Here are a few of the wine-geek terms that I use. I generally try to stay away from these, but once in a while I like to think I am a glamorous wine critic (or as some ‘friends’ call me: a ‘wine snob’) and I allow these to slip out.
ABC—”Anything But Chardonnay.” A relatively recent phenomenon of wine drinkers who rebelled against the often overly oaky and buttery Chardonnays produced in, particularly, the United States. The ABC crowd usually eschews all Chards regardless of their merits. More recently, many producers, perhaps in response, have been making more fruit-driven wines, forgoing oak and malolactic fermentation for Chardonnay.
ABV (Alcohol by volume)–the measure of the amount of alcohol in a wine. As the alcohol increases and if the wine is not balanced, the wine could seem “hot”.
balance–kind of what you would think. All elements of the wine (fruit, alcohol, acidity, tannins) work well together.
barrel thief–a device used to extract a small sample of wine (usually from a barrel) for tasting or testing.
blind tasting—tasting wine without knowing what the wines are. This is done usually so that viewing the label does not affect the opinion of the wine. There is also a semi-blind tasting where you might know some information about the wines, but not all.
botrytis—a fungus that affects ripe grapes, causing them to loose moisture and raisin, concentrating the sugar. The raisined grapes are then pressed and made into a very sweet dessert wine.
brett or brettanomyces–a fungus that is harmless, but can be foul-smelling. Most of the time it makes the wine smell of a barnyard (a nice way to say it makes the wine smell like horse feces). Some, say it adds complexity. A bit of debate on that point, as you may imagine.
bricking–a term usually applied to red wines, bricking is the fading of the color of a wine from a deep, dark red to more of a reddish-brown or “brick” color.
closed–a wine that is not giving off much aroma or flavor is often said to be ‘closed’. This may be due to a ‘dumb phase’ or indicate that the wine might need to be decanted to introduce more air into the wine to bring out its flavors.
corkage fee–a fee charged by restaurants to patrons who bring their own wine to drink with dinner. Not all restaurants allow BYOB, so be sure to call first and ask.
corked–a term used when a wine has been affected by cork taint. Cork taint, also known as TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) and TBA (2,4,6-Tribromoanisole) causes the wine to smell like a wet basement, a wet dog, or a musty old newspaper. It does not take much of the stuff either. This is why, by and large, a lot of wineries have switched to the screw cap or Stelvin closure.
critter wine–a critter wine is a term used to describe inexpensive, mass-produced, rather insipid wines that have sort of animal on the label. Inspired perhaps by the success of Yellow Tail, these ‘wineries’ use the critter to hopefully result in impulse purchases.
diurnal shift—the change in temperature over the course of 24 hours. Many regions, either affected by coastal cooling or altitude, can have differences of over 30 degrees between day and night temperatures. This cools the fruit at night, preserving the grapes acidity and usually results in crisper, more balanced wines.
dumb phase–a period of transition in a wine as it moves from youth to maturity. No one is quite sure when or why this happens, but when (if) it does, the wine seems to shut down and ‘close’. During this time, a wine does not give off much flavor and, frankly, does not taste like much.
flabby–a flabby wine usually lacks structure, specifically acidity. Flabby wines also tend to lack balance.
finish–this is the other end of the oral tasting experience from up front. The finish is both how far back in your mouth you perceive the wine and how long the flavors linger after you have swallowed. Generally speaking, a long finish is a sign of a better wine. A far less sexy term is ‘aftertaste’.
fruit bomb–a style of wine that is often referred to as ‘over-extracted’ where the winemaker wants to really highlight the fruit and can be very high in alcohol. Usually, these wines lack balance and are not made to be aged. A new-world style that many say has been encouraged by many wine critics.
fruit forward–when someone says ‘fruit forward’ when referring to a wine, they mean that the wine is initially very fruity (or has a lot of fruit ‘up front‘). A lot of fruit forward wines are just that: fruit up front and not much else.
grip or grippy–refers to a red wine with perceptible tannins, particularly concerning the finish. Often, this is an indication that a wine could benefit from some additional cellar time.
hot–heat on a wine is usually not a good thing. You use ‘hot’ to describe a wine when you can either smell or taste the alcohol, which indicates it may be out of balance. Thus, ‘hot’ and ‘heat’ are often used as derogatory terms.
malo(lactic fermentation)–a secondary fermentation process that converts tart malic acid into softer and rounder lactic acid. Nearly all red wines go through this process, but in some (most?) whites, the process is either hindered or prevented altogether. When a white wine tastes ‘creamy’ or ‘buttery’ it has most likely gone through at least some malolactic fermentation.
