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Technical Wine Tasting Glossary: M to Z

©Richard Gawel

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maceration : The red winemaking practice of allowing the grape juice/wine to remain in contact with the skins and seeds. This allows the colour and tannin which reside in the skins and seeds to be extracted into the wine. Short periods of maceration are used to produce rose wines while long periods are used when making full bodied reds.

maceration (post fermentation): The practice of leaving the skins and seeds in contact with the finished wine following the completion of fermentation. This is thought to increase the tannin level of the wine.

maceration (pre-fermentation): A practice of soaking the skins and seeds of red grapes in their juice for a period of time prior to the start of fermentation. Some winemakers believe that this method allows different tannins to be extracted giving improved texture to the wine. To avoid fermentation commencing the juice/seed/skin mixture must be kept cold. Hence this method is also called cold soaking.

madeira: A long lived fortified wine originating from the island of Madeira. Its four styles are named after the principal grape variety from which the wine is made. These also correspond to different styles. The wines in order of increasing sweetness and colour are Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia. Madeira is a wine in that it is intentionally subjected to heat which gives it its unique character.

madeirised: A negative ‘cooked like’ character in wine resulting from accidental exposure to heat. The oxidative character which results is reminiscent to that of Madeira - hence the name.

magnum: A 1.5 litre bottle.

malic acid : One of the two primary acids found naturally in grapes. Malic acid levels are higher in grapes grown in cool climates or under dense shaded grapevine canopies. As malic acid has a strong acid taste which tends to be metallic like when in excess, winemakers encourage malolactic fermentation in order to reduce its effect.

malolactic fermentation (MLF): A weak fermentation carried out by certain naturally occurring bacteria, notably Oenococcus oeni. The lactic acid bacteria convert the stronger malic acid into the softer lactic acid, in effect naturally deacidifying the wine. These bacteria also produce flavour substances such as diacetyl which give wine a complexing buttery, dairy like flavour. As MLF usually occurs after primary yeast fermentation it is sometimes called secondary fermentation. Nearly all red wines undergo MLF. Some white wines such as Rieslings on the other hand do not undergo MLF. This is because the winemaker is trying to maintain the naturally high acidity and fresh aromatic characters which define this type of wine.

manzanilla (Spanish): A very dry pale style of sherry made using the flor process. It is consumed very cold and as an aperitif as it stimulates the appetite.

marc: Also known as pomace. It is the residual skins and seeds left after winemaking.

meaty: Refers either to a wine which has substantial flavour and extract, or to the flavour that is found in some older wines notably those made from Pinot noir.

mellow: A term used to describe mature wine that has soft tannins and good balance.

mercaptans : A class of unpleasant smelling chemical substances containing sulfur. They have aromas of cabbage, dirty socks, rubber and the like, and when found in wine are considered a major fault. The term ‘reductive’ is used to describe when such aromas are detected in wine.

mesoclimate: The climatic conditions experienced by a vineyard site. The aspect of a vineyard (i.e. the way the vineyard faces in relation to the sun) is a major determinant of mesoclimate.

methode champenoise (French): The process of making sparkling wine whereby still (base) wines are blended and then placed in a bottle and dosed with yeast and sugar and stoppered. The yeast undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle which creates carbon dioxide resulting in a wine with effervescence. The yeast are then left in contact with the wine (typically for 1-5 years). In this time the yeast break down releasing complex yeasty flavours. The yeast are then removed from the bottle, and the wine sweetened a little before being released for sale. This method is expensive and time consuming but when done well produces complex wines with a delicacy that cannot be attained using any other method developed to date.

microclimate: The climatic condition experienced in the immediate vicinity of the grape bunch. The microclimate is primarily a function of the amount of shading provided by the grape vine canopy as this affects the temperature, light intensity and humidity experienced by the bunch.

middle palate: That part of the tasting experience between when the wine first enters your mouth and its aftertaste.

mistelle: (French) A wine made by fortifying grape juice with alcohol before any fermentation can take place.

mousse: (French) The foam produced by sparkling wine.

mouth feel: The texture of the wine.

must : The mixture of grape skins, seeds and juice as it awaits or undergoes fermentation.

musty : An unpleasant ‘mildew’ or ‘mouldy’ aroma. While it may arise in some wines due to the impact of mould on the grapes, most musty characters experienced by winetasters are a result of taint from the cork.

muzzle: (French) The wire basket that holds sparkling wine corks in place.

negociant: (French) A wine merchant who purchases parcels of wine from various sources before blending them and bottling them to sell under their own label.

