The wineanorak's glossary of wine terms

This new feature is very much a work in progress: while it's already quite comprehensive, there are more terms to add, more cross-links to insert and a whole bunch of links to articles elsewhere on this site to complete. I've tried my best to make this accurate, readable and engaging, and although it's designed for people with no prior knowledge of wine I hope that serious geeks will find it of some use. Comments are welcomed. Jamie Goode



Acetic Acid
A volatile organic acid often encountered in food, this is the main acid responsible for the flavour of vinegar. From this you'll have gathered that it is not a desirable component of wine. If you leave a bottle of wine open for a couple of weeks, a bug called Acetobacter will turn the alcohol into acetic acid, and you'll have vinegar.

Used as an adjective to describe sharp or sour flavours. Acidity is a vital component of wine: it helps red wines keep their colour and gives white wines their balance. Too much acidity, and a wine is tart and unpleasant; too little and the wine is 'flabby' and uninteresting. Grapes start out with high concentrations of organic acids which then disappear as the grapes ripen; consequently, in warm regions it is common practice to add acids to the unfermented grape juice to counter the lack of them in the grapes. In contrast, winemakers from wretchedly cool areas, such as parts of Germany and the UK, often have to deacidify. (see also: article on acidity is the key)

Wine is one of the few foodstuffs that can improve with age, and this is also one of its key fascinations. The longevity of different types of wine is a complex and inexact science: real wine bore territory! Given good cellaring conditions (cool, stable temperature is key among these) fine red wines will improve for many years after release, as will Vintage Ports and certain sweet and dry white wines; indeed, some wine styles (such as classed growth clarets from a good vintage) only begin to show what they are capable of after a decade in the cellar. But most everyday wines are best drunk on release.

Commonly used term for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, C2H5OH. It is the product of the fermentation of sugars by yeast. It doesn't taste of anything, but has profound biological effects, which most wine drinkers are no doubt familiar with. As well as the acute effects of alcohol on the nervous system (i.e. drunkenness), the products of alcohol metabolism also have effects on the body. The pathway of alcohol metabolism in the body involves the progressive oxidation of alcohol to acetate via acetaldehyde, the toxic molecule largely responsible for hangovers.  

Don't be put off by the shape of the bottle! Alsace, in northwest France, produces some delicious full flavoured white wines from grape varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Tokay Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Although these wines aren't cheap, they are generally good value because quality is often high. This is the only region of France that routinely labels wines by grape variety. (see also: tasting notes on Alsace wines)

Appellation Contrôlée
The French are great bureaucrats, and a wine with Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) on the label will have had to have met a whole host of regulations regarding grape variety, maximum yield, minimum ageing and so on. However, this doesn't mean that what is in the bottle will necessarily be of any interest. (see also: article on appellations as brands)

Ranking fifth in the list of global producers, Argentina produces a lot of wine, most of it destined for the thirsty locals. As the attention of producers has turned to the more fussy export markets, there has been an increased planting of better varieties and a general increase in quality. Watch out for gutsy reds from the Malbec grape, which thrives in Argentina, and also aromatic whites from the indigenous Torrontés variety. (see also: tasting notes of Argentinean wines)

The smell of a wine. Fussy wine pros sometimes distinguish between aroma (the smell of young wines) and bouquet (more complex whiffs that come from bottle age).

A French term for the process of making a wine by blending the component parts. In old world wine regions this might mean mixing together different barrels containing wine from portions of the same vineyard; in Australia it might involve blending wines from regions thousands of miles apart.

Unflattering tasting term describing an unpleasant, dry, mouth-puckering sensation usually caused by excess *acidity or bitterness. The excessive tannins in young, overextracted red wines are the usual culprits.

German term that means literally 'selected harvest'. It is one of the sweeter official quality levels in German wine. To reach the legislated sugar level, individual bunches of very ripe -- sometimes *botrytis affected -- grapes are selected at harvest time. The wines usually taste rich and sweet, but some trocken Auslese wines are fermented to dryness. 

Wine-buff speak for a wine that is a bit too severe or restrained on the palate. Usually uncomplimentary, although some young wines destined for greater things may be 'austere' in their youth. Commonly used to describe young *clarets.

The last decade has been boom-time for the export-driven Australian wine market. Australia produces approachable, full-flavoured and good value wines that have taken the UK market by storm. One of the keys to this success has been Australia's ability to produce reliable, fruity, full flavoured wines in industrial quantities, while at the same time small producers concentrating on quality have made world class wines exhibiting true regional character. Of the red grapes, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon hold pole position, and of the whites, Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling all do well. Leading quality regions include the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, Margaret River and Mount Barker in Western Australia, the Yarra Valley and Rutherglen in Victoria, and the Hunter Valley and Mudgee in New South Wales. Although prices have been creeping up over the last few years, Australian wines are still hard to beat for value.

Austria makes some excellent dry white wines from Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay grapes. Despite their quality, these wines are poorly known abroad, mainly because of the healthy local demand. The Neusiedlersee region also produces some stunning sweet white wines that are usually affected by noble rot.

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A wine is balanced when all the component parts, such as *tannins, *fruit, *acidity and possibly sweetness, are correctly matched and in harmony, and none stands out inappropriately. It's a bit of a subjective call.

A huge bottle that contains a ridiculous 12 litres of Champagne, which is the equivalent of 16 bottles. You'll most likely need some help drinking one of these.

Barrel fermentation
The process of fermenting grape juice in small oak barrels. Especially when the barrels are new, this can add complexity and oak-derived flavours to the finished wine. Normally done with white wines only (because red wines are fermented together with the skins, pips and sometimes stalks: gunk which would be hard to remove from a barrel), and commonly precedes ageing in oak. Somewhat counterintuitively, wines that are fermented and aged in oak pick up less apparent oak flavours than wines that have only been aged in oak.

A 225 litre small oak barrel of the type originally found in Bordeaux, but now used throughout the world. When barriques are new they add a pronounced flavour to the wine, and even old barrels will have an affect on the wine through exposing it to small quantities of oxygen. 

Sounds a bit risqué, but actually it is the French term for the entirely innocent practice of *lees stirring.

A technical term for measuring the approximate sugar concentration in grape juice through assaying total dissolved compounds. The degrees Baumé is an indication of the final alcoholic strength of the wine if it is fermented to dryness. Sometimes you'll find technical notes on the back of a wine label giving the degrees Baumé when the grapes were harvested.

A pretty region just south of Burgundy, Beaujolais makes fresh, fruity but sometimes rather simple red wines from the Gamay grape. The use of the winemaking technique *carbonic maceration helps to preserve the fruitiness of the wines. The image of Beaujolais has been somewhat devalued by the flood of largely thin, dull Beaujolais Nouveau that hits our shores in the November following the vintage, but at their best these are fun, joy-filled wines for early drinking.

