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Technical Wine Tasting Glossary: A to L

©Richard Gawel

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Here is my own slant on a wine tasting vocabulary. My version is a touch more technical at times to other glossaries, but also hopefully a little more down to earth than others you might read. I also have avoided terms which are specific to any particular region or wine style. A to L on this page. - Richard Gawel

acetaldehyde:A substance responsible for the oxidised fault in table wines. Caused by the oxidation of ethyl alcohol it results in a bruised apple character in table wines. It is an important positive aroma/flavour component of some sherries.

acetic acid:One of the substances responsible for the volatile acidity fault in wines. It results in a vinegar aroma and a hot vinegary flavour. Caused by the action of the bacteria Acetobacter aceti and Acetobacter pasteuranus.

acidity:A tart like taste component of wine caused by the presence of (primarily) tartaric and malic acid. Wines with insufficient acidity taste flat, while those with high acidity taste excessively tart. Wines high in acid generally age more slowly as aging reactions are retarded under high acid conditions.

aftertaste:The residual flavours left in the mouth after a wine has been tasted. Synonym: finish.

aggressive:A wine with excessive astringency accentuated by high acidity.

alcohol:Ethyl alcohol is a naturally occurring substance that is produced by the fermentation of grape sugars by yeast. Alcohol marginally adds to the fullness of wine and when in excess results in a warm or hot finish.

alcoholic:Term used to describe a wine that finishes with an unpleasant hotness due to excessive alcohol.

Allier:An oak forest located in central France.

American Oak: Oak from the American White Oak tree (Quercus alba). Most American oak is sourced from the mid western states of the USA, particularly Missouri. Imparts vanillin and coconut characters, and is favoured for use in making full bodied red wines.

ampelography:The study and classification of the grape vine family Vitis.

anthocyanin:The scientific name for the group of pigmented substances extracted from black grape skins that give red wine its colour.

antioxidant:Any chemical added by the winemaker which impedes oxidation. The most common antioxidant is ascorbic acid, designated as additive 300 on some wine labels.

aperitif:Any beverage served before a meal intended to stimulate the appetite. They include dry sherry and vermouth, and lighter bodied sparkling and botrytised wines.

Appellation d'Origine Controllee (AOC):A system of geographic naming control applied in France. AOC rules proscribe allowable grape varieties, winemaking methods, minimum alcohol levels, yields and vine density limits.

aroma:Traditionally refers to any scent in the wine that emanates from the grape. The more modern interpretation is any wine scent(s) regardless of where they are from the grape, oak, winemaking or maturation.

aromatic:Refers to floral and/or citrus characters or varieties which typically produced those characters. Examples of aromatic varieties are Riesling, Gewurztraminer and the Muscat family.

ascorbic acid:A common antioxidant related to Vitamin C which is added to wines during their making. Additive 300 on some wine labels.

astringency:The drying, roughing or puckering in-mouth sensations produced after tasting most red wines. It is caused by tannins which are extracted from the skins and seeds of red grapes during fermentation, or by the addition of commercial tannins by the winemaker. The red wine tannins react with the lubricating proteins in our saliva or in the pellicle that covers the mouth surfaces. We perceive the resultant loss of lubrication as a drying roughing sensation in the mouth known as astringency.

attack:The initially impression of the intensity of the wine once tasted. Another wanky term which should be attacked! Favoured Synonym: initial impression.

austere:Term used for wines that have low levels of ripe fruit flavours and high acidity and/or tannins. The term usually describes lighter bodied, acidic white wines with subtle flavours. The term usually suggests a red wine with insufficient flavour and high acidity.

autolysis:The decomposition of yeast cells remaining after fermentation. Yeast autolysis may occur in barrel after barrel fermentation resulting in richer, more complex white wines with a creamier texture. Autolysis is also the process which results in the yeasty characters in bottle fermented sparkling wines.

backward:A wine that is developing in bottle at a slower than expected rate, and as a result are usually predicted to age slowly. Considered a positive feature of a wine. Strange really as few people actually cellar wines today. Nevertheless, a backward wine would be expected to take longer to reach optimum maturity.

