Wine Glossary

General

ABV

Alcohol by volume is a standard measure of how much alcohol is in a given wine. Most wines fall in the range of 10-15%, a higher percentage being difficult to achieve for most wine yeast. Higher ABV generally indicates that a wine comes from a warmer climate. Alcohol itself has several purposes. Firstly, It has viscosity, so gives body to a wine, with higher ABV giving a fuller body. Secondly, it is also a solvent, so absorbs and carries flavours and aromas through, much like its use in perfume. Lastly, it’s obvious effect: It inebriates! So be moderate in your consumption.

Acidity

All wines are fairly high in acid compared to most drinks, but some are higher than others! Acidity is an integral part of any wine’s composition and flavour. High acidity in a wine will usually make it taste crisper and more tart, whilst lower acidity will make a wine smoother and rounder. Acidity is also instrumental in keeping a wine’s flavours fresh and lively on your tongue, helping to create a lasting finish. And although most wines are dry, acidity helps to balance out any residual sugar left, cutting through sweetness. Lastly, acid is great for pairing with food, as it literally makes your mouth water, magnifying flavours and cutting through fatty dishes.

See also: Dry

Body

How light or heavy a wine feels in your mouth. Higher alcohol and tannins contribute to a “thicker” sensation, as does sugar. Although it is a hard to define and describe, the best way to think about it is in terms of situation: Is the wine best for sunny days in the park, or as a winter warmer by the fire? Fuller body generally stands up to food better too, but can be overpowering with lighter dishes.

See Also: ABV, Tannins

Citrus Fruit

Think of lemon or lime and sometimes even grapefruit, or orange. These are fruits with some sweetness to them (in varying amounts) but balanced out by a certain tartness to them. Usually found in whites or rosés, the corresponding wines are crisp and fresh, with high acidity, with just a hint of fruit. They are often from cooler climates, although not only. Citrus zest and citrus rind or pith, are also commonly used terms, the first being a more concentrated, sweeter version and the second a more savoury and bitter description of the same fruit. Not to be confused with orange wine!

See also: Acidity

Dry

Much misunderstood as a term, this simply means that there is very little, or no sugar in the wine. Most wines made today are dry! Confusion often comes about when flavours associated with sugar, such as fruit, are tasted in a wine. A wine can taste of fruit, or even honey for example and still be technically dry, if the sugar content is low. Another misconception is based around tannins, found in red and orange wine. As these can give a “drying” sensation, big tannic wines are sometimes erroneously described as being dry, regardless of their sugar content.

See also: Tannins

Juicy

Although all wine is indeed made from grape juice, only some retain its juicy properties! Fresh and easy drinking, juicy wines are bursting with unadulterated fruit flavours: the emphasis is on pure expression of the grape itself, without any make-up, such as oak. These are often fun and approachable wines, perfect chilled on a sunny day. Generally the reds are light bodied, with low levels of tannins, as these can come across as dry and bitter, especially if chilled.

See also: Tannins

Red Fruit and Dark Fruit

Found in red wines, these describe a broad spectrum of fruit flavours. Red fruit generally indicate tart, bright and fresh flavours. Think of things like redcurrant, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry or red cherries. In contrast, dark fruit flavours are riper, richer and fuller. Fruits such as blackberry, fig, blackcurrant, dark plums, prunes and dark cherry are common examples. Generally they imply more heat in the maturation of the berry and therefore a warmer climate. The increased ripeness usually implies more sugar in the grapes, which in the finished wine leads to more alcohol! It is always very possible for a wine to have flavours of both red and dark fruits of course.

See also: Juicy

Stone Fruit

A group of flavours found primarily in white wines and some rosés. Apricot, nectarine and peach are the fruits in mind here. Rich, round and sometimes bordering on tropical, these fruits nevertheless have some acidity on the palate and sometimes a certain vegetal, or woody smell from their pit. This often serves to balance out any over-ripeness. This characteristic is often found in fuller bodied wines, from warmer climates, but is also typically found in many sweet wines too!

Tannins

A group of compounds found in the skins, stems and seeds of a grape and therefore mostly found in red and orange wines. They give a sensation of body, structure and weight to a wine, but also bind with the protein in your mouth to give a drying sensation. For the full effect, think of drinking a cold cup of over-brewed black tea! However, the drying sensation can be countered by drinking with food, often making the taste of both even more enjoyable. Tannins are felt especially when a wine is too cold.

Traditional Method and Secondary Fermentation

A sparkling wine production method, made famous by its use in Champagne. In this instance, the bubbles are created inside the bottle itself. It is known for making wines with well-integrated bubbles, richness and often biscuit or bread flavours.

First, a still wine is made by typical means. A mixture of yeast and sugars is then added, and the wine is bottled. The added mix prompts a secondary fermentation in the bottle, producing CO2 as side effect. These are the bubbles that make the wine pop! A certain amount of ageing is usually required at this point, giving the wine extra texture by contact with its natural sediment. To remove this and clarify the wine, the bottle is upended slowly over time, in a process called riddling. The deposit in the neck of the bottle is then removed by disgorgement, when the bottle is popped open and the pressure expels it. Dosage, a mixture of wine and sugar, is then added. This decides the final sweetness of the wine!

