Like a lot of specialized fields, wine has many vocabulary words with unique meanings.  As they come up in the blog, I’ll give my own definitions here on the Winespeak page.

ASTRINGENCY: a “rough” feeling in the mouth, caused by tannins, usually found in red wine. The commonly accepted mechanism of astringency perception is that tannins bind with proteins in saliva that lubricate the tongue and mouth lining, causing a puckery, almost sandpapery sensation in the mouth. A good test for astringency is to rub your tongue along the roof of your mouth or your gums and see how long it takes for the rough sensation to dissipate. Astringency is a touch sensation: not to be confused with bitterness, which is a taste sensation. (Ref: Cheynier et al., “Structure and Properties of Wine Pigments and Tannins ” American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 2006)

BALANCE: Acid, alcohol, tannins, and sugar affect the perception of each other. When one or more of these components is lacking or overbearing, the wine is said to be out of balance. It’s a highly sought-after characteristic in a wine.

BOTRYTIS: The fungus Botrytis cinerea likes to hang about in moist conditions and can wreak havoc on grapes.

Grapes exhibiting noble rot (from Ch. Grand Peyrot)

Grapes exhibiting noble rot (img: Château Grand Peyrot website)

This mold punctures the skin of the grape, then feeds on the delicious sugars inside, usually rotting the grape from the inside out. However, this fungus isn’t all bad. Under specific climatic conditions (e.g., the southern part of Graves) the rot is controlled, and the organism punctures the grapes but does not fully infect them. These grapes will dry out, concentrating the sugars and acids inside. Grapes infected with this “noble rot” are used to make some of the world’s finest dessert wines, including the king of dessert wine, Sauternes. Botrytis can induce spicy, cinnamony, honey-like aromas and flavors in a wine. Compounds charactristic of botrytis aromas: sotolon (honey, curry), furaneol (caramel).
(Ref: Sarrazin et al., “Characterization of key-aroma compounds of botrytized wines, influence of grape botrytization”, Food Chemistry, 2007)

BRETTANOMYCES: a species of yeast that is usually unwelcome in winemaking. This yeast produces enzymes that produce aroma compounds whose aromas have been described as band-aid, phenolic, barnyard, horse blanket, rancid bacon, and other lovely descriptors. “Brett” can also live in a nutrient-poor, high acid environment that is relatively inhospitable to many other microbes, i.e., fermented wine. Pick up some aged Cahors or Madiran sometime if you want a taste of brett. Impact odorants: ethylguaiacol, vinylphenols.

Hydrometry on chaptalized strawberry juice.

Hydrometry on chaptalized strawberry juice.

BRIX: Many use “Brix” as a simple approximation for the percentage of fermentable sugars in the grape juice coming in from the vineyard. While this is pretty close, Brix is actually a measure of soluble solids in the liquid in grams solid per 100 grams of liquid at 25 degrees Celsius. Ninety to ninety-five percent of these soluble solids are in fact fermentable sugars like glucose and fructose. The remainder comprises non-fermentable sugars like xylose and arabinose, organic acids (malic and tartaric, mostly), and polyphenolic compounds. Measurements of Brix can be done with refractometers (convenient in the field, by refractive index), hydrometers (by density), or by infrared detection. Other measurements of the same property include the German Oeschle, the French Baumé, and the brewers’ Balling and Plato.

CHAPTALIZATION: Illegal in some places, done in many places. It’s a fancy way of saying “adding sugar” to a {must} before fermentation with the intention of increasing potential alcohol. Named after Jean-Antoine Chaptal, who discovered the relationship between sugar and alcohol in wine. Not to be confused with back-sweetening, which is adding sugar for sweetness.

COLD SOAK: After red grapes are brought in, many winemakers will put them into cold maceration. The grapes soak for on the order of days, often with dry ice or liquid nitrogen.  Cold soak has been shown to increase anthocyanin (i.e., color) and tannin extraction in reds.  Other benefits include decreased oxidation due to enzymes like laccases, which can build up due to Botrytis infection.  Finally, the direct application of cryogens like dry ice can shatter the cell structure of some grapes, releasing helpful enzymes that can contribute to flavor development down the road (Zinnai, A.; Venturi, F.; Andrich, G., “Cold maceration in production of high quality wine,” First international Symposium on Environment Identities and Mediterranean Area, 2006)

CRUSH: Pretty self-explanatory. Grapes are mechanically beaten up, breaking the skins and releasing juice.  Along with juice, crush releases esterases and pectinases from the berries that set about helping to clarify the must and ease the pressing process. During crush, it’s important to consider the fate of seeds and stems, since breaking them could release bitter flavors and green aromas, again, depending on their ripeness.

