Glossary of Wine Tasting Terms

Glossary of Wine Tasting Terms

acetic: Wines, no matter how well made, contain quantities of acetic acidity that have a vinegary smell. If there is an excessive amount of acetic acidity, the wine will have a vinegary smell and be a flawed, acetic wine.

acidic: Wines need natural acidity to taste fresh and lively, but an excess of acidity results in an acidic wine that is tart and sour.

acidity: The acidity level in a wine is critical to its enjoyment and livelihood. The natural acids that appear in wine are citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic. Wines from hot years tend to be lower in acidity, whereas wines from cool, rainy years tend to be high in acidity. Acidity in a wine can preserve the wine’s freshness and keep the wine lively, but too much acidity, which masks the wines flavors and compresses its texture, is a flaw.

aftertaste: As the term suggests, the taste left in the mouth when one swallows is the aftertaste. This word is a synonym for length or finish. The longer the aftertaste lingers in the mouth (assuming it is a pleasant taste), the finer the quality of the wine.

aggressive: Aggressive is usually applied to wines that are either high in acidity or have harsh tannins, or both.

angular: Angular wines are wines that lack roundness, generosity, and depth. Wine from poor vintages or wines that are too acidic are often described as being angular.

aroma: Aroma is the smell of a young wine before it has had sufficient time to develop nuances of smell that are then called its bouquet. The word aroma is commonly used to mean the smell of a relatively young, unevolved wine.

astringent: Wines that are astringent are not necessarily bad or good wines. Astringent wines are harsh and coarse to taste, either because they are too young and tannic and just need time to develop, or because they are not well made. The level of tannins (if it is harsh) in a wine contributes to its degree of astringency.

austere: Wines that are austere are generally not terribly pleasant wines to drink. An austere wine is a hard, rather dry wine that lacks richness and generosity. However, young Rhônes are not as austere as young Bordeaux.

backward: An adjective used to describe (1) a young largely unevolved, closed, and undrinkable wine, (2) a wine that is not ready to drink, or (3) a wine that simply refuses to release its charms and personality.

balance: One of the most desired traits in a wine is good balance, where the concentration of fruit, level of tannins, and acidity are in total harmony. Balanced wines are symmetrical and tend to age gracefully.

barnyard: An unclean, farmyard, fecal aroma that is imparted to a wine because of unclean barrels or unsanitary winemaking facilities.

berrylike: As this descriptive term implies, most red wines have an intense berry fruit character that can suggest blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, mulberries, or even strawberries and cranberries.

big: A big wine is a large-framed, full-bodied wine with an intense and concentrated feel on the palate. Most red Rhône wines are big wines.

blackcurrant: A pronounced smell of blackcurrant fruit is commonly associated with certain Rhône wines. It can vary in intensity from faint to very deep and rich.

body: Body is the weight and fullness of a wine that can be sensed as it crosses the palate. full-bodied wines tend to have a lot of alcohol, concentration, and glycerin.

Botrytis cinerea: The fungus that attacks the grape skins under specific climatic conditions (usually alternating periods of moisture and sunny weather). It causes the grape to become superconcentrated because it causes a natural dehydration. Botrytis cinerea is essential for the great sweet white wines of Barsac and Sauternes. It rarely occurs in the Rhône Valley because of the dry, constant sunshine and gusty winds.

bouquet: As a wine’s aroma becomes more developed from bottle aging, the aroma is transformed into a bouquet that is hopefully more than just the smell of the grape.

brawny: A hefty, muscular, full-bodied wine with plenty of weight and flavor, although not always the most elegant or refined sort of wine.

briery: I think of California Zinfandel when the term briery comes into play, denoting that the wine is aggressive and rather spicy.

brilliant: Brilliant relates to the color of the wine. A brilliant wine is one that s clear, with no haze or cloudiness to the color.

browning: As red wines age, their color changes from ruby/purple to dark ruby, to medium ruby, to ruby with an amber edge, to ruby with a brown edge. When a wine is browning it is usually fully mature and not likely to get better.

