Used as an adjective to
describe sharp or sour flavours. Acidity is a vital component of wine: it helps
red wines keep their colour and gives white wines their balance. Too much
acidity, and a wine is tart and unpleasant; too little and the wine is 'flabby'
and uninteresting. Grapes start out with high concentrations of organic acids
which then disappear as the grapes ripen; consequently, in warm regions it is
common practice to add acids to the unfermented grape juice to counter the lack
of them in the grapes. In contrast, winemakers from wretchedly cool areas, such
as parts of Germany and the UK, often have to
Wine is one of the few foodstuffs
that can improve with age, and this is also one of its key fascinations. The
longevity of different types of wine is a complex and inexact science: real
wine bore territory! Given good cellaring conditions (cool, stable temperature
is key among these) fine red wines will improve for many years after release,
as will Vintage Ports and certain sweet and dry white wines; indeed, some wine
styles (such as classed growth clarets from a good vintage) only begin to show
what they are capable of after a decade in the cellar. But most everyday wines
are best drunk on release.
winner. The popular, thick-skinned white grape grown in Galicia, northwest
Spain, and also over the border in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal (where it
is called Alvarinho).
Flavour profile: Makes fresh, aromatic wine,
with peachy, floral and spicy notes.
Where to find it: Galicia,
particularly Rias Baixas (expensive but good quality) and in some of the better
Vinho Verde wines from Portugal.
term for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, C2H5OH. It is the product of the
fermentation of sugars by yeast. It doesn't taste of anything, but has profound
biological effects, which most wine drinkers are no doubt familiar with. As
well as the acute effects of alcohol on the nervous system (i.e. drunkenness),
the products of alcohol metabolism also have effects on the body. The pathway
of alcohol metabolism in the body involves the progressive oxidation of alcohol
to acetate via acetaldehyde, the toxic molecule largely responsible for
Don't be put off by the shape of the
bottle! Alsace, in northwest France, produces some delicious full flavoured
white wines from grape varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Tokay Pinot Gris,
Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Although these wines aren't cheap,
they are generally good value because quality is often high. This is the only
region of France that routinely labels wines by grape
The French are
great beauracrats, and a wine with Appelation Controlée (AOC) on the
label will have had to have met a whole host of regulations regarding grape
variety, maximum yield, minimum ageing and so on. However, this doesn't mean
that what is in the bottle will necessarily be of any real interest.
Ranking fifth in the list of global
producers, Argentina produces a lot of wine, most of it destined for the
thirsty locals. As the attention of producers has turned to the more fussy
export markets, there has been an increased planting of better varieties and a
general increase in quality. Watch out for gutsy reds from the Malbec grape,
which thrives in Argentina, and also aromatic whites from the indigenous
tasting term describing an unpleasant, dry, mouth-puckering sensation usually
caused by excess acidity or bitterness. The excessive tannins in young,
overextracted red wines are the usual
German term that means literally
'selected harvest'. It is one of the sweeter official quality levels in German
wine. To reach the legislated sugar level, individual bunches of very ripe --
sometimes botrytis affected -- grapes are selected at harvest time. The wines
usually taste rich and sweet, but some trocken Auslese wines are fermented to
Wine-buff speak for a wine that is a
bit too severe or restrained on the palate. Usually uncomplimentary, although
some young wines destined for greater things may be 'austere' in their youth.
Commonly used to describe young clarets.
last decade has been boom-time for the export-driven Australian wine market.
Australia produces approachable, full-flavoured and good value wines that have
taken the UK market by storm. One of the keys to this success has been
Australia's ability to produce reliable, fruity, full flavoured wines in
industrial quantities, while at the same time small producers concentrating on
quality have made world class wines exhibiting true regional character. Of the
red grapes, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon hold pole position, and of the
whites, Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling all do well. Leading quality regions
include the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, Margaret River
and Mount Barker in Western Australia, the Yarra Valley and Rutherglen in
Victoria, and the Hunter Valley and Mudgee in New South Wales. Although prices
have been creeping up over the last few years, Australian wines are still hard
to beat for value.
Austria makes some excellent
dry white wines from Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay grapes.
Despite their quality, these wines are poorly known abroad, mainly because of
the healthy local demand. The Neusiedlersee region also produces some stunning
sweet white wines that are usually affected by noble rot.
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A wine is balanced when all
the component parts, such as tannins, fruit, acidity and possibly sweetness,
are correctly matched and in harmony, and none stands out inappropriately. It's
a bit of a subjective call.
Where it comes
from: Useful red grape that hails from the Piedmont region of northwestern
Italy, where it plays second fiddle to the noble Nebbiolo
Flavour profile: Makes high-acid wines with sweet and sour
flavours of cherries, plums and damsons.
Where to find it: Grown
throughout Italy and also makes gluggable, fruity wines in California,
Australia and Argentina. It has the virtue of retaining good acidity even in
The process of
fermenting grape juice in small oak barrels. Especially when the barrels are
new, this can add complexity and oak-derived flavours to the finished wine.
Normally done with white wines only (because red wines are fermented together
with the skins, pips and sometimes stalks: gunk which would be hard to remove
from a barrel), and commonly precedes ageing in oak. Somewhat
counterintuitively, wines that are fermented and aged in oak pick up less
apparent oak flavours than wines that have only been aged in
A 225 litre small oak barrel of the
type originally found in Bordeaux, but now used throughout the world. When
barriques are new they add a pronounced flavour to the wine, and even old
barrels will have an affect on the wine through exposing it to small quantities
A pretty region just south of
Burgundy, Beaujolais makes fresh, fruity but sometimes rather simple red wines
from the Gamay grape. The widespread use of the winemaking technique carbonic
maceration helps to preserve the fruitiness of the wines. The image of
Beaujolais has been somewhat devalued by the flood of largely thin, dull
Beaujolais Nouveau that hits our shores in the November following the vintage,
but at their best these are fun, joy-filled wines for early
Believe it or not, some wine
producers go through their vineyards and select individual grapes to make wine
from; Beerenauslese is the German term used to describe this, and means
literally 'selected berries'. These grapes will be over-ripe, and usually
affected by botrytis. This rather fanatical practice results in luscious,
complex and very expensive sweet white wines. A similar selection is carried
out by the better producers of botrytised wines in the Loire and Sauternes
regions of France.
It is surprising that
Biodynamism has become so widely accepted in wine circles, because the
underlying principles are extremely weird. Biodynamics is a sort of highly
refined version of organic agriculture blended with loopy, semi-occultic
spiritual principles, and it has been adopted by a number of high profile wine
growers such as Lalou Bize-Leroy of Burgundy and Nicolas Joly and Noel Pinguet
of the Loire. It is based on the teachings of an Austrian eccentric, Rudolph
Steiner, who began the movement back in the 1920s, and vineyard interventions
are governed by such factors as the alignment of the planets and position of
the moon. Bizzare liquid applications and the 'ashing' of pests are other
aspects of a such regimes. However, although these principles contravene just
about every known scientific law, biodynamic producers seem to make some
excellent wines. No one knows why.
winemaking trick often used by quality conscious producers, known also by the
French term of 'saignée'. Red wines gain their colour and tannins from
the contact between grape juice and skins during fermentation. So in order to
increase the ratio of skins to juice, some producers 'bleed' off some of the
juice before fermentation. The juice removed in this fashion can be used to
make rosé wine with, because it will be slightly
Opinions are divided about the
value of this practice, which involves tasting a wine without knowing its
identity. Many consider it to be the fairest way of assessing a wine; others
think that wines need to be assessed in light of their background, and that
this context is important . Single-blind tasting is when you know the identity
of the wines in the tasting, but their identities are masked; double-blind is
when the identities are hidden and you don't know which wines are in the
term describing the weight of the
wine in the mouth. A full bodied wine will have good concentration, lots of
alcohol and plenty of extract; a light bodied wine won't. The full bodied wines
tend to get all the attention in big tasting events and competitions, even if
they aren't the sort of wines you'd necessarily want to spend an evening
Are you rich? Then you might like to
explore Bordeaux, the world's most famous wine region and home to some of the
world's most aristocratic wines. But you'll need to have deep pockets, because
there is no getting round the fact that Bordeaux is expensive. The easiest way
to understand Bordeaux is to split it into the left and right banks of the
Gironde estuary, around which this huge region is arranged. On the left bank
are the Médoc and Graves regions, which produce some of the most
celebrated wines in the world from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot,
Petit Verdot and Malbec. At the top of the price and quality pyramid are the
classed growths from the appellations of St Julien, Pauillac, St
Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac Léognan and Graves. On the right bank
are found St Emilion and also the tiny appellation of Pomerol, which is home to
super-expensive 'cult' wines such as Petrus, Lafleur and Le Pin. As if this was
not enough, the Sauternes region, just south of the Médoc, produces
stunning sweet white wines. However, fine wines such as these only represent a
tiny proportion of the output of Bordeaux: as well as producing some of the
world's greatest wines it also makes some of the worst. Each year a wine-lake
full of thin, hard, miserable wines flows from many of the lesser properties,
much of it finding its way onto supermarket shelves. The generally poor value
for money of these wines has devalued the image of Bordeaux in the eyes of many
consumers. In fact, it's hard work finding an interesting wine from Bordeaux
that costs less than a tenner.
A fungus that
infects grapes, causing them to rot. Scientific name Botrytis cinerea. If it
attacks unripe or damaged grapes, it is a disaster. But this particular cloud
has a silver lining. In certain wine regions, notably Sauternes in Bordeaux,
Vouvray, Bonnezeaux and Coteaux du Layon of the Loire, Tokay in Hungary,
Burgenland in Austria and various regions of Germany, Botrytis attacks ripe,
healthy white grapes, causing them to shrivel. These disgusting, mouldy looking
grapes yield small quantities of extremely concentrated juice that is then used
to make sublime sweet white wines of great complexity and longevity. This
benevolent form of Botrytis is also known as noble rot in English, pourriture
noble in French and Edelfäule in German. What sort of flavours should you
expect in a botrytized wine? There is often the tang of thick-cut marmalade,
together with apricot-like flavours. The texture will be rich and viscous, and
although the wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of
acidity to give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these
wines and the low yields involved, these wines will be expensive, but the
Australians are now producing delicious, affordable botrytized wines from
grapes that have artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative,
Have you ever had a wine that tasted
of a mixture of farmyards, cheesy feet and animal poop? The chances are, this
wine was infected by the yeast-like fungus Brettanomyces (often abbreviated to
just 'brett'). It is often encountered in red wines from warm regions such as
the South of France. In small doses can add complexity, but in higher
concentrations is thought to be a fault. Once present in a winery Brettanomyces
is quite difficult to remove.
tasting term. In common with many descriptors for taste, it is hard to give a
precise definition for this, but imagine a wine that has flavour and aroma
elements that peak across the whole spectrum of tastes and smells, and you've
got yourself a 'broad' wine.
French word meaning
'bone dry' in champagne. Not really used for other wines. (Don't splash it all
over - keep it in the glass and enjoy.)
most export-focused of the ex-Eastern bloc countries, Bulgarian Cabernet
Sauvignon took the supermarkets by storm in the 1980s, offering juicy,
blackcurrant-laced wines at bargain prices. The wine industry seemed to lose
its way a bit after the collapse of Communism, but there are still plenty of
value-for-money Bulgarian wines on the market, the reds in general being more
successful than the whites.
One of the world's
classic regions, the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but a total minefield
for consumers. The heart of Burgundy, known as the Côte d'Or, is a narrow
band of gentle hillside, encompassing some 60 small appellations. There are
four different quality levels: regional (e.g. Bourgogne), village wines (e.g.
Mersault, Santenay or Gevrey-Chambertin), premier cru and grand cru. But it is
not as simple as this: because of French inheritance laws, vineyards are
commonly divided into small plots, each worked by a different grower. To add to
the confusion, some growers make their own wine, others sell their grapes to a
négociant, and some négociants even have their own vineyard
holdings. Because of the extreme variation in vineyard practice and winemaking
competence, one vigneron's basic Bourgogne blanc may therefore be better than
another's premier cru from a famous vineyard site. This is what is most
infuriating about Burgundy: wines from the better vineyards are always
expensive, but you may pay a lot of money and still get a poor wine. On the
other hand, pay very little, and you'll certainly end up with a poor wine. The
key to success in purchasing Burgundy is therefore knowing who the better
producers are. At its best, white Burgundy is the greatest and most long-lived
expression of the Chardonnay grape, combining complex smoky, toasty, buttery,
nutty and mineralic elements with firm acidity that holds everything together.
And Pinot Noir reaches its zenith in red Burgundy, making exotic, perfumed red
wines commonly with hints of undergrowth or mushrooms. To the north of the
Côte d'Or, lies the Chablis region, which makes lean, steely white wines
of variable quality from the Chardonnay grape. To the south lies the
Mâcon region, which is notable for its inexpensive and often good value
crisp, lemony white wines, also made from
Taste term for the rich, creamy
characters often found in barrel-fermented Chardonnay that has undergone
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Where it comes from:
French red grape from Bordeaux (where it usually plays an understudy role to
Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Loire (where it stars on its own). Flavour profile:
Raspberry and blackcurrant flavours are common, but the real giveaway is its
distinctive leafy, grassy, herbaceous aroma. Where to find it: Recently
discovered to be one of the parents of the Cabernet Sauvignon variety, Cabernet
Franc has for a long time lived in the shadow of its illustrious descendant. It
is a common blending component of many Bordeaux wines, and is successful as a
varietal red wine throughout the Loire Valley of France, most notably in the
appellations of Chinon and Bourgeuil. Also common in the north-eastern Italian
regions of Veneto and Fruili. Elsewhere it is grown in limited quantities in
California, Australia and South Africa, where it is sometimes bottled on its
Where it comes from: The
Manchester United of grapes, it's the world's most famous red grape variety,
responsible for many of the planet's most well known wines. The traditional
home of Cabernet Sauvignon is the Bordeaux region of France, and recent
research has shown that its parents are Cabernet Franc and (rather
surprisingly) Sauvignon Blanc. Its thick skins and high pip-to-pulp ratio help
it to make deeply coloured, tannic and often long-lived wines. Flavour profile:
Think Cabernet Sauvignon, think blackcurrants. You may also pick up flavours of
green peppers, cedar, mint, menthol, chocolate, herbs and chewy tannins,
depending on how the wine was made and where it came from. Where to find it: A
great traveller, Cabernet Sauvignon can make full flavoured red wines just
about anywhere grapes can be grown. As a result, it has been enthusiastically
planted throughout the wine world. Outside Bordeaux, it is planted widely in
other French regions, notably in Bergerac, the Languedoc and Provence. In
California it is the dominant red grape, often excelling to make superb but
stratospherically priced wines in Napa and Sonoma. In Italy, it does
particularly well in Tuscany as a key component of the highly sought-after
'supertuscan' wines. Cabernet Sauvignon vies with Shiraz as Australia's most
successful red variety. Chile has many thousands of hectares of ungrafted
Cabernet Sauvignon, where it produces wines with pure, exuberant blackcurrant
fruit. Argentina, South Africa, Eastern Europe and the CIS also rely on
Cabernet to produce some of their best
It is easy to forget that as recently
as 1933, Prohibition was still in place in the USA. Since then, California has
made tremendous strides and was the first of the New World wine regions to
compete with the classic French regions both in terms of quality, and more
recently price. Most wines are labelled according to the variety, of which
Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel (California's 'own' grape variety) and Merlot are
the main red grapes, and Chardonnay is the key white. Of the various wine
regions (now more than 20), Napa and Sonoma lead the quality stakes, but are
being challenged by upcoming regions such as the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa
Ynez Valley. In contrast, the hot Central Valley produces enormous volumes of
dull jug wine. Because of the strong domestic demand and the fact that American
wine geeks are usually quite wealthy, the best Californian wines are hard to
obtain and inevitably expensive. In fact, the leading Californian Cabernets now
cost more than first growth Bordeaux, and the top Chardonnays match the prices
of their counterparts in Burgundy. From the consumer's point of view, this is
unfortunate, because the quality is often superb.
Process widely used in Beaujolais where uncrushed grapes
are allowed to begin fermentation in a protective atmosphere of CO2. What
happens is that the largely intact grapes begin fermenting inside their own
skins, which produces light, fruity reds for early drinking. Now commonly used
throughout the world to make gluggable red wines with lots of fruit and not too
Where it comes from: This is
Southern France's workhorse red grape, used to make largely unremarkable table
wines. Flavour profile: Mostly dull. Makes low aroma reds that are high in
acid, colour and tannin, with earthy, raspberry and peppery flavours. Where to
find it: The most prevalent grape in the Languedoc-Roussillon, it is also grown
extensively in Spain (known there as Cariñena and Mazuelo), California,
North Africa, South Africa, Chile and Italy. Wines made from old, low yielding
Carignan vines can be interesting, and some of the best come from the Priorat
region in Catalonia. Cava Spanish fizz made using the traditional champagne
method. Rarely excites, but can offer good value for
A taste term. Mature Bordeaux often smells
of cedar wood.
Slightly naughty winemaking
trick in which the alcoholic strength of a wine is increased by the addition of
sugar to crushed grapes before fermentation takes place. Can be useful if your
grapes aren't ripe enough. In France it occurs commonly in Beaujolais,
Bordeaux, Alsace and Burgundy, although the best producers will often shun this
practice. Named after the Frenchman who invented the process, Jean-Antione
Where it comes from: International
superstar. The world's most famous white wine grape hails from the Burgundy
region in France, where it makes some of the planet's most complex, full
flavoured and expensive white wines. The secret to Chardonnay's success is its
versatility. Grown just about everywhere, it adapts well to different climates
and winemaking techniques to produce wines in a whole range of styles. Budding
historians will be interested to know that recent evidence shows that
Chardonnay arose from an ancient cross between the Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc
varieties. Flavour profile: From cooler regions it has a delicate texture, with
flavours of lemons, green apples and sometimes even grapefruit. In warmer
regions, it gives rich flavours of tropical fruit, pineapples and peaches. When
the wines are oaked these characters may be combined with buttery, toasty and
nutty elements. Where to find it: Although it's everywhere, it is worth bearing
in mind that Chardonnay mania is a fairly recent phenomenon. For example, in
Australia and California, where it is now so successful, it barely existed
before the 1980s. It also does well in New Zealand, Chile, northeastern Italy,
Austria and South Africa. Outside Burgundy, Chardonnay is one of the three key
grapes used to make Champagne, and it is also increasingly common in the
Where it comes from:
Versatile white grape from the Loire Valley of France. Flavour profile: Can be
bone dry to very sweet, with flavours of honey, wet wool and pears. Where to
find it: In the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc excels in the appellations of
Vouvray and Montlouis to produce white wines ranging from dry to sweet, with
good balancing acidity. It also makes the complex sweet wines of Coteaux du
Layon, Bonnezeux and Quarts de Chaume, which are often botrytised. In the new
world, Chenin Blanc is usually less distinguished, being used to make fresh,
dry white wines. In this guise it is South Africa's most widely planted grape
variety, and is also grown in California, Australia and New
Are you looking for attractive, fruity
wines with bags of fruit, but at budget prices? Chile could be the place for
you. Chile's speciality is inexpensive but flavour-filled wines from the
international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon
Blanc. These are now rapidly filling up the supermarket shelves in the wake of
the Aussie wines that have recently moved to a higher price bracket. At the
high end, more ambitious Chilean producers have tried to compete in the fine
wine market by making aspiring, high-end wines, but while these display
stunning fruit intensity they seem to lack some of the complexity of the
established old-world classics. The key wine regions include Maipo, Rapel,
Curicó, Maule and trendy cool-climate Casablanca.
A literal translation from the French term, cru
classé, that describes a property or Château included in the
famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux, and the subsequent reclassifications
that have occurred since. There are five different tiers to this
classification: the first, second, third, fourth and fifth growths. These are
the aristocratic wines of Bordeaux, and command high
A wine that doesn't smell of much. Many
fine wines go through a 'closed' or 'dumb' period as part of their
Have you ever opened a bottle, and instead
of clean, fruity aromas found that it smells of mouldy cellars and damp
cardboard? This is what a corked wine smells like. Contrary to popular opinion
a corked wine is not one that has bits of cork floating in it (this is totally
harmless, fish the bits out and the wine will be fine); instead, it is a wine
that has been contaminated by a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). The
human nose is extremely sensitive to this contaminant (it can be detected at
concentrations as low as parts per trillion!), which is a result of a chemical
reaction between chlorine and cork. It is a major problem, spoiling between 1%
and 7% of all wines, depending on who you listen to. This is why artificial
corks are increasingly being used, especially on inexpensive wines not destined
for ageing. The degree of cork-taint can vary, but you'll find that almost all
retailers will replace a corked bottle without question if you return it.
French term for
French term for vineyard, often translated
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Transferring a wine
from its bottle to another container, most commonly a decanter. There are two
main reasons for decanting. First, bottle-aged red wines commonly have a lot of
crud at the bottom, and careful decanting separates this from the wine. Second,
decanting exposes the wine to air - lets it 'breathe' - which may or may not
allow the wine to express itself more fully. Received wisdom states that tannic
young wines 'open out' (smell better) when they are decanted, although attempts
to demonstrate this effect in blind tastings have largely been unsuccessful.
Still, whether or not decanting is beneficial for a wine, the whole ceremony is
immensely satisfying and probably worth doing just for the fun of it.
French for medium dry
A German oddity made by
crushing frozen grapes that have been deliberately left on the vine until
winter, when they are picked on the first really freezing night. The juice that
is released is super-concentrated and the resulting wines are extremely sweet.
Because of the extreme hassle required to make these wines, they are vastly
expensive. Making eiswein is seen as the pinnacle of the producer's art: a sort
of winemakers pissing contest. Note that unlike most other expensive dessert
wines, the grapes used will not have been affected by noble rot.
Selling method in which substantial amounts
of the output from the leading Bordeaux properties (notably the classed
growths) are offered for sale before they have even been bottled, in the summer
following the vintage. Buying en primeur is often the only way to get hold of
sought-after wines from good vintages at anything like a reasonable price;
otherwise the advantage of tying up your money in wines you have never tasted
and which you won't see for two years is less clear.
Extract Technically, this refers to the amount of
dissolved solid material in a wine. In tasting, a concentrated red, with a big
structure might be described as 'highly extracted': wines that are so dense
that you could eat them with a spoon. 'Over-extracted' is used as a criticism
of a wine where the winemaker has tried just a bit too hard and made a clumsy
Yeasts do a really
useful job: they eat up sugar in grape juice and excrete alcohol. This is
called fermentation, and without it all wine would be sweet and alcohol-free.
Just like grape juice.
The removal of
suspended solid particles in a wine by passing it through a filter. It can be a
useful alternative to allowing the solid particles to settle naturally, thereby
speeding up the winemaking process, or it can be used in cases where the wine
won't clear naturally. But it is a controversial practice. Opponents to
filtration claim that it strips out some of the flavour, and marketing people
consequently use the term 'unfiltered' to help sell wines that haven't been
treated in this way. Is filtration always bad, though? Like many winemaking
decisions, it's a question of balance. Sometimes filtration is necessary,
sometimes it isn't.
A process used to remove
suspended solids from a wine in order to make it 'clear'. Fining agents include
dried blood, casein, clay and egg whites. As you can guess, some of these
substances can cause problems for vegetarian or vegan wine drinkers.
A much-abused tasting term. It refers to the
flavours left in the mouth after you have swallowed or spat out a mouthful of
wine. For example, a finish can be alcoholic, bitter, hot, dry, acidic, short
or long. But some people take the concept too far: examples exist where tasters
have timed the 'finish' of a wine in seconds. This is absurd.
A dry, light style of sherry that has a
distinctive salty, tangy flavour that comes from being aged under a layer of
yeast cells, called a 'flor'. Although these are usually 15% alcohol or above,
they make quite good food wines due to their dry, savoury character. But beware
a bottle of fino that has been sitting opened in Auntie's sideboard for four
months: this style needs to be drunk young, and once opened a bottle must be
treated in the same way as any dry white wine. You'd also be well advised to
avoid a fino sherry that's been sitting around on a merchant's shelf for six
months. Manzanilla is very similar in style to fino; perhaps a little fresher
The five elite properties
of the Medoc and Graves regions of Bordeaux: Latour, Lafite, Haut-Brion,
Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux, which were picked out as 'Premier Cru
Classé' in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification (actually, Mouton Rothschild
was promoted from a second growth in the 1970s). These wines have an iconic
status, and they are horribly expensive.
used to describe a wine that doesn't have enough acidity to balance the other
elements. Buttery Chardonnays with rich tropical fruit flavours from
warm-climate regions are most likely to show this sort of character, especially
if they are a few years old.
Next time you are
taking a stroll through chalk downland, reach down and pick up two mid-sized
flints. Bang them together hard, and take a sniff: this is the smell that in
wines is referred to as 'flinty', and it's often used to describe young
Much-maligned breed of
mainly Australian winemakers who, in their off season, fly off to somewhere in
Europe and make wine the 'new world' way out of the indigenous grapes of the
region. Beloved by supermarket wine buyers, they often produce clean, fruity,
unexciting but inexpensive wines. Traditionalist view them with disdain as
Port and sherry are
the two most famous fortified wines. With Port, grapes are crushed and allowed
to ferment a bit, and then spirit is added to produce a sweet, alcoholic wine.
With sherry, fermentation is completed and then spirit is added.
This is a bit of a technical term that
sometimes appears on wine labels. When grapes are harvested and crushed, the
juice that drains from the unpressed grapes is called free-run juice, and
typically constitutes about two-thirds of the total juice the grapes will
yield. It is usually better quality than the stuff that is later pressed out of
the mush of crushed grapes.
Tasting term for a
wine (usually white) that is clean, possibly aromatic, light bodied and with
good acidity. The sort of wine that you'd want to chill down and glug on a
Technically, grapes are a fruit.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that some wines are described as
fruity. Modern winemaking techniques help bring out the fruit character in
wines that previously would have been much less attractive.
Where it comes from: The
red grape of Beaujolais. Flavour profile: Makes juicy, fruity red wines with
flavours of cherries, sometimes with a rubbery edge and hints of bananas. Where
to find it: Seldom encountered outside Beaujolais, it is also grown in the
Mâcon region, the Loire (Anjou and Touraine) and California.
Imprecise taste term usually reserved for older
wines that exhibit smells and flavours associated with damp undergrowth,
mushrooms, well hung pheasants and unwashed farmers' feet.
German wines have got a grotty image in the
UK, and this doesn't look like it will change in the near future. This is
largely due to Germany's main export of huge volumes of sugar-water,
Liebfraumilch, made from the high cropping but dull Müller-Thurgau grape
variety -- real Alan Partridge stuff. This is a shame, because the better
German wines, made from one of the world's great white grape varieties,
Riesling, offer wonderfully fresh, intense citrus flavours, often with a touch
of sweetness to counter the naturally high acidity. Another potential obstacle
to the consumer is decoding the labels, which often have a bewildering array of
impossibly long German words on them. The four key components are the quality
level (Tafelwein, Landwein, QbA, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese,
Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese), the producer (they vary in quality),
the region and the grape variety (Riesling is the one to watch out for): it's
all very complicated.
comes from: Pink-skinned grape from Alsace in France, where it is the second
most planted grape. Flavour profile: Aromatic, musky, floral white wines with
bold flavours of lychees and spice. Where to find it: The best examples come
from Alsace, but it's also grown with mixed results in Germany, Austria,
Australia, South Africa and the USA.
sound a bit fussy, but using the correct style of glass is really important if
you want to get the most from your wine. The basic requirements are that the
bowl should be big enough that there's enough room above the wine for the
aromas to be captured, and that the rim is of a smaller diameter than the
widest part of the bowl - a tulip shape is ideal. The thinner the rim, the
better. The most famous manufacturer of glasses is the Austrian firm Riedel:
they make a whole range of glasses, each supposed to be optimized for a certain
wine style, but all fiendishly expensive. Fortunately there are good, cheaper
Mention Greek wine and people chuckle about
their bad experiences with Retsina. But this is unfair. Greek wines are
undergoing a renaissance, and as a holidaymaker you'll be presently surprised
to find that even the dingiest tavernas now sometimes serve fresh, crisp white
wines and fruity, herby reds in a very modern style. There are also a number of
ambitious producers making some interesting wines that are now finding their
way onto the UK market.
A negative tasting term
for a wine that tastes youthful, unripe, raw and acidic. A good example of a
'green' wine would be a cheap Loire red from a mediocre vintage such as 1998,
or just about any supermarket Claret costing under £4. Why the term
'green'? Well, just imagine taking a fresh green leaf and chewing on it - these
are the sorts of flavours you'll get.
Grenache Where it
comes from: Popular red grape from the South of France and Spain (where it is
known as Garnacha). It does particularly well in hot, dry climates and is the
world's second most planted variety. Flavour profile: Makes light-coloured
wines high in alcohol and with rich, peppery fruit and spicy cinnamon notes.
Where to find it: Considering it's so common, it's surprisingly rarely
encountered as a single varietal. Grenache is the main grape of wines such as
Côtes du Rhône, Châteaneuf du Pape and Gigondas, and is a key
blending component in many Languedoc reds. It's widely grown in many Spanish
regions, where it is the most planted red grape. There's also a lot of it in
Australia and California, where it is often used to make inexpensive quaffing
Herbaceous Next time you mow the
lawn or trim your hedge, take a good sniff of the cuttings. The neighbours may
think you're crazy, but the smell you'll pick up, which is usually described as
herbaceous, is commonly found in red wines, especially those made from slightly
unripe Cabernet Franc or Merlot grapes. It doesn't sound very appealing, but
herbaceousness in a wine is not necessarily a fault, unless it is so prominent
that it becomes out of balance. You'd be most likely to encounter this odour in
full bodied Loire reds (they are made from Cabernet Franc), inexpensive Chilean
Merlot (the expensive stuff is usually riper and thus doesn't display so much
herbaceousness) or any cheap Claret with a reasonable proportion of Merlot in
This small (126 Ha) hillside
appellation in the Northern Rhône region of France is famous for being
the home of the Syrah grape (aka Shiraz). Because the wines are usually of high
quality and very little is made, they are invariably expensive. These dense,
perfumed red wines need years to reach their best, and from a good vintage
they'll go on improving for decades. A little bit of white wine is made from
Marsanne and Roussane, and these can also be very long-lived.
Another name for a small oak barrel (see
barrique), used to ferment or mature wines in.
country with a great wine tradition, and home to one of the world's classic
wine styles, the botrytised dessert wine Tokaji (or Tokay), which is currently
undergoing a renaissance spurred by foreign investors. However, the Hungarian
wines you will most likely to encounter will be the increasing band of
inexpensive varietal wines, often made by flying winemakers, that line the
supermarket shelves. Quality is a bit patchy, but there are some bargains to be
Grape vines need
water, and if there isn't enough of it in the environment, it is necessary to
supply this artificially, by irrigation. Although it is frowned upon (and often
illegal) in many European wine regions, used carefully it can be used in the
production of high quality wines.
Italy One of the
world's great wine nations, Italy produces more wine than any other country,
and the thirsty Italians also drink more wine than anyone except the French.
From the north to the south, Italy has a profusion of wine regions, each of
quite different character. Indeed, the myriad of unfamiliar grape varieties,
wine styles and regions can appear confusing to the uninitiated. The northern
region of Piedmont makes Italy's most long lived and expensive red wines,
Barolo and Barbaresco, from the Nebbiolo grape. This region is also responsible
for tasty and more affordable reds from the Barbera and Dolcetto grapes. In the
north east, the Veneto region churns out lots of Valpolicella (a light,
cherry-laced red) and Soave (crisp, often watery white), as well as some
intriguing wine made by part drying the grapes before fermentation (Amarone and
Recioto). In the centre, Tuscany is home to Chianti (variable quality reds made
primarily from Sangiovese), Chianti Classico (much more consistent), Brunello
di Montalcino (rare, expensive reds from a special strain of Sangiovese) and
the 'Supertuscans' (high-end, aspiring wines made largely from non-local grape
varieties). But perhaps the best value for money in Italian wine is to be found
in the new wave of wines coming from the southern regions of Puglia, Sardinia
A negative tasting term.
It's good for wines to be fruity, but jammy wines are those that taste of
baked, cooked or stewed fruit, which is unappealing. This usually happens when
grapes have been grown in areas which are just too warm for that particular
variety. You'll most likely find this in wines made from Pinot Noir grapes
grown in hot climate regions, which invariably have a jammy
An enormous bottle holding 4.5
litres in Bordeaux (that's the equivalent to six normal bottles) or 3 litres in
Champagne (four bottles' worth). Either way, you'll probably need to invite
some friends round to help you drink it!
Plural 'lagares'. A shallow
stone trough traditionally used for the foot-treading of grapes. They are still
in use in some regions of the Douro, in Portugal. In Hugh Johnson's World Atlas
of Wine there is a wonderful old picture of some chaps crushing grapes in a
lagar without a stitch of clothing on. I believe they wear shorts these days.
An instant turn-off to most aspiring wine
geeks. Supermarket Lambrusco is usually a semi-sweet, bland, fizzy concoction,
low in alcohol and designed to appeal to those who don't really like wine:
yours for £2.29. You probably didn't know this, but Lambrusco is actually
a red Italian grape variety, and the best examples are dry, slightly fizzy,
rustic red wines with high acidity, best with food. Anyone with an interest in
wine should shun the standardized white alcopop Lambrusco, and seek out the
region that made the largest contribution to the European wine lake, churning
out millions of litres of inexpensive table wine. Over the last couple of
decades, things have begun to change, and many producers have begun to shift
their focus from quantity to quality. The best wines are made from Grenache,
Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes, and sub-regions such as Faugères, Pic
St Loup, Montpeyroux, Minervois, St Chinian and Corbières are leading
the field in terms of quality. The best producers make robust, full-flavoured
earthy red wines that offer good value for money.
If you see a wine labelled as 'late harvest' it means that
the grapes were harvested later than normal, and thus with a higher sugar
level. The wine will probably be quite sweet, although in some cases may have
been fermented to dryness, in which case the potential alcohol will be higher.
The French term for this is 'vendange tardive', in German it is
'spätlese'. Laying down Rather quaint term for cellaring wine, referring
to the fact that bottles to be kept must be stored on their side in order to
keep the cork moist.
Tasting term referring to a
wine that has high acidity and not much fruit.
Dreadfully subjective red wine descriptor
that's really hard to pin a definition on. In some cases this will refer to the
texture of the wine, indicating that a wine is tough and chewy, but in others
it may be used to describe a wine that smells of old leather. Who's to know
The gunk that settles at the bottom of a
fermentation or ageing vessel. This consists of dead yeast cells, grape skin
fragments and other insoluble material, and if the wine is left on the lees for
a while, it can encourage malolactic fermentation and add complexity to a wine.
If you want to get really technical about this, there are two sorts of lees.
The initial gunk that is deposited is quite crude and is called the gross lees.
The wine is usually racked off this into a fresh container, in which it will
deposit what are known as fine lees. You don't want to leave a wine on its
gross lees for very long (and you certainly don't want to do lees stirring with
the gross lees), because this may result in the dead yeast cells dissolving
themselves, producing a reductive environment in which any sulphur traces will
result in the development of hydrogen sulphide, which reeks of rotten eggs and
A snazzy winemaking trick in
which the gunk at the bottom of a barrel is wiggled around with a stick (hence
the French term for this, bâttonage). It is usually reserved for white
wines that have been barrel-fermented, and can add a creamy richness and
complexity to the wine.
This large region in
Northern France is a source of diverse and fascinating wines, and because it is
overlooked by most wine lovers, prices are very reasonable. Reds, mainly from
Cabernet Franc, can be an acquired taste, but the varied styles of white wines
from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are often stunning. Arranged along the
course of the Loire river, starting from the West the region encompasses the
appellations Muscadet (bone dry, acidic whites), Anjou, Coteaux du Layon (sweet
Chenin blanc-based whites, often with botrytis), Samur, Bourgueil (lean,
herbaceous reds), Chinon (leafy, raspberry-laced reds), Vouvray (Chenin
blanc-based whites, ranging from bone dry to sweet and botrytised), Touraine
(racy, inexpensive Sauvignon blanc), Sancerre (classic bone dry whites from
Sauvignon blanc) and Pouilly-Fumé (bone dry, aromatic Sauvignon blanc).
There are also a host of smaller subregions, each making their own styles of
Long or length
One of the most
widely abused wine tasting terms. Technically, a wine with good 'length' is one
whose flavour persists in the mouth. In practice, some tasters use a judgement
of 'length' as an addendum to their tasting notes to reinforce their
preferences and prejudices. Thus a diehard claret drinker of the old school may
finish his tasting note on his favourite classed growth with the words,
'Displays great length'. The same taster, describing a top-notch Californian
Cabernet may end his note with, 'Finishes a bit short'.
When someone uses this term, what they're trying to say is,
'I'm fabulously wealthy'. Heck, I can hardly afford claret with dinner.
Red winemaking process
in which tannins, pigments and flavour compounds are released from the grape
skins in the fermentation vessel. Fermentation is usually over pretty quickly
with red wines, so many winemakers like to leave the wine in contact with the
skins for longer; this is known as extended maceration and results in deeper
coloured wines. Even flashier is the process called cold maceration, in which
grape skins and juice are held at low temperature, to delay the start of
fermentation, while allowing the extraction to proceed on its own. The deeper
colour and enhanced structure that results from extended maceration must be
weighed against the risk of extracting bitter or unpleasant compounds from the
grape skins -- known in the trade as 'over-extraction'. See also carbonic
Does exactly what it
says on the tin - mechanical harvesters pass through the rows of vines
literally beating the individual grapes off the vines with rubber paddles,
which are then collected and separated from the non-grape material for
transport back to the winery. It may not be as romantic as teams of pickers
working their way through the vines, but in relatively remote regions of
Australia and New Zealand, where casual labour is scarce, it is the only way to
pick the grapes. There are two other advantages: harvesting can be done quickly
when the grapes are at peak ripeness, and in hot regions it means the grapes
can be picked at night, to preserve their freshness.
A big bottle that holds 1.5 litres of wine,
equivalent to two full bottles. Rather fun, and wine in magnums is supposed to
age better than in standard 75 cl bottles.
Where it comes from: The red grape of the
Cahors region of France, but which works to best effect in its adopted home of
Argentina. Flavour profile: Dense, chunky wines with flavours of plums,
blackcurrants and tobacco. Where to find it: In France, Malbec is only widely
grown in Cahors, although it is also traditionally one of grapes used to make
red Bordeaux. In Argentina, Malbec takes a starring role, and does brilliantly,
making dense, chunky reds full of interest. Malbec is also common in Chile.
Malic acid An acid found in high concentrations in unripe grapes, it has a
tart, sharp flavour. It is lost as the grapes ripen, which is one reason why
wines from very warm climates often have a low natural acidity and can taste
flabby. It is also lost through malolactic fermentation during the winemaking
The conversion of the
tart, sharp malic acid into the softer, less harsh lactic acid by lactic acid
bacteria, which takes place after alcoholic fermentation. An important
winemaking decision in the production of white wines is whether to allow this
to take place, and if so, to what degree. A Chardonnay that has had full
malolactic fermentation (known in the trade simply as 'malo') will taste soft
and buttery; one which has had no or only partial malo will be crisper and
fresher, with sharp lemony acidity.
stuff left after pressing grapes. The same term is also used to describe the
spirit made from distilling this.
comes from: Merlot is on the up. The great red grape of St Emilion and Pomerol,
it is now the most planted red grape in the whole Bordeaux region, although to
some extent it still lives in the shadow of its illustrious peer, Cabernet
Sauvignon. Merlot's great strength is that it combines the bold flavours of
Cabernet with a softer, more approachable structure, making it an ideal
blending partner for Cabernet-based wines as well as a strong performer in its
own right. It has the added benefits of ripening a little earlier than
Cabernet, and giving higher yields. Flavour profile: Full flavoured but
soft-edged red wines with plums and blackberry fruit, often with a leafy edge.
Where to find it: Although it is not quite as ubiquitous as Cabernet, Merlot is
being planted pretty much everywhere these days. In France, it has spread from
Bordeaux throughout the Languedoc and southwest. It is widely grown in Italy,
Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, too. A strong performer in California and New
Zealand, Merlot is also common in Argentina and Chile, and after a difficult
start it's beginning to catch on in Australia.
Large-format bottle that holds an enormous
six litres of Champagne (eight bottles' worth). Go on, impress your friends.
Let's hope it isn't corked, though.
term which translates as 'mellow', but in the context of wine means sweet or
medium sweet. You'll often find this term on bottles from the Loire.
Where it comes from: Sexy red grape
variety from the south of France, now very trendy. Flavour profile: Makes dark,
herby, meaty, gamey wines with flavours of blackcurrant and spice. Where to
find it: Mourvèdre plays its starring role in the Provencale appellation
of Bandol, but it is also common in other southern French regions, where is
used to add its dark, meaty character to blends. It is very common in Spain,
and it is thought that the variety known as Monastrell in the Jumilla region is
in fact Mourvèdre. In California, there isn't much of it, but because it
does so well it is currently on the increase. In Australia, it used to be a
workhorse grape known by the name of Mataro, but since Mourvèdre has
become trendy elsewhere, the Aussies are taking it more seriously and are
making good wines with it: it's particularly common in blends with Grenache and
Shiraz (which are known by the shorthand of 'GSM'). Expect to see more of it in
Must The mixture of grape juice, stems, pips
and skins -- and to a lesser degree, dead insects, bits of leaves and other
crud -- that comes out of the grape crusher. Sometimes used more generally to
refer to unfermented grape juice. Musty Think of damp cellars, think of mouldy
potatoes at the bottom of the bag, think of railway arches -- these smells can
be described as musty, and when you encounter mustiness in a wine, it could
well be because it is corked.
You'll often names
of people in the wine trade followed by the words MW. This stands for Master of
Wine, and indicates that these dedicated individuals have passed the gruelling
professional exams set by the Institute of Masters of Wine. Only a few hundred
people have so far gained this demanding qualification.
Where it comes from:
High quality red grape grown in Piedmont, in northeast Italy, responsible for
the dense, tannic and long lived wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Flavour
profile: Tough, tannic and fruitless in its youth, when aged, this grape gives
complex flavours of prunes, liquorice and truffles. Where to find it: The
prestige and high prices attracted by the Barolo and Barbaresco has encouraged
others to experiment with Nebbiolo. However, it's a fussy traveller, and
although it has now been grown with some success in Australia, elsewhere it has
French term for someone
who deals in wines. Commonly, small growers who lack the facility to make wine
will sell their grapes to a négociant, who then makes, bottles and
markets the wine.
A term used to describe
wines from non-European regions such as Australia, California, Chile,
Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand.
Famous for being home to the world's most startlingly
aromatic expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. A good example from the
Marlborough region of New Zealand will show a remarkable flavour array of
gooseberries, elderflower and freshly cut grass, with grapefruit-like acidity.
In addition, New Zealand also produces good-quality Chardonnays. The red wines
are not usually up to the same standard, with the notable exception of Pinot
Noir, which excels in the Martinborough region.
Imagine the following scenario. It's almost harvest time, and
your vines have lovely healthy bunches of ripe white grapes hanging off them.
Then, after a succession of damp misty mornings the grapes are infected by a
fungus called Botrytis, with the result that they shrivel up and go all furry.
A disaster? Quite the opposite. This is what is known as noble rot, and
although the grapes look disgustingly inedible, infected bunches yield small
quantities of concentrated juice that produces some of the world's most
complex, sublime and long-lived sweet white wines. What sort of flavours should
you expect in a wine affected by noble rot? There is often the tang of
thick-cut marmalade and apricots. The texture will be rich and viscous, and
although the wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of
acidity to give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these
wines and the low yields involved, these wines are invariably expensive, but
the Australians are now producing delicious, affordable botrytized wines from
grapes that have artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative, eh?
Oak barrels are an important
and complicated variable in the production of the majority of serious red wines
and an increasing number of whites. Many white wines, and in particular
Chardonnays, are fermented in small oak barrels. This adds some complexity to
the wine, and also imparts toasty, nutty and vanilla-like flavours to the wine,
especially when the barrels are new. Red wines are rarely fermented in barrels,
but will often spend a lengthy period of ageing in them. Barrels allow a small
amount of oxygen to come into contact with the wine, thus accelerating the
development of more complex flavours, and when new oak is used, the wine picks
up flavours of vanilla and spice and tannins from the wood. Different effects
can be achieved depending on the type of oak used (commonly French or American,
but Portuguese oak is quite different and is commonly used in Portugal, and
Slovenian oak is often used in Italy). The quality of the wood used is
important, as is the size of the barrel. It all gets rather complicated. Oak
barrels are expensive, though, and for cheaper wines the effects of barrel
fermentation and ageing are simulated by the use of oak chips or even used
barrel staves bolted to the inside of stainless steel tanks. This practice is
illegal in some more traditional wine-producing countries, and as you might
expect, results can be variable.
taste term for a wine that has been given too much oak treatment, perhaps
through unsuitable ageing in new oak barrels. An oaky wine will usually taste
and smell of freshly sawn wood, or may have sweet vanilla flavours. Like many
taste judgements, it is a bit of a subjective call: people differ in their
tolerance for oaky wines.
You'll often find
the term 'old vine' (in French 'vieilles vignes') on the label of a wine; it's
becoming an increasingly popular marketing term. There is no legal definition,
but it's usually used to refer to wine made from grape vines that are over 30
years old. Older vines, so the story goes, produce fewer grapes but those they
do produce are of a better quality than fruit from younger vines.
Catch-all term referring to wines from the
classical European wine regions.
nutty, rich form of sherry that takes most of its flavour from long ageing in
an oak cask. Most are dry, although sweetened versions do exist, in which case
this will be indicated on the label.
describing a commonly encountered wine fault, caused by the exposure of a wine
to oxygen, which eventually turns the alcohol to acetic acid. Net result is
vinegar (from the French "vin aigre", or "bitter wine"). Yuk. A mildly oxidized
red wine will have a brownish colour, with high volatile acidity. A mildly
oxidized white wine will have a deep yellow/gold colour and unappealing
flavours of butterscotch and coffee, perhaps also with some volatility on the
nose. The most common cause of oxidation is cork failure, letting air into the
wine, although white wines intended for early consumption that have been
cellared for too long will also display these characters to varying degrees.
Remember using litmus paper
at school? This measures pH, which is a scale for assessing acidity. The lower
the pH (red litmus paper), the higher the acidity; neutral pH is 7 (green
litmus paper) and higher than 7 is alkaline or basic (blue litmus paper). Most
wines have a pH of between 3 and 4, so they are acidic. Nowadays, the use of
litmus paper has largely been superseded by snazzy pH meters which give a
A truly nasty aphid that
just about wiped out the vineyards in Europe in the second half of the last
century. Phylloxera has an insatiable appetite for the roots of grape vines,
and once a vineyard is infected there is no cure, except for ripping the vines
out and replacing them with plants that have been grafted onto resistant
rootstock from native American vines, which have strong roots but make crappy
wine. As a result, all the vineyards in Europe, with a few minor exceptions,
consist of grafted vines. Debate rages about whether the classic wines
pre-phylloxera were better than those made today, although there is no evidence
that Cabernet grapes, for example, from grafted and ungrafted vines are any
different in quality. Chile and Argentina are currently free of phylloxera, and
still have ungrafted vineyards.
really nasty vine disease caused by a bacterium carried by an insect called the
sharpshooter. It is currently causing havoc in Californian vineyards, but
fortunately hasn't yet spread to Europe.
it comes from: South Africa's 'own' red grape variety, it is the result of a
1920s crossing between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir, now gaining in popularity.
Flavour profile: Makes distinctive wines with pungent animal-like gamey notes
and plummy, spicy fruit. You either love it or hate it. Where to find it: Rare
outside South Africa, although a fair bit is now grown in New Zealand.
See Pinot Blanc
Where it comes from: Underrated white grape from the Alsace
region of France. Flavour profile: Makes crisp, intense and slightly spicy
white wine. Where to find it: In Alsace it is used as a bit of a workhorse
variety, although it often produces inexpensive but full flavoured whites, and
is also used to make the sparkling Cremant d'Alsace wines. There's a bit
planted in Burgundy, but this is on the decline. There's a lot of it in Italy,
where it is known as Pinot Bianco, and does best in the Trentino and Friuli
regions. However, this grape probably reaches its greatest heights in Austria,
where it is known as Weissburgunder.
Where it comes from: Versatile,
full flavoured white grape from the Alsace region of France, where it is known
as Tokay-Pinot Gris. It is a mutant clone of Pinot Noir. Flavour profile: Makes
gently aromatic white wines with rich, fat, smoky bacon and spice flavours of
varying degrees of sweetness. Where to find it: It's currently a very popular
variety. It is common in Germany and Austria, where it is called Ruländer
if it's sweet, but Grauerburgunder if it is dry. In Italy, known as Pinot
Grigio, it is common, and there is also some grown in Switzerland. There's also
a fair bit in Eastern Europe. It has not really caught on in the new world,
presumably because of the dominance of Chardonnay, although it does quite well
in Oregon on the west coast of the USA.
Where it comes from: Sexy but temperamental. Pinot Noir is the
red grape of Burgundy and one of the planet's most illustrious red varieties.
Even in Burgundy it is an unpredictable performer: it is difficult to grow, and
you only have to increase yields a little bit for quality to dip sharply. A
fussy traveller, it is also rather particular about the climate it is grown in:
most new world sites are simply too warm. So why does everyone want to grow the
stuff? The answer is that it is capable of making sublime, sexy and addictive
red wines that exquisitely express their place of origin. Indeed, once you've
tasted a great Pinot Noir you are hooked enough to put up with the inevitable
disappointments that this grape will throw at you. Flavour profile: In its
youth it displays bright cherry and raspberry fruit, evolving with bottle age
to show a complex mixture of gamey fruit with hints of undergrowth and
mushrooms. Where to find it: Elsewhere in France Pinot Noir is one of the three
key grapes used for Champagne production, and it also makes light, fruity reds
in the Loire and Alsace. In Germany and Austria, where it is known as
Spätburgunder, there have been some good results. Italy and Switzerland
also grow some. Growers in the new world have had a bit of a struggle
identifying sites where Pinot Noir will succeed, but good examples are now
coming from cooler regions in Australia, New Zealand (especially the
Martinborough region), South Africa and the USA (in particular Oregon). Chile
has begun to make some inexpensive but worthy Pinot Noir, but Eastern European
efforts with this grape have been pretty unconvincing.
The Portuguese are thirsty people, ranking fifth in terms of per
capita consumption. This creates a strong domestic demand for the fascinating
wines that Portugal produces. For those bored with the flood of 'international'
style Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, Portugal is a happy hunting ground
of obscure grape varieties and unusual flavours. Its wines are also often good
value for money. The Douro valley, in the north, is home to the Port industry,
making fortified wines of varying styles, and increasingly good table wines
from the same terraced hillside vineyards. Other regions such as Bairrada,
Dão and the Alentejo are producing some exciting wines from traditional
varieties. At the bottom end, there's still a lot of rustic plonk being
produced, but there's now a growing band of quality minded properties making
some serious wines.
Variety of grape common
to Southern Italy.
An unpleasant process
popular during the Spanish inquisition (though not with non-Catholics,
apparently). These days the word is more likely to be used to describe a
fundamental winemaking operation in which the clear wine is separated from the
accumulated crud at the bottom of a barrel or fermentation vessel.
An obscure tasting term that describes the
pungent smell of a (usually fortified) wine that has been intentionally
oxidized or exposed to heat. Examples of wines showing rancio include some
Madeiras or Australian liqueur muscats.
Another of the big Champagne bottle sizes,
this one holds 4.5 litres (six bottles' worth). Enough for a quiet celebration
with a couple of friends.
You'll often find
the term 'reserve' on the label of a bottle, as it is a term used throughout
the wine world. There is no formal definition of what makes a 'reserve' wine:
producers usually use this to indicate a wine that is made from selected grapes
or has been given lavish oak treatment.
Another statistic you might find on the back of a wine bottle.
It refers to the amount of sugar left over after fermentation and is given in
grams per litre. Below 2g/l, the wine will taste bone dry. Bear in mind that
the perception of sweetness is altered by the other flavour elements in a wine,
such as acid, tannin, alcohol and fruitiness.
This important French wine region can neatly be divided into two.
The Northern Rhône is the home of the Syrah grape (aka Shiraz), which
makes full flavoured, meaty, structured red wines in the Appellations of
Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie and St Joseph.
White wines are also produced, the most well know of which is Condrieu, made
from the exotically flavoured Viognier grape. Because quantities of wine
produced in the Northern Rhône are small and quality is good, prices are
invariably high. In contrast, the warmer Southern Rhône produces a huge
amount of wine, much of it inexpensive Côtes du Rhône from the
Grenache grape. More ambitious are the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape,
Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Rasteau, which are often of very good quality.
Where it comes from: One of the classic white
grape varieties, capable of making stunning, long-lived wines that span the
spectrum of bone dry to lusciously sweet. Riesling vies with Chardonnay for the
title of leading white wine grape. Flavour profile: Flavours associated with
Riesling include citrus fruits, green apples, honey and flowers. In aged
examples a distinct petrolly edge is common. Where to find it: It produces
Germany's finest wines, and also excels in Austria and the Alsace region of
France. Planted throughout the new world, particularly good examples are made
in the Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia. Commonly known outside Europe as
Romania has a great tradition
of wine production, stretching back thousands of years, and thanks to a
large-scale state-driven replanting programme in the 1960s now has the fifth
largest area under vine in Europe. Yet in common with other Communist
countries, emphasis was on quantity rather than quality, and the few bottles of
Romanian wine you are likely to encounter on shop shelves in the UK will tend
to be cheap and a bit plonkish. However, given the ideal grape growing
conditions that exist in Romania, there is the potential for better things in
Because of the consequences of
the deadly root disease phylloxera, most vines in commercial vineyards are now
grafted onto a suitable American variety (these are resistant to phylloxera).
The precise choice of rootstock is a critical viticultural decision, as they
all have different properties.
Where it comes from:
The red grape responsible for Chianti in the Tuscany region of Italy. It is the
most common red variety in Italy. Flavour profile: Expect wines high in acid,
with flavours of plums, bitter cherries, spice and tea, occasionally topped off
with farmyard aromas. Where to find it: The merits of this grape are beginning
to be recognized elsewhere, and it has now been planted in Australia and
California, with good results. It is also found in Argentina.
Where it comes from: One of the most
popular white varieties, Sauvignon blanc has its origin in the Loire Valley of
France, where it is used to make the well known wines of Pouilly-Fumé
and Sancerre. Since then it has spread throughout the world, most successfully
to New Zealand and Chile. Flavour profile: Tell-tale flavours associated with
the grape are gooseberries, elderflower, freshly cut grass, grapefruits and,
according to some, cat's pee. It is not usually oaked, except in California,
where barrel fermentation succeeds in making it taste just like Chardonnay.
Where to find it: Although the Loire is its home, many would argue that
Sauvignon Blanc reaches its peak in the Marlborough region of New Zealand.
Examples from the cooler regions of Chile, such as Casablanca, have been almost
as impressive. Australian Sauvignon Blanc is improving in quality, and South
Africa seems to be getting the hang of the variety. And if you can't stretch to
Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, the Loire is now producing good value for
money examples of this grape from the Touraine and Menetou Salon appellations.
As a blending partner to Semillon and Muscadelle, Sauvignon blanc is
responsible for the white wines of Bordeaux, including the luscious sweet wines
of Sauternes and Barsac.
French term for 'dry',
as in the opposite of sweet.
Where it comes
from: Worthy but unfashionable. A jack of all trades, Semillon is widely grown,
but doesn't really star on its own anywhere, with the possible exception of its
adopted home of the Hunter Valley in Australia, where it makes unique,
ageworthy white wines. However, it is a key component of the luscious sweet
wines of Sauternes and Barsac from the Bordeaux region of France, where its
thin skins make it susceptible to noble rot, a vital element in the production
of these thrilling, complex wines. Flavour profile: Vinified as a dry table
wine it makes fresh white wines with tart, lemony flavours. With bottle age
these commonly put on weight, developing appealing toasty and honeyed flavours.
Where to find it: As well as sweet styles, Semillon contributes to the sea of
rather charmless white Bordeaux that is made each year. It's common throughout
Australia, and there are plantings in California, South Africa, Chile,
Argentina and New Zealand.
A system for ageing sherry, consisting of
a series of barrels (known as butts), arranged next to and top of each other.
It's all rather complex, but in simplest terms when wine is drawn off for
bottling from an old barrel, this barrel is then topped-up with younger wine
from another barrel. Thus, if a solera was set up 100 years ago, the wine that
is bottled today would technically contain some wine that was 100 years old.
Emerging from the shadow of Apartheid,
South Africa is increasingly making better wines which usually represent good
value for money at all levels on the quality scale. Although South Africa is
classed as a new world region, wines it produces are often nicely poised
between the new world and old world in style. Look out for reds from South
Africa's 'own' variety, Pinotage, which makes striking gamey and earthy-tasting
wines, often with a savoury, cheesy edge to them. The most famous regions are
Stellenbosch, Paarl and Constantia, although cooler regions such as Walker Bay
are beginning to attract attention.
fact: Spain has a greater area under vine than any other country, although
because the yields from these vineyards are generally low, it only ranks third
in the list of wine producers. In the north west, the cool damp region of
Galicia produces some fresh aromatic whites from the Albariño grape, and
Rueda is beginning to produce tasty, modern whites from Verdejo and Sauvignon
blanc. Otherwise, Spain is largely known for its red wines. Rioja, with its
attractive, sweetly fruited and oaky reds, is probably the most famous region,
but not the best. This accolade is currently being fought over by Ribera del
Duero (rich Tempranillo-based reds) and Priorato (small quantities of dense,
mineralic wines from low yielding Grenache and Carignan planted on steep
terraces). Other regions that deserve a mention are Navarra (easy drinking
rosé and full flavoured reds), Penedés (the home of Cava),
Somontano (modern varietal wines from the foothills of the Pyrenees), Jumilla
(chunky Mourvèdre-based reds) and La Mancha (the vast central plain that
produces largely plonk). Spain is also known for sherry: its stunningly unique
and undervalued fortified wines from the Jerez.
A German term for late harvest. The
Germans love rules, and there are a stack load of regulations that wines
labelled spätlese must satisfy. Suffice to say, all the consumer needs to
know is that these wines will probably have a touch of sweetness, usually with
good balancing acidity, unless they are labelled 'trocken', in which case they
will be dry and fresh.
A tasting term that is a
close relative of sappy and green, usually used to describe young, raw red
A popular tasting term for the
elements of a wine that confer longevity, mainly tannins and acidity. Most
Bordeaux style reds will have in their youth a structure mainly comprised of
tannins, both from the oak they have been matured in and also the grape skins.
In Burgundy and the Northern Rhône, the structure tends to be contributed
both by the tannins and also the acidity.
you find these words on a wine label, it means that the wine was aged on the
lees: the gunk at the bottom of a barrel or tank that consists mostly of dead
yeast cells. It can add complex, yeasty flavours to a white wine. See also lees
Where it comes from: Everyone loves
Syrah. It combines the sexiness of Pinot Noir with the depth of flavour and
structure of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is now rightly recognized as one of the
world's great red grape varieties, but until recently it was somewhat
underrated. Syrah's home is the northern Rhône region of France, where it
makes the celebrated wines of Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Cornas.
Flavour profile: Rich, dark wines with spicy, earthy flavours and aromas of
violets and bacon fat. Where to find it: Syrah does well in warm climates, and
is now being planted throughout the wine world. From the northern Rhône
it has spread throughout southern France, making characterful wines that are
often blends with varieties such as Grenache and Mourvèdre. Elsewhere in
Europe it has been grown on a limited scale in Spain, where it has done well,
and also Greece. In Australia, it is known as Shiraz and is the premier red
variety there, making dense, full-on reds which still retain their regional
character. In California, Syrah lags behind Cabernet Sauvignon by some
distance, but is catching on, often making superb, concentrated wines. New
Zealand grows a bit, and there are some good examples coming from Chile and
Collective name for a
bitter, astringent group of chemicals that are found in skins, pips and stems
of grapes, and also in the oak barrels that are commonly used to age wine in.
Take a young, dark monster of a red wine and swish it around your mouth. That
bitter, tongue curling, tooth-coating, drying sensation you get is from the
tannins. Tannins are used in the leather-making industry to turn cow hide into
shoes, belts and posh sofas, so no wonder it feels like tough young wines are
turning your mouth into leather! However, even though this description doesn't
sound too appealing, tannins are a vital component of red wines. They
contribute structure, which in turn facilitates ageing and thus the development
of the complexity that comes from long-term cellaring. And without tannins to
counter the fruit, most red wines would taste flabby and unbalanced.
The most important grape-derived acid in
wine. Sometimes you'll find little crystals at the bottom of a bottle of wine:
these are crystals of tartarate salts, and they are harmless and flavourless.
Because some uninformed consumers worry when they find these in their wine,
many producers subject wine to low temperatures before bottling (a process
called cold stabilization) to precipitate the tartarates out.
An abbreviation for the chemical trichloranisole,
which ruins an enormous amount of wine every year (see corked).
Where it comes from: Spain's classic red
grape variety, also commonly known as Tinto Fino and Cencibel. Does best in the
slightly cooler regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Although it is a steady
performer, Tempranillo is arguably not in the same quality league as the big
boys such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinot Noir. Flavour profile: Lacks
a really distinctive identity, but attributed flavours include strawberry,
spice, leather and tobacco. Tempranillo blends well with other varieties, and
is frequently aged in American oak, which can contribute as much to a wine's
flavour and texture as the grapes. Where to find it: Found outside Spain in
Portugal (where it is known by a variety of synonyms) and Argentina.
Imagine that on your property you have three
vineyards, one that has a clay-based soil, one that has a gravelly soil, and
one that has chalky soil. Each of these vineyards is planted with the same
grape variety, and the grapes are all handled the same way in the winery. Yet
when you taste the finished wines from each site, each will have its own unique
characteristics. Terroir is a French term which refers to exactly these
site-specific differences in wines that are caused by factors such as soil
types, drainage, local microclimate and sun exposure. Debate rages about the
importance of terroir versus the role of the winemaker, and also exactly how
factors such as soils influence the flavour of the wine.
If you ever buy old fine
wines, you'll be interested in the ullage level: it refers to the loss of wine
from the bottle with time and involves the gap between the cork and the surface
of the wine. It can vary widely, even between bottles from the same case, and
terms like 'low neck' and 'high shoulder' are used to describe it. These
descriptors will probably become less important as a combination of digital
photography and the internet will mean that prospective purchasers will soon be
able to actually see the condition of any bottles they are interested in.
If you detect the scent
of vanilla in a wine, it's a tell-tale sign that new oak (and in particular
American oak) has been used at some stage in the wine making process.
A wine named after the single grape variety
it was made from. This consumer-friendly practice began in earnest in the USA
in the 1950s and is now so popular that the majority of wines from the new
world now have the grape variety on the label.
French term for old vines.
Tasting term used for wines that are thick,
heavy-textured and concentrated. Sweet wines made from grapes that have been
affected by noble rot are commonly viscous.
A wine fault describing a wine with an unpleasant,
vinegar-like nose, caused by acetic acid, a volatile acid that is a result of
the oxidation of alcohol. Known in the trade as simply VA. All wines have a
tiny bit, but too much and the wine is vile, and makes the wine smell vinegary.
See Pinot Blanc
A handy microorganism,
without which we wouldn't have bread, beer or wine. Yeasts eat the sugar in
grape juice and excrete alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste products. They keep
going until all the sugar is gone, or until the alcohol level reaches about
16%, at which point they die. The selection of the appropriate yeast strain --
or indeed the decision simply to allow fermentation to occur with the wild
strains of yeast that live on the grape skins -- is an important choice in
Where it comes from:
California's 'own' red grape variety, which has long been of uncertain origin.
Molecular biology has recently proved that it is identical to the Primitivo
variety of Southern Italy. However, it is in California that this grape makes
the most striking, boldly flavoured wines. Flavour profile: Full-on,
chocolatey, blackberry-laced reds, often with high alcohol and soft tannins.
Where to find it: It's a versatile grape, used to make a range of styles from
confected white and pink jug wines, to full bodied, burly, concentrated reds.
Outside California, small quantities are grown in South Africa, Chile and
Western Australia, with some success.