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Glossary


ACETIC

Wines, no matter how well made, contain quantities of acetic acidity that have a vinegary smell. If there is an excessive amount of acetic acidity, the wine will have a vinegary smell and be a flawed, acetic wine.

ACIDIC

Wines need natural acidity to taste fresh and lively, but an excess of acidity results in an acidic wine that is tart and sour.

ACIDITY

The acidity level in a wine is critical to its enjoyment and livelihood. The natural acids that appear in wine are citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic. Wines from hot years tend to be lower in acidity, whereas wines from cool, rainy years tend to be high in acidity. Acidity in a wine can preserve the wine’s freshness and keep the wine lively, but too much acidity, which masks the wines flavors and compresses its texture, is a flaw.

AFTERTASTE

As the term suggests, the taste left in the mouth when one swallows is the aftertaste. This word is a synonym for length or finish. The longer the aftertaste lingers in the mouth (assuming it is a pleasant taste), the finer the quality of the wine.

AGRESSIVE

Aggressive is usually applied to wines that are either high in acidity or have harsh tannins, or both.

ANGULAR

Angular wines are wines that lack roundness, generosity, and depth. Wine from poor vintages or wines that are too acidic are often described as being angular.

APPELLATION

The specific area a wine comes from. It can refer to a region, such as Bordeaux or Burgundy in France, for example. It can refer to an even more tightly defined sub-region within, say, Bordeaux, such as The Médoc.

AROMA

Aroma is the smell of a young wine before it has had sufficient time to develop nuances of smell that are then called its bouquet. The word aroma is commonly used to mean the smell of a relatively young, unevolved wine.

ASTRINGENT

Wines that are astringent are not necessarily bad or good wines. Astringent wines are harsh and coarse to taste, either because they are too young and tannic and just need time to develop, or because they are not well made. The level of tannins (if it is harsh) in a wine contributes to its degree of astringence.

AUSTERE

Wines that are austere are generally not terribly pleasant wines to drink. An austere wine is a hard, rather dry wine that lacks richness and generosity. However, young Rhônes are not as austere as young Bordeaux.

BACKWARD

An adjective used to describe (1) a young largely unevolved, closed, and undrinkable wine, (2) a wine that is not ready to drink, or (3) a wine that simply refuses to release its charms and personality.

BALANCE

One of the most desired traits in a wine is good balance, where the concentration of fruit, level of tannins, and acidity are in total harmony. Balanced wines are symmetrical and tend to age gracefully.

BARNYARD

An unclean, farmyard, fecal aroma that is imparted to a wine because of unclean barrels or unsanitary winemaking facilities.

BERRYLIKE

As this descriptive term implies, most red wines have an intense berry fruit character that can suggest blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, mulberries, or even strawberries and cranberries.

BIG

A wine that is powerful in flavor or tremendously harmonious in how it presents its components (see “balance”) can be called big. You can also use this term if you just really really like the wine!

BLACKCURRANT

A pronounced smell of blackcurrant fruit is commonly associated with certain Rhône wines. It can vary in intensity from faint to very deep and rich.

BODY

The texture and weight of a wine. The more substantial and flavorful a wine tastes, the more body it has.

BORDEAUX

The most important wine region in France. Wines from this area are called “Bordeaux”. Red wines from Bordeaux are primarily blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. White wines from the region are usually blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

BOTRYTIS CINEREA

The fungus that attacks the grape skins under specific climatic conditions (usually alternating periods of moisture and sunny weather). It causes the grape to become superconcentrated because it causes a natural dehydration. Botrytis cinerea is essential for the great sweet white wines of Barsac and Sauternes. It rarely occurs in the Rhône Valley because of the dry, constant sunshine and gusty winds.

BOUQUET

The array of aromas in a wine. Also known as “the nose”.

BRAWNY

A hefty, muscular, full-bodied wine with plenty of weight and flavor, although not always the most elegant or refined sort of wine.

BRIERY

Denoting that the wine is aggressive and rather spicy.

BRILLIANT

Brilliant relates to the color of the wine. A brilliant wine is one that’s clear, with no haze or cloudiness to the color.

BROWNING

As red wines age, their color changes from ruby/purple to dark ruby, to medium ruby, to ruby with an amber edge, to ruby with a brown edge. When a wine is browning it is usually fully mature and not likely to get better.