carbonic maceration: This vinification method is used to make soft, fruity, very accessible wines. Whole clusters of grapes are put into a vat that is then filled with carbonic gas. This system is used when fruit is to be emphasized in the final wine in contrast to structure and tannin.

cedar: Rhône reds can have a bouquet that suggests either faintly or overtly the smell of cedarwood. It is a complex aspect of the bouquet.

chewy: If a wine has a rather dense, viscous texture from a high glycerin content, it is often referred to as being chewy. High-extract wines from great vintages can often be chewy, largely because they have higher alcohol hence high levels of glycerin, which imparts a fleshy mouthfeel.

closed: The term closed is used to denote that the wine is not showing its potential, which remains locked in because it is too young. Young wines often close up about 12-18 months after bottling, and depending on the vintage and storage conditions, remain in such a state for several years to more than a decade.

complex: One of the most subjective descriptive terms used, a complex wine is a wine that the taster never gets bored with and finds interesting to drink. Complex wines tend to have a variety of subtle scents and flavors that hold one’s interest in the wine.

concentrated: Fine wines, whether they are light-, medium-, or full-bodied, should have concentrated flavors. Concentrated denotes that the wine has a depth and richness of fruit that gives it appeal and interest. Deep is a synonym for concentrated.

corked: A corked wine is a flawed wine that has taken on the smell of cork as a result of an unclean or faulty cork. It is perceptible in a bouquet that shows no fruit, only the smell of musty cork, which reminds me of wet cardboard.

cuvée: Many producers in the Rhône Valley produce special, deluxe lots of wine or a lot of wine from a specific grape variety that they bottle separately. These lots are often referred to as cuvées.

decadent: If you are an ice cream and chocolate lover, you know the feeling of eating a huge sundae of rich vanilla ice cream lavished with hot fudge and real whipped cream. If you are a wine enthusiast, a wine loaded with opulent, even unctuous layers of fruit, with a huge bouquet, and a plump, luxurious texture can be said to be decadent.

deep: Essentially the same as concentrated, expressing the fact that the wine is rich, full of extract, and mouth filling.

delicate: As this word implies, delicate wines are light, subtle, understated wines that are prized for their shyness rather than for an extroverted, robust character. White wines are usually more delicate than red wines. Few Rhône red wines can correctly be called delicate.

demi-muid: 650-liter Burgundy barrels which are essentially the equivalent of three regular barrels.

diffuse: Wines that smell and taste unstructured and unfocused are said to be diffuse. When red wines are served at too warm a temperature they often become diffuse.

double decanting: This is done by first decanting the wine into a decanter and then rinsing the original bottle out with non-chlorinated water and then immediately repouring the wine from the decanter back into the bottle. It varies with the wine as to how long you cork it.

dumb: A dumb wine is also a closed wine, but the term dumb is used more pejoratively. Closed wines may need only time to reveal their richness and intensity. Dumb wines may never get any better.

earthy: May be used in both a negative and a positive sense; however, I prefer to use earthy to denote a positive aroma of fresh, rich, clean soil. Earthy is a more intense smell than woody or truffle scents.

elegant: Although more white wines than red are described as being elegant, lighter-styled, graceful, balance red wines can be elegant.

extract: This is everything in a wine besides water, sugar, alcohol, and acidity.

exuberant: Like extroverted, somewhat hyper people, wines too can be gushing with fruit and seem nervous and intensely vigorous.

fat: When the Rhône has an exceptionally hot year for its crop and the wines attain a super sort of maturity, they are often quite rich and concentrated, with low to average acidity. Often such wines are said to be fat, which is a prized commodity. If they become too fat, that is a flaw and they are then called flabby.

flabby: A wine that is too fat or obese is a flabby wine. Flabby wines lack structure and are heavy to taste.

