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Wine dictionary by Food & Home Entertaining

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Don’t know your carbonic maceration from your canopy management? Have no fear! Delve into our glossary of wine jargon for some clarification (yes, that’s a wine word too).

Wine dictionary by Food & Home Entertaining

Acetic acid

All wines contain acetic acid, aka vinegar. Generally the amount is quite small and at low levels it can enhance the character of a wine, but at higher levels it monopolises the wine and is considered a flaw. 

Acid

Acid gives wine its crisp, sharp character and is found in all wines at different levels, as well as different kinds. There are four major types of acid: tartaric, malic, lactic and citric.

Ageing

Wine is left to age either in barrels, tanks or bottles to allow the development of complexity.

Ampelography

The study and identification of grape varieties. 

Amphora

An amphora is an earthenware or terracotta jar-shaped vessel that dates back to the Egyptian times. Then, it was used for storing things like wine and olive oil. Going full circle, there’s been a rise in the use of amphorae for both fermenting and ageing of wines.

Backbone

All about structure, this term refers to wines that have balanced acidity and alcohol –and in in red wines tannin is a factor too. Wines that don’t have good structure are often called “thin” or “flabby”.

Bâtonnage

Stirring the lees during the ageing and maturation of wine in barrel. 

Body

The impression of weight, fullness or thickness on the palate. This sensation is a result of the combination of alcohol, sugar and dissolved solids. The terms “light-bodied”, “medium-bodied” and “full-bodied” are used to describe different wines. It’s important to note that the “body” of a wine does not denote quality.

Brettanomyces (Brett)

The most famous of all faults. This yeast can creep into a wine and create unpalatable barnyard aromas and flavours in a wine.

Canopy

The green foliage of a grapevine is called the canopy. The canopy can be trimmed or thinned to manage the amount of air and sun reaching the grapes, improving fruit quality, increasing yield and controlling disease.

Cold stabilisation

This technique is used to clarify wines, preventing the formation of crystals. Before bottling, the wine’s temperature is lowered for a few weeks and this causes the tartrates and other solids to precipitate out of solution.

Carbonic maceration

This winemaking technique, which is very common in Beaujolais wines, is often used with light-bodied to medium-bodied reds – whole grape bunches are fermented in a carbon dioxide-rich environment before crushing.

Demi-sec

A French term for describing off-dry sparkling wine.

Disgorgement

A winemaking technique in the making of Cap Classique, where the necks of the inverted bottles (to collect yeast cells and sediment) are frozen; then the crown caps are removed and out will shoot a “plug” of frozen wine and yeast, leaving clear bubbly behind.

Dosage

This is the step in making Cap Classique where a small amount of wine mixed with a sugar solution is added to the wine after it’s been disgorged.

Esters 

The chemical compounds that make wine taste and smell so good.

Fining 

The art of making wine clear: without this step, wines would be cloudy (not necessarily a bad thing). This is achieved by using agents like bentonite (powdered clay), isinglass (fish bladder), casein (milk protein), gelatin or egg whites. When added to the tank, the sediments bind to the particles and settle at the bottom, where it’s easily removed.

High-density planting

Some South African pinot producers have adopted the Burgundian model of high density planting in the vineyard. This method not only maximises the use of the land, but the smaller canopies also create competition between the vines. This results in wines with more intensity of flavour.

Intensity

This descriptor relates to a wine’s appearance and aroma.

Jeroboam 

Aka – a really big wine bottle. These large format bottles can hold 4,5 litres of wine (the equivalent of six 750ml bottles).

Kosher wine 

Wine made according to Jewish dietary laws.

Lees

Dead yeast cells leftover from fermentation that enhance the complexity and flavour of a wine when left to age.

Legs

Some wines have Kate Moss legs, other Gisele Bündchen. These are viscous droplets that form on the sides of the glass when swirled and can be an indicator of sugar.

Malolactic fermentation (ML)

A bacterial conversion that occurs in most wines. It’s a natural process that can be manipulated. How it works: the process converts sharp malic acid (the type found in green apples) into softer lactic acid (the kind found in milk). With the outcome of the acidity being reduced for softer, rounder and more complex wines. ML is generally associated with big, rich, buttery chardonnays, but is often a necessary step in red wines too. When making sauvignon blanc, for example, winemakers will often prevent ML from taking place – or any other wine where a sharper, crisper flavour profile is desired.

Must

Unfermented grape juice extracted by crushing or pressing.

Nebuchadnezzar

This wine bottle measures up to a whopping 15 litres (the equivalent of 20 standard wine bottles).

Noble rot

Noble Rot or botrytis is a type of fungus that winemakers actually encourage in their vineyards when they want to make a certain style of wine: noble late harvest, the most revered of dessert wines. Botrytis shrivels and decays wine grapes, and this results in intensifying the sweetness level, as well as adding a distinctive flavour complexity –usually of dried apricot and marmalade.

Oenophile

You, if you’re reading this list. Someone who loves wine – and all that goes into making it.

Old vines

In South Africa, a vineyard block has to be at least 35 years old to be called such. Old vines are important as they give South African wines a unique identity and character: wines that show our climate and culture. The normal life expectancy of vines in South Africa is 20 years. There are currently nine registered vineyards that were planted in the 1900s –b making these vines over 100 years old.

Oxidative

A winemaking practice that deliberately exposes wine to oxygen for a certain style of winemaking. Over-oxidised wine is generally seen as a flaw.

Phenolics

These antioxidants (more prevalent in red than white wine) are made up of tannins, colour pigments and flavour compounds, which are found in skins, seeds and stems of grapes.

Racking

The process of moving wine from one container to another with the purpose of aeration or clarification.

Reductive

The opposite of oxidation. This is when a winemaker limits a wine’s exposure to oxygen. When it’s done right, it can maximise a wine’s fresh fruit flavours. When “not so right”, it can reduce a wine’s aromas.

Secondary aromas

You’ll often hear this term bandied about at wine tastings, especially when tasting MCC. When wines ferment (aka when grape sugars convert into alcohol) a yeast strain called Saccharomyces cerevisiae is present and on maturation, this causes the wine to develop non-fruit aromatics like baking bread.

Skin contact

When grape skins are left to steep in fermenting must or juice to impart colour, flavour and texture to the wine.

Straw wine

Grapes are dried in the sun (or shade) on straw mats, until they are almost raisins. This concentrates the flavours, acidity and sugar for an intense and unctuous dessert wine.

Tartrates

Also known as wine diamonds: harmless crystals of tartaric acid, which form during fermentation or bottle, ageing can sometimes be found in the wine or on the cork. These are easily removed with careful decanting.

Trellising

A vine naturally wants to sprawl, so viticulturists tie up the annual green growth of vines on wires to expose more leaves and grape bunches to the sun, to encourage air circulation and to prevent rot.

Ullage

Refers to the small air space in a wine bottle or barrel.

Vitis vinifera

The most important and widely used vine species.

Wild yeast

All wine grapes have native yeasts that live on and around grapevines. Yeast exists in the air and in wine cellars too. Winemakers use commercial yeasts for predictable outcomes in the cellar – while natural fermentations are riskier, slower and can be unpredictable. The biggest benefit of wild yeast is that it can impart layers of complexity in the resulting wine.

Yield

The quantity of grapes or wine produced. Small yields are not necessarily an indicator of good quality, though – while over-cropped vines with high yields certainly produce less-concentrated grapes – all the different elements play a part in making high quality wine, from the soil to the climate and the winemaking techniques.

Zinfandel

A variety of black-skinned wine grape, also known as Primitivo, has enjoyed great success in California.

Written by Malu Lambert, food & wine writer.

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