Believe it or not, some wine producers go through their vineyards and select individual grapes to make wine from; Beerenauslese is the German term used to describe this, and means literally 'selected berries'. These grapes will be over-ripe, and usually affected by *botrytis. This rather fanatical practice results in luscious, complex and very expensive sweet white wines. A similar selection is carried out by the better producers of botrytised wines in the Loire and Sauternes regions of France.

It is surprising that Biodynamism has become so widely accepted in wine circles, because the underlying principles are extremely weird. Biodynamics is a sort of highly refined version of organic agriculture blended with loopy, semi-occultic spiritual principles, and it has been adopted by a number of high profile wine growers such as Lalou Bize-Leroy of Burgundy and Nicolas Joly and Noel Pinguet of the Loire. It is based on the teachings of an Austrian eccentric, Rudolph Steiner, who began the movement back in the 1920s, and vineyard interventions are governed by such factors as the alignment of the planets and position of the moon. Bizarre liquid applications and the 'ashing' of pests are other aspects of a such regimes. However, although these principles contravene just about every known scientific law, biodynamic producers seem to make some excellent wines. No one knows why. See also: feature series on biodynamic wine.

A collection of wine bottles stacked on top of each other. Hence the term 'bin end' sale, when a merchant gets rid of their last few bottles of a particular wine.

A clever winemaking trick often used by quality conscious producers, known also by the French term of 'saignée'. Red wines gain their colour and *tannins from the contact between grape juice and skins during fermentation. So in order to increase the ratio of skins to juice, some producers 'bleed' off some of the juice before fermentation. The juice bled off in this fashion can be used to make rosé wine with, because it will be slightly pink.

Blind tasting
Opinions are divided about the value of this practice, which involves tasting a wine without knowing its identity. Many consider it to be the fairest way of assessing a wine; others think that wines need to be assessed in light of their background, and that this context is important. Single-blind tasting is when you know the identity of the wines in the tasting, but their identities are masked; double-blind is when the identities are hidden and you don't know which wines are in the tasting. See also: understanding a wine: where blind tasting fails and blind tasting tests: compulsory for wine writers?

Tasting term describing the weight of the wine in the mouth. A full bodied wine will have good concentration, lots of alcohol and plenty of *extract; a light bodied wine won't. The full bodied wines tend to get all the attention in big tasting events and competitions, even if they aren't the sort of wines you'd necessarily want to spend an evening with.

Are you rich? Then you might like to explore Bordeaux, the world's most famous wine region and home to some of the world's most aristocratic wines. But you'll need to have deep pockets, because there is no getting round the fact that Bordeaux is expensive. The easiest way to understand Bordeaux is to split it into the left and right banks of the Gironde estuary, around which this huge region is arranged. On the left bank are the Médoc and Graves regions, which produce some of the most celebrated wines in the world from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. At the top of the price and quality pyramid are the *classed growths from the appellations of St Julien, Pauillac, St Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac Léognan and Graves. On the right bank are found St Emilion and also the tiny appellation of Pomerol, which is home to super-expensive 'cult' wines such as Petrus, Lafleur and Le Pin. As if this was not enough, the Sauternes region, just south of the Médoc, produces stunning sweet white wines. However, fine wines such as these only represent a tiny proportion of the output of Bordeaux: as well as producing some of the world's greatest wines it also makes some of the worst. Each year a wine-lake full of thin, hard, miserable wines flows from many of the lesser properties, much of it finding its way onto supermarket shelves. The generally poor value for money of these wines has devalued the image of Bordeaux in the eyes of many consumers. In fact, it's hard work finding an interesting wine from Bordeaux that costs less than a tenner.

A fungus that infects grapes, causing them to rot. Scientific name Botrytis cinerea. If it attacks unripe or damaged grapes, it is a disaster. But this particular cloud has a silver lining. In certain wine regions, notably Sauternes in Bordeaux, Vouvray, Bonnezeaux and Coteaux du Layon of the Loire, Tokay in Hungary, Burgenland in Austria and various regions of Germany, Botrytis attacks ripe, healthy white grapes, causing them to shrivel. These disgusting, mouldy looking grapes yield small quantities of extremely concentrated juice that is then used to make sublime sweet white wines of great complexity and longevity. This benevolent form of Botrytis is also known as *noble rot  in English, pourriture noble in French and Edelfäule in German. What sort of flavours should you expect in a botrytized wine? There is often the tang of thick-cut marmalade, together with apricot-like flavours. The texture will be rich and viscous, and although the wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of acidity to give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these wines and the low yields involved, these wines will be expensive, but the Australians are now producing delicious, affordable botrytized wines from grapes that have artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative, eh?

A wine-buff term for the smell of a wine. Some old-school tasters reserve use of this term for the special aromas that develop with bottle age.

Have you ever had a wine that tasted of a mixture of farmyards, cheesy feet and animal poop? The chances are, this wine was infected by the yeast-like fungus Brettanomyces (often abbreviated to just 'brett'). It is often encountered in red wines from warm regions such as the South of France. In small doses can add complexity, but in higher concentrations is thought to be a fault. Once present in a winery Brettanomyces is quite difficult to remove. See also: feature article on Brettanomyces

A picture-language tasting term. In common with many descriptors for taste, it is hard to give a precise definition for this, but imagine a wine that has flavour and aroma elements that peak across the whole spectrum of tastes and smells, and you've got yourself a 'broad' wine. 

French word meaning 'bone dry' in *Champagne. Not really used for other wines.

Refers to the time in Spring when the dormant vine starts to produce its first new shoots. It's a nervous time for growers: the new buds are extremely vulnerable to frost, which has the potential to wipe out the entire year's production in the vineyard. 

The most export-focused of the ex-Eastern bloc countries, Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon took the supermarkets by storm in the 1980s, offering juicy, blackcurrant-laced wines at bargain prices. The wine industry seemed to lose its way a bit after the collapse of Communism, but there are still plenty of value-for-money Bulgarian wines on the market, the reds in general being more successful than the whites.

One of the world's classic regions, the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but a total minefield for consumers. The heart of Burgundy, known as the Côte d'Or, is a narrow band of gentle hillside, encompassing some 60 small appellations. There are four different quality levels: regional (e.g. Bourgogne), village wines (e.g. Meursault, Santenay or Gevrey-Chambertin), premier cru and grand cru. But it is not as simple as this: because of French inheritance laws, vineyards are commonly divided into small plots, each worked by a different grower. To add to the confusion, some growers make their own wine, others sell their grapes to a négociant, and some négociants even have their own vineyard holdings. Because of the extreme variation in vineyard practice and winemaking competence, one vigneron's basic Bourgogne blanc may therefore be better than another's premier cru from a famous vineyard site. This is what is most infuriating about Burgundy: wines from the better vineyards are always expensive, but you may pay a lot of money and still get a poor wine. On the other hand, pay very little, and you'll certainly end up with a poor wine. The key to success in purchasing Burgundy is therefore knowing who the better producers are. At its best, white Burgundy is the greatest and most long-lived expression of the Chardonnay grape, combining complex smoky, toasty, buttery, nutty and mineralic elements with firm acidity that holds everything together. And Pinot Noir reaches its zenith in red Burgundy, making exotic, perfumed red wines commonly with hints of undergrowth or mushrooms. To the north of the Côte d'Or, lies the Chablis region, which makes lean, steely white wines of variable quality from the Chardonnay grape. To the south lies the Mâcon region, which is notable for its inexpensive and often good value crisp, lemony white wines, also made from Chardonnay. See: tasting notes of Burgundy wines

Taste term for the rich, creamy characters often found in barrel-fermented Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic fermentation.