fleshy: Fleshy is a synonym for chewy, meaty, or beefy. It denotes that the wine has a lot of body, alcohol, and extract, and usually a high glycerin content. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage are particularly fleshy wines.

floral: Wines made from the Muscat or Viognier grape have a flowery component, and occasionally a red wine will have a floral scent.

focused: Both a fine wine’s bouquet and flavor should be focused. Focused simply means that the scents, aromas, and flavors are precise and clearly delineated. If they are not, the wine is like an out-of-focus picture-diffuse, hazy, and possibly problematic.

forward: An adjective used to describe wines that are (1) delicious, evolved, and close to maturity, (2) wines that border on being flamboyant or ostentatious, or (3) unusually evolved and/or quickly maturing wines.

foudre: Large oak barrels that vary enormously in size but are significantly larger than the normal oak barrel used in Bordeaux or the piece used in Burgundy. They are widely used in the Rhône Valley.

fresh: Freshness in both young and old wines is a welcome and pleasing component. A wine is said to be fresh when it is lively and cleanly made. The opposite of fresh is stale. fruity: A very good wine should have enough concentration of fruit so that it can be said to be fruity. Fortunately, the best wines will have more than just a fruity personality.

full-bodied: Wines rich in extract, alcohol, and glycerin are full-bodied wines. Most Rhône wines are full-bodied.

garrigue: In the southern Rhône Valley and Provence, this is the landscape of small slopes and plateaus. This Provençal word applies to these windswept hilltops/slopes inhabited by scrub-brush and Provençal herb outcroppings. The smell of garrigue is often attributed to southern Rhône Valley wines. Suggesting more than the smell of herbes de Provence, it encompasses an earthy/herbal concoction of varying degrees of intensity.

green: Green wines are wines made from underripe grapes; they lack richness and generosity as well as having a vegetal character. Green wines are infrequently made in the Rhone, although vintages such as 1977 were characterized by a lack of ripening.

hard: Wines with abrasive, astringent tannins or high acidity are said to be hard. Young vintages of Rhône wines can be hard, but they should never be harsh.

harsh: If a wine is too hard it is said to be harsh. Harshness in a wine, young or old, is a flaw.

hedonistic: Certain styles of wine are meant to be inspected; they are introspective and intellectual wines. Others are designed to provide sheer delight, joy, and euphoria. Hedonistic wines can be criticized because in one sense they provide so much ecstasy that they can be called obvious, but in essence, they are totally gratifying wines meant to fascinate and enthrall-pleasure at its best.

herbaceous: Many wines have a distinctive herbal smell that is generally said to be herbaceous. Specific herbal smells can be of thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, fennel, or basil and are common in Rhône wines.

herbes de Provence: Provence is known for the wild herbs that grow prolifically through- out the region. These include lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano. It is not just an olfactory fancy to smell many of these herbs in Rhône Valley wines, particularly those made in the south.

hollow: Also known as shallow, hollow wines are diluted and lack depth and concentration.

honeyed: A common personality trait of specific white Rhône wines, a honeyed wine is one that has the smell and taste of bee’s honey.

hot: Rather than meaning that the temperature of the wine is too warm to drink, hot denotes that the wine is too high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed. Wines with alcohol levels in excess of 14.5% often taste hot if the requisite depth of fruit is not present.

inox vats: This is the French term for stainless steel vats that are used for both fermentation and storage of wine.

intensity: Intensity is one of the most desirable traits of a high-quality wine. Wines of great intensity must also have balance. They should never be heavy or cloying. Intensely concentrated great wines are alive, vibrant, aromatic, layered, and texturally compelling. Their intensity adds to their character, rather than detracting from it.

jammy: When wines have a great intensity of fruit from excellent ripeness they can be jammy, which is a very concentrated, flavorful wine with superb extract. In great vintages such as 1961, 1978, 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1995, some of the wines are so concentrated that they are said to be jammy.

