Can you talk the talk?
If the appreciation of wine were as simple as lifting a glass to your lips and drinking deeply, the mystique that surrounds it would not exist. But the world of wine is filled with such complexities that it merits its own language. Unfortunately, when you attend events like the Okanagan Wine Festivals and you don't speak the language, it's like watching a foreign film without subtitles. You may like the pretty pictures, but you won't understand a darn word anyone is saying.
Don't throw in the towel just yet. Wine-speak doesn't have to confound you. We've put together this handy glossary of terms, along with some great wine trivia to turn you into a pro in no time.
Balance - The structure of wine. Wines should have fruit, acid and tannins in equal proportions.
Brix - The standard way to measure the sugar content in grapes. Most table wines are harvested between 19 and 25 degrees Brix.
Chaptalization - The practice of adding sugar to the grape must (crushed juice and skins) prior to fermenting, to compensate for low sugar content in the grapes.
Corked - Wines that smell of mould resulting from a defective cork.
Finish - The aftertaste that lingers in your mouth after swallowing a sip of wine. Wines with a long finish or good "length" are desirable.
Flinty - A sharp, metallic tang sometimes found in very dry white wines.
Foxy - Wines that are overly "grapey" smelling and tasting. An undesirable quality.
Lees - The sediment that accumulates in the bottom of the barrel during fermentation. Wines will often be aged "sur lees" to give them a creamy, buttery texture.
Maderization - Oxydation of some types of wines.
Mousse - The effervescence in a sparkling wine. Some people think the glass it perceived as the bubbling but the surface of the glass can affect this perception. Premium quality sparkling wine has a mousse composed of small, persistent string of bubbles.
Noble Rot - A desirable fungus brought on by Botrytis cinerea that results in dehydrated and shrivelled grapes that are highly in concentrated sugar. Noble Rot grapes are an component of many B.C. late harvest dessert wines.
Punt - The indentation found in the base of a wine bottle.
Tannin - Found in wine from the skin and pips of the grape and oak barrels. Tannins form the basis for the long life of wines and their levels are highest in reds due to barrel aging. Tannins in young wines can impart a bitter astringency in the mouth. Tannins will fade with time, helping wines age gracefully.
Terroir - Literally means "earth" or "dirt" in French but refers to soil and climate where the wines grapes are grown. A region's "terrior" can be a wine's signature.
Véraison - A grape-growing term meaning "the onset of ripening." It's the noticeable period when red grapes begin to change colour.
Did You Know?
- A vertical tasting involves sampling the same wine from different vintage years. This will show you how a wine can change from year to year based on the whims of Mother Nature.
- A horizontal tasting is tasting different wines with something in common from the same vintage. For example, tasting 2010 Rieslings from different wineries or regions.
- Meritage was originally created in California and is a blended wine that can be summed up as "New World Bordeaux." The term is a combo of the words "merit" and "heritage" and pronounced the same. The red blend is made from at least two of the five Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The white Meritage is a blend of at least two of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Vert, and Semillon.
- One standard acre of grapevines produces five tons of grapes; 13.5 barrels of wine; 3,017 litres; 3,985 bottles; 15,940 glasses.
- One barrel of wine equals 738 lbs of grapes, 24.6 cases of wine, 221.4 litres, 295.2 bottles, 1,180 glasses.
- B.C. by the numbers: wine regions - 5; grape wineries in 2011 - 193; grape wineries in 1990 - 17; current number of vineyards - 710; grape varietals - 60+; ratio of red to white produced - 51% to 49%; 2009 grape harvest - 19,879 tons; 1995 grape harvest - 8,108 tons; 2009 wine production - 12,921,350 litres; 1995 wine production - 4,864,800 litres Value of 2009 grape crop - $40,305,170.
- The proper formula calculating the calories in a glass of wine is this: 1.6 multiplied by percentage of alcohol multiplied by number of ounces. Thus, drink eight ounces at 14 per cent alcohol, the calorie count is 180. Those with a penchant for big reds, which can tip the scales at 16 per cent alcohol, you're sipping 204 calories. Drink a whole bottle and you're in the 610 to 665 calorie range.
- A closed wine is, simply put, one that doesn't smell like much. Many fine wines go through a "closed" or "dumb" period as part of their development. Some can take several years before developing the aromas that are considered highly prized by aficionados.
- Open wine should be sealed as tightly as possible and stored in the refrigerator, even reds. Colder temperatures slow down the chemical reactions caused by oxygen. Limiting the wine's exposure to oxygen by pouring it into a smaller bottle will also improve its shelf life. So save those half bottles!
- Volatile acidity refers to a wine that has excessive acidity, specifically acetic acid. A wine with V.A. will smell vinegary and in extreme cases like nail polish remover. Understandably, it's considered a fault and those wines that exhibit it will be penalized if not rejected altogether when under scrutiny for certification, such as in the tasting panel of B.C. Vintner's Quality Alliance system. People can confuse V.A. with desirable characteristics of acidity, particularly in New World wines.
- Temperature can affect how a wine tastes. Cold masks flavours. The ideal serving temperature for whites is three to seven degrees Celsius higher than the average refrigerator. Likewise with reds, if you serve them too warm, all you can taste is the alcohol.