WinoTripper's Glossary Of Terms
Only The Words You Really Need to Know About Wine
This isn't meant to be a complete wine glossary. Heck, I don't know everything... and I certainly don't need to know everything to enjoy wine. But there are some terms that will keep popping up, even in the most informal of settings. This list represents the words we hear, and sometimes use, most often when enjoying wine.
Acid - Before you get all Purple Haze, let me try to explain that it's not that kind of acid. But rather, it's one of the basic tastes of wine. The acid in wine tends to be translated into sour or tart flavors in the mouth, or the flavor that will tingle the sides of your tongue. Winemakers work really hard to make the right balance of acid, so it's not too tart, or not too sour... but just right. Like kissing the sky.
Aroma - Also the "nose", or if you're a kinda snobby... the "bouquet". But as your common sense has already told you, It simply means the smell of the grapes in a wine.
Bouquet - (see Aroma)
Breathe - (see Decanting) Allowing air to come in contact with the wine so that the wine "opens up", meaning the flavors and aromas come to life like a genie uncorked from a bottle after many years. You can accomplish this by simply letting the wine sit in your glass for a couple hours, or you can help it along by swirling it about (see: Dry Cleaning Bill).
Brix - This is the scale that measures the sugar level of the grapes before they are fermented.
Brut - The driest, meaning not-sweat, style of Champagne or sparkling wine.
Chateau - Not just a snooty French name for a big house, but also the "legal" definition of the house that's attached to a vineyard in France. To be called a Chateau, a winery must meet various criteria, including vineyard size and facilities, among many other things that only French people and wine collectors care about.
Champagne - I've included champagne in the glossary because it's so commonly misused and abused. Champagne is a region in France that produces the only sparkling wine that can actually be called Champagne. Anything else from anywhere else needs to be called sparkling wine, or bubbly rainbow juice, or whatever. Thats the truth... and it's the law. Any champagne you buy that is not from France is contraband and should be drunk immediately, or else French wine cops in funny hats will break through the door and arrest every last one of you. And you do NOT want to go to French wine prison, that is for darn sure.
Decanting - The process of pouring the wine out of the bottle and in to another container, usually a carafe, which allows for more of the wine's surface area to be in contact with the air, thus allowing the wine to "breathe". Decanting also helps separate the sediment from the wine.
Dry - Not sweet. Think of it as a scale. At one end is Dry, or totally not sweet, and on the other end is really, really freakin' sweet. There will be every shade in between, as you can imagine. You'll hear things like "off-dry", which is just a silly way to describe a wine when trying to disguise the fact that the wine is on the sweeter side.
Dry Cleaning Bill - What you get after some aggressive swirling in an attempt to get the wine to "breathe" and open up. Helpful Hint: don't wear white.
Estate-bottled - Used to describe wine that was made completely, from start to finish, by the vineyard and the owner. No out-sourcing involved.
Fermentation - The process used to make grape juice into wine. Contrary to popular belief, fermentation is not the process Jesus used to turn water into wine. That trick, from what I can gather, was just Jesus being Jesus.
Fortified Wine - Wine with a kick of brandy, which will usually raise the alcohol level. Two common types of fortified wine that you've probably heard of are Port and Sherry. Fortified is also a legal term that makes way to a higher tax for higher alcohol level wines. In California, for example, any wine that has an alcohol level higher than 14% is considered "fortified" and therefore in a higher tax bracket.
Reserve - Although it has no legal meaning, it is sometimes used on wine labels to denote a wine of "better quality", usually using the best grapes in the vineyard. But with no legal backing, anybody can put "Reserve" on any label, really. I think that the wineries, in general, are pretty honest about this, though. It would only hurt the winery to put shitty grapes in a Reserve wine. Like the saying goes, "You can make shitty wine from great grapes, but you can't make great wine from shitty grapes." (or something like that).
Sniffy-Sniff - A term used by WineLibraryTV's host, Gary Vaynerchuck, to describe the act of smelling the wine. As in, "lets give this wine a sniffy-sniff!". I'm pretty sure he trademarked it, so don't get any ideas.
Sommelier - A french term for the head wine honcho, or cellarmaster. This is the person at the restaurant in charge of the wine cellar. They do everything from selecting the wines to maintaining them in storage. They will usually make themselves available to you, the customer, to help pick the best wine for your meal.
Tannin - Most often heard when tasting red wine. The tannins in a wine will make your tongue feel like it's been dried out, or it'll make you pucker. The tannin is a compound that comes from the skins and stems of the grape. The tannins in a wine will usually mellow with age, so that a young wine may be high in tannins, while an older wine will probably taste smoother on the tongue.
Vintage - The year the grapes are harvested.
Wine Wallet - The name of that feeling you get after a long day of tasting, your judgement is slightly impaired, and you feel like you want to buy the entire winery after tasting your forty-seventh taste of the day. As in, "this stuff is great! [hicup]... I'll take twenty cases!"