noble rot: A name given to the grape mould Botrytis cinerea which under certain climatic conditions can result in grapes suited to making high quality late harvest wines.

nose: The smell of a wine.

nouveau : (French) A fresh fruity and youthful red wine ready for consumption soon after harvest/production.

nutty : A negative character indicating oxidation in white wines or an extended or stuck fermentation. However it is a desirable character in some wines such as fino sherry or in Chardonnay wines with extended "lees" contact.

oak: Wood from the tree Quercus sessilis (European oak) or Quercus alba (American oak) used to make wine barrels.

oak alternatives: Include oak chips, shavings, cubes, powder, innerstaves and planks. These products are used to impart oak flavours and aromas to the wine. While the quality of oak character arising from their use in rarely of the standard produced by barrel maturation, their cost effectiveness makes them necessary alternatives in the production of low cost commercial wines.

oak barrel: Can be used to hold wines either after or during fermentation. Barrels impart oak flavours and by doing so contribute additional characters to the wine. Oak maturation also facilitates the slow chemical reactions necessary for the wine to soften and for the fruit, oak and malolactic fermentation derived characters to integrate.

oenology: Pronounced eenology. It is the science of wine and wine-making. A practitioner is called an oenologist.

oily : A wine with a viscous texture. Some varieties of grape such as Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris often produce wines with this texture.

oloroso: A style of sherry made by aging a fortified white wine in old oak barrels for an extended period of time. The result is a complex rich wine with significant amounts of rancio character. Oloroso sherries range from dry to sweet.

open: A wine that readily releases its aroma and flavour.

open fermentation: A fermentation conducted in vessels which are open to the air. Many feel that these fermentations produce the highest quality red wines as the exposure to air allows the fermenting wines tannins and colour to react, softening and filling out the wine.

oxidation : The chemical reaction between wine components and oxygen. In white table wines oxidation is rarely beneficial resulting in brown coloured wines lacking fresh fruit character. In other wine types including red table wines and (notably) fortified wines the introduction of oxygen during winemaking is necessary for their maturation. The exact role of oxygen in winemaking and bottle maturation is still a hotly debated topic.

oxidised : A negative term indicating that a wine that has suffered oxidation. Such wines are brown in colour, lack overall freshness and be harsh on the palate.

palate: The overall impression of flavour, tastes and textures produced by the wine in the mouth.

peppery: Either the aroma of black pepper as found in cool climate Shiraz wines or the hot tingling sensation experienced in wines with very high levels of alcohol.

pH: While technically a measure of acidity the acidic taste of a wine is not strongly related to its pH. Wines at the lower end of the pH scale display better colour, are more microbiologically stable and are more resistant to browning. Therefore lower pH wines have better aging potential than high pH wines.

phenolic: A negative wine tasting term which refers to coarseness and bitterness in white wine.

phenolics: A diverse group of naturally occurring chemical compounds derived from the skins and seeds of grapes and to a lesser extent from oak wood. Some members of this family contribute to wine colour (anthocyanins), others to astringency (the tannins) and others to wine flavour and aroma (the volatile phenols). Other phenolic substances are also thought to contribute to harshness and bitterness in both white and red wines.

Phylloxera: A devastating root-born pest of the grape vine, Vitis vinifera. Due to strict quarantine procedures, Phylloxera has been effectively controlled in Australia. In contrast, it is widely distributed throughout European vineyards. Vines are often planted on American rootstocks as they are largely resistant to damage caused by the pest.

pomace: Synonym marc. The skins seeds and stems remaining after winemaking.

port: A fortified wine originating from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. Other countries such as Australia have a long history of producing wines of a similar style. Three major styles of port exist – ruby, tawny and vintage. Ruby ports have a youthful colour, vibrant fruity flavours and are best consumed young. Tawny ports are aged in old oak barrels for long periods and as a result they are characterised by complex rancio characters. They also do not improve after being bottled and released for sale. Vintage ports are best thought of as fortified sweet full bodied red wines. When young, they are powerful alcoholic fruity wines with strong tannins. With age they mellow, increasing in complexity and with softening tannins. Good vintage ports improve with bottle age.

powdery mildew: A fungal disease that attacks both the leaves and fruit of vines significantly affecting both grape yield and wine quality.

pressing: The act of mechanically extracting juice from the skins of white grapes following crushing, or mechanically extracting the remaining wine from the skins of red grapes following fermentation.

pressings wine: The red wine pressed off skins following fermentation. Compared with free run wine, pressings wine has deeper colour, more flavour and tannin, but often is more bitter. Various fining agents are used to reduce the bitterness so that the wine can be used to increase the volume, colour and astringency of the final blend.