balance:In a balanced wine, no single component is either too dominant or lacking in intensity.

barrel maturation:Storing wine in oak barrels after fermentation to impart complex oaky flavours and aromas, and to soften the astringency of red wines.

barrel fermention:The technique of fermenting grape juice (whites) or partially fermented wine (reds) in oak barrels rather than in stainless steel tanks. Imparts complex, integrated oak flavours, and in the case of whites also contributes to the creamy texture and complex cheesy like flavours.

barrique:A small oak barrel of 225 litre capacity favoured for the production of high quality wines.

bâtonnage:A winemaking process of stirring the lees back into the wine following barrel fermentation of white wines. Imparts cheesy complexity and a creamy texture.

baumé:A measure of the sugar content in unfermented grape juice. Each 1 degree Baume = 18 g/L of sugar, and when fermented will result in approximately 1% alcohol.

bead:The bubbles found in sparkling wines.

bentonite:A type of fine clay that is added to white wine during its making to remove proteins. This is done to minimise the chance that the proteins will denature and form a haze in the bottle when left in a warm place.

big:Term used to describe full-bodied wines that are flavoursome, high in alcohol, and in the case of red wines, are high in tannin.

bitter:An unpleasant taste usually perceived at the back of the mouth after the wine is swallowed. Bitterness is usually caused by the accidental extraction of small molecular weight tannins from the skins and (particularly) seeds during the maceration stage of red winemaking.

blend:A combination of wines made from different grape varieties, regions or vintages. The aim of blending is to create a wine with better balance and/or consistency.

blind tasting: A wine tasting where no aspect of the wine including its identity are known to the taster.

blush:A very pale rose or sparkling wine with a light pink appearance.

body:A wine's weight or fullness in the mouth due to a combination of its flavour, alcohol and in the case of red wines, tannin.

Botrytis cinerea: Scientific name for a type of grape mould that under the right climatic conditions concentrates grape sugars, resulting in sweet white wines with complex flavours and luscious texture. However under damp cold conditions, it produces mouldy grapes and mouldy, "ashtray" like flavours. Synonyms: noble rot. Also see Grey rot.

botrytised:affected by the good version of Botrytis cinerea.

bottle fermented:Refers to sparkling wine that has undergone a second fermentation in bottle. Known as Methode Champenoise as the method was instigated in Champagne.

bouquet:Traditionally refers to any wine scent emanating from winemaking practice or bottle maturation. Rarely used today as the distinction between grape derived and non grape derived characters unnecessarily complicates an already complex task. A classic example of one of those "precious" terms which is used by some wine tasters to indicate that they have some form of superior knowledge. RIP.

breathing:The practice of letting old red wines stand for a time after opening to reduce bottle staleness prior to consumption. No scientific evidence that it actually works or benefits the wine.

Brettanomyces:A wild yeast (Dekkera bruxullensis) that imparts aromas and flavours to red wines akin to barnyard, antiseptic, or band-aid. Considered a fault when in excess, but the yeast can impart a restrained complexing spicy and earthy character. Synonym Brett. (as Dekkera is often referred to as Brettanomyces)

brix:A system favoured by US winemakers of measuring the amount of sugar present in grape juice. 1 Brix = 10g/L of sugar.

browning:An undesirable change in the colour of white wines from straw or yellow to brown. Caused by the oxidation of white wine phenolics, the products of which absorb light at certain wavelengths resulting in a brownish appearance.

burnt:An undesirable 'cooked like' and bitter characters resulting from excessively hot fermentations.

Cap: The layer of grape skins that rises to the surface of red wine during its fermentation.

Cap management: An important step in red winemaking where the cap is wetted with the fermenting juice during fermentation. This allows colour and tannins to be extracted from the skins into the fermenting wine. It is achieved in various ways including physically punching the skins down into the juice, pumping the juice back over the cap, pushing the cap down into the juice using wooden boards, or mixing the juice and skins by spinning a horizontal tank called a roto-fermenter.

