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Chelle's Glossary of Wine Terms
Chelle Christy, for

This list will be added to as the terms are used in articles and tasting notes.

Botrytis cinerea - A fungus that attacks the grapes and reduces water content, causing them to shrivel. This concentration increases the grapes sugar and acid content. Botrytis only occurs in certain areas of high humidity and only under certain conditions.

Buttery - Most often used when describing chardonnay. The term is not literal; it does not imply that the wine is actually made of butter, or in fact tastes like butter. It describes the almost creamy or oily feeling a wine sometimes has on the tongue.

Creamy - See Buttery

Dry - Description of a wine that is purposely made to have little or no sweetness. It is commonly used to define wines containing less than about 0.5% residual sugar.

Earthy - This term (referred to as 'terroir' in Europe) can mean many things to many people. It usually describes a pleasant, clean quality that adds complexity to aroma and flavors and hints of rich-earth. It usually comes from certain young varietal grapes grown on old farming land. If a wine is too earthy, it can give the impression of eating barnyard dirt.

Herbaceous - Sometimes called grassy, this is a term used to describe a wine with the taste and aroma of herbs. It is most often associated with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

Light - Can be defined in different ways depending on use. It can either denote low calories per serve, or low sugar or alcohol content. Alternatively, it can sometimes be used to describe a wine that is considered 'watery' or lacking in flavor.

Malo-lactic fermentation - A common technique usually utilized in the production of cool climate Chardonnays. It reduces the crispness of the wine because it decreases the wine's acidity by converting malic acid (which occurs naturally) to lactic acid and carbon dioxide.This gives the wine a distinctive buttery or creamy feel. Sometimes, this form of fermentation can occur unintentionally in wines already bottled and can spoil it unless the carbon dioxide by-product is able to escape.

Meaty - Refers to the fullness of the wine, which combines all aspects of the wine; the alcohol, sugar and glycerin. It is usually used to describe a wine that has some weight to it, is full or sometimes heavy or chewy.

Mid-palate - When you taste a wine there is normally a sequence of flavor and texture depending on what part of the mouth the wine is in contact. The mid-palate is the impression of the wine as you hold it in your mouth before you swallow.

Peppery/pepperness - Usually refers to wines such as Gewurztraminer or Australian Shiraz that are often described as spicy. This aspect of the wine often leaves a spritzy or slightly 'tingly' feel to the back of the throat when swallowing.

Rich - Implies the wine has a full, well-rounded feel. It is often the alcohol, glycerin and oak in dry wines and the fruity qualities in sweet wines that creates this feeling.

Soft - Usually used to describe a wine that does not have vigor or the impact of a full-bodied wine. This is due to a low alcohol content and/or low acid or tannin.

Spritzy - This is that tiny bubble/ effervescent feeling you get on the tongue. It usually results from the onset of secondary malolactic fermentation in the bottle.

Tannin - Tannins occur naturally in the seeds, stems and skins of the grape and are a natural preservative. Although tannin can give a bitter taste to the wine, it is important to the development of the wine and is primarily responsible for allowing a wine to age or cellar. However, too much tannin can feel like it is sucking the moisture from your tongue (sometimes referred to as astringent) and ultimately unbalances the wine.

Thin - Usually implies a lack of body (how heavy the wine feels in your mouth) or depth of the wine giving it a dilute or watery flavor or feeling. This is often a characteristic of certain varieties of wine, or can be caused by late season rain that increases the water content of the wine.


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