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A to Z Wine Terms

by Toni Paterson

Acidity Refers to the acid present in a wine.  It can either originate from the grape or be added during the winemaking process.  The level of acidity can influence a wine’s freshness, sharpness or sourness.

Botrytis Used to describe a dessert wine style which is made from grapes infected by the mould  botrytis cinera.  The mould grows in warm, humid conditions and concentrates grape sugars.  The resulting wines often have strong apricot characters.

Buyers own Brand Buyers own brand (BOB), also referred to as private labels, are owned by distributors such as large chain wine retailers and wine clubs.  They purchase wine from producers then apply their own label for marketing purposes.

Capsules Capsules are the wrapping around the neck of a bottle which protects the closure.  This wrapping is usually made out of plastic, tin or aluminium foil.

Claret Is a British term that was adopted by Australia to describe a dry red wine, resembling the characteristics of the French wine Bordeaux.  Sometimes Australian 'Claret' was predominately Cabernet Sauvignon but not always so.  It was quite an arbitrary way of labelling wine as there was no common definition of what Australian 'Claret' should taste like or what varieties it should contain.  Australia has now moved away from this generic labelling and we now describe our wines using the varieties they are made from. 

Cleanskins Cleanskins are bottled wines that do not have a producer's branded label.  In Australia they must be sold, by law, in sealed cartons and the cartons must carry mandatory information.  Cleanskins are usually the result of over-production.  Winemakers sell off their excess at low prices without compromising the price tag of their labelled wines. Due to the popularity of cleanskins some wine merchants have created generic "cleanskin labels" which meet labelling laws and therefore are sold by the bottle. 

Closures  Closures seal a wine bottle and protect the wine from oxidation and contamination.  Historically, natural cork has been the most common closure, however, in Australia aluminium screw caps (Stelvin caps) have become very popular. Zork an Australian invention is a resealable closure which "pops" on opening.  Synthetic corks (plastics) are also used though have declined in popularity with the increased use of screw caps.

Cork Taint  A broad term for a range of unpleasant characters that are present in approximately 3 - 5% of wines sealed with a natural cork.  Affected wines often smell musty or dank.  In a small number of cases, the origin of the taint is not the cork but a tainted storage barrel or wine cellar.

Decanting  A process of slowly pouring clear wine away from its sediment.  It is best performed after the sediment has had time to settle in bottle (1-24 hours depending on the wine and the result required).  The process is also used to aerate the wine.

Dry Grown A style of vineyard management where the vines rely on the natural rainfall and water accessible by the vines' deep roots to grow.  Sometimes Winter rainfall produces flooding in the vineyard allowing water to be trapped in the soil. This lack of water throughout Spring and Summer results in grapes that are smaller in size and quantity but with more flavour producing wines that have intensely concentrated flavours and usually deeper colours.

Elegant  Used to describe wines with refined and subtle aromas and flavours.  Elegant wines are usually light-to-medium bodied in weight.

Floral  Sensory characters reminiscent of flowers.

Grassy  Used to describe wines with a herbaceous element similar to grass.  These wines are often fresh in nature.  Wines made from the grape varieties Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc can sometimes be described as grassy.

Horizontal Tasting  A tasting of different wines produced in the same vintage.  It is often restricted to wines from the same region.

Intensity  Refers to the level of aromas and flavours present in a wine.

Juicy  Wines with abundant, obvious fruit flavours with accompanying medium-to-full palate weight.

Kosher  Wine produced in strict accordance to Jewish dietary laws.

Liebfraumilch Is a German semi-sweet white wine.  'Liebfrauwine' was sometimes used as a generic term in Australia to describe a slightly sweet wine.  Leo Buring produced a wine called Liebfrauwein.

Length The persistence of a wines flavour after swallowing.

Malolactic Fermentation The bacterial conversion of malic acid into lactic acid, which occurs during or after fermentation.  By-products of the conversion include carbon dioxide as well as butter-like aroma and flavour compounds.  It raises the pH and softens the acidity of a wine.

Mead  Mead is a beverage of fermented honey and water.  It is usually alcoholic and often served warm.

Muselets Muselets are wire cages placed over the corks of champagne and sparkling wine bottles to prevent them from popping.

Nose Used to describe the wine’s aroma or bouquet.

Oxidised  Refers to wine that has been spoiled by exposure to excessive amounts of oxygen.  In bottle, it occurs    as a result of a faulty closure.  Oxidised wines smell flat, sharp and of brown apples.  Oxidised white wines tend to be golden in colour where as oxidised reds show browning.

Palate  It refers to either an individual’s personal taste or to the taste and structure of a wine.

Propriety labels Sometimes referred to as proprietary labels, are created and owned by wine producers to represent wine of consistent style and quality.  Examples include Omni, Metala and Fifth Leg.

Quality  A subjective term used to describe how good or bad a wine is.  Quality wines can be found at all price points.

Regional  Refers to wines displaying the aromas, flavours and structural attributes that are characteristic of the region in which the grapes were grown.

Sediment  A harmless deposit that forms at the base of a wine bottle when compounds such as acids, anthocyanins, tannins and proteins precipitate.  It is most commonly seen in aged wines.

Thin  Used to describe a wine which is lacking in palate weight and roundness

Ullage The space between the bottom of the closure and the upper level of the wine in bottle.

Vertical Tasting  A tasting of one wine from different vintages, usually presented in chronological order.

Weight  Refers to the heaviness of a wine.  Wines can be referred to as light, medium or heavy weight.  Using milk as an analogy, full cream milk is heavier in the mouth than skim milk.

Xérès The French term for sherry.

Yeasty  Aromas and flavours reminiscent of yeast.  Sparkling wines are often described as yeasty, due to extended aging in the presence of yeast lees.

Zesty  Used when a wine has the lift and flavour intensity associated with citrus zest.

© Toni Paterson October 2006 - January 2009