Capsule: The tin alloy or plastic covering over the top of a wine bottle. Solely used to improve the aesthetics of the product.

Carbonation: The injection of carbon dioxide gas into a wine to make it bubbly. Used in the production of inexpensive and inferior quality sparkling wines.

Carbon Dioxide: The gas that gives sparkling wines their effervescence. It is also produced by yeast during fermentation.

Carbonic Maceration: A winemaking technique whereby whole grapes or bunches are placed in an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide. This results in a yeast free enzymatic fermentation whereby some of the grape acids (yes that’s right, acids) are fermented to alcohol. The method produces fruity wines with a cherry like flavour with low tannins suited for early consumption. Commonly practiced in Beaujolais.

Cask: A synonym for a wine barrel or large fermentation vessel made from oak. Also refers to the ‘bag in the box’ style of packaging.

Cava: (Spanish) A Spanish sparkling wine produced using the Methode Champenoise method. Traditionally produced using the varieties, Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada, it is now increasingly made using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Chaptalisation: The winemaking act of adding sugar to the juice either prior to or during fermentation. It is done to increase the alcohol level of the finished wine when grapes are deficient in natural sugar. Chaptalisation is a legal and commonly technique in many regions of France but is an illegal practice in Australia.

Charmat Method: An inexpensive method of producing sparkling wines of reasonable quality. The secondary fermentation is carried in a pressurised tank and the yeast is filtered out prior to bottling. Also called the tank method.

Chateau: (French) Generally refers to an estate that produces wine from vines grown on the property.

Cheesy: A positive characteristic of the aroma and flavour of barrel fermented white wines.

Claret: The traditional English term for red Bordeaux wine. Generically it refers to a full bodied dry red wine.

Clean: A wine devoid of any faults.

Closed: A wine lacking aroma. Usually used when there is an expectation that the wine will eventually present additional aromas upon aging.

Cloying: Describes a wine that has insufficient acid to support its level of sweetness. In practical terms, it refers to a wine which is ‘sickly sweet’, unpalatable after the first glass or two.

Coarse: Used to describe a wine that has rough feeling tannins and/or an unpleasant bitter aftertaste.

Complex: A descriptive term that refers to the many flavours, aroma and in-mouth texture found in a single wine.

Composite Cork: Any wine closure which consists of pieces of cork which have been glued together. An example is a 2+2 stopper which consists of two rings of natural cork glued to each end of an agglomerate cork (one made from small cork particles glued together). Usually used to stopper inexpensive table and sparkling wines.

Condition: An out of condition wine is one that is hazy, contains suspended matter and/or has .

Cork: A stopper consisting of a cylindrical piece of bark cut from the tree Quercus suber. The elasticity and springiness of this wood enables it to hold the wine inside the bottle without leaking.

Corked: Affected by cork taint. A term used to describe a wine that has been tainted by being in contact with a cork. The introduced taint has a mouldy/musty smell and flavour. The potent smelling compound responsible for the taint is called 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole, or TCA. Cork taint has absolutely nothing to do with the physical nature or condition of the cork. Therefore visual inspection of the cork cannot indicate the existence or otherwise of cork taint.

Cosecha: (Spanish) Vintage.

Cream: A very sweet, dark style of sherry.

Crisp: High acidity in wine giving the impression of freshness and vitality.

Crop thinning: The viticultural practice of removing immature bunches of grapes in attempt to improve the flavour, colour and tannin of the remaining fruit. Usually done with varieties which are sensitive to over-cropping (i.e. when excessive yield results in significant reductions in wine quality) such as Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.

Crust: A naturally occurring red coloured sediment which occurs in older red wines and vintage ports. It comprises tannins that have combined with colour molecules and polysaccharides over time.

Cuvee: (French) The blend of base wines that eventually undergo a secondary fermentation to create a sparkling wine. The blend may be or wines derived from different vineyards, grape varieties or vintages.

Decanting: The process of pouring an older wine from its bottle into another container in an attempt to separate the wine from its sediment and/or to aerate it.

