may originate in the vineyard which it implies or it may come from the winery if they used strong strains nearby. The vast majority of wineries in the new world purchase yeast strains known to ferment all the way to completion and produce a low amount of sulfurous compounds among other benefits. The use of wild strains can result in stuck fermentations, off flavors, and messy foaming.

quality to price ratio (QPR):  Pretty much what it sounds like.  Some people use numbers and divide scores from wine mags by the price.  I give rough estimates since I'm not a fan of the numbering system.

red fruit: A grouping of flavors that resemble red colored fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, cherries, watermelons, etc. This is often used when a single fruit doesn't stand out whether from the taster's palate or because the wine doesn't present the full flavor molecule of a particular fruit.

red wine headache syndrome (RWHS): Some people get headaches from drinking red wine. The cause is still unknown, but the wikipedia page has a lot of good information.

stone fruit: A grouping of flavors that resemble fruits with pits such as peaches and nectarines, but not usually used to designate plums and cherries.

stopped fermentation: A fermentation that was stopped because the winemaker wanted to leave residual sugar in the wine. This is one way to make sweet dessert wines and is usually accomplished with the addition of SO2 or high proof alcohol.

stuck fermentation: A fermentation that petered out before it finished converting all the sugars into alcohol. It can be very difficult to restart a stuck fermentation when the sugar level is low and the alcohol level is high.

sulfites: A preservative added to wines and other foods (e.g. the orange-colored dried apricots). I would estimate that about 99% of wineries around the world use sulfites. The US has a labeling law that requires a warning label about sulfites. This causes some people to erroneously think that a bottle they buy overseas without a warning label does not contain sulfites. Some people are sensitive to sulfites which can range from asthmatic symptoms to congestion to hives.

tannins: A compound produced by plants that are found in wine. They come from the grape skins, seeds, and stems as well as the oak used in aging. They depart a bitter flavor and astringent mouth feel when young and plentiful. As the wine ages the tannins become modified through chemical reactions and create a soft or silky mouth feel. Tannins are party responsible for the mouthfeel of a wine.

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