Kisselguhr filtration system: This is a filtration system using diatomaceous earth as the filtering material, rather than cellulose, or in the past, before it was banned, asbestos.

leafy: A leafy character in a wine is similar to a herbaceous character only in that it refers to the smell of leaves rather than herbs. A wine that is too leafy is a vegetal or green wine.

lean: Lean wines are slim, rather streamlined wines that lack generosity and fatness but can still be enjoyable and pleasant.

lively: A synonym for fresh or exuberant, a lively wine is usually young wine with good acidity and a thirst-quenching personality.

long: A very desirable trait in any fine wine is that it be long in the mouth. Long (or length) relates to a wine’s finish, meaning that after you swallow the wine, you sense its presence for a long time. (Thirty seconds to several minutes is great length.) In a young wine, the difference between something good and something great is the length of the wine.

lush: Lush wines are velvety, soft, richly fruity wines that are both concentrated and fat. A lush wine can never be an astringent or hard wine.

massive: In great vintages where there is a high degree of ripeness and superb concentration, some wines can turn out to be so big, full-bodied, and rich that they are called massive. A great wine such as the 1961 or 1990 Hermitage La Chapelle is a textbook example of a massive wine.

meaty: A chewy, fleshy wine is also said to be meaty.

monocepage: This term describes a wine made totally of one specific varietal.

monopole: Used to denote a vineyard owned exclusively by one proprietor, the word monopole appears on the label of a wine made from such a vineyard.

morsellated: Many vineyards are fragmented, with multiple growers owning a portion of the same vineyard. Such a vineyard is often referred to as a morsellated vineyard.

mouth-filling: Big, rich, concentrated wines that are filled with fruit extract and are high in alcohol and glycerin are wines that tend to texturally fill the mouth. A mouth-filling wine is also a chewy, fleshy, fat wine.

musty: Wines aged in dirty barrels or unkept cellars or exposed to a bad cork take on a damp, musty character that is a flaw.

nose: The general smell and aroma of a wine as sensed through one’s nose and olfactory senses is often called the wine’s nose.

oaky: Many red Rhône wines are aged from 6 months to 30 months in various sizes of oak barrels. At some properties, a percentage of the oak barrels may be new, and these barrels impart a toasty, vanillin flavor and smell to the wine. If the wine is not rich and concentrated, the barrels can overwhelm the wine, making it taste overly oaky. Where the wine is rich and concentrated and the winemaker has made a judicious use of barrels, however, the results are a wonderful marriage of fruit and oak.

off: If a wine is not showing its true character, or is flawed or spoiled in some way, it is said to be “off.”

overripe: An undesirable characteristic; grapes left too long on the vine become too ripe, lose their acidity, and produce wines that are heavy and balance. This can happen frequently in the hot viticultural areas of the Rhône Valley if the growers harvest too late.

oxidized: If a wine has been excessively exposed to air during either its making or aging, the wine loses freshness and takes on a stale, old smell and taste. Such a wine is said to be oxidized.

peppery: A peppery quality to a wine is usually noticeable in many Rhône wines that have an aroma of black or white pepper and a pungent flavor.

perfumed: This term usually is more applicable to fragrant, aromatic white wines than to red wines. However, some of the dry white wines (particularly Condrieu) and sweet white wines can have a strong perfumed smell.

pigéage: A winemaking technique of punching down the cap of grape skins that forms during the beginning of the wine’s fermentation. This is done several times a day, occasionally more frequently, to extract color, flavor, and tannin from the fermenting juice.

plummy: Rich, concentrated wines can often have the smell and taste of ripe plums. When they do, the term plummy is applicable.

ponderous: Ponderous is often used as a synonym for massive, but in my usage a massive wine is simply a big, rich, very concentrated wine with balance, whereas a ponderous wine is a wine that has become heavy and tiring to drink.

precocious: Wines that mature quickly are precocious. However the term also applies to wines that may last and evolve gracefully over a long period of time, but taste as if they are aging quickly because of their tastiness and soft, early charms.

pruney: Wines produced from grapes that are overripe take on the character of prunes. Pruney wines are flawed wines.

