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Archive for February 2011

Glossary of wine terms

Whether you’re new to wines and feeling lost with all the jargon or consider yourself something of a connoisseur and want to clarify an unfamiliar term, this wine glossary is a helpful resource you might want to bookmark for future use.

Describes the flavours left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Harsh, smooth, hot, and tannic are among the terms used to characterize aftertaste. Also known as ‘finish’.

Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC)
The highest legal classification of French wine, requiring conformity to the most regulations concerning viticulture, alcohol content etc.

Wines with backbone are full-bodied red wines in which tannin and/or acidity predominates.

Wine in which individual taste elements are in harmony, with no individual one dominant. Can also describe a sense and ability that wine drinkers lose after excessive wine tasting.

An exacting approach to wine-making based on the philosophy of Austrian Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics calls for organic production and considers the effects of the moon and stars on grape vines.

Describes the wine’s perceived weight on the palate – e.g. light, medium or full.

A mould that attacks grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine. Can be used intentionally in the process of creating certain sweet wines, such as Sauternes and Tokay.

Pouring a wine into another container – a glass or decanter – mixes it with air, which allows flavours to open up

Carbonic maceration
A method of winemaking that produces immediately drinkable red wines that are fruity, soft and with little tannin.

A red Bordeaux in British parlance.

An effervescent wine produced in the Champagne region of France.

Describes a pleasingly tart, young white wine that is fresh and easy to drink.

Spanish red wines bearing this description must be aged at least 2 years, of which six months must be in barrel.

Denotes wine of a particular batch or blend. ‘Vat’ in French.

Pouring wine from a bottle into another container for the purpose of aerating it (in a young wine) or separating it from any sediment (in older wines).

How the wine tastes just as it passes your lips. Sometimes called ‘attack’.

German dessert wine made from frozen grapes (literally ‘ice wine’).

How the wine tastes when swallowed. And what you might want to do to the bottle if it’s pleasant.

Describes wine with a fruity acidity: in general young whites, light reds and roses.

General description for a wine made from ripe grapes, usually slightly sweeter.

Gran Reserva
Spanish classification of wines aged at least five years, of which two must be in barrel and three in bottle.

Grand Cru
In French literally ‘great growth’. Wine from the very top rated vineyards.

Denotes a high quality German wine with quality measured by sugar levels in the grape. The name comes from the idea that you put nice things on display in a cabinet.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
A style of Port produced to approach true vintage qualities for a fraction of the expense, by aging in wood for up to six years to soften the wine.

Late harvest
Describes dessert wines produced with grapes that have been on the vine much longer than usual, often after botrytis has set in.

How a wine’s taste lingers on the palate after swallowed. A good length means a long finish.

A river in central France and the region renowned for producing Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

The process of leaving grape skins with grape juice during the fermentation process, further enhancing tannins and aromas.

A bottle with contents equivalent to two regular 750ml bottles.

Malolactic fermentation
Quite a mouthful, this secondary fermentation process is used in the production of most red wines (and often in Chardonnays) to reduce sharpness and apparent acidity, namely by converting malic acids (apple) to smoother lactic (milk) acids.

The stage in wine tasting (after entry and before length and finish) in which one holds the wine in the mouth to form impressions on flavour, texture, tannins and acidity.

Perception of overall texture of the wine in the mouth through the entire tasting process.

A wine’s aroma or bouquet (the latter implies aging), as detected by the facial protuberance of the same name.

Wine is aged in oak barrels, imparting an ‘oaky’ taste and aroma, the intensity of which is determined by the duration of aging.

The science of winemaking.

Premier Cru
‘First growth’ en francais; not Grand Cru but a very good vineyard.

Spanish red wine that has been aged at least three years.

A tasting term referring to the completeness of the wine in terms of tannin and acidity levels.

Not an Italian in tights and a mask who fights villains, but a group of red wines produced in Tuscany that aren’t in accordance with DOC regulations; often a blend containing Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.

A wine that goes down easy – no hard edges. Tends to imply balance and higher quality.

Found in grape skins, stalks and pips, tannins account for any bitter taste in a wine. In proportion, this helps achieve a balanced character, but too much tannin is a fault.

A French word, difficult to translate, that refers to the influence of soil, climate, and other natural factors on the ripening of grapes used for wine.

How a wine feels in the mouth, synonymous with mouthfeel.

Varietal wine
A wine made from one particular type of grape rather than a blend of two or more.

Vin de Pays
This French category of wines just above the lowest, Vin de Table, contains many good wines.

Vin de Table
The lowest category of French wines. Labels on Vin de Table bottles are not permitted to disply grape varieties or vintage. Best used for cooking or unwelcome guests.

A specific year of harvest for a wine; a vintage wine is made from grapes harvested in a particular year.

The cultivation of grapes for winemaking.

Vitis vinifera
The species of grape from which all the world’s fine wine is produced, although often grafted onto a related species’ rootstock to protect the grapes from infestation by an aphid called Phylloxera vastatrix.

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Viognier is a hedonistic grape, with masses of peachy fruit and, when made right, lovley spicy aromas of nutmeg, and clove. But we very nearly ended up with none to drink. In the 1960s there was only around 8 hectares of Viognier in Condrieu and that was about it. The grape was probably saved from disappearing by one or two wineries in California taking it on, and large French wine companies starting to plant Vin de Pays Viognier in the Ardeche. Then in the 1990s it was able to benefit from the Anything But Chardonnay movement.

One reason that it was disappearing is that it's tricky to grow. Viognier needs to get to 13% potential abv for it's aromatic characteristics to show. It seems that all those aroma compounds develop after the sugar levels reach decent ripeness. So this means you need highish alcohol to get the flavour but need to stop things going OTT.

One worry I've always had with New World Viognier is that  they seem to often get up towards 15% abv and display some "burn" on the palate.  Australian examples always seemed to do this for me, though I haven't had one for a while. (Condrieu can also push towards 15% but seems to avoid the heat.)  Other New Worlders can seem a bit gloopy with acidity being overpowered by viscosity. One of the better ones I've recently tried is the Staete Landt from Marlborough, New Zealand (£17.50 for the 2009 at time of post), which is a lovely round textured mouthful of peachy fruit. There is a suggestion that a lesser mutation of the grape present in the Southern Rhone is the one that has spread round the world, which helps explain why wines made outside the original base don't quite have the same aromatic complexity.

So I still think the Northern Rhone is the place to go. Condrieu wines have that array of aromas mentioned above. On the palate the wines tend to be a lot more subtle, with hints of stone fruit alongside nuttiness and spice. Wines are generally £30 plus, which makes them a bit of a luxury. However there are some stunning wines from the local Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes (Rhone slopes). These lack the subtlety and depth of the more pricey wines but can benefit from more refreshing acidity making them better all-rounders with food. Yves Cuilleron is an acknowledged master of the grape, and whilst his Condrieu Vertige 2007 (£85) is epic, his Vin de Pays 2009 (£17.50) is one of my favourite wines at Bottle Apostle.

Opinions are mixed as to ageing Condrieu. They get more honeyed with age, but having tried a few 10 year old Condrieus I tend to prefer them very fresh with perky acidity. Perhaps a little raw but that's my taste. Other Viogniers probably don't have the track record to make a judgement on ageing, though I'd be sceptical about high alcohol New World examples.

Food wise I'd be looking at chicken, pork and lamb dishes. Given its flavour characteristics I can see a lamb tagine working, or pork with apricots. If you are so inclined foie gras, pan-fried or cool, is great with Viognier - which is easier for British palates than a Sauternes at the start of a meal.

Tags: grape, variety
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