Wine Glossary A to C
This glossary, by renowned wine writer Karen MacNeil, is designed to give you basic wine-related information without overwhelming you. Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible.
Natural component in grapes that gives the final wine a snappy refreshing quality. Wines with too little acidity taste dull, flabby and unfocused. Wines with too much acidity can taste aggressively tart.
The flavor that lingers in your mouth after you've swallowed the wine. All good wines should have a pleasant aftertaste and great wines should have a long pleasant aftertaste. Aftertaste is also known as the wines "finish".
Intentionally keeping a wine for a period of time so that the flavors harmonize and the wine begins to soften and open up. There is no one correct period of aging for wine, all wines will age differently and at different rates.
A natural result of the fermentation process. When yeast metabolize the sugar in grapes, the two major by-products are alcohol and carbon dioxide. Most table wines in the U.S. have 12 to 14% alcohol by volume.
The French term, Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, (AOC), refers to a set of comprehensive regulations that specify the precise geographic area in which a given French wine can be made. AOC regulations also stipulate the types of grapes that can be used, the manner in which the vines must be grown and how the wine can be made. The Italian equivalents of France's AOC laws are known as DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, and a slightly more strict set of regulations known as DOCG, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. In the U.S., the regulations governing AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) are far less strict than French or Italian appellation laws. AVAs are designated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. There are now more than 130 areas that have been designated as AVAs including such well known AVAs as the Napa Valley, Stags Leap District, Russian River Valley, Anderson Valley and so on.
The smell of a young wine, slightly different than the wine's bouquet (see entry).
ASTRINGENCY That quality in a wine that makes your mouth feel slightly dry and puckery. Astringency is related to tannin (see entry). A small amount of astringency is expected in some wines, especially young red wines made from powerful varieties such as cabernet sauvignon.
The sense you get from a wine when all the components have good equilibrium.
As implied, a method of fermentation done in barrels. Fermenting a wine, especially a white wine, in small oak barrels rather than large stainless steel tanks can noticeably affect the wine's flavor and texture. In particular, a wine can become more creamy, round, buttery and toasty after being barrel fermented.
A harsh quality wine can take on. Wine made from grapes that are picked less than optimally ripe, for example, can taste a little bitter.
The combining of different lots of wine to make a final wine with certain characteristics. A wine may be a blend of different grape varieties (such as a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, for example), or it may be a blend of the same grape variety from different vineyard sites, or even the same grape variety handled differently in the vineyard or during winemaking. In most cases, the goal of blending is to create a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The weight of a wine in the mouth. Wines are usually described as being either light, medium or full bodied. A wine's body is generally related to the amount of alcohol it contains, the more alcohol, the fuller the body. That said, a wine's body should not be confused with the intensity of its flavor. For example, a wine can be light in body and very intense in flavor at the same time.
Also called "noble rot," Botrytis cinerea is a beneficial mold that, in just the right warm, humid circumstances, will begin to grow on the outside of grapes. As the mold sucks water from the grapes, they shrivel. This, in turn, concentrates the grapes' sweet juice, allowing a very sweet wine to be made. The famous French wine Sauternes is made with the help of Botrytis cinerea.
The aroma a wine takes on after it has aged in the bottle.
A description of a wine, usually a white wine, that has taken on a slight buttery flavor. This often happens as a result of the wine being barrel fermented and then left for a period of time in contact with the yeast.
The somewhat leaner sister of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc is often grown in the same places and is usually blended with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The one noteworthy exception to this is the Loire Valley of France where cabernet franc alone makes the well known wines Chinon and Bourgeuil. Cabernet franc often has a unique violet aroma and a slightly spicy flavor.
Often called the "king" of red grapes, cabernet sauvignon is, along with merlot, the famous grape of Bordeaux, and is also grown in other renowned wine regions throughout the world including California, Washington state, Italy, Australia, and Chile. Cabernet sauvignon possesses what can be an impressive structure along with deep, rich cassis flavors.
The covering at the top of the neck of a wine bottle that protects the cork. Capsules, which come in many colors and designs, are considered part the wine's overall design. Recently, some wineries have forgone capsules in favor of a small wax dot on the top of the cork.
The famous sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France, about 90 miles northeast of Paris. Champagne is generally a blend of three grapes: two red: pinot noir and pinot meunier, and one white: chardonnay. It is made by a labor-intensive method known as methode Champenoise in which the secondary bubble-causing fermentation takes place inside each individual bottle. Made in a variety of sweetness levels, Champagnes range from bone-dry to sweet. The most popular of these is Brut. The sweetness levels are as follows: Extra Brut: very, very dry, O to .6% residual sugar. Brut: dry, less than 1.5% residual sugar. Extra Dry: off-dry, 1.2 to 2% residual sugar. Sec: lightly sweet, 1.7 to 3.5% residual sugar. Demi-Sec: quite sweet, 3.3 to 5% residual sugar. and Doux: sweet, more than 5% residual sugar. Most Champagne firms make at least three categories of wine: non-vintage, vintage, and prestige cuvée. The vast majority of the Champagne produced each year is designated non vintage (that is, the blend may contain wines from several different vintages). The wines in a vintage Champagne come only from the year designated on the label. Vintage Champagnes are only made in top years. Prestige cuvées are each firm's top-of-the-line wine. It too will only be made in great years and the grapes will come only from the firm's best vineyards. Finally, there are two special styles of Champagne: rosé Champagne, a pink Champagne usually made by adding a small bit of red pinot noir wine to the bottle before the second fermentation, and blanc de blancs, a Champagne in which all of the wines in the blend are chardonnay.
One of the most popular white grape varieties in America and throughout the New World, as well as the white grape of the Burgundy region of France. Very easy to enjoy thanks to its full, round body and buttery, appley flavors laced with toastiness (the latter comes from the oak barrels used in the making of most chardonnays).
Said of a wine that has a full, almost thick mouthfeel. Zinfandels are often described as chewy.
A sweet wine without a sufficient amount of acidity to balance the sweetness will often taste so sweet as to be cloying.
A descriptive term for a multifaceted, multi-layered wine that continues to reveal different flavors as you drink it. A complex wine, because it is so fascinating, has an almost magical ability to draw the wine drinker in.
A musty "wet dog" or "wet cardboard" smell (usually slight) that wine can take on as a result of bacteria in the cork interacting with minute amounts of chemical residues that may remain on corks or in bottles after they are washed. Corked wines are not common, though a wine drinker may occasionally encounter one. Because a corked wine smells unpleasant, it should be discarded, though drinking such a wine in no way harms the drinker.
Descriptive term for a wine that tastes zesty and refreshing as a result of its prominent acidity.
Information courtesy of Wine Market Council.