BRUT

Refers to dry Champagne or Sparkling Wine. The authorities in the Champagne region of France use this term to denote added sugar.

CARBONIC MACERATION

This vinification method is used to make soft, fruity, very accessible wines. Whole clusters of grapes are put into a vat that is then filled with carbonic gas. This system is used when fruit is to be emphasized in the final wine in contrast to structure and tannin.

CAVA

The name for Sparkling Wine (similar to Champagne) from Spain.

CEDAR

Rhône reds can have a bouquet that suggests either faintly or overtly the smell of cedarwood. It is a complex aspect of the bouquet.

CHABLIS

White wine from the Chablis area of France. Made from Chardonnay grapes.

CHAMPAGNE

An important region of France, most known for its production of the only sparkling wine that can truly be called Champagne. The méthode champenoise was invented there.

CHEWY

A way of describing especially thick texture and/or tannins in red wine.

CLARET

In England, “Claret” refers to English-style Bordeaux or wines from Bordeaux. In France “Clairet” is a particular Bordeaux that is produced like red wine but the must stays in contact with the skins for the first 24 hours during its making.

CLOSED

The term closed is used to denote that the wine is not showing its potential, which remains locked in because it is too young. Young wines often close up about 12-18 months after bottling, and depending on the vintage and storage conditions, remain in such a state for several years to more than a decade.

COMPLEX

In wine-speak, this is a positive term, referring to lots of different flavor and aroma components in a wine.

CONCENTRATED

Fine wines, whether they are light-, medium-, or full-bodied, should have concentrated flavors. Concentrated denotes that the wine has a depth and richness of fruit that gives it appeal and interest. Deep is a synonym for concentrated.

CORKED

A corked wine is a flawed wine that has taken on the smell of cork as a result of an unclean or faulty cork. It is perceptible in a bouquet that shows no fruit, only the smell of musty cork, often compared to wet cardboard.

CUVÉES

Many producers in the Rhône Valley produce special, deluxe lots of wine or a lot of wine from a specific grape variety that they bottle separately. These lots are often referred to as cuvées.

DECADENT

If you are an ice cream and chocolate lover, you know the feeling of eating a huge sundae of rich vanilla ice cream lavished with hot fudge and real whipped cream. If you are a wine enthusiast, a wine loaded with opulent, even unctuous layers of fruit, with a huge bouquet, and a plump, luxurious texture can be said to be decadent.

DEEP

Essentially the same as concentrated, expressing the fact that the wine is rich, full of extract, and mouth filling.

DELICATE

As this word implies, delicate wines are light, subtle, understated wines that are prized for their shyness rather than for an extroverted, robust character. White wines are usually more delicate than red wines. Few Rhône red wines can correctly be called delicate.

DEMI-MUID

650-liter Burgundy barrels which are essentially the equivalent of three regular barrels.

DOUBLE DECANTING

This is done by first decanting the wine into a decanter and then rinsing the original bottle out with non-chlorinated water and then immediately repouring the wine from the decanter back into the bottle. It varies with the wine as to how long you cork it.

DRY

Little or no sugar = “dry”, slightly sweeter = “off dry”.

DUMB

A dumb wine is also a closed wine, but the term dumb is used more pejoratively. Closed wines may need only time to reveal their richness and intensity. Dumb wines may never get any better.

EARTHY

May be used in both a negative and a positive sense; however, it can denote a positive aroma of fresh, rich, clean soil. Earthy is a more intense smell than woody or truffle scents.

ELEGANT

Although more white wines than red are described as being elegant, lighter-styled, graceful, balanced red wines can be elegant.

EXTRACT

This is everything in a wine besides water, sugar, alcohol, and acidity.

EXUBERANT

Like extroverted, somewhat hyper people, wines too can be gushing with fruit and seem nervous and intensely vigorous.

FAT

When the Rhône has an exceptionally hot year for its crop and the wines attain a super sort of maturity, they are often quite rich and concentrated, with low to average acidity. Often such wines are said to be fat, which is a prized commodity. If they become too fat, that is a flaw and they are then called flabby.

FLABBY

A wine that is too fat or obese is a flabby wine. Flabby wines lack structure and are heavy to taste.

FLESHY

Fleshy is a synonym for chewy, meaty, or beefy. It denotes that the wine has a lot of body, alcohol, and extract, and usually a high glycerin content. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage are particularly fleshy wines.