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It is easy to forget that as recently as 1933, Prohibition was still in place in the USA. Since then, California has made tremendous strides and was the first of the New World wine regions to compete with the classic French regions both in terms of quality, and more recently price. Most wines are labelled according to the variety, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel (California's 'own' grape variety) and Merlot are the main red grapes, and Chardonnay is the key white. Of the various wine regions (now more than 20), Napa and Sonoma lead the quality stakes, but are being challenged by upcoming regions such as the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Ynez Valley. In contrast, the hot Central Valley produces enormous volumes of dull jug wine. Because of the strong domestic demand and the fact that American wine geeks are usually quite wealthy, the best Californian wines are hard to obtain and inevitably expensive. In fact, the leading Californian Cabernets now cost more than first growth Bordeaux, and the top Chardonnays match the prices of their counterparts in Burgundy. From the consumer's point of view, this is unfortunate, because the quality is often superb. See: tasting notes of wines from California

Carbonic maceration  
Process widely used in *Beaujolais where uncrushed grapes are allowed to begin fermentation in a protective atmosphere of CO2. What happens is that the largely intact grapes begin fermenting inside their own skins, which produces light, fruity reds for early drinking. Now commonly used throughout the world to make gluggable red wines with lots of fruit and not too much *tannin.

Spanish fizz made using the traditional champagne method. Rarely excites, but can offer good value for money.

A taste term. Mature Bordeaux often smells of cedar wood.  

Wine is fragile and needs to be treated with care. Wise counsel suggests it should be kept away from high temperatures, direct light, large temperature swings and vibration, although there's a lack of scientific evidence about how these different environmental conditions affect wine and precisely which the critical parameters are. Humidity is also thought to be important to stop the cork drying out. 

French term for grape variety.

Slightly naughty winemaking trick in which the alcoholic strength of a wine is increased by the addition of sugar to crushed grapes before fermentation takes place. Can be useful if your grapes aren't ripe enough. Occurs commonly in Beaujolais, Bordeaux and Burgundy, although the best producers will often shun this practice. Named after the Frenchman who invented the process, Jean-Antione Chaptal.

Are you looking for attractive, fruity wines with bags of fruit, but at budget prices? Chile could be the place for you. Chile's specialty is inexpensive but flavour-filled wines from the international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These are now rapidly filling up the supermarket shelves in the wake of the Aussie wines that have recently moved to a higher price bracket. At the high end, more ambitious Chilean producers have tried to compete in the fine wine market by making aspiring, high-end wines, but while these display stunning fruit intensity they seem to lack some of the complexity of the established old-world classics. The key wine regions include Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, Maule and trendy cool-climate Casablanca.

Old-fashioned English term for red wines from the
*Bordeaux region.

Removable of insoluble material from wine, usually through fining agents or filtration. Is that clear enough?

Classed growth  
A literal translation from the French term, cru classé, that describes a property or Château included in the famous 1855 classification of *Bordeaux, and the subsequent reclassifications that have occurred since. There are five different tiers to this classification: the first, second, third, fourth and fifth growths. These are the aristocratic wines of Bordeaux, and command high prices.

A wine which doesn't have any off-flavours or taints is called 'clean'. Most wines on the market these days are 'clean'

A wine that doesn't smell much. Many fine wines go through a 'closed' or 'dumb' period as part of their development.

Have you ever opened a bottle, and instead of clean, fruity aromas found that it smells of mouldy cellars and damp cardboard? This is what a corked wine smells like. Contrary to popular opinion a corked wine is not one that has bits of cork floating in it (this is totally harmless, fish the bits out and the wine will be fine); instead, it is a wine that has been contaminated by a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). The human nose is extremely sensitive to this contaminant (it can be detected at concentrations as low as parts per trillion!), which is a result of a chemical reaction between chlorine and cork. It is a major problem, spoiling between 2% and 7% of all wines, depending on who you listen to. This is why artificial corks are increasingly being used, especially on inexpensive wines not destined for ageing. The degree of cork-taint can vary, but you'll find that almost all retailers will replace a corked bottle without question if you return it. See also: articles on cork taint

French term for 'slope'.

French term for vineyard, often translated as growth.

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Transferring a wine from its bottle to another container, most commonly a decanter. There are two main reasons for decanting. First, bottle-aged red wines commonly have a lot of crud at the bottom, and careful decanting separates this from the wine. Second, decanting exposes the wine to air
¾lets it 'breathe'¾which may or may not allow the wine to express itself more fully. Received wisdom states that tannic young wines 'open out' (smell better) when they are decanted, although attempts to demonstrate this effect in blind tastings have largely been unsuccessful. Still, whether or not decanting is beneficial for a wine, the whole ceremony is immensely satisfying and probably worth doing just for the fun of it.

French for medium dry.

Champagne making is a complex process. First the wine is fermented, and then a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. After this, the plug of dead yeast cells is removed, and the wine is topped up with wine and sugar syrup
¾the dosage. The sweetness of the final *Champagne is determined by the dosage used.


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A German oddity made by crushing frozen grapes that have been deliberately left on the vine until winter, when they are picked on the first really freezing night. The juice that is released is super-concentrated and the resulting wines are extremely sweet. Because of the extreme hassle required to make these wines, they are vastly expensive. Making eiswein is seen as the pinnacle of the producer's art: a sort of winemakers pissing contest.  Note that unlike most other expensive dessert wines, the grapes used will not have been affected by *noble rot.

Literally, the 'bringing up' or 'raising' of a wine, a French term that can encompass making, maturing and bottling a wine. 

En primeur  
Selling method in which substantial amounts of the output from the leading Bordeaux properties (notably the *classed growths) are offered for sale before they have even been bottled, in the summer following the vintage. Buying en primeur is often the only way to get hold of sought-after wines from good vintages at anything like a reasonable price; otherwise the advantage of tying up your money in wines you have never tasted and which you won't see for two years is less clear.     

Technically, this refers to the amount of dissolved solid material in a wine, and it's usually a term reserved for red wines. In tasting, a concentrated red, with a big structure might be described as 'highly extracted': wines that are so dense that you could eat them with a spoon. 'Over-extracted' is used as a criticism of a wine where the winemaker has tried just a bit too hard and made a clumsy finished product.

