When it comes to wine, there is more to know than that it comes from grapes, is stored in barrels and can be dry, sweet or a range in between. In fact, just spend a bit of time in a winery or wine store and you will quickly discover that wine has a language all its own. After all, wine has a long lineage in the world of food, and as such it has a vocabulary and lingo that goes with it. So, when you understand the lingo you will find that wine tasting, buying wine, and knowing how to pair wines become much easier and significantly more pleasurable than it already is!
Common Wine Terms
Acidity - A naturally occurring component of every wine; the level of perceived sharpness; a key element to a wine's longevity; a leading determinant of balance
Aftertaste –A tasting term for the taste left on the palate after wine has been swallowed; ” finish" is a synonym.
Aging barrel - A barrel, often made of oak, used to age wine or distilled spirits.
Appellation of origin- You might see this phrase on a wine label. It denotes the place where most of the grapes used in the wine were grown. An appellation of origin can be the name of a country, state, county, or geographic region. Federal regulations require that at least 75 percent of the grapes must be grown in the named appellation of origin.
Aroma- The smell of a wine; generally applied to younger wines, while the term bouquet is reserved for more aged wines.
Astringency- The degree of astringency (how much a wine makes your mouth pucker) depends upon the amount of tannin a wine has absorbed from the skins and seeds of the grapes. A moderate amount of astringency is desirable-it creates a lovely flavor-in many red wine types.
Baumé- A measure of the sugar concentration in the juice or wine
Blending- The mixing of two or more different parcels of wine together by winemakers to produce a consistent finished wine that is ready for bottling. Laws generally dictate what wines can be blended together, and what is subsequently printed on the wine label.
Body -It’s all about how thin or thick the wine feels in your mouth; “light body” connotes a thin feeling in your mouth; “medium body” means that a wine is full-flavored, without being too heavy; “heavy body” means the wine has a robust, round, and very rich feel.
Bouquet- Smells that result from a wine’s aging process. Bouquet can also describe a wine’s overall smell.
Bright- Describes a wine that has high clarity, very low levels of suspended solids.
Brix- A standardized scale to measure the sugar content in grapes before fermentation. Most table wines are harvested between 19 degrees and 25 degrees brix.
Brut- A French term for a very dry champagne or sparkling wine. Drier than extra dry.
Canopy- The parts of the grape vine above ground, in particular the shoots and leaves.
Chaptalization- A winemaking process where sugar is added to the must to increase the alcohol content in the fermented wine. This is often done when grapes have not ripened adequately.
Crackling- Semi-sparkling wine; slightly effervescent. Also called frizzante.
Cuvée- A wine blended from several vats or batches, or from a selected vat. Also used in champagne to denote the juice from the first pressing of a batch of grapes.
Decanting- The process of pouring wine from its bottle into a decanter to separate the sediment from the wine.
Dégorgement- The disgorging or removal of sediment from bottles resulting from secondary fermentation.
Demi-sec- Moderately sweet to medium sweet sparkling wines.
Dessert wine- Varies by region. In the UK, a very sweet, low alcohol wine. In the US by law, any wine containing over 15% alcohol.
Devatting- The process of separating red must from pomace, which can happen before or after fermentation.
Dry - Wines with zero or very low levels of residual sugar. The opposite of sweet, except in sparkling wines, where dry means sweet.
Enology- American English spelling of oenology, the study of wine
Estate winery - A United States winery license allowing farms to produce and sell wine on-site, sometimes known as a farm winery.
Green harvest -The harvesting of green (unripe) grapes in an attempt to increase the yield of quality grapes.
Hard- A tasting term for a wine that contains too much tannin and is therefore unpleasant. Hard wines often take a long time to mature.
Late harvest wine -Also known as late picked, wine made from grapes that have been left on the vine longer than usual. Usually an indicator for a very sweet or dessert wine.
Legs- You’ve seen them-the drops of wine that creep down the side of the wine glass. A higher alcohol content means thinner legs flow back into the wine after you swirl the glass.
Mead -A wine-like alcoholic beverage made of fermented honey and water rather than grape juice.
Must weight- The level of fermentable sugars in the must and the resultant alcohol content if all the sugar was converted to ethanol.
Proof-Refers to the alcohol content of a beverage. In the United States, proof represents twice the alcohol content as a percentage of volume. Thus, a 100 proof beverage is 50% alcohol by volume and a 150 proof beverage is 75% alcohol. In the Imperial system, proof, (or 100% proof), equals 57.06% ethanol by volume, or 48.24% by weight. Absolute or pure ethanol is 75.25 over proof, or 175.25 proof.
Residual Sugar - Often referred to as RS, it is a measure of the amount of sugar remaining in the wine after fermentation stops. RS is usually measured in grams of sugar per liter or milliliter of wine, and it indicates how sweet or dry a wine is.
Secondary fermentation - Most commonly the term is used to refer to the continuation of fermentation in a second vessel - e.g. moving the wine from a stainless steel tank to an oak barrel.
Sulfites –Compounds such as potassium metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite which are added to wine to prevent oxidation, microbial spoilage, and further fermentation by the yeast.
Terroir - French for "soil", the physical and geographical characteristics of a particular vineyard site that give the resultant wine its unique properties
Transparency - The ability of a wine to clearly portray all unique aspects of its flavor--fruit, floral, and mineral notes. The opposite would be a wine where flavors are diffused and thoroughly integrated.
Varietal -The varieties of grape from which the wine was made. You might be familiar with many of these: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Shiraz.
Vertical and horizontal wine tasting -In a vertical tasting, different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery are tasted. This emphasizes differences between various vintages. In a horizontal tasting, the wines are all from the same vintage but are from different wineries. Keeping wine variety or type and wine region the same helps emphasize differences in winery styles.
Viniculture -The art and science of making wine. Also called enology (or oenology).
Viticulture -The cultivation of grapes; not to be confused with viniculture
Young -Wine that is not matured and usually bottled and sold within a year of its vintage.
Zymology -The science of fermentation.
This list is far from being all inclusive of the things to know about wine. However, now that you have a better understanding of wine terms, how to read the labels, or perhaps get more from a description given at a tasting, you can enjoy wine even more. And who knows, you may even have that unique bit of information to make small talk at that next company dinner a bit more interesting.
The Bear Claw Vineyard team is always happy to answer your questions about wine, and to raise a glass or two with you as you learn more about Georgia wines, as well as those from around the globe. We look forward to meeting you and being able to serve you our own wines. Remember our whites will be ready in Fall of 2017 and reds in 2018. Salute!