punt: The indentation in the bottom of most wine bottles. Deeper punts provide extra strength to the bottle.

rancio: A unique character found in fortified wines which have spent a significant time in old oak barrels. The character is best described as a lifted blend of butterscotch and old wood aromas.

ratafia: A sweet wine made from fermented dried grapes and added marc.

remuage: Synonym riddling. A sparkling winemaking process undertaken after secondary fermentation whereby the bottles are twisted and gradually inverted. Remuage is done so as to move the yeast lees produced during secondary fermentation into the neck of the bottle so that it can be removed.

reserve: May imply a high quality wine, but as it is not specifically defined in Australian wine law it may also mean very little.

residual sugar: The sugar that is left in the wine after the completion of fermentation. Residual sugar may comprise both fermentable and non-fermentable sugars. Dry wines have less than 7 grams per litre of residual sugar.

rootstock: The roots of another species of vine (usually an American grape vine) to which a European vine (Vitis vinifera) can be grafted. This is done either to increase grape yield and/or to afford protection from attack from root borne pests such as Phylloxera.

Rose’: A pale and light bodied red(ish) wine made by allowing only a short fermentation on skins. Made for immediate consumption, these wines are generally fruity, high in acidity, and with light to moderate sweetness and light astringency.

saigne’:(French) Meaning literally "to bleed", this is a winemaking technique whereby a portion of free run juice is drained from the skins prior to fermentation. This technique is usually used in Pinot Noir in an attempt to concentrate the colour, flavour and tannin in the finished wine.

sec (French secco (Italian): Seco (Spanish) Dry.

secondary fermentation: A fermentation that takes place in bottle so as to produce effervescence. The term my also refer to malolactic fermentation as this weak fermentation usually occurs after the primary yeast fermentation.

Sekt: (German) Usually a simple sweet sparkling wine made using the transfer method.

Selection de Grains Nobles: (French) Late harvest sweet botrytised white wines from Alsace.

Sercial: A grape variety used in the production of Maderia. Also refers to a particular style of Maderia made from that variety.

sherry: Fortified white wines of different styles made in the Jerez region of southern Spain. Other countries produce wines of a similar style. They vary from being light bodied delicate wines with flor character to deep rich complex wines dominated by rancio character.

short: A wine that lacks persistent flavour following swallowing.

solera: A system employed in the production of fortified wines whereby wines of different ages are blended to achieve consistency of style.

sommelier: An adviser to restaurant owners and patrons regarding appropriate food and wine matches.

sparkling wine: An effervescent wine made using various methods.

spatlese: (German) A late harvest wine which usually has a perceptible level of sweetness.

spritzig: A wine with a perceptible level of dissolved carbon dioxide. These wines have a light ‘fizzy’ taste.

spumante: (Italian) Italian sparkling wine, usually white, and ranging from dry to very sweet. The most famous is Asti Spumante from north west Italy which is produced from the Moscato grape variety.

stalky: A herbaceous character which may derive from fermentation in the presence of grape stalks as is sometimes done with Pinot Noir.

still wine: Any wine that is not effervescent.

structure: A highly subjective wine tasting term which refers to the balance between flavour intensity, acidity, tannin (in reds) and alcohol. A poorly structured wine will either be lacking in, or be dominated by one or more of these attributes.

stuck ferment: A ferment which ceases prematurely, leaving insufficient alcohol and excessive residual sugar in the wine. Due to remaining sugar, the wine will be prone to further fermentation while in bottle. Therefore, winemakers will always attempt to restart stuck ferments by either warming the wine and/or by adding more yeast. Depending on the time taken to restart the ferment the resultant wine may have yeasty and nutty flavours and lack overall freshness.

sulphur dioxide: Synonyms SO2 and sulfites. An indispensable additive used in winemaking (although yeast naturally produce small quantities during fermentation). It is added to inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria and yeast, and to prevent premature oxidation. It is referred to on wine labels as preservative 220.

supple: Yet another subjective wine tasting term referring to a wine which has good fruit, and a soft pleasing astringency.

sur lie: (French) Refers to the practice of leaving white wine in contact with yeast lees following fermentation. The practice which usually occurs in barrel, results in greater flavour complexity and a soft creamy mouth-feel.

table wine: Any wine that would normally be consumed with a meal. This includes dry red and white wines.

tank method: An inexpensive method used to make sparkling wine whereby the secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurised tank. Also known as the Charmat method.