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Yeasts do a really useful job: they eat up sugar in grape juice and excrete alcohol. This is called fermentation, and without it all wine would be sweet and alcohol-free. Just like grape juice.

The removal of suspended solid particles in a wine by passing it through a filter. It can be a useful alternative to allowing the solid particles to settle naturally, thereby speeding up the winemaking process, or it can be used in cases where the wine won't clear naturally. But it is a controversial practice. Opponents to filtration claim that it strips out some of the flavour, and marketing people consequently use the term 'unfiltered' to help sell wines that haven't been treated in this way.

A process used to remove suspended solids from a wine in order to make it 'clear'. Fining agents include dried blood, casein, clay and egg whites. As you can guess, some of these substances can cause problems for vegetarian or vegan wine drinkers.

A much-abused tasting term. It refers to the flavours left in the mouth after you have swallowed or spat out a mouthful of wine. For example, a finish can be alcoholic, bitter, hot, dry, acidic, short or long. But some people the concept too far: examples exist where tasters have timed the 'finish' of a wine in seconds. This is absurd.

A dry, light style of *sherry that has a distinctive salty, tangy flavour that comes from being aged under a layer of yeast cells, called a 'flor'. Although these are usually 15% alcohol or above, they make quite good food wines due to their dry, savoury character. But beware a bottle of fino that has been sitting opened in Auntie's sideboard for four months: this style needs to be drunk young, and once opened a bottle must be treated in the same way as any dry white wine.

First growths  
The five elite properties of the Medoc and Graves regions of *Bordeaux: Latour, Lafite, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux, which were picked out as 'Premier Cru Classé' in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification (actually, Mouton Rothschild was promoted from a second growth in the 1970s). These wines have an iconic status, and they are horribly expensive.

A word used to describe a wine that doesn't have enough acidity to balance the other elements. Buttery Chardonnays with rich tropical fruit flavours from warm-climate regions are most likely to show this sort of character, especially if they are a few years old.

Next time you are taking a stroll through chalk downland, reach down and pick up two mid-sized flints. Bang them together hard, and take a sniff: this is the smell that in wines is referred to as 'flinty', and it's often used to describe young Chablis.

Flying winemakers  
Much maligned breed of mainly Australian winemakers who, in their off season, fly off to somewhere in Europe and make wine the 'new world' way out of the indigenous grapes of the region. Beloved by supermarket wine buyers, they often produce clean, fruity, unexciting but inexpensive wines. Traditionalist view them with disdain as cultural imperialists.  

Port and sherry are the two most famous fortified wines. With Port, grapes are crushed and allowed to ferment a bit, and then spirit is added to produce a sweet, alcoholic wine. With sherry, fermentation is completed and then spirit is added.

Free-run juice  
This is a bit of a techie term that often appears on wine labels. When grapes are harvested and crushed, the juice that drains from the unpressed grapes is called free-run juice, and typically constitutes about two-thirds of the total juice the grapes will yield. It is usually  better quality than the stuff that is later pressed out of the mush of crushed grapes.

French Hybrids  
Refers to the grape varieties produced in France that are the result of crossing the classic European varieties with American species of vines. These hybrids have much of the hardiness and disease resistance of the American vines but the wine quality generally isn't great.

French paradox  
The French eat lots of fatty foods, yet they have less heart disease than you'd expect from all this seemingly unhealthy diet. This phenomenon is known as the French paradox, and one proposed explanation has been that wine consumption, which is high in France, is protective against heart disease. See also: article on wine and health

Tasting term for a wine (usually white) that is clean, possibly aromatic, light bodied and with good acidity. The sort of wine that you'd want to chill down and glug on a summer's day.

Technically, grapes are a fruit. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that some wines are described as fruity. Modern winemaking techniques help bring out the fruit character in wines that previously would have been much less attractive.      

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Imprecise taste term usually reserved for older wines that exhibit smells and flavours associated with damp undergrowth, mushrooms, well hung pheasants and unwashed farmers' feet.  

German wines have got a grotty image in the UK, and this doesn't look like it will change in the near future. This is largely due to Germany's main export consists of huge volumes of sugar-water Leibfraumilch, made from the high cropping but dull Müller-Thurgau grape variety -- real Alan Partridge stuff. This is a shame, because the better German wines, made from one of the world's great white grape varieties, Riesling, offer wonderfully fresh, intense citrus flavours, often with a touch of sweetness to counter the naturally high acidity. Another potential obstacle to the consumer is decoding the labels, which often have a bewildering array of impossibly long German words on them. The four key components are the quality level (Tafelwein, Landwein, QbA, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese), the producer (they vary in quality), the region and the grape variety (Riesling is the one to watch out for): it's all very complicated. See also: tasting notes on German wines

This may sound a bit fussy, but using the correct style of glass is really important if you want to get the most from your wine. The basic requirements are that the bowl should be big enough that there's enough room above the wine for the aromas to be captured, and that the rim is of a smaller diameter than the widest part of the bowl
¾a tulip shape is ideal. The thinner the rim, the better. The most famous manufacturer of glasses is the Austrian firm Riedel¾they make a whole range of glasses, each supposed to be optimized for a certain wine style, but all fiendishly expensive. Fortunately there are good, cheaper alternatives.

A couple of hundred years ago, if you wanted to plant more vines things were pretty simple. You just took a cutting, stuck it in the ground, and you'd have a new vine. Then came *phylloxera, an aphid that likes to munch on vine roots and which worked its way through the vineyards of Europe in the last century with devastating effect. As a result, vineyards had to be replanted with vines grafted onto rootstock from American vine varieties, which make crappy wine but which are resistant to phylloxera. Almost all commercial vineyards are now planted with grafted wines the notable exception being the wine regions of Chile.

Mention Greek wine and people chuckle about their bad experiences with Retsina. But this is unfair. Greek wines are undergoing a renaissance, and as a holidaymaker you'll be presently surprised to find that even the dingiest tavernas now sometimes serve fresh, crisp white wines and fruity, herby reds in a very modern style. There are also a number of ambitious producers making some interesting wines that are now finding their way onto the UK market.

A negative tasting term for a wine that tastes youthful, unripe, raw and acidic. A good example of a 'green' wine would be a cheap Loire red from a mediocre vintage such as 1998, or just about any supermarket Claret costing under £4. Why the term 'green'? Well, just imagine taking a fresh green leaf and chomping on it
¾these are the sorts of flavours you'll get.

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The grotty feeling experienced the morning after drinking too much. There are two important components: dehydration, and the build up of the primary breakdown product of alcohol metabolism, acetaldehyde, which is toxic.

A negative tasting term for a wine has a tough tannic structure, perhaps also with high acidity or bitterness, and very little *fruit to provide balance. Such wines are joyless bottles, unpleasant to drink. Hardness can be contributed by unripe grapes, too long a maceration, or overextraction. However, all is not necessarily lost, because some wines destined for long ageing often start out tasting 'hard' in their youth, and then mellow with time. A good example of a hard wine might be a young Barolo, from Piedmont in Italy. 

