In the spirit of the season, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to go back to school for wine. Winespeak can get pretty highfalutin. Not to mention that half the world’s wines are completely unpronounceable to anyone who isn’t French. So here is a small glossary of some of the most often used terms in the wine world, and, where needed, how to correctly pronounce them:
Vintage (VIN-tedge) is the date the wine was “born.” It is the year the grapes were harvested and it will appear right on the front label of the wine. (Sometimes there will be no date, which usually means it is non-vintage or NV, signifying that the wine is a blend of several years’ fruit combined).
Viticulture (VIT-i-kuhl-cher) and viniculture (VIN-i-kuhl-cher) are big words you can use to impress people when you are talking about grape-growing and wine-making (respectively).
A wine appellation (app-uh-LAY-shun) is a geographically designated wine region, like the Barossa of Australia, the Stellenbosch of South Africa, the Napa Valley of California, or the Finger Lakes of New York State.
An oenophile (EE-no-file) is a person who likes wine, and likes to think they know more about drinking it than most other people. They often prefer to be called a connoisseur when in mixed company.
A sommelier (soh-mel-YEA) is someone who actually does know more about wine than other people, because they have successfully attained an international certification that involves extensive tasting, restaurant experience, research, and memorization. They like to pronounce French words around other people. A lot.
A tastevin (tahst-VAHN) is a small, very shallow silver wine cup that sommeliers wear around their necks so that they can “quality-control” your wine before you drink it. Yeah, right.
A corked wine refers to a wine which is flawed. This flaw is caused by a bacteria called tri-chloroanisole (TCA)that lives in natural cork. If the wine cork is not processed properly, the TCA can create off-flavors, making the wine taste like a wet piece of cardboard lying on your basement floor. Not tasty. You should take or send the wine back.
A Stelvin closure is the more sophisticated phrase for a screw cap. It does NOT indicate that the wine is cheap. It does indicate that the winemaker wants to prevent any bottles from becoming corked.
A cork-pull, corkscrew, screw-pull, wing-pull, flynut, boomerang, rabbit, waiter’s friend, ah-so, and Waring Electric Pro are all just tools that help you get the cork out of the wine bottle, some easier than others.
Nebuchadnezzar (Neb-uh-ken-EZZ-er). This one is just fun to say. It means a really, really big bottle that holds twenty times the amount of a regular bottle. I like the whole idea of it, too.
A chateau is what you call a fancy house in the region of Bordeaux, France.
Riserva, Reserva, Reserve. These all mean that the wine has been aged an additional time in oak barrels. Except in America, where it just means that they will charge you more for it.
Gutsabfüllung (GOOTS-ab-few-lung). A German word that means the wine was bottled right at the same estate that is named on the bottle. In other words, the harder and more impressive way of saying estate-bottled.
Tannin (TAN-in) is the stuff in wine that makes your mouth dry out.
The acidity is the stuff in wine that makes your mouth water.
Palate (PAL-it) refers to your mouth, specifically your own personal set of taste buds. Palates are like snowflakes: no two are exactly alike.
The aroma of a wine is the smell that comes from the grape from which it is made. The bouquet of a wine is the smell that comes from the wine itself (created during the wine-making process). The nose of the wine = aroma plus bouquet.
The legs of a wine are the droplets, or “tears” that roll down the inside of the glass after the wine has been swirled. Fast-moving legs indicate a lighter, crisper wine. Slower-moving legs can indicate a fuller-bodied dry wine, or sometimes a sweet wine.
A dry wine has a very low level of residual sugar (rs, in wine speak), meaning it does not taste sweet.
A sweet wine has higher levels of residual sugar, meaning it will probably sell better than the dry one.
Dessert wines have a very high level of residual sugar, meaning they can be delicious. And often expensive!
Stickies are the dessert wines of Australia, named for the condition in which they leave your glasses, table, and hands.
To decant a wine, you pour it from the bottle into another container (like a decanter) to remove sediment from an older wine, or to get some oxygen into a younger wine that needs to behave.
Robert M. Parker, Jr. is one of the most respected wine critics in the world.
Pouilly-Fumé (POO-ee foo-MAY) is a white wine made from sauvignon blanc in the Loire Valley; Pouilly-Fuissé(POO-ee foo-SAY) is a white wine made from chardonnay in Burgundy. Those silly French!
Austere is a descriptor for a young wine that is not overly expressive of fruit, but more linear and introverted (just like austere people). Unlike the people, austere wines are still fun to have for dinner. Wines like Chablis and Sancerre will even sing with the right foods.
Mineral flavors are often found in those austere wines. Hints of chalk, flint, slate, and wet rock can signal that the grapevine magically transferred a taste of the actual vineyard into your glass. Rieslings are great at this.
Jammy wines are the opposite of austere. They are so overtly juicy and fruit-laden that you can practically drizzle them on your peanut butter sandwich. Red Zinfandel from California and Bossy Shiraz from Australia are two top contenders.
Floral wines conjure up visions of honeysuckle, roses, violets, jasmine, and lilacs. Viognier and Gewürztraminer are like your flower garden in a glass.
Herbal is used to describe wines that have a bit of a “green” flavor. It is not unheard of to find a note of dill in your Cabernet Franc, or a hint of mint in your Merlot. And they say that Sauvignon Blanc can smell like a yard of freshly cut grass.
And finally, last but not least, the word complexity. This is an indication to you that the wine has a lot going on as far as flavor. A complex wine will need a minimum of thirty words to fully describe. At least five of the words have to be difficult to pronounce.