DESTEM:  Pretty self explanatory as well. After harvest, clusters can be sent through a machine that removes the rachis (stem) of the cluster without damaging grapes. This is especially important for red wines, since fermentation occurs on skins. Sometimes, though, destemmers can leave jacks (individual stems) on the berries, so hand-destemming, while labor intensive, is not uncommon. Under some circumstances, stems can impart off-flavors to wines, including methoxypyrazines (green bell pepper, asparagus) and bitter (“green”) tannins. Some winemakers, though, (notably locally, Tom Higgins of Heart and Hands Wine Company) claim that some stems in the fermentation can add complexity to the wine.

FLABBY: a flabby wine is low in acidity; it’s not a compliment. A flabby wine is out of balance.

FREE RUN:  Juice (whites) or wine (reds) that flows out of the
press before pressing has begun. It’s generally looked upon as the
best juice, since it’s the most gently handled.  Free run will usually
go into top-of-the-line labels and varietal wines. See also: PRESS FRACTION

HORIZONTAL TASTING: a tasting of several wines of the same vintage but usually from different producers or even varieties. For example, a horizontal could include 2007 Dry Rieslings from Sheldrake Point (Cayuga), Atwater (Seneca), Dr. Loosen (Germany),  etc.  Basically, same year, different wines. In my opinion, not really as strict as a vertical tasting, a horizontal tasting allows tasters to evalute differences in winemaking (e.g., oak vs. stainless steel), varietal, growing region, and other factors.  Tasting multiple wines is a great way to get to know wines, whether you’re trying to get a handle on characteristics of a varietal or just evaluating for fun.

HOT: no, it’s not that the wine’s being served too warm temperature-wise (although this can exacerbate “hotness”.) Ethanol (alcohol) not only has a “sweet” smell, but it also causes what is called a trigeminal response, an irritation of the nose rather than a smell. It feels like burning, hence the term “hot” for wines with unbalanced or high ethanol content. (Ref: Thorngate, “The Physiology of Human Sensory Response to Wine, A Review”, American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 1997)

JAMMY: a “cooked fruit” or overripe character, often found in wines made from grapes that grow in hotter climates.

LEES: dead yeast cells left over from fermentation. Once the live yeast have done their job, their carcasses can still contribute to the wine. Aging sur lie can add depth and mouthfeel to a wine by the addition of mannoproteins and other compounds from lysed yeast cells.

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION: a secondary fermentation often used in red wines and done at the winemaker’s discretion for whites. It involves inoculation with malolactic bacteria such as Oenococcus oeni to convert malic acid in wine to the softer lactic acid. This leads to less perceived acidity in the wine and often contributes a buttery aroma due to the production of diacetyl.

MOUTHFEEL: sip some wine, but don’t swallow it yet! swish it around in your mouth. how does it feel rolling around your tongue? heavy and viscous? runny and thin? is it drying everything out? puckering your tongue? The sum of all these qualities is usually described as mouthfeel. You can read more about mouthfeel in the ICV (Institut Coopératif du Vin, France) Mouthfeel Sensory Evaluation Protocol .

MUST: grape juice that will eventually become wine. Not to be confused with musty, an undesirable aroma found in cork tainted wines.

OXIDIZED: most of the time, a wine fault. Wine that is exposed to oxygen (either by opening or by slow oxygen transfer through the cork/closure) undergoes many chemical changes. From an aroma and flavor perspective, the most important is the creation of acetaldehyde, which has a harsh aroma often described as nutty and apple peely. Though oxidation is not desirable in ordinary reds and whites, many wines are produced in an oxidizing manner, such as oloroso sherry, madeira, and port. When done carefully, oxidation can bring out pleasant, nutty aromas. However, when unintentional, it can render a wine undrinkable. Oxidized wines have a characteristic nutty aroma and taste that appears in the mid- to back palate. Basically, if your wine smells like sherry, and it’s not sherry, sucks for you. It’s oxidized.