FLORAL

Wines made from the Muscat or Viognier grape have a flowery component, and occasionally a red wine will have a floral scent.

FOCUSED

Both a fine wine’s bouquet and flavor should be focused. Focused simply means that the scents, aromas, and flavors are precise and clearly delineated. If they are not, the wine is like an out-of-focus picture—diffuse, hazy, and possibly problematic.

FORWARD

An adjective used to describe wines that are (1) delicious, evolved, and close to maturity, (2) wines that border on being flamboyant or ostentatious, or (3) unusually evolved and/or quickly maturing wines.

FOUDRE

Large oak barrels that vary enormously in size but are significantly larger than the normal oak barrel used in Bordeaux or the piece used in Burgundy. They are widely used in the Rhône Valley.

FRESH

Freshness in both young and old wines is a welcome and pleasing component. A wine is said to be fresh when it is lively and cleanly made. The opposite of fresh is stale.

FRUIT

A key quality in wine; the winemaker’s goal is to capture the true essence of the varietal.

FULL-BODIED

Wines rich in extract, alcohol, and glycerin are full-bodied wines. Most Rhône wines are full-bodied.

GARRIGUE

In the southern Rhône Valley and Provence, this is the landscape of small slopes and plateaus. This Provençal word applies to these windswept hilltops/slopes inhabited by scrub-brush and Provençal herb outcroppings. The smell of garrigue is often attributed to southern Rhône Valley wines. Suggesting more than the smell of herbes de Provence, it encompasses an earthy/herbal concoction of varying degrees of intensity.

GREEN

Green wines are wines made from underripe grapes; they lack richness and generosity as well as having a vegetal character. Green wines are infrequently made in the Rhone, although vintages such as 1977 were characterized by a lack of ripening.

HARD

Wines with abrasive, astringent tannins or high acidity are said to be hard. Young vintages of Rhône wines can be hard, but they should never be harsh.

HEDONISTIC

Certain styles of wine are meant to be inspected; they are introspective and intellectual wines. Others are designed to provide sheer delight, joy, and euphoria. Hedonistic wines can be criticized because in one sense they provide so much ecstasy that they can be called obvious, but in essence, they are totally gratifying wines meant to fascinate and enthrall—pleasure at its best.

HERBACEOUS

Many wines have a distinctive herbal smell that is generally said to be herbaceous. Specific herbal smells can be of thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, fennel, or basil and are common in Rhône wines.

HERBES DE PROVENCE

Provence is known for the wild herbs that grow prolifically through- out the region. These include lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano. It is not just an olfactory fancy to smell many of these herbs in Rhône Valley wines, particularly those made in the south.

HOLLOW

Also known as shallow, hollow wines are diluted and lack depth and concentration.

HONEYED

A common personality trait of specific white Rhône wines, a honeyed wine is one that has the smell and taste of bee’s honey.

HOT

Rather than meaning that the temperature of the wine is too warm to drink, hot denotes that the wine is too high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed. Wines with alcohol levels in excess of 14.5% often taste hot if the requisite depth of fruit is not present.

ICEWINE

A special wine produced by leaving the grapes on the vine until they are well frozen. They are then hand-picked and immediately pressed, while still frozen. The frozen must is then fermented and aged in barrels. Icewine is thick and sweet with rich and complex flavors.

INOX VATS

This is the French term for stainless steel vats that are used for both fermentation and storage of wine.

INTENSITY

Intensity is one of the most desirable traits of a high-quality wine. Wines of great intensity must also have balance. They should never be heavy or cloying. Intensely concentrated great wines are alive, vibrant, aromatic, layered, and texturally compelling. Their intensity adds to their character, rather than detracting from it.

JAMMY

When wines have a great intensity of fruit from excellent ripeness they can be jammy, which is a very concentrated, flavorful wine with superb extract. In great vintages such as 1961, 1978, 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1995, some of the wines are so concentrated that they are said to be jammy.

LATE HARVEST

Indicates grapes that are picked as late as possible in the season for maximum sugar content.

LEAFY

A leafy character in a wine is similar to a herbaceous character only in that it refers to the smell of leaves rather than herbs. A wine that is too leafy is a vegetal or green wine.

LEAN

Lean wines are slim, rather streamlined wines that lack generosity and fatness but can still be enjoyable and pleasant.

LIVELY

A synonym for fresh or exuberant, a lively wine is usually young wine with good acidity and a thirst-quenching personality.