Demi-sec: (French) Medium sweet.

Depth: Refers to a wine's intensity or presence of flavour or colour.

DIEM: Brand name of a technical cork stopper which has had its volatiles stripped out using super-critical carbon dioxide extraction technologies. As a result these stoppers are thought to be completely free of cork taint.

Disgorgement: (French) A step in sparkling wine production whereby the yeast that conducts the secondary fermentation in the bottle is removed.

Dolce: (Italian), doux (French) dulce (Spanish) Sweet.

Dosage: (French) The addition to sparkling wines of a solution of sugar syrup mixed with wine to sweeten them. The amount of dosage determines the wines final sweetness. Rated from extra brut (being the driest), brut, sec, demi-sec and doux (being the sweetest).

Downy mildew: A vine disease, that if not controlled, adversely affects the quality of grapes. Most commonly occurs in warm, humid climates. Downy mildew infected grapes produce wines with mouldy flavours, poor colour and often with brown oxidised hues.

Dry: An absence of sweetness in wine.

Elevage: (French) All stages of wine production that occur between fermentation and bottling.

En primeur: (French) Refers to wine sold before bottling. A discount is usually applied as delivery can be some time after payment, and the wine is in effect purchased ‘sight unseen’.

Esters: Naturally occurring fruity smelling compounds in wine. Many are created by yeast during fermentation and decrease as the wine ages.

Ethanol: The primary alcohol found in wine. Also called ethyl alcohol.

Extract: Refers collectively to the non-evaporating substances present in a wine such as tannins, sugars, polysaccharides and alcohols which give it its richness and body. Therefore the term ‘high in extract’ is roughly synonymous with ‘full bodied’ or ‘rich’ wine.

Extracted: A negative term used to describe a red wine with excessive amounts of bitter hard tannins. This usually occurs when excessively hot or long fermentations are conducted in an attempt to extract deep colour from the skins.

fat: Describes a full bodied with high alcohol and ripe fruit flavours.

fermentation: The metabolisation of grape sugars by yeast into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.

filtration: The removal of suspended solid matter from the wine. Some believe that fining reduces the aromas and flavours of wine.

finesse: An highly subjective and abstract term relating to a wine of delicacy and complexity.

fining: The addition of various natural and synthetic agents to wine in order to remove unwanted dissolved substances, which if not removed could lead to hazes forming in the bottle. Fining agents included bentonite (which is a form of fine clay), egg white, skim mild, gelatin and the dried swim bladder of a fish known as isinglass.

finish: The amount and type of flavour remaining in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed. Synonyms: aftertaste and length.

Fino: A pale coloured, dry and light bodied style of sherry that displays flor characters.

firm: A wine with strong tannins.

flabby: A wine that lacks acidity and therefore has a dull and lifeless taste.

flat: A wine that lacks acidity.

fleshy: A wine of full body and rich mouth-filling flavour.

flinty: A flavour not unlike struck match and flint stone that can be found in some white wines, notably Chablis. Very high sulfur dioxide levels, and storage under screwcap may contribute to this aroma.

flor: A character of manzanilla, fino and amontillado sherry styles similar to green apple and nougat.

flor yeast: A form of wine yeast that forms a film on the suface of a base sherry wine when it is intentionally left in partly filled barrel. In the presence of air, the yeast convert some of the wine’s alcohol into aldehydes which creates the character known as flor.

fortified wine: Wines that have had alcohol added to them at some time during their making. The alcohol addition increases the wine’s alcohol content to between 15 and 23%. Fortified wines include the sherries, ports, madiera and liqueur styles.

foxy: A term used to describe the distinctive flavour found in wines produced from the American grape variety Vitis lubrusca. The flavour is that of grape flavoured lollies.

free-run juice: The juice that is drained from crushed white grapes following crushing. That is, without pressing the skins. Free run juice generally produces delicate wines that contain lower levels of phenolics.

