The wine industry has many industry-specific wine terms that can be a bit daunting, especially for newcomers to wine. In this article, I will provide brief explanations of key wine terms.
- Acidity is what makes your mouth pucker when you drink wine. If you smell and taste a lot of grapefruit and lime in the wine, you can expect a fairly acidic wine.
- Appellation is the wine region the grapes are grown in. Napa Valley is an appellation. Within the Napa Valley appellation, there are 15 subappellations, or AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Appellations are designated by government agencies or trade bureaus, depending on the country.
- Sulfites are byproducts of yeast that occur naturally in grapes and that wine makers add to wine in large part to improve a wine’s shelf stability.
- Legs are the rivulets you see coming down the wine glass. While legs are fun to look at, they don’t tell you anything about the quality of the wine. They tell you about viscosity and alcohol content. As a general rule, the more pronounced the legs, the higher the alcohol content of the wine.
- Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is when malic acid is converted to lactic acid and carbon dioxide. When you think malic acid, think tangy and sharp, like a green apple. When you think lactic acid, think milky. A Chardonnay that hasn’t gone through MLF is likely to taste crisp and clean. A Chardonnay that has gone through MLF is likely to taste more mellow and buttery.
- Meritage (rhyming with heritage) is the term used to designate American-made Bordeaux blends.
- Tannins are flavonoids in wine that make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth. They are more prevalent in red wines than in whites, because they come primarily from the grape’s skin. Wines with a lot of tannins, such as Cabernets, tend to be more ageable than wines with lower tannins.
- Terroir is a French term that represents the growing environment of the grapes. It encompasses the content of the soil, the slant of the hill, the direction of the sun, the amount of fog and precipitation, and anything else impacting the grape’s growing experience.
- Varietal refers to the grape from which the wine is made. Examples include Merlot, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. Somebody might ask you what your favorite varietal is. If you are new to wine, you might say that you are exploring many different varietals but that you lean towards the sweeter varietals such as Riesling.
- Vintage is the year the grapes are grown and picked. The vintage year is reflected on the label. If you go to the store and see a 2007 wine on the shelf, you know that the grapes were grown and picked in 2007. But you don’t know whether the wine went through a long aging process and was bottled only recently or whether the bottle has been sitting on the shelf for a number of years.
Remember, wine is all about having fun. If you don’t know a wine term, don’t sweat it. You can always look it up on Wikipedia when you get home. You can also ask the person who used the term. Most people are very happy to share their wine knowledge with you. Let’s spend 2011 enjoying learning about wine on many fronts.
In addition to the word “Cheers”, what is your favorite wine term?