raisiny: Late-harvest wines that are meant to be drunk at the end of a meal can often be slightly raisiny, which in some ports and sherries is desirable. However, a raisiny quality is a major flaw in a dinner wine.

rich: Wines that are high in extract, flavor, and intensity of fruit.

ripe: A wine is ripe when its grapes have reached the optimum level of maturity. Less than fully mature grapes produce wines that are underripe, and overly mature grapes produce wines that are overripe.

round: A very desirable character of wines, roundness occurs in fully mature wines that have lost their youthful, astringent tannins, and also in young wines that have soft tannins and low acidity.

savory: A general descriptive term that denotes that the wine is round, flavorful, and interesting to drink.

shallow: A weak, feeble, watery or diluted wine lacking concentration is said to be shallow.

sharp: An undesirable trait, sharp wines are bitter and unpleasant with hard, pointed edges.

silky: A synonym for velvety or lush, silky wines are soft, sometimes fat, but never hard or angular.

smoky: Some wines, either because of the soil or because of the barrels used to age the wine, have a distinctive smoky character. Côte Rôtie and Hermitage often have a roasted or smoky quality.

soft: A soft wine is one that is round and fruity, low in acidity, and has an absence of aggressive, hard tannins.

spicy: Wines often smell quite spicy with aromas of pepper, cinnamon, and other well-known spices. These pungent aromas are usually lumped together and called spicy.

stale: Dull, heavy wines that are oxidized or lack balancing acidity for freshness are called stale.

stalky: A synonym for vegetal, but used more frequently to denote that the wine has probably had too much contact with the stems, resulting in a green, vegetal, or stalky character to the wine.

supple: A supple wine is one that is soft, lush, velvety, and very attractively round and tasty. It is a highly desirable characteristic because it suggests that the wine is harmonious.

tannic: The tannins of a wine, which are extracted from the grape skins and stems, are, along with a wine’s acidity and alcohol, its lifeline. Tannins give a wine firmness and some roughness when young, but gradually fall away and dissipate. A tannic wine is one that is young and unready to drink.

tart: Sharp, acidic, lean, unripe wines are called tart. In general, a wine that is tart is not pleasurable.

thick: Rich, ripe, concentrated wines that are low in acidity are often said to be thick.

thin: A synonym for shallow; it is an undesirable characteristic for a wine to be thin, meaning that it is watery, lacking in body, and just diluted.

tightly knit: Young wines that have good acidity levels, good tannin levels, and are well made are called tightly knit, meaning they have yet to open up and develop.

toasty: A smell of grilled toast can often be found in wines because the barrels the wines are aged in are charred or toasted on the inside.

tobacco: Some red wines have the scent of fresh tobacco. It is a distinctive and wonderful smell in wine.

troncais oak: This type of oak comes from the forest of Troncais in central France.

unctuous: Rich, lush, intense wines with layers of concentrated, soft, velvety fruit are said to be unctuous.

vegetal: An undesirable characteristic, wines that smell and taste vegetal are usually made from unripe grapes. In some wines, a subtle vegetable garden smell is pleasant and adds complexity, but if it is the predominant character, it is a major flaw.

velvety: A textural description and synonym for lush or silky, a velvety wine is a rich, soft, smooth wine to taste. It is a very desirable characteristic.

viscous: Viscous wines tend to be relatively concentrated, fat, almost thick wines with a great density of fruit extract, plenty of glycerin, and high alcohol content. If they have balancing acidity, they can be tremendously flavorful and exciting wines. If they lack acidity, they are often flabby and heavy.

volatile: A volatile wine is one that smells of vinegar as a result of an excessive amount of acetic bacteria present. It is a seriously flawed wine.

woody: When a wine is overly oaky it is often said to be woody. Oakiness in a wine’s bouquet and taste is good up to a point. Once past that point, the wine is woody and its fruity qualities are masked by excessive oak aging.