Next time you mow the lawn or trim your hedge, take a good sniff of the cuttings. The neighbours may think you're crazy, but the smell you'll pick up, which is usually described as herbaceous, is commonly found in red wines, especially those made from slightly unripe Cabernet Franc or Merlot grapes. It doesn't sound very appealing, but herbaceousness in a wine is not necessarily a fault, unless it is so prominent that it becomes out of balance. You'd be most likely to encounter this odour in full bodied *Loire reds (they are made from Cabernet Franc), inexpensive Chilean Merlot (the expensive stuff is usually riper and thus doesn't display so much herbaceousness) or any cheap Claret with a reasonable proportion of Merlot in the blend.

This small (126 Ha) hillside appellation in the Northern Rhône region of France is famous for being the home of the Syrah grape (aka Shiraz). Because the wines are usually of high quality and very little is made, they are invariably expensive. These dense, perfumed red wines need years to reach their best, and from a good vintage they'll go on improving for decades. A little bit of white wine is made from Marsanne and Roussanne, and these can also be very long-lived. 

Another name for a small oak barrel (see barrique), used to ferment or mature wines in.

A country with a great wine tradition, and home to one of the world's classic wine styles, the botrytised dessert wine Tokaji, which is currently undergoing a renaissance spurred by foreign investors. However, the Hungarian wines you will most likely to encounter will be the increasing band of inexpensive varietal wines, often made by flying winemakers, that line the supermarket shelves. Quality is a bit patchy, but there are some bargains to be had.

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Grape vines need water, and if there isn't enough of it in the environment, it is necessary to supply this artificially, by irrigation. Although it is frowned upon in European wine regions, used carefully it can be used in the production of high quality wines.

One of the world's great wine nations, Italy produces more wine than any other country, and the thirsty Italians also drink more wine than anyone except the French. From the north to the south, Italy has a profusion of wine regions, each of quite different character. Indeed, the myriad of unfamiliar grape varieties, wine styles and regions can appear confusing to the uninitiated. The northern region of Piedmont makes Italy's most long lived and expensive red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, from the Nebbiolo grape. This region is also responsible for tasty and more affordable reds from the Barbera and  Dolcetto grapes. In the north east, the Veneto region churns out lots of Valpolicella (a light, cherry-laced red) and Soave (crisp, often watery white), as well as some intriguing wine made by part drying the grapes before fermentation (Amarone and Recioto). In the centre, Tuscany is home to Chianti (variable quality reds made primarily from Sangiovese), Chianti Classico (much more consistent), Brunello di Montalcino (rare, expensive reds from a special strain of Sangiovese) and the 'Supertuscans' (high-end, aspiring wines made largely from non-local grape varieties). But perhaps the best value for money in Italian wine is to be found in the new wave of wines coming from the southern regions of Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily.


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A negative tasting term. It's good for wines to be fruity, but jammy wines are those that taste of baked, cooked or stewed fruit, which is unappealing. This usually happens when grapes have been grown in areas which are just too warm for that particular variety. You'll most likely find this in wines made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in hot climate regions, which invariably have a jammy character.

An enormous bottle holding 4.5 litres in Bordeaux (that's the equivalent to six normal bottles) or 3 litres in Champagne (four bottles' worth). Either way, you'll probably need to invite some friends round to help you drink it!



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Lactic acid  
The main acid present in yoghurt, and which is also found in varying quantities of wine. It is much softer in flavour than the other two main acids in wine, malic acid and tartaric acid. After alcoholic fermentation, most red wines and some white wines undergo a malolactic fermentation, in which lactic acid bacteria transform the harsher-tasting malic acid into lactic acid. The result is that the wine tastes softer and less acidic. For instance, a lemony, acidic Chardonnay that undergoes malolactic fermentation will taste fatter, softer and more 'buttery'. The choice to allow or prevent malolactic fermentation is therefore quite an important decision in the making of white wines.

Plural 'lagares'. A shallow stone trough traditionally used for the foot-treading of grapes. They are still in use in some regions of the Douro, in Portugal. In Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine there is a wonderful old picture of some chaps crushing grapes in a lagar without a stitch of clothing on. I believe they wear shorts these days.

An instant turn-off to most aspiring wine geeks. Supermarket Lambrusco is usually a semi-sweet, bland, fizzy concoction, low in alcohol and designed to appeal to those who don't really like wine: yours for £2.29. You probably didn't know this, but Lambrusco is actually a red Italian grape variety, and the best examples are dry, slightly fizzy, rustic red wines with high acidity, best with food. Anyone with an interest in wine should shun the standardized white alcopop Lambrusco, and seek out the traditional styles.

Traditionally the region that made the largest contribution to the European wine lake, churning out millions of litres of inexpensive table wine. Over the last couple of decades, things have begun to change, and many producers have begun to shift their focus from quantity to quality. The best wines are made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes, and sub-regions such as Faugères, Pic St Loup, Montpeyroux, Minervois, St Chinian and Corbières are leading the field in terms of quality. The best producers make robust, full-flavoured earthy red wines that offer good value for money.

Late harvest
If you see a wine labelled as 'late harvest' it means that the grapes were harvested later than normal, and thus with a higher sugar level. The wine will probably be quite sweet, although in some cases may have been fermented to dryness, in which case the potential alcohol will be higher. The French term for this is 'vendange tardive', in German it is 'spätlese'.

Laying down  
Rather quaint term for cellaring wine, referring to the fact that bottles to be kept must be stored on their side in order to keep the cork moist.

Tasting term referring to a wine that has high acidity and not much fruit.

Dreadfully subjective red wine descriptor that's really hard to pin a definition on. In some cases this will refer to the texture of the wine, indicating that a wine is tough and chewy, but in others it may be used to describe a wine that smells of old leather. Who's to know which?

The gunk that settles at the bottom of a fermentation or ageing vessel. This consists of dead yeast cells, grape skin fragments and other insoluble material, and if the wine is left on the lees for a while, it can encourage *malolactic fermentation and add complexity to a wine. If you want to get really technical about this, there are two sorts of lees. The initial gunk that is deposited is quite crude and is called the gross lees. The wine is usually racked off this into a fresh container, in which it will deposit what are known as fine lees. You don't want to leave a wine on its gross lees for very long (and you certainly don't want to do *lees stirring with the gross lees), because this may result in the dead yeast cells dissolving themselves, producing a reductive environment in which any sulphur traces will result in the development of hydrogen sulphide, which reeks of rotten eggs and worse.

Lees stirring
A snazzy winemaking trick in which the gunk at the bottom of a barrel is wiggled around with a stick (hence the French term for this, bâttonage). It is usually reserved for white wines that have been *barrel-fermented, and can add a creamy richness and complexity to the wine. 