See also: Filtering and Fining, Pét-Nat

Natural Wine

Filtering and Fining

Two related terms to do with clarifying a wine, i.e. removing particles from a wine.

Filtration is what it says on the tin! The wine is pumped through a filter, and this removes the majority of large particles. There are different types of equipment and processes, but the principle remains the same.

Fining is a little more complex, and involves removing the smaller particles that filtration cannot. A protein is added into the wine whilst it is still in the tank. This then falls through, attracting the unwanted particles and binding with them. Finally, once it has finished, it sits at the bottom and the wine is removed from above it.

All wine comes out naturally cloudy from the production process. This is the result of leftover grape particles and yeast. These are harmless. However, many find that these methods can detract from the wine. Some find that the wine loses character and less interesting. It is common to skip these steps in natural winemaking, following the spirit of reduced human intervention in the process. Often more gentle methods are used, such as letting gravity do its work.

Native Yeast

Also referred to as ‘Natural’ or ‘Wild” yeast, these occur naturally on the grapes and in the grape-growing environment. If a winemaker chooses to use native yeast, then nothing is added to the grapes to kill them and neither is any cultured yeast.

Usually, with cultured yeast, the resulting flavours and reactions are predictable. They are chosen and added to produce these characteristics, year in and year out. However, this can mask the unique characteristics of a wine. In contrast, native yeasts are less predictable in their results, making unique wines with real expression of the grape and year itself.

Orange/Skin Contact Wine

Contrary to common belief, this is not made from oranges! Essentially red wine, but made with white grapes. The juice of nearly all grapes, red or white, is naturally clear. The colour of red or rosé comes from the skin of the grapes. To get this colour, the skins and the juice are left in contact for a period of time. Tannins and other aromatic compounds are also obtained. Orange wine has had that period of skin contact (hence its alternate name), but because the white grapes do not contain any pigment to pick up, there is no colour!

Orange wine styles are generally more savoury, tannic and have a different aromatic profile to a white wine made from the same grapes. All these characteristics make them perfect to match with food. Traditionally made in regions such as Georgia, Greece and Sicily, but can now be found from around the world.

See also: Tannins

Organic and Biodynamic

These are to do with practices in the vineyard, the way that the grapes are tended and grown.

Organic grape-growing follows basic rules, such as banning the use of artificial pesticides and minimising sprays in the vineyard. Methods of preventing pests are also naturally derived, such as pheromones, trying to avoid the overuse of chemicals. In the winery, many additives are prohibited, and what is used often needs to be organically sourced. The exact regulations depend from country to country however, although standards are the same across the EU.

Biodynamic wine is less set in stone. It is more about a general philosophy than fully established principles. Based on Rudolf Steiner’s principles, the idea is that a vineyard must be balanced and in harmony with nature. It uses organic principles as a base, but goes further. Crop rotation and biodiversity are encouraged, but it also stretches to picking by the full moon, burying horns packed with manure as fertiliser and the use of homeopathic sprays, among other things. Some follow all of these principles, but most try to at least follow the spirit of embracing nature and reduced human intervention.

See Also: Native Yeast

Pét-Nat

Short for Pétillant Naturel, these are lightly sparkling wines, made in all colours. They are generally low in alcohol, often unfiltered and usually slightly sweet, although dry examples are not uncommon. Generally easy drinking and perfect for an aperitif!

The French name translates as ‘Naturally Sparkling’ as this style requires little human intervention in its production. During the wine’s fermentation, it is bottled before the wine is finished. As alcoholic fermentation also produces CO2, this is trapped in the bottle, in the form of bubbles. Compared to other methods, there are fewer steps in the process, but the lack of human intervention means that there can be variation from bottle to bottle. This is all part of the fun!

See also: Traditional Method

Spritz or Pétillance

These are light bubbles in a still wine. Found sometimes in natural wines, this light fizziness is nothing to be worried about! It usually arises from leftover sugar that ferments once the wine is already bottled. Sometimes it is even a stylistic choice, that can make the wine better to drink, such as with Vinho Verde or Grüner Veltliner. It often goes away with a little time, once the bottle is opened and the gas can escape. For the impatient amongst you, there is however a very simple solution: Stick your thumb over the opening of the bottle, forming a seal. Then shake! Just lightly, but when the thumb is released, a soft ‘Pscht!’ should be heard. This is the excess CO2 escaping. Note that it is best not to do this to wines with too much sediment.

See also: Filtering and Fining

Vegan wine and Vegetarian Wine

Although wine is made from grapes, it is not necessarily vegan or vegetarian! Many wines use animal derived products in the process, for fining purposes. This helps to clarify an unfinished wine. Fining agents are usually protein based, and often the best are animal derived. Historically, even bulls blood was used in some places (although this is now banned)! It’s still common to use egg whites or other animal proteins, although there have been big advances in plant based alternatives. Many winemakers are moving to these products, due to ethical reasons, customer demand or just plain usefulness. Otherwise they are just entirely skipping these steps in the first place.

See also: Filtering and Fining