Wine Glossary G to P

June 07, 2010

Wine Glossary G to P

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.

GAMAY The classic red grape of the Beaujolais region of France, and also grown in California, gamay possesses a super fruity, grapey flavor not unlike melted black cherry Jello. The wine is often at its best served slightly chilled.

GEWÜRZTRAMINER The world's most prestigious gewürztraminers come from the Alsace region of France, but the white grape is also grown in most of the same cold climates riesling is. Its dramatic, unmistakable flavors are often compared to lychee nuts, peaches, apricots and occasionally, cold cream.

HERBACEOUS A descriptive term for a wine with overt green herb-like flavors. For most grape varieties, herbaceous flavors are considered negative. However, some grape varieties such as sauvignon blanc typically display some herbal flavors which are considered appropriate.

MADEIRA A fortified wine from the island of Madeira which belongs to Portugal but is located off the west African coast. Historically famous, the wine drunk by the founding fathers of the United States to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence is reported to have been Madeira. The very best Madeiras are made from four white grapes: sercial, verdelho, bual, and malmsey, which give the four styles of Madeira their names. Thus, starting with the driest style and moving to the sweetest, the styles of Madeira are sercial, verdelho, bual, and malmsey. Madeira's toffee-caramel-like character comes as a result of heating the wine, a process called estufagem. This is either carried out naturally (the wine is left in hot attics for up to 20 years) or the wine is placed in containers that are then heated to an average temperature of 105°F for three to six months.

MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION A natural process during which beneficial bacteria convert the malic (very tart) acid in a wine to lactic (softer tasting) acid. Malolactic fermentation can take place on its own or be prompted by the winemaker.

MERLOT The most widely planted grape in Bordeaux, merlot, a red grape, is also grown in most of the same places as cabernet sauvignon. And in fact, the two are often blended. Because merlot in general has somewhat less tannin than cabernet sauvignon, it often feels softer on the palate. Its flavors often run to mocha and boysenberry.

NOSE A wine term (used frequently in Britain) synonymous with aroma (i.e. you might say "the nose of this wine reminds me of cherries"). Nose is also used as a verb. To nose a wine is to smell it.

OAKY A descriptive term for a wine that has a pronounced oak flavor, generally as a result of aging the wine in new small oak barrels.

OXIDIZED A descriptive term for a wine that has been significantly exposed to air (oxygen), thereby changing the wine¹s aroma and flavor. While a small amount of oxygen exposure can be positive (it can help to soften and open up the wine, for example), too much exposure is deleterious. Fully oxidized wines have a tired, spoiled flavor. An oxidized white wine usually has begun to turn brown. There are a few examples of controlled oxidation that are not considered negative. Sherry, for example, is an oxidized wine by intent.

PINOT BLANC One of the white grapes of the pinot family that includes pinot grigio (also white) and the red grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier. While some pinot blanc can be found interspersed with chardonnay in the vineyards of Burgundy, the grape is more renowned in Alsace. In North America, California boasts several top producers of pinot blanc, though the grape is not widely grown. Pinot blanc often has flavors similar to chardonnay, though the wine is generally lighter in body and somewhat more delicate.

PINOT GRIGIO (PINOT GRIS) Like pinot blanc, one of the white grapes of the pinot family, and like riesling and gewürztraminer, pinot grigio loves cold climates. The most renowned pinot grigios come from the northernmost regions of Italy, especially those regions that border the Alps, as well as Alsace, where it is known as pinot gris or, confusingly, as "tokay." In the U.S., Oregon is emerging as the top state for delicious lively pinot gris' with light almond, lemon and vanilla flavors.

PINOT NOIR One of the most renowned red grapes in the world for its supple silky texture and mesmerizingly earthy flavors. Pinot noir, like riesling, requires a cold climate and in fact, its ancestral home is the cool Burgundy region of France. The grape, which is very difficult to grow and make into wine, is also grown in Oregon and California, but rarely elsewhere.

PORT The famous fortified sweet wine from the Duoro Valley of Portugal. Port, a blended wine, is made with up to five red grape varieties: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Touriga Francesa, and the most highly regarded: Touriga Nacional. All Port can be divided into two main categories: wood-aged Ports and bottle-aged Ports. Within these categories are numerous styles. The best known style of wood-aged Port is Tawny Port, the best known style of bottle-aged Port is Vintage Port. Predominantly wood-aged Ports are ready to drink right after they're bottled and shipped. They should be consumed within a year and a half to two years after bottling. These Ports do not need to be decanted. Predominantly bottle-aged Ports, on the other hand, start out in barrels for a brief period of time but then mature and age for a longer, and sometimes very long, period inside a bottle. As a result these Ports usually throw a sediment. Vintage Port, for example, always needs to be decanted. Port-style wines are also made in California from a variety of grapes including zinfandel, petite sirah, and cabernet sauvignon.

Information courtesy of Wine Market Council.