This large region in Northern France is a source of diverse and fascinating wines, and because it is overlooked by most wine lovers, prices are very reasonable. Reds, mainly from Cabernet Franc, can be an acquired taste, but the varied styles of white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are often stunning. Arranged along the course of the Loire river, starting from the West the region encompasses the appellations Muscadet (bone dry, acidic whites), Anjou, Coteaux du Layon (sweet Chenin blanc-based whites, often with *botrytis), Samur, Bourgueil (lean, herbaceous reds), Chinon (leafy, raspberry-laced reds), Vouvray (Chenin blanc-based whites, ranging from bone dry to sweet and *botrytised), Touraine (racy, inexpensive Sauvignon blanc), Sancerre (classic bone dry whites from Sauvignon blanc) and Pouilly-Fumé (bone dry, aromatic Sauvignon blanc). There are also a host of smaller subregions, each making their own styles of wine.

Long or length  
One of the most widely abused wine tasting terms. Technically, a wine with good 'length' is one whose flavour persists in the mouth. In practice, some tasters use a judgment of 'length' as an addendum to their tasting notes to reinforce their preferences and prejudices. Thus a diehard *claret drinker of the old school may finish his tasting note on his favourite *classed growth with the words, 'Displays great length'. The same taster, describing a top-notch Californian Cabernet may end his note with, 'Finishes a bit short'.

Luncheon claret  
When someone uses this term, what they're trying to say is, 'I'm fabulously wealthy'. Heck, I can hardly afford claret with dinner.

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Red winemaking process in which tannins, pigments and flavour compounds are released from the grape skins in the fermentation vessel. Fermentation is usually over pretty quickly with red wines, so many winemakers like to leave the wine in contact with the skins for longer; this is known as extended maceration and results in deeper coloured wines. Even flashier is the process called cold maceration, in which grape skins and juice are held at low temperature: the theory is that this results in the extraction of a better class of molecules from the skins. The deeper colour and enhanced structure that results from extended maceration must be weighed against the risk of extracting bitter or unpleasant compounds from the skin -- known in the trade as 'over-extraction'. See also *carbonic maceration. 

Machine harvesting
Machine harvesters pass through the rows of vines literally beating the individual grapes off the vines with rubber paddles, which are then collected and separated from the non-grape material for transport back to the winery. It may not be as romantic as teams of pickers working their way through the vines, but in relatively remote regions of Australia and New Zealand, where casual labour is scarce, it is the only way to pick the grapes. There are two other advantages: harvesting can be done quickly when the grapes are at peak ripeness, and in hot regions it means the grapes can be picked at night, to preserve their freshness. 

1. A gun. 2. A type of delicious ice cream. 3. A big bottle that holds 1.5 litres of wine, equivalent to two full bottles. Rather fun, and wine in magnums is supposed to age better than in standard 75 cl bottles.

Malic acid  
An acid found in high concentrations in unripe grapes, it has a tart, sharp flavour. It is lost as the grapes ripen, which is one reason why wines from very warm climates often have a low natural acidity and can taste *flabby. It is also lost through *malolactic fermentation during the winemaking process.

Malolactic fermentation  
The conversion of the tart, sharp malic acid into the softer, less harsh lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria, which takes place after alcoholic fermentation. An important winemaking decision in the production of white wines is whether to allow this to take place, and if so, to what degree. A Chardonnay that has had full malolactic fermentation (known in the trade simply as 'malo') will taste soft and buttery; one which has had no or only partial malo will be crisper and fresher, with sharp lemony acidity.

The solid stuff left after pressing grapes, which is also used to describe the spirit made from distilling this.

Large-format bottle that holds an enormous six litres of Champagne (eight bottles' worth). Go on, impress your friends. Let's hope it isn't *corked, though.

French term which translates as 'mellow', but in the context of wine means sweet or medium sweet. You'll often find this term on bottles from the Loire.

The mixture of grape juice, stems, pips and skins -- and to a lesser degree, dead insects, bits of leaves and other crud -- that comes out of the grape crusher. Sometimes used more generally to refer to unfermented grape juice.

Think of damp cellars, think of mouldy potatoes at the bottom of the bag, think of railway arches -- these smells can be described as musty, and when you encounter mustiness in a wine, it could well be because it is *corked.

You'll often names of people in the wine trade followed by the words MW. This stands for Master of Wine, and indicates that these dedicated individuals have passed the gruelling professional exams set by the Institute of Masters of Wine. Only a few hundred people have so far gained this demanding qualification.

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French term for someone who deals in wines. Commonly, small growers who lack the facility to make wine will sell their grapes to a négociant, who then makes, bottles and markets the wine.

New World  
A term used to describe wines from non-European regions such as Australia, California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand.

New Zealand  
Famous for being home to the world's most startlingly aromatic expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. A good example from the Marlborough region of New Zealand will show a remarkable flavour array of gooseberries, elderflower and freshly cut grass, with grapefruit-like acidity. In addition, New Zealand also produces good-quality Chardonnays. The red wines are not usually up to the same standard, with the notable exception of Pinot Noir, which excels in the Martinborough region. See also: tasting notes of New Zealand wines

Noble Rot  
Imagine the following scenario. It's almost harvest time, and your vines have lovely healthy bunches of ripe white grapes hanging off them. Then, after a succession of damp misty mornings the grapes are infected by a fungus called Botrytis, with the result that they shrivel up and go all furry. A disaster? Quite the opposite. This is what is known as noble rot, and although the grapes look disgustingly inedible, infected bunches yield small quantities of concentrated juice that produces some of the world's most complex, sublime and long-lived sweet white wines. What sort of flavours should you expect in a wine affected by noble rot? There is often the tang of thick-cut marmalade and apricots. The texture will be rich and viscous, and although the wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of acidity to give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these wines and the low yields involved, these wines are invariably expensive, but the Australians are now producing delicious, affordable botrytized wines from grapes that have artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative, eh?

1. The thing between your eyes on the front of your face. Your nose gives you much more useful information about the characteristics of a wine than your tongue. 2. Another term for the smell, aroma or bouquet of a wine. 


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Oak barrels are an important and complicated variable in the production of the majority of serious red wines and an increasing number of whites. Many white wines, and in particular Chardonnays, are fermented in small oak barrels. This adds some complexity to the wine, and also imparts toasty, nutty and vanilla-like flavours to the wine, especially when the barrels are new. Red wines are rarely fermented in barrels, but will often spend a lengthy period of ageing in them. Barrels allow a small amount of oxygen to come into contact with the wine, thus accelerating the development of more complex flavours, and when new oak is used, the wine picks up flavours of vanilla and spice and tannins from the wood. Different effects can be achieved depending on the type of oak used (commonly French or American, but Portuguese oak is quite different and is commonly used in Portugal, and Slovenian oak is often used in Italy). The quality of the wood used is important, as is the size of the barrel. It all gets rather complicated. Oak barrels are expensive, though, and for cheaper wines the effects of barrel fermentation and ageing are simulated by the use of oak chips or even used barrel staves bolted to the inside of stainless steel tanks. This practice is illegal in some more traditional wine-producing countries, and as you might expect, results can be variable.