— Robert Parker

Paradigm Winery

Paradigm Winery

Paradigm Winery  

(par’ – a – dime) noun. An example that serves as a pattern or model. A pattern for perfection…

Paradigm Winery, located in the Oakville appellation of Napa Valley, handcrafts small quantities of estate-bottled red wine. We’re known for our Merlot and our Cabernet Sauvignon, though we also produce a tiny amount of Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc. Regardless of the varietal, our wines are a rich expression of the vineyard we’ve been farming now for twenty-nine years.

Paradigm Winery is owned and managed by Ren and Marilyn Harris, two winegrowers with extraordinarily deep roots in Napa Valley. Marilyn’s grandparents immigrated from Italy to Napa Valley in 1890, while Ren’s family came to California in 1769. Marilyn and Ren purchased Paradigm Vineyards in 1976, and began producing wine with the 1991 vintage. Since that first vintage, the wines have been made by renowned winemaker, Heidi Peterson Barrett. Heidi’s father, Dick Peterson, was instrumental in laying out and designing the winery.

2009 CABERNET SAUVIGNON, OAKVILLE

paradigm cabernet

The highly touted 2009 vintage produced big, lush, fully ripe wines that are well balanced and worthy of aging. Our ’09 Paradigm Cab has dark garnet color with a black cherry, berry, and cedar aroma. While big, ripe and rich, the wine shows power and a silky, smooth texture. Tannins are structural and should help this wine last several decades. Flavors are layered from this Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot blend. Explosive, ripe fruit flavors marry with toasty French oak, moderate textural tannins, and good length. It is destined to be a classic vintage.

Cobb 2008 Rice-Spivak & 2006 Emmaline Vineyard Pinot Noirs

label_ricespivak08

Cobb Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard 2008

The Vineyard

This 6-acre vineyard is owned by Russell Rice and his wife, Dr. Helene Spivak. It is a few miles further inland than Cobb Wines’ other vineyards, but still influenced by the Pacific Ocean to the west. The soil is the Goldridge sandy loam found around much of this part of Sebastopol, California. However, extensive volcanic activity in the region’s past has laced the soil with an unusual amount of ash. This unique soil composition, together with a northern exposure, and the distinct varieties of Dijon and Swan pinot noir planted here, produce a characteristically aromatic, complex wine. Rice-Spivak is farmed by Cobb Wines’ longtime vineyard crew, and is the source for the Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir. These distinctive clones are planted in an unusual mix of sandy loam and volcanic ash. 450 cases made.

Tasting Notes

Winemaker’s notes: Aromas and flavors of high-toned fruit including raspberries, Bing and Rainer cherry, stone fruits, bergamot, orange melon; minerals and earth. Crisp, yet creamy mouth-feel; bright acidity on palate.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Josh Raynolds. “Bright red. Sexy aromas of candied red berries, cherry-cola, anise and fresh bay, with a hint of potpourri that gains strength with air. Juicy, penetrating raspberry and cherry flavors show increasing spiciness and weight as the wine opens in the glass. The finish strongly echoes the raspberry note and lingers with impressive clarity and persistence. This is balanced to age.” 92 Points

Harvest Notes

The 2008 growing season for the 2008 wines at our vineyards was another near-perfect event. The early season was mild. The pesky spring drizzle and fog that can reduce a crop – or if severe, eliminate it entirely – was minimal for a change. The coastal locations of our vineyards helped us avoid the hottest weather that arrived just prior to harvest, and the wildfire smoke that threatened all of us on the coast in late summer never reached our vineyards. Three bullets dodged. Not bad for farming

Technical Notes

450 cases produced
alcohol: 13.5%
3.31 pH
17 months in barrel
35% new French oak

label_emmaline06

Cobb Pinot Noir Emmeline Vineyard 2006

The Vineyard

Emmaline Vineyard (“-line” rhymes with “vine”) is at the western margin of Sebastopol, California, very much influenced by the Pacific Ocean further to the west. The two Dijon varieties planted there are growing in Goldridge sandy loam, and like our other vineyards, produce about two tons per acre. However, the combination of the pinot noir varieties and the terroir of this small vineyard result in pinot noir wines that are characteristically delicate, beautifully complex, and with relatively low levels of alcohol.