midpalate–roughly speaking, tasting wine can be broken down into three parts: the initial ‘upfront’ impression, the ‘finish’, and the midpalate. Basically, the sensations in the mouth after upfront and before the finish.
muted (nose)–a wine is said to have a ‘muted’ nose when it is difficult to discern any scents despite repeated and prolonged attempts to do so (sometimes referred to as ‘closed’ or ‘tight’). This may eventually ameliorate itself with more exposure to air. Can be the sign of a young wine or one that is going through a ‘dumb phase’.
new oak barrels–new oak barrels impart a greater oak flavor and potentially more tannins than used or neutral oak barrels. They are also considerably more expensive (often more than $1000 for French barrels). Increasingly, winemakers are using less new oak, particularly in Chardonnay as more customers are looking to get away from the bigger “oakier” style.
new world–wines not from Europe, essentially. Also used for wines made in the style of non-European wines. This usually means, bigger, fruitier wines.
noble rot—see botrytis
nose–almost always used as ‘on the nose’. This means ‘when I cram my beak into the glass, this is what I smell.’ If you’re wondering “Why don’t they just say smell?” Very good question. I guess ‘smell’ denotes stinky. As in ‘it smells’.
notes–this is one of the snootier wine terms. Basically it means ‘smells’ or more precisely ‘hints of smells’. When someone says “there are notes of blackberry and tar” it means that he/she thinks the wine smells like this. I also think that saying ‘notes’ is a bit of a cop-out. By using ‘notes’ you can’t really be wrong since not everyone will pick up all the ‘notes’. This is why I use this term all the time.
orange wine—white wines that are vilified as if they were red wines. This involves a skin maceration period ranging from several hours to several days, which imparts an orange color and tannins. Often, orange wines are exposed to oxygen during the process adding an oxidative note to the wine.
old world–wines from Europe, essentially. Also used for wines made in the style of European wines. This usually means more reserved (less fruity) wines that are generally more food friendly.
oxidized–an oxidized wine is one that was exposed to too much oxygen somewhere in the winemaking process. The color of an oxidized wine is usually darker than “normal” (think a deep gold in whites, and an opaque purple in reds), and the wine is usually devoid of fruit. Oxidation is a flaw that is usually caused by a faulty closure (cork).
pair–as in ‘pair this with tater tots’. What meal you should serve with the wine or vice versa.
palate–how wine tastes in your mouth. Sound rather stupid, I know (where else are you going to taste it?), but this is used to distinguish from the nose and the finish (and even the appearance).
PLCB–The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. The state-run monopoly on retail wine and liquor in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth. It is illegal to buy wine from any other entity in the state–that means no independent wine shops, no wine in the supermarket, nada. It is even technically illegal to purchase wine four miles away (in New Jersey) and bring it back into PA. The PLCB has proven time and again to be woefully incompetent and to have little interest in serving the residents of the state. (In case you could not tell, I think it should be abolished.)
residual sugar–essentially, how much sugar is left in the wine after fermentation.
saignée—A rosé wine that is made by “bleeding” off some of the juice of a red wine after only a short period of contact with the skins. The remaining juice would then have a more concentrated maceration with the skins, creating a more complex and flavorful wine. This saignée (which means “bled” in French) juice used to be discarded, but is now often fermented separately and sold as a rosé wine.
second wine–some wineries will create a second label wine. This is done either to have an outlet for grapes that do not meet the quality standards of the first wine and/or to maintain the ‘brand integrity’ of the first label.
Stelvin closure–A screw cap wine closure that replaces the more traditional cork and virtually eliminates the possibility of cork taint.
thief—see “barrel thief”
tight–usually applied to younger wines, a tight wine is not very expressive, particularly in terms of its aromas or flavors. A tight wine can usually benefit from decanting. Similar to “closed“.
True Rosé—often called “pressed”, “intentional”, or “dedicated” a “True Rosé” is one that was intended to be pink from the onset, as opposed to a saignée (see above). The fruit is grown, harvested, and fermented all with the intention of making a rosé.
up front–the initial impression of a wine just after you pour it into your food hole. Usually, this refers to the amount of fruit that you perceive.
vertical tasting–tasting different vintages of (usually) the same wine. For example, a dream for me would be to have a tasting of the 1995 through 2000 vintages of any champagne–I’ll let you pick.