PRESS FRACTION: The complement to free run. Presses can reach pressures of up to 3 atmospheres near the end. To give you an idea of what that’s like, it’s the approximate equivalent of a weight of 200 pounds placed on the area of a soda can. Attempts to use high pressure to extract every last ounce of juice from the grapes, though, don’t really pay off. The last (hardest) press fraction will often have
higher pH (due to extraction of potassium ions from skins), higher phenolics (due to broken seeds, stems, etc.), and, generally, taste like crap. Interestingly, later press fractions turn out much clearer, since the buildup of skins and seeds (aka pomace) acts as a sort of filter.  Slightly less hard press (and much more drinkable) fractionswill often end up in second labels or house blends.

QPR: quality-to-price ratio. Wines with a good QPR are usually either very good and cheap or mind-blowing and not terribly expensive. These wines demonstrate that wine quality does not always correlate with price.

ROSÉ: Rosé wines are typically made by pressing red wine grapes off of their skins before fermentation, allowing for slight skin contact, leading to a pinkish final product. For the most part, grape juice itself is white and the color of wine comes mainly from compounds in grape skins.

Skin contact gives a golden color to Channing Daughters Meditazione, fermented on the skins.

Skin contact gives a golden color to Channing Daughters Meditazione, fermented on the skins.

SKIN CONTACT: Essential for reds, controlled in rosés, usually minimal in whites, with notable exceptions. Anthocyanins and tannins, which bring color and structure to reds, are found in the skins, but bitter and undesirable phenolics can be found there as well, especially in not-so-ripe vintages. Again, judicious use of skin contact can be good for some white wines. Atwater Estate Vineyards on Seneca Lake uses a bit of skin contact (usually cold soak) to add some complexity to its Gewürztraminer, and Channing Daughters on the South Fork of Long Island ferments a few of its whites on the skins, leading to extremely interesting and unique wines like Envelope, Meditazione, and Ramato.


Epicatechin is a monomer (building block) of polymeric tannin

TANNIN: polyphenolic compounds usually found in grape skins. Tannins are polymers of flavonoids such as epichatechin, pictured right. See also {astringency}.

VARIETAL: adjective for wine made from mostly one type of grape.  Wines labeled riesling, gewürztraminer, merlot, pinot noir, and chardonnay, for example, are varietal wines. Regulations vary, but in the U.S. a wine must contain 75% or more of a certain grape variety to be labeled as a varietal wine. Often confused with “variety.”

VARIETY: noun, the specific cultivar of grape used to make a wine. For example, Sauvignon Blanc is a grape variety. People tend to use “varietal” to describe types of grapes, but variety is more appropriate.

VERTICAL TASTING: a tasting of several wines of the same varietal or vineyard from the same winemaker, but from different vintages.  For example, a vertical could include Sheldrake Point Dry Riesling 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.  Basically, same wine, different years.  Vertical tastings allow tasters to evalute the effects of aging on wines, as well as recognizing differences in vintages (e.g., hot/cold, wet/dry, etc.). (Cf. horizontal tasting)

VINIFERA: grapes of the species Vitis vinifera, native to Europe. Notable vinifera include basically all the big names in wine grapes, from shiraz to cabernet sauvignon to chardonnay. Vinifera is usually used to distinguish from North American-native grapes, such as Concord and Niagara (Vitis labrusca, or hybrids of the two species, which are often grown in cooler climates.

VOLATILE ACIDITY: when bacteria called Acetobacter and other spoilage organisms end up in wine either during fermentation or after bottling and have access to a bit of oxygen, they will oxidize ethanol (alcohol) to acetic acid (vinegar). If your wine smells a bit like vinegar or nail polish (ethyl acetate, which goes hand-in-hand with acetic acid), then you’ve got VA. It’s another one of those things that in small amounts can actually contribute to the aroma of a wine, but at too high a dosage becomes a fault. The acetic acid level in wine is strictly regulated and must be below 1.4 and 1.2 g/L for red and white table wines, respectively. (Fugelsang and Edwards, Wine Microbiology, p.169, Springer, 2006)

WHOLE-CLUSTER PRESS:Just what it sounds like. Whole clusters, stems and all, are placed into the press. Stems actually allow for better extraction of juice with lower pressure, which for whites leads to less extraction of bitter phenolics from the skins. Whole cluster press is a way to obtain absolutely minimal skin contact, so in a year where skins are not as ripe as usual, it’s preferable.  Generally, its usage varies by year, grape, ripeness, etc.

Published on 14 January 2009 at 1:11 am  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I am the Head Sommelier at Morello Bistro in Greenwich CT. I have been pulling info off the web for my staff all day and found your site very informitive yet understanable for the wine novice.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: