We’ve all been there. Sitting in a wine tasting room and wondering by ourselves when the tasting presenter walks away from the table- “What on earth did he just say?” From tannins to lees to blanc de blancs, I have to admit that the wine industry has not always made it easy for consumers to understand what they are talking about. As the “wine language” was developed in Old World wine countries (mostly European countries that have been making wine for many centuries), a lot of the terms are in French, Italian and Spanish. But there are also quite a few scientific terms that wine presenters sometimes use that can be just as confusing as something spoken in another language. To the average person these terms and phrases might seem intimidating and that is why I decided to write this article. These are only a few of the most common, but yet confusing, terms that I get asked to explain often to my friends and family.
Anthocyanins: A chemical pigment found in plants that give leaves and fruit a red, blue or purple colour. Skins of red grapes are abundant in these compounds and they are responsible for the colour of red wine.
Aroma: The smell of a wine that is sensed by sniffing through the nose. Usually refers to the smell that is inherent to the grapes as opposed to smells that developed through barrel aging (referred to as bouquet).
Barrique: An oak barrel that is used for aging wine and holds approximately 225 L.
Blanc de blanc: A white wine that is made entirely from white grapes as opposed to a white wine that also contains red grape varieties.
Blanc de noir: A white wine that is made from red or black grape varieties. The juice is squeezed from the grapes and fermented without the skins. These wines may also have a light pink hue.
Bordeaux blend: A wine that is made by blending at least two of the traditional grape varieties that are grown in the Bordeaux region of France. These include Cabernet franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit verdot.
Brut: Refers to a very dry sparkling wine or Champagne.
Claret: A term that refers to red wines from the Bordeaux region of France.
Cooper: A person that is skilled in the art of making wine barrels.
Decanting: The process of gently pouring wine from the original bottle to a different container (called a decanter or carafe) to separate the wine from its sediment and allows the wine to be oxidised. It is important to let the bottle stand upright for a period of time to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom of the bottle before decanting.
Demi-sec: A French term that refers to a semi-sweet wine.
Enology or Oenology: The science and study of winemaking.
Fermentation: The process that turns grape juice into wine through the conversion of sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide by yeast.
Fortified wine: A wine that has an alcohol content between 15 and 22 percent alcohol by volume which was obtained by alcoholic fermentation of grape juice and the addition of brandy or another wine spirit.
Late harvest: A term used to describe wines that are made from grapes that were harvested later than normal, usually with a higher sugar content (Brix). These wines are usually sweet, dessert-style wines.
Lees: The sediment that remains in the tank or barrel during and after fermentation has completed. This includes dead yeast cells, grape seeds, skins, stems, pulp and harmless tartrate crystals. Usually the gross lees is separated from the wine through a process called racking after fermentation has concluded. In some cases wine is left to age for an extended period whilst still in contact with the dead yeast cells (fine lees). This can enhance a wine’s complexity and add richness.
Legs: The viscous droplets that can be seen on the inside of a wine glass when the wine is swirled. It usually indicates a wine that is full-bodied with a fair amount of alcohol.
Method Cap Classique (MCC): The traditional method that is used to make sparkling wines that are fermented in the bottle. This is the same method that is used to make Champagne.
Noble rot: A mould called Botrytis cinerea that grows on ripe wine grapes under specific climatic conditions. It dehydrates the grapes which causes the sugars and flavours inside the berries to concentrate. The wines made from these grapes are rich, complex and usually has a high sugar content.
Oxidized: A term that describes a wine that has been exposed to oxygen (air) and has turned a brownish colour, lost its freshness and now has a honeyed or Sherry-like character.
Resveratrol: A natural chemical compound that is found in wine and grape skins as well as many other foods including blueberries and peanuts. It has been shown to have many health benefits including protection against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s, type-2 diabetes and many others.
Rosé: These are wines that have a pink or salmon-coloured hue. They are made from red grapes that have had limited contact with the grape skins, giving rise to the lighter colour.
Tannins: Natural chemical compounds that are most prominent in red wines and gives wine a “rough” taste. It is mostly derived from the skins, stems and seeds of grapes, but also from oak barrels. It is important in adding structure and facilitates the aging of wine.
Terroir: A French term that is used to describe the multi-faceted interaction and relationship between the vine, soil, climate and topography of a specific site that influences the ultimate wine character.
Vintage: Refers to the year in which the grapes were harvested and the wine was made.
Viticulture: The science, study and cultivation of grapes and grapevines.
Umami: Considered to be the fifth taste sensation. Usually referred to as the “savoury” taste as it is found in most savoury foods including mushrooms, cured meats and soy sauce. It is also sometimes tasted in wines.
Hopefully now you will be able to decipher exactly what your wine presenter is talking about at your next wine tasting. And if you forget or still don’t know, ASK! There was little I enjoyed more when I worked in a tasting room than sharing the knowledge I had and I’m sure most other tasting room staff feel the same. Besides, at some stage, we didn’t know anything either.
By: Denise M. Gardner
If you are a wine producer in the northern hemisphere, harvest may feel quite far away. However, given that it is now the month of July, it will be here before we all know it.
Harvest season is just around the corner! Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
The month of July is a great time to start preparing a few essential pre-harvest tasks including getting a bottling schedule ready, especially if bottling operations have not yet begun, and ordering harvest supplies. This blog post will focus on these two tasks.
Prepare and Enact a Bottling Schedule
New grapes are about to flood your winery with juice and future wine. Now is the time to review inventory within the cellar and determine what has to be moved and what has to be bottled before harvest begins.
Freeing up previous years’ inventory by moving it into bottle will free up tank, barrel and storage space for this year’s incoming fruit. It makes for a much easier transition if all of the wines that need bottling are bottled before harvest season starts. Bottling during harvest is not only chaotic, but it tires employees, pulls resources from the incoming product, and may lead to harvest decisions that may be regretted later.
Always make sure to get bottled wines properly stored and away from any “wet areas” on the production floor. If possible, bottled wines should have a separated storage area within an ideal environment that is physically separated from production. From there, stored wines can be moved into retail space when needed.
For more information on how to get wines prepared for bottling, please visit our previous posts:
Bottling comes with its own set of challenges and risks, but several analytical tests can help put a winemaker’s mind to ease regarding bottle stability. Photo by: Denise M. Gardner
Ordering Fermentation and Lab Supplies
Many suppliers and wine labs offer free shipping in July, which can especially be useful for wineries that are not geographically close to a winery supply store-front. Planning ahead and determining what fermentation supplies will be needed in August, could save extra money. Not to mention, having supplies on hand during the busy processing season can be a big stress relief.
Winemakers should also take the time to look at new fermentation products and assess the previous year’s needs in order to adequately supply for the up-and-coming harvest. Keeping an annual inventory of purchases can be helpful to isolate regular needs.
Things to consider purchasing include:
- Fermentation Nutrients
- Malolactic Bacteria
- Yeast Hulls
- Salts for Acid Adjustments
- Pectic Gums and/or Inactivated Yeast Products
- Fining Agents
- Oak Alternatives or Barrels
- Sanitizing Agents
While new yeasts are released frequently, being constructive about the production’s fermentation needs can help isolate what yeasts are needed for the upcoming harvest. I typically recommend that all vintners have at least 5 strains on hand for harvest: 2 reliable strains that will get through primary fermentation with little hassle, 1 strain that can be relied upon for sluggish or stuck fermentations, and 2 strains for specialty needs (e.g., sparkling or fruit wine/hard cider production) or experimental use.
Select and purchase your yeast strains in July to take advantage of free-shipping promotions.
Fermentation nutrients should be a must-have for all wineries to help minimize the risk of hydrogen sulfide. Always double check nutrient requirements for yeast strains purchased. In general, wineries will need hydration nutrients (e.g., GoFerm), complex nutrients (e.g., Fermaid K), and diammonium phosphate (DAP).
For more information on why YAN is important and how yeasts utilize nitrogen during primary fermentation, please visit the following blog posts:
If you need further step-by-step instructions on how to determine adequate nutrient additions during primary fermentation, please visit our Penn State Extension fact sheet: Wine Made Easy Nutrient Management during Fermentation
Sometimes hydrogen sulfide will arise in a wine by the time primary fermentation ends despite all preventative care. Making sure there are adequate supplies on hand, such as copper sulfate and PVI/PVP can save time in the future. Also make plans for ways that the production can reserve fresh lees. PVI/PVP is a fining agent that can help reduce metals like residual copper, but fresh lees will also help reduce the perception of hydrogen sulfide aroma/flavor and residual copper in the wine. Having a plan for retaining and storing lees during harvest season can save time during challenging situations that develop through the end of harvest and into the winter’s storage season. A fact sheet on copper screens and addition trials can be found at the Penn State Extension fact sheet: Wine Made Easy Sulfur-Based Off-Odors in Wine.
I also like to make sure we have supplies on hand in case of heavy disease pressure come harvest. This includes things like Lysozyme, beta-gluconase, pectinase or other clarification enzymes, and fermentation tannins. Lysozyme can help reduce lactic acid bacteria levels while beta-gluconase can assist clarification problems associated with Botrysized wines. For further information on how to manage high-disease pressured fruit, please visit the Penn State Extension website on Fermenting with Botrytis or Managing Sour Rot in the Cellar.
Double check the storage requirements for all materials purchased before and after the product is opened. It’s important to store all of those supplies in the winery properly as it will ensure their efficacy by the time the product is needed.
Which is superior? “Red, obviously” says John Doe, 56, father of 3, and executive wine selection director of the weekly grocery run. “It has just got more too it. Unless it’s good, white wine is just cool-drink”. Thanks, John. Well, there you have it: a first-hand account from a made-up person designed to represent common opinion.
He/I does have a point, I should like to think. There is a general perception of red wine being the more bespoke of the two options. Look at most wine auctions and the most expensive is the big red wine. Speak to consumers and you may hear a chime of “I’m not much of a wine drinker, I only like whites because they’re light” or something from our friend John Doe’s line of rhetoric – an unsubstantiated claim that red wine is the connoisseur’s choice.
Perhaps white wine is more accessible, it certainly is lighter by the very nature of its production. It’s also served cool, or with ice, as if to imply it’s only a refreshment, and therefore, perhaps less of an acquired taste as red wine might be, as if red wine requires a more experienced drinker to appreciate. This only seems to apply from the point of view of an entry level wine drinker – and not one whom might participate on a wine auction, so this argument doesn’t seem to provide insight.
From a winemaking point of view, red wine production is the more interventionist of the two processes during the fermentation process, due to the skin extraction (skin-contact white wines are not participating in the argument today, sorry!). This doesn’t mean red wine is more difficult to produce, it is simply a technically unique production process. In fact, often the high flavour extraction and “oak-ability” of reds provides room to hide faults – smoke taint, for example – and could thus imply a larger room for error in red wine production, and therefore an easier job. This is simply one argument, not my universal opinion. It just provides a retort on the side of white wine.
Ageability could be the crux: reds seem to have an easier time aging, tannins providing timely rewards and oxidative protection. White wines, particularly in South Africa, need a delicate cellaring. Ironically, the average bottle of wine doesn’t make it 24 hours past purchase, let-alone into a viable aging cellar!
Personally, I believe it is the romance. Red wine is visually sensuous; it reminds us of Vatican paintings. It’s texture is fuller, and more alien to us, when recalling any other drink we may have had before. Everything about it is hedonistic, and we all, deep down, love that feeling. White wine seems to have lost out on the indulgence connotation, downgraded to red wine’s warm-up act, exiled to the domain of Gin and Tonic: a housewife (or husband’s) drink. Put in it’s context though, if you go to Germany – Riesling is king! Give me a line-up of 50 South African wines choosing one by cultivar alone, I’ll say “Chenin” without hesitation.
But what do I know, these are just the ramblings of a new world winemaking student still finding my way in the ‘Universe of Wine’!