LONG

A very desirable trait in any fine wine is that it be long in the mouth. Long (or length) relates to a wine’s finish, meaning that after you swallow the wine, you sense its presence for a long time. (Thirty seconds to several minutes is great length.) In a young wine, the difference between something good and something great is the length of the wine.

LUSH

Lush wines are velvety, soft, richly fruity wines that are both concentrated and fat. A lush wine can never be an astringent or hard wine.

MALOLACTIC

Often used in the making of Chardonnay; an additional fermentation that turns malic acids into lactic acids. Compare apples vs. creamy vanilla.

MASSIVE

In great vintages where there is a high degree of ripeness and superb concentration, some wines can turn out to be so big, full-bodied, and rich that they are called massive. A great wine such as the 1961 or 1990 Hermitage La Chapelle is a textbook example of a massive wine.

MEATY

A chewy, fleshy wine is also said to be meaty.

MONOCEPAGE

This term describes a wine made totally of one specific varietal.

MONOPOLE

Used to denote a vineyard owned exclusively by one proprietor, the word monopole appears on the label of a wine made from such a vineyard.

MORSELLATED

Many vineyards are fragmented, with multiple growers owning a portion of the same vineyard. Such a vineyard is often referred to as a morsellated vineyard.

MOUTH-FILLING

Big, rich, concentrated wines that are filled with fruit extract and are high in alcohol and glycerin are wines that tend to texturally fill the mouth. A mouth-filling wine is also a chewy, fleshy, fat wine.

MUSTY

Wines aged in dirty barrels or unkept cellars or exposed to a bad cork take on a damp, musty character that is a flaw.

NOSE

The general smell and aroma of a wine as sensed through one’s nose and olfactory senses is often called the wine’s nose.

OAK

Wine is often aged in oak barrels to add that distinctive “oaky” flavor. The process can add a hint of vanilla and butter to whites and tobacco, coffee or simply “oak” flavor to reds.

OAKY

Many red Rhône wines are aged from 6 months to 30 months in various sizes of oak barrels. At some properties, a percentage of the oak barrels may be new, and these barrels impart a toasty, vanillin flavor and smell to the wine. If the wine is not rich and concentrated, the barrels can overwhelm the wine, making it taste overly oaky. Where the wine is rich and concentrated and the winemaker has made a judicious use of barrels, however, the results are a wonderful marriage of fruit and oak.

OFF

If a wine is not showing its true character, or is flawed or spoiled in some way, it is said to be “off.”

OVERRIPE

An undesirable characteristic; grapes left too long on the vine become too ripe, lose their acidity, and produce wines that are heavy and unbalanced. This can happen frequently in the hot viticultural areas of the Rhône Valley if the growers harvest too late.

OXIDIZED

If a wine has been excessively exposed to air during either its making or aging, the wine loses freshness and takes on a stale, old smell and taste. Such a wine is said to be oxidized.

PEPPERY

A peppery quality to a wine is usually noticeable in many Rhône wines that have an aroma of black or white pepper and a pungent flavor.

PERFUMED

This term usually is more applicable to fragrant, aromatic white wines than to red wines. However, some of the dry white wines (particularly Condrieu) and sweet white wines can have a strong perfumed smell.

PIGÉAGE

A winemaking technique of punching down the cap of grape skins that forms during the beginning of the wine’s fermentation. This is done several times a day, occasionally more frequently, to extract color, flavor, and tannin from the fermenting juice.

PLUMMY

Rich, concentrated wines can often have the smell and taste of ripe plums. When they do, the term plummy is applicable.

PONDEROUS

Ponderous is often used as a synonym for massive, but typically massive wine is simply a big, rich, very concentrated wine with balance, whereas a ponderous wine is a wine that has become heavy and tiring to drink.

PRECOCIOUS

Wines that mature quickly are precocious. However the term also applies to wines that may last and evolve gracefully over a long period of time, but taste as if they are aging quickly because of their tastiness and soft, early charms.

PRUNEY

Wines produced from grapes that are overripe take on the character of prunes. Pruney wines are flawed wines.

RAISINY

Late-harvest wines that are meant to be drunk at the end of a meal can often be slightly raisiny, which in some ports and sherries is desirable. However, a raisiny quality is a major flaw in a dinner wine.

RICH

Wines that are high in extract, flavor, and intensity of fruit.