A pejorative taste term for a wine that has been given too much oak treatment, perhaps through unsuitable ageing in new oak barrels. An oaky wine will usually taste and smell of freshly sawn wood, or may have sweet vanilla flavours. Like many taste judgments, it is a bit of a subjective call: people differ in their tolerance for oaky wines.

Old Vine  
You'll often find the term 'old vine' (in French 'vieilles vignes') on the label of a wine; it's becoming an increasingly popular marketing term. There is no legal definition, but it's usually used to refer to wine made from grape vines that are over 30 years old. Older vines, so the story goes, produce fewer grapes but those they do produce are of a better quality than fruit from younger vines.

Old World  
Catch-all term referring to wines from the classical European wine regions.

A dark, nutty, rich form of sherry that takes most of its flavour from long ageing in an oak cask. Most are dry, although sweetened versions do exist, in which case this will be indicated on the label.

A term describing a commonly encountered wine fault, caused by the exposure of a wine to oxygen, which eventually turns the alcohol to *acetic acid. Net result is vinegar. Yuk. A mildly oxidized red wine will have a brownish colour, with high *volatile acidity. A mildly oxidized white wine will have a deep yellow/gold colour and unappealing flavours of butterscotch and coffee, perhaps also with some volatility on the nose. The most common cause of oxidation is cork failure, letting air into the wine, although white wines intended for early consumption that have been cellared for too long will also display these characters to varying degrees. 

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Remember using litmus paper at school? This measures pH, which is a scale for assessing acidity. The lower the pH (red litmus paper), the higher the acidity; neutral pH is 7 (green litmus paper) and higher than 7 is alkaline or basic (blue litmus paper). Most wines have a pH of between 3 and 4, so they are acidic. Nowadays, the use of litmus paper has largely been superseded by snazzy pH meters which give a digital readout. 

A truly nasty aphid that just about wiped out the vineyards in Europe in the second half of the last century. Phylloxera has an insatiable appetite for the roots of grape vines, and once a vineyard is infected there is no cure, except for ripping the vines out and replacing them with the plants that have been grafted onto resistant rootstock from native American vines, which have strong roots but make crappy wine. As a result, all the vineyards in Europe, with a few minor exceptions, consist of grafted vines. Debate rages about whether the classic wines pre-phylloxera were better than those made today, although there is no evidence that Cabernet grapes, for example, from grafted and ungrafted vines are any different in quality. Chile and Argentina are currently free of phylloxera, and still have ungrafted vineyards. 

Pierce's disease  
A really nasty vine disease caused by a bacterium carried by an insect called the sharpshooter. It is currently causing havoc in Californian vineyards, but fortunately hasn't yet spread to Europe.

The Portuguese are thirsty people, ranking fifth in terms of per capita consumption. This creates a strong domestic demand for the fascinating wines that Portugal produces. For those bored with the flood of 'international' style Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, Portugal is a happy hunting ground of obscure grape varieties and unusual flavours. Its wines are also often good value for money. The Douro valley, in the north, is home to the Port industry, making *fortified wines of varying styles, and increasingly good table wines from the same terraced hillside vineyards. Other regions such as Bairrada, Dão and the Alentejo are producing some exciting wines from traditional varieties. At the bottom end, there's still a lot of rustic plonk being produced, but there's now a growing band of quality minded properties making some serious wines. See also: tasting notes of Portuguese wines

A device used to squeeze juice out of grapes. Most modern devices use an inflatable bladder; older devices called basket presses are still encountered. Some producers think that these give better results and will advertise their use on the label.

The solid gunk left over after squeezing all the juice out of crushed grapes.

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An unpleasant process popular during the Spanish inquisition (though not with non-Catholics, apparently). These days the word is more likely to be used to describe a fundamental winemaking operation in which the clear wine is separated from the accumulated crud at the bottom of a barrel or fermentation vessel. 

An obscure tasting term that describes the pungent smell of a (usually fortified) wine that has been intentionally oxidized or exposed to heat. Examples of wines showing rancio include some Madeiras or Australian liqueur muscats. 

Another of the big Champagne bottle sizes, this one holds 4.5 litres (six bottles' worth). Enough for a quiet celebration with a couple of friends.

You'll often find the term 'reserve' on the label of a bottle, as it is a term used throughout the wine world. There is no formal definition of what makes a 'reserve' wine: producers usually use this to indicate a wine that is made from selected grapes or has been given lavish oak treatment.

Residual Sugar
Another statistic you might find on the back of a wine bottle. It refers to the amount of sugar left over after fermentation and is given in grams per litre. Below 2g/l, the wine will taste bone dry. Bear in mind that the perception of sweetness is altered by the other flavour elements in a wine, such as acid, tannin and fruitiness.

This important French wine region can neatly be divided into two. The Northern Rhône is the home of the Syrah grape (aka Shiraz), which makes full flavoured, meaty, structured red wines in the Appellations of Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie and St Joseph. White wines are also produced, the most well know of which is Condrieu, made from the exotically flavoured Viognier grape. Because quantities of wine produced in the Northern Rhône are small and quality is good, prices are invariably high. In contrast, the warmer Southern Rhône produces a huge amount of wine, much of it inexpensive Côtes du Rhône from the Grenache grape. More ambitious are the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Rasteau, which are often of very good quality.

Romania has a great tradition of wine production, stretching back thousands of years, and thanks to a large-scale state-driven replanting programme in the 1960s now has the fifth largest area under vine in Europe. Yet in common with other Communist countries, emphasis was on quantity rather than quality, and the few bottles of Romanian wine you are likely to encounter on shop shelves in the UK will tend to be cheap and a bit plonkish. However, given the ideal grape growing conditions that exist in Romania, there is the potential for better things in the future.

Because of the consequences of the deadly root disease phylloxera, most vines in commercial vineyards are now grafted onto a suitable American variety (these are resistant to phylloxera). The precise choice of rootstock is a critical viticultural decision, as they all have different properties.

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A taste term. A less extreme variant of green.

French term for 'dry', as in the opposite of sweet.  

A fortified wine from Jerez, in southern Spain. It comes in many different styles, most of which are dry. Fino is fresh and tangy and needs drinking as soon as it is opened - and ideal match for tapas. Amontillado styles are richer and nuttier, and Oloroso is darker with complex raisiny, nutty flavours. Pedro Ximenez is the sweetest style: rich and viscous with immense raisiny sweetness.

A system for ageing sherry, consisting of a series of barrels (known as butts), arranged next to and top of each other. It's all rather complex, but in simplest terms when wine is drawn off for bottling from an old barrel, this barrel is then topped-up with younger wine from another barrel. Thus, if a solera was set up 100 years ago, the wine that is bottled today would technically contain some wine that was 100 years old.  

