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Technical Wine Tasting Glossary

©Richard Gawel

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Here is my own slant on a wine tasting vocabulary. My version is a touch more technical at times, but also hopefully a little more down to earth than others you might read. I also have avoided terms which are specific to any particular region or wine style. A-B on this page. - Richard Gawel

acetaldehyde: A substance responsible for the oxidised fault in table wines. Caused by the oxidation of ethyl alcohol it results in a bruised apple character in table wines. It is an important positive aroma/flavour component of some sherries.

acetic acid: One of the substances responsible for the volatile acidity fault in wines. It results in a vinegar aroma and a hot vinegary flavour. Caused by the action of the bacteria Acetobacter aceti and Acetobacter pasteuranus.

acidity: A tart like taste component of wine caused by the presence of (primarily ) tartaric and malic acid. Wines with insufficient acidity taste flat, while those with high acidity taste excessively tart. Wines high in acid age more slowly as aging reactions are retarded under high acid conditions.

aftertaste: The residual flavours left in the mouth after a wine has been tasted. Synonym: finish.

aggressive: A wine with excessive astringency accentuated by high acidity.

alcohol: Ethyl alcohol is a naturally occurring chemical that is produced by the fermentation of grape sugars by yeast. Alcohol adds to the fullness of wine and when in excess results in a warm or hot finish.

alcoholic: Term used to describe a wine that finishes with an unpleasant hotness due to excessive alcohol.

Allier: An oak forest located in central France.

American Oak: Oak from the American White Oak tree (Quercus alba). Most American oak is sourced from the mid western states of the USA, particularly Missouri. Imparts vanillin and coconut characters, and is favoured for use in red wine making.

ampelography: The study and classification of the grape vine family Vitis.

anthocyanin: The scientific name for the group of pigmented substances extracted from black grape skins that give red wine its colour.

antioxidant: Any chemical added by the winemaker which impedes oxidation. The most common antioxidant is ascorbic acid, designated as additive 300 on Australian wine labels.

aperitif: Any beverage served before a meal intended to stimulate the appetite. They include dry sherry and vermouth, and lighter bodied sparkling and botrytised wines.

Appellation d'Origine Controllee (AOC): A system of geographic naming control applied in France. AOC rules proscribe allowable grape varieties, winemaking methods, minimum alcohol levels, yields and vine density limits.

aroma: Traditionally refers to any scent in the wine that emanates from the grape. The more modern interpretation is any wine scent(s) regardless of where they are from the grape, oak, winemaking or maturation.

aromatic: Refers to floral and/or citrus characters or varieties which typically produced those characters. Examples of aromatic varieties are Riesling, Gewurztraminer and the Muscat family.

ascorbic acid: A common antioxidant related to Vitamin C which is added to wines during their making. Additive 300 on Australian wine labels.

astringency: The drying, roughing or puckering in-mouth sensations produced after tasting most red wines. It is caused by condensed tannins which are extracted from the skins and seeds of red grapes during fermentation, or by the addition of commercial tannins by the winemaker. The red wine tannins react with the lubricating proteins in our saliva causing it to lose its slipperyness. We perceive this loss as a drying roughing sensation in the mouth known as astringency.

attack: The initially impression of the intensity of the wine once tasted. Another wanky term which should be attacked! Favoured Synonym: initial impression.

austere: Term used for wines that have low levels of ripe fruit flavours and excessive acidity and/or tannins. The term usually describes lighter bodied, acidic white wines with subtle flavours. The term usually suggests a red wine with insufficient flavour and high acidity.

autolysis: The decomposition of yeast cells remaining after fermentation. Yeast autolysis may occur in barrel after barrel fermentation resulting in richer, more complex white wines with a creamier texture. Autolysis is also the process which results in the yeasty characters in bottle fermented sparkling wines.

backward: A wine that is developing in bottle at a slower than expected rate, and as a result are usually predicted to age slowly. Considered a positive feature of a wine. Strange really as few people actually cellar wines today. Nevertheless, a backward wine would be expected to take longer to reach optimum maturity.

balance: In a balanced wine, no single component is either too dominant or lacking in intensity.

barrel maturation: Storing wine in oak barrels after fermentation to impart complex oaky flavours and aromas, and to soften the astringency of red wines.

barrel fermention: The technique of fermenting grape juice (whites) or partially fermented wine (reds) in oak barrels rather than in stainless steel tanks. Imparts complex, integrated oak flavours, and in the case of whites also contributes to the creamy texture and complex cheesy like flavours.

barrique: A small oak barrel of 225 litre capacity favoured for the production of high quality wines.

bâtonnage: A winemaking process of stirring the lees back into the wine following barrel fermentation of white wines. Imparts cheesy complexity and a creamy texture.

baumé: A measure of the sugar content in unfermented grape juice. Each 1 degree Baume = 18 g/L of sugar, and when fermented will result in approximately 1% alcohol.

bead: The bubbles found in sparkling wines.

bentonite: A type of fine clay that is added to white wine during its making to remove proteins. This is done to minimise the chance that haze will not form in bottle if it is left in a warm place.

big: Term used to describe full-bodied wines that are flavoursome, high in alcohol, and in the case of red wines, are high in tannin.

bitter: An unpleasant taste usually perceived at the back of the mouth after the wine is swallowed. Bitterness is usually caused by the accidental extraction of small molecular weight tannins from the skins and (particularly) seeds during the maceration stage of red winemaking.

blend: A combination of wines made from different grape varieties, regions or vintages. The aim of blending is to create a wine with better balance and/or consistency.

blind tasting: A wine tasting where no aspect of the wine including its identity are known to the taster.

blush: A very pale rose or sparkling wine with a light pink appearance.

body: A wine's weight or fullness in the mouth due to a combination of its flavour, alcohol and in the case of red wines, tannin.

Botrytis cinerea: Scientific name for a type of grape mould that under the right climatic conditions concentrates grape sugars, resulting in sweet white wines with complex 'dried apricot' like flavours and luscious texture. Under damp cold conditions, it produces mouldy grapes and mouldy flavoured wines. Synonyms: noble rot. Also see Grey rot.

botrytised: affected by the good version of Botrytis cinerea.

bottle fermented: Refers to sparkling wine that has undergone a second fermentation in bottle. Known as Methode Champenoise as the method was instigated in Champagne.

bouquet: Traditionally refers to any wine scent emanating from winemaking practice or bottle maturation. Rarely used today as the distinction between grape derived and non grape derived characters unnecessarily complicates an already complex task. A classic example of one of those precious terms which is used to indicate superior knowledge by some wine tasters. RIP.

breathing: The practice of letting old red wines stand for a time after opening to reduce bottle staleness prior to consumption. No scientific evidence that it actually works or benefits the wine.

Brettanomyces: A wild yeast (Brettanomyces bruxullensis) that imparts aromas and flavours to red wines akin to barnyard, antiseptic, or band-aid. Considered a fault when in excess, but the yeast can impart a restrained complexing spicy and earthy character. Synonym Brett.

brix: A system favoured by US winemakers of measuring the amount of sugar present in grape juice. 1 Brix = 10g/L of sugar.

browning: An undesirable change in the colour of white wines from straw or yellow to brown. Caused by the oxidation of white wine phenolics, the products of which absorb light at certain wavelengths resulting in a brownish appearance.

burnt: An undesirable 'cooked like' and bitter characters resulting from excessively hot fermentations.

This article appears in The Wine Tutor: Winestate Magazine