tannic: Describes a red wine that is strongly astringent due to the presence of tannins.

tannins: A diverse group of naturally occurring substances found in the skins and sees of grapes and oak wood, and which are extracted during fermentation and barrel aging. Tannins produce astringency in wine, but depending on type can also elicit bitterness and coarseness.

tart: A wine that is high in acidity.

tartaric acid: The primary acid in grapes and wine. It contributes to the acidic taste in wine.

tartrates: Potassium bitartrate is an insoluble by-product of tartaric acid. It can form as a harmless but aesthetically undesirable crystalline deposit in bottle. Winemakers usually induce the crystals to form in the wine tank prior to bottling ensuring that they do not form in bottle.

tawny port: A style of port that is aged for long periods of time in old oak to enable them to build complexity in the form of rancio character.

TCA: Shorthand for 2,4,6 trichloroanisole. TCA is the key compound responsible for cork taint in wine. TCA is very potent with many people being able to detect its characteristic mouldy, musty dank like aroma at around 5 parts per trillion.

terroir: The interacting factors of climatic, viticulture and winemaking which influence the character of the wine. Perhaps the most clichéd term in the wine vocabulary. Of course if you grow the grape in a certain place and make it in a certain way, then you will produce a wine that has different characteristics from others.

thin: Describes a wine lacking in body, flavour and alcohol.

triage: (French) One of the steps of the methode champenoise process whereby some fermentable sugar and yeast is added to the base wine in bottle to induce the secondary fermentation.

toasting: Refers to the process of burning the inside of a partially constructed wine barrel with an open flame. The level of toast is achieved by either varying either temperature or length of time of firing. Toasting affects the type of aroma and flavours that the barrel will impart to the wine.

Tokay: A botrytised dessert wines from north east Hungary. Australian wines named Tokay are fortified wines made from the Muscadelle variety.

topping up: The winemaking process of adding of wine to a barrel to replace that lost to evaporation. If barrels are not topped up they will oxidise or become volatile.

typicity: A subjective term used to indicate the degree to which a wine typifies the style of wine that it is supposed to represent. Unclear as to who determines what constitutes the typical wine.

ullage: Any airspace above a wine when in tank or barrel. Ullage is avoided by topping up.

varietal: A wine made from a single grape variety.

vegetal: The flavour and aroma of vegetables. Some grape varieties such as Cabernet sauvignon can produce wines with a pronounced vegetal characters particularly if they are grown in cool climates and their grape vine canopies are dense and shady.

vendange: (French) vintage vendemmia (Italian) vindemia (Spanish)

vendange tardive: (French) Late harvest.

veraison: A stage in the ripening process of grapes whereby the grape begins to soften and starts to accumulate colour, flavour and tannin.

vermouth: A fortified wine flavoured with various herbs and primarily used as a cocktail ingredient.

vertical tasting: A structured winetasting involving the tasting of a number of vintages of the same wine.

vigna: (Italian) vineyard vignoble (French) vina (Spanish) Weinberg (German)

vigneron: (French) vine grower.

vin: (French) wine vinho (Portuguese) vino (Italian and Spanish)

vinifera: The species name for the European grape vine, Vitis vinifera.

vinification: The process of making wine.

vin santo: (Italian) A dessert wine made from dried grapes and barrel aged for a significant length of time. In Tuscany where it originated the wine is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia.

vintage: The harvest of grapes and the making of wine, or the year a wine's grapes were harvested.

vintage port: A style of port. Vintage ports are effectively fortified full bodied sweet red wines. Vintage ports unlike other fortified wines improve with age and are usually cellared before consumption.

vintner: A wine merchant.

viticulture: The science and practice of growing grapes.

Vitis: The botanical name for the grape vine family. Most of the worlds vines are of the species Vitis vinifera. The other variety used for table wine production is the American species Vitis labrusca. Other species of Vitis and their hybrids are used for rootstocks.

volatile acidity: A wine fault caused by microbial spoilage and/or oxidation. It has the characteristic aroma of either vinegar and/or nail polish remover. A low level of volatile acidity is acceptable in some wine styles including full bodied dry red table wines. Synonym volatile.

yeast: A single celled organism that converts sugar into alcohol during fermentation. The yeast also produce aroma and flavour substances which add to wine character. The yeast species that are normally used for wine fermentations are Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces bayanus.

yeasty: A bready like aroma created by yeast usually resulting from the wine having been aged on its lees. For some wine styles such as full bodied Chardonnay wines, a low level of yeastyness is desirable while in others it is considered a taste defect.