South Africa  
Emerging from the shadow of Apartheid, South Africa is increasingly making better wines which usually represent good value for money at all levels on the quality scale. Although South Africa is classed as a new world region, wines it produces are often nicely poised between the new world and old world in style. Look out for reds from South Africa's 'own' variety, Pinotage, which makes striking gamey and earthy-tasting wines, often with a savoury, cheesy edge to them. The most famous regions are Stellenbosch, Paarl and Constantia, although cooler regions such as Walker Bay are beginning to attract attention.

Sparkling red/sparkling Shiraz  
A wonderfully Australian invention. Take red grapes, most commonly of the Shiraz variety, and instead of making a full bodied red wine, vinify them like you would  Champagne, producing a fizzy, frothy red wine, usually with a touch of residual sugar to offset the tannins. Well worth seeking out, you'll either love them or hate them.  

Surprising fact: Spain has a greater area under vine than any other country, although because the yields from these vineyards are generally low, it only ranks third in the list of wine producers. In the north west, the cool damp region of Galicia produces some fresh aromatic whites from the Albariño grape, and Rueda is beginning to produce tasty, modern whites from Verdejo and Sauvignon blanc. Otherwise, Spain is largely known for its red wines. Rioja, with its attractive, sweetly fruited and oaky reds, is probably the most famous region, but not the best. This accolade is currently being fought over by Ribera del Duero (rich Tempranillo-based reds) and Priorato (small quantities of dense, mineralic wines from low yielding Grenache and Carignan planted on steep terraces). Other regions that deserve a mention are Navarra (easy drinking rosé and full flavoured reds), Penedés (the home of Cava), Somontano (modern varietal wines from the foothills of the Pyrenees), Jumilla (chunky Mourvèdre-based reds) and La Mancha (the vast central plain that produces largely plonk). Spain is also known for sherry: its stunningly unique and undervalued fortified wines from Jerez.

A German term for late harvest. The Germans love rules, and there are a stack load of regulations that wines labelled spätlese must satisfy. Suffice to say, all the consumer needs to know is that these wines will probably have a touch of sweetness, usually with good balancing acidity, unless they are labelled 'trocken', in which case they will be dry and fresh. 

A tasting term that is a close relative of sappy and green, usually used to describe young, raw red wines.

A popular tasting term for the elements of a wine that confer longevity, mainly *tannins and *acidity. Most Bordeaux style reds will have in their youth a structure mainly  comprised of tannins, both from the oak they have been matured in and also the

Sur Lie  
If you find these words on a wine label, it means that the wine was aged on the lees: the gunk at the bottom of a barrel or tank that consists mostly of dead yeast cells. It can add complex, yeasty flavours to a white wine. See also *lees stirring.

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Collective name for a bitter, astringent group of chemicals that are found in skins, pips and stems of grapes, and also in the oak barrels that are commonly used to age wine in. Take a young, dark monster of a red wine and swish it around your mouth. That bitter, tongue curling, tooth-coating, drying sensation you get is from the tannins. Tannins are used in the leather-making industry to turn cow hide into shoes, belts and posh sofas, so no wonder it feels like tough young wines are turning your mouth into leather! However, even though this description doesn't sound too appealing, tannins are a vital component of red wines. They contribute structure, which in turn facilitates ageing and thus the development of the complexity that comes from long-term cellaring. And without tannins to counter the fruit, most red wines would taste flabby and unbalanced.  

Not a dance, but an obscure cross between a Portuguese grape variety with the Sultana grape, that is sometimes used in Australia to make simple, fruity red wines with piercing acidity. 

Tartaric Acid  
The most important grape-derived acid in wine. Sometimes you'll find little crystals at the bottom of a bottle of wine: these are crystals of tartarate salts, and they are harmless and flavourless. Because some uninformed consumers worry when they find these in their wine, many producers subject wine to low temperatures before bottling (a process called cold stabilization) to precipitate the tartarates out.

An abbreviation for the chemical trichloranisole, which ruins an enormous amount of wine every year (see *corked).

Imagine that on your property you have three vineyards, one that has a clay-based soil, one that has a gravelly soil, and one that has chalky soil. Each of these vineyards is planted with the same grape variety, and the grapes are all handled the same way in the winery. Yet when you taste the finished wines from each site, each will have its own unique characteristics. Terroir is a French term which refers to exactly these site-specific differences in wines that are caused by factors such as soil types, drainage, local microclimate and sun exposure. Debate rages about the importance of terroir versus the role of the winemaker, and also exactly how factors such as soils influence the flavour of the wine.

German term for 'dry'.


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If you ever buy old fine wines, you'll be interested in the ullage level: it refers to the loss of wine from the bottle with time
¾the gap between the cork and the surface of the wine. It can vary widely, even between bottles from the same case, and terms like 'low neck' and 'high shoulder' are used to describe it. These descriptors will probably become less important as a combination of digital photography and the internet will mean that prospective purchasers will soon be able to actually see the condition of any bottles they are interested in.

If you paid attention in biology lessons at school you'll recall being taught that there are four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter and sour. It turns out that there are in fact at least five, and the Japanese have known this for ages. Sake blenders in Japan long ago identified a fifth taste, which they called 'umami' (translated this means 'deliciousness'), and scientists have shown that this is the taste of monsodium glutamate, picked up by glutamate receptors on the tongue. Now you know. Some wines have 'umami' flavours, apparently.


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If you detect the scent of vanilla in a wine, it's a tell-tale sign that new oak (and in particular American oak) has been used at some stage in the wine making process.

A wine named after the single grape variety it was made from. This consumer-friendly practice began in earnest in the USA in the 1950s and is now so popular that the majority of wines from the new world now have the grape variety on the label. 

A big container for fermenting, ageing or storing wine in.

Portuguese grape variety, originally from Madeira but now becoming popular in the Hunter Valley of Australia, where it produces fresh lemon and melon flavoured dry white wines.

Vieilles vignes  
French term for *old vines.

Posh term for winemaking.

Tasting term used for wines that are thick, heavy-textured and concentrated. Sweet wines made from grapes that have been affected by *noble rot are commonly viscous.

Volatile Acidity  
A wine fault describing a wine with an unpleasant, vinegar-like nose, caused by *acetic acid a volatile acid that is a result of the oxidation of alcohol. Known in the trade as simply VA. All wines have a tiny bit, but too much and the wine is vile.

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Wine Press  
1. Underpaid, dedicated, hard-working journalists who write about wine. 2. A device for extracting juice from crushed grapes.


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A handy microorganism, without which we wouldn't have bread, beer or wine. Yeasts eat the sugar in grape juice and excrete alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste products. They keep going until all the sugar is gone, or until the alcohol level reaches about 16%, at which point they die. The selection of the appropriate yeast strain -- or indeed the decision simply to allow fermentation to occur with the wild strains of yeast that live on the grape skins -- is an important choice in winemaking.

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