free-run wine: The red wine that is drained from the skins and seeds following fermentation. That is, without pressing. Free run wine is lower in colour and tannin than pressing wines, but typically they have more finesse and less bitterness. Most red wines are blends of free run and pressings wine.

fresh: A term relating to the youthfulness and vibrancy of wine.

fructose: One of the two primary fermentable sugars in grapes. The other is glucose.

fruit: A general term used to describe the presence of flavours derived from the grape that are reminiscent of other fruits.

full: A wine that is substantive and generous on the palate. Usually associated with high alcohol, viscosity and flavour.

generic: Label terms that indicate that the wine has some vague resemblance in style to those arising from well known and established European wine regions. For example, the generic term “Chablis” suggests that the wine labeled as such is light bodied and high in acidity. Generic labeling is either being phased out or is illegal in many countries.

glucose: One of the two major fermentable sugars in grapes. The other is fructose.

glycerol: A naturally occurring chemical that is produced by yeast during fermentation. It provides a slight increase in sweetness and body to the wine. However, its effect on wine body is weak at best.

terroir: (French) The definition of which seems to change regularly so as to justify its existence in the face of new scientific findings. Currently “terrior” is considered the combined effect of climatic conditions, soil type, viticultural practice, winemaking and winemaker philosophy on the overall character of the wine. And their point is? Many winemakers use alternative terms such as 'sense of place' or regionality to suggest the same thing.

grafting: The vegetative joining of the shoot of a European grape variety (Vitis vinifera) onto the rootstock of an American species of vine (e.g. Vitis berlandieri, V. champini, V. rupestris). This affords the European vine protection against root born pests such as Phylloxera and nematodes. Vines may also be grafted onto rootstocks that are better suited to specific soil types i.e sandy, acidic or saline.

Riserva: (Spanish) A quality standard. Riserva wines are derived from excellent vintages and are aged longer (both in oak and bottle) before release.

grand cru: (French) Superior Burgundian vineyard classification. The classification is based on the historical quality performance of the wines made from these vineyards. It may or may not be a good indicator of quality of any particular wine.

grip: A term suggesting high astringency that has caused some degree of mouth pucker.

hard: A wine that has strong tannins that have an unpleasant bitter edge.

herbaceous: The name given to the class of aromas and flavours that are herbal or green vegetable like. These are characteristic of some grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

hollow: A wine with good aroma but lacking depth of flavour on the palate.

hot: A wine that leaves the mouth feeling warm and peppery after swallowing. Hotness is caused by excessive alcohol, particularly in weakly flavoured wines.

hybrid: A grape variety that has been bred by crossing the European grape variety Vitis vinifera with an American variety Vitis labrusca. Hybrids are typically bred to impart fungal resistance, and as such, hybrid vines are usually planted in warm climates with summer dominant rainfall.

ice wine: A dessert wine made from ripe grapes grown in very cold climates that have been left on the vine and allowed to freeze. The grapes are pressed so as to leave the frozen water behind concentrating the sugars, acidity and flavour.

isinglass: A high quality fining agent that comprises proteins extracted from the swim bladders of certain fish. It is used to clarify white wines.

jammy: Describes a wine with concentrated overripe character and high alcohol.

lactic acid: A mildly acidic wine acid. Lactic acid is produced when malic acid from grapes is metabolised by lactic acid bacteria. This conversion is known as malolactic fermentation.

late harvest: Refers to wine made from grapes left on the vines until late in the autumn when the grapes become very rich in sugars.

lees: The residue that forms in wine during fermentation. It is comprised mainly of dead yeast cells and grape pulp. It is usually separated from the wine by pumping the wine off, leaving the residue behind – a process known as racking. Some wines (notably Chardonnay) are deliberately left in contact with the lees while in barrel in an attempt to impart more complexity and palate creaminess.

length: The persistence of flavour after the wine has been swallowed.

linalool: An important naturally occurring compound in aromatic varieties such as Riesling and Gerwurztraminer. It has an aroma of citrus with floral notes.

lively: Describes a wine that is fresh, youthful, and with good fruit and acidity.