Tasting Notes

Winemaker’s notes: Dark ruby color. Flavors and aromas of cherry-plum, raspberry, citrus, cranberry, and truffle; minerals and traces of clove, chocolate, and hazelnut. Has lovely finesse with clear acidity. A very complex and age-worthy wine.

Dan Berger’s Vintage Experiences
Issue 23, July 16, 2009
“Exceptional”
“Faintly earthy notes add depth to cherry, dried roses, and a note of spice. Silky yet still crisp. A subtler wine with only 12.8% alcohol and a 3.3 pH. Limited amounts left of [this] extraordinary wine.”

Harvest Notes

Not only was the fruit quality in 2006 nearly perfect, all components of ripeness and flavor came together at a relatively low sugar level. This resulted in a lower alcohol pinot noir with complexity and finesse.

Technical Notes

166 cases produced. 16 months in barrel. 30% new French oak. 12.8% alcohol.

Continue reading

Wine Jargon: What Is Tannin?

20130319stevengrubbstannin.jpg

Tannin, n.

A diverse and complex group of chemical compounds that occur in the bark of many trees and in fruits. Strictly speaking, a tannin is a compound that is capable of interacting with proteins and precipitating them, this is the basis of the process of tanning animal hides (hence the name tannin) and is also a process that is believed to be responsible for the sensation of astringency.”—Jancis RobinsonThe Oxford Companion to Wine

Fundamentals, people. We’re focusing on fundamentals. You can slam-dunk later on.

I’m sure you know this word already. Tannin was likely the first piece of wine vocab you learned. It was definitely the first term I absorbed. The word served as explanation for why I didn’t like that French red at that house party, the one nursed from the bottle, age twenty. My face had contorted, and someone pointed out Oh, that’s tannin, bro. Allow me to expand on that first lesson…

You are probably already skilled at identifying the sensation of tannin, that drying astringency mostly associated with red wines. However, red wine is not the only place you encounter the stuff. Black tea has tannin in spades (especially when oversteeped), as does the skin of a peanut. The skins of common apple varieties are always a bit tannic, but the tannin of crabapples and traditional cider apples is usually so intense (especially with their soaring levels of acidity) that it makes them pretty much inedible.

Tannin exists in the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes. Red wines get color and tannin by soaking these components in the fermenting juice. White juice usually ferments on its own, away from all that material, so they don’t show much tannin (although there is usually still a touch). There’s also tannin in the oak barrels that wine is sometimes aged in—how much depends on how the barrels were made and whether they’ve been used in winemaking before. Tannin is one of the main things that allows a red wine to age, with acidity being the other. These two become the framework upon which the fancier thing, fruit, is draped.

Why is one wine more tannic than another? Ugh, that’s a huge question, even for science, but grape variety will be the most important factor (compare the very tannic Nebbiolo of Italy‘s Piedmont against their softer Barbera, if you feel like it). Growing site, winemaking technique, and ripeness also seem to affect how much tannin makes it into the wine, while our old pal acidity seems to enhance our perception of it. It all begins to interconnect…

About the Author: Steven Grubbs is a sommelier and wine director at Empire State South (Atlanta, GA) and Five & Ten (Athens, GA). Ask him what to drink on Twitter, where he also accepts questions on tacos and manhood.

Wine Jargon: What is Minerality?

Glimmerschiefer

Another type of rock, another sensation of minerality: Glimmerschiefer in Austria [Photo: Maggie Hoffman]

“Lick it,” he told me, “Lick the rock.” I had heard of this kind of thing before, but still, I figured that Thibeault Liger-Belair, winemaker and inheritor of crazy-good chunks of prime Burgundy vineyard land, must have been at least halfway kidding.

