Wine Glossary R to Z

June 25, 2010

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.

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.

RIESLING The renowned white grape of Germany, Austria and the Alsace region of France, though it is also popular in Washington state, New York state, and certain parts of California and Australia. The grape loves to grow in cold climates and when it does, it can exhibit exquisite delicacy and elegance with light peachy/minerally flavors.

ROSÉ A pink wine which can be made from any number of red grape varieties. In southern France where rosés are extremely popular, rosés are often made from grenache. Rosés can be made in numerous ways, the most common of which is simply to draw the wine off the red grape skins before the skins have fully tinted the wine red. Rosé wines, like white wines, taste best served chilled.

SAUVIGNON BLANC The famous white grape of the Sancerre region of France as well as New Zealand. Sauvignon blanc also grows in Bordeaux (where it is usually blended with semillon), South Africa, and in California and Washington state. Its wonderfully wild, untamed flavors are often reminiscent of grass, herbs, green tea and limes, often overlaid with a smokiness. In California, sauvignon blanc can also take on green fig and white melon flavors. 
SEDIMENT Small particles, mostly of color, that drop out of suspension as a wine ages. With considerable age, many great wines throw off a sediment. Sediment is harmless.

SHERRY The famous fortified wine from the Jerez region of southern Spain. Sherry is made by an extremely complex method of fractional blending called the solera system. The grape variety used is principally Palomino, though small amounts of Pedro Ximenez may also be included. Like Champagne and Port, Sherry is made in a variety of styles and at a variety of sweetness levels. From driest and lightest to sweetest and fullest, the styles of Sherry include manzanilla, fino, amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso, and cream Sherry. The unique flavor of all of these styles is due in part to the fact that the wine is partially intentionally oxidized (exposed to oxygen). Sherry-style wines are also made in California though they usually do not go through a solera system and most are sweet.

SOMMELIER The French term for a wine steward.

SULFUR/SULFITES A small amount of sulfur dioxide, a preservative, may be used both in the vineyard and during winemaking to protect grapes and wine from spoilage. Sulfites are a form of sulfur that occur naturally as a by-product of fermentation. Because a tiny percentage of the population is allergic to sulfur, wine labels must carry the message "contains sulfites" if the wine contains more than 10 parts per million (ppm) sulfites (which most wines do).

SYRAH (SHIRAZ) The classic red grape of the northern Rhone Valley of France and also grown throughout southern France, syrah is also the leading grape of Australia (where it is known as shiraz). In the late 1980s and 1990s, California vintners also became increasingly fascinated by the grape which is now grown in many parts of California. The wine often has an unmistakable whiff of white pepper along with wild gamey, boysenberry flavors.

TANNIN A group of beneficial compounds in wine that come mainly from the grape's skins and seeds. Tannin gives wine structure and because it acts as a natural preservative, allows wine to age. Normally, tannin is not so much tasted as it is sensed. However, in a young wine, especially if the grapes have been picked underripe, the tannin can cause the wine to taste excessively dry and astringent.

VARIETAL A type of grape variety. Chardonnay, merlot, riesling, etc. are all varietals. (See entries for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gamay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Blanc, Pinto Grigio (Pinot Gris), Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah (Shiraz), Viognier, and Zinfandel).

VINOUS A descriptive term meaning "like wine."

VINTAGE The year in which the grapes for a given wine were harvested. Most wines carry a vintage date, though not all. Non-vintage sparkling wines and Champagnes, for example, are blends of grapes from different harvests.

VIOGNIER The classic (though rare) white grape of the northern Rhone Valley of France where it makes the expensive wine known as Condrieu. In the early 1990s, more than thirty top California producers began making viognier to much acclaim. The wine has an opulent, lush body and dramatic honeysuckle, white melon and jasmine flavors.

VOLATILE Said of a wine with an excessive amount of volatile acidity. Wines with too much volatile acidity have an unpleasant, sharp vinegary aroma.

YEASTY A descriptive term for a wine with the pleasant aroma of bread dough. Many sparkling wines and Champagnes have a yeasty aroma.

ZINFANDEL The much loved red grape of California, zinfandel is grown almost no place else in the world. In fact, its history is still a mystery, though scientists think that the grape may be related to a Croatian grape. Zinfandel has a mouth-filling, thick berry-ness that is sometimes described as being jammy or chewy. White zinfandel (not a separate grape variety) is made when zinfandel grapes are fermented without their dark purple skins.

Information courtesy of Wine Market Council.