He wasn’t. He demonstrated, turning an oblong hunk of mottled limestone in his hand and then dragging it lengthwise down the center of his unfurled tongue. He did it kind of hard. It was a little grotesque looking. He tossed the rock back into the clay of his sizable section of Les Saint Georges vineyard, for which Nuits-Saint-Georges is named.

I followed suit, taking it easier than he. He started making a weird pursing motion with his mouth. “Feel that? That is true minerality.” And, actually, I did feel it. It was a kind of pastiness, a thick adherent texture in the middle of my tongue. I have, in fact, since detected a shadow of this sensation when drinking wines from limetone soils. So, yeah, maybe Thibeault was right.

Minerality can be a slippery concept for new wine drinkers, partly because there isn’t a lot in our common culinary language to compare it to. Shellfish? Mushrooms, maybe? Overpriced bottles of acqua minerale?

There is also the fact that minerality comes in so many shifting shades. Often, it is recognizable as a scent, like the smell of river pebbles, hot rocks, or straight-up wet dirt. Other times, what we’re talking about is a flavor, a rocky saltiness, and this can feed into a saline, pasty texture. I think this was probably what Thibeault was driving at.

Where that sensation of minerality comes from is one of the enduring mysteries of wine science. There isn’t a generally-agreed-upon explanation for how the flavor of a soil finds its way into a grape. We don’t really know how it happens, though there are a number of theories.

But minerality isn’t just in our imaginations. We have experienced it for, like, thousands of years. And its effect in wine—which seems to work opposite of fruit flavors—can make the difference between a wine that is just okay and one that is truly fine. I don’t think we are dreaming. I don’t think we are nuts. Even if we are standing around, licking expensive, significant rocks.

About the Author: Steven Grubbs is a sommelier and wine director at Empire State South (Atlanta, GA) and Five & Ten (Athens, GA). Ask him what to drink on Twitter, where he also accepts questions on tacos and manhood.

Wine Jargon: What Is Acidity?

Editor’s Note: In this series, Steven Grubbs, wine director at Empire State South(Atlanta, GA) and Five & Ten (Athens, GA), seeks to break down the jargon he threw at you last night.

20130312stevengrubbsacidstory.jpg

You’ll need some riesling with that pork belly.

Acidity, n.

Last night, when I used this word at your table (I think the topic was how awesome the riesling is with pork belly), I loaded it with such obvious ardor that you must have wondered if acidity wasn’t some weird byword for quality, that acidity=good.

And the equation might hold, at least for many sommeliers. Acid may be for us what capsaicin is for judges of chili cook-offs. Most of us are hooked on the stuff.

It is the acidity of orange juice that wakes you up in the morning. And it is the lime squeeze that enlivens your carnitas, the malt vinegar that keeps you motivated in front of your fish-n-chips. Acid in wine not only helps invigorate your food, but also works within the matrix of the wine itself to make you want you want to keep on drinking.

Acidity gives discipline and shape to a wine. Otherwise, the fruit flavors and alcohol would just laze around anywhere, directionless. Acid does the clutch work of tidying up.

A few types of acid may appear in a wine. Which ones, and their relative proportions, will have some bearing on its texture. Tartaric acid is the abundant workhorse acid, performing much of that task of structural stability. High levels of malic acid, will make a wine feel tart and fresh, like green apple, whereas lactic acid is rounder and less acute. Wines that have gone through a conversion called malolactic fermentation will have at least some of its malic turned into lactic (most reds see this conversion, as do some whites).

Certain wines, like Pinot Gris from Alsace, or some Northern Rhone whites, make stylish use of lower acidity to create attractive satiny textures. These wines are interesting exceptions to our earlier equation (and can be used to refute us junkie somms when we go on and on and on about acidity).

About the Author: Steven Grubbs is a sommelier and wine director at Empire State South (Atlanta, GA) and Five & Ten (Athens, GA). Ask him what to drink on Twitter, where he also accepts questions on tacos and manhood.