Level of acid or tartness is a defining characteristic of wine. Acidity balances sweetness, makes wine refreshing, protects against oxidation and is crucial to the process of ageing wine. Most age-worthy wines have high acidity.
The level of pigment and tannin extracted from the grapes by pressing them. Winemakers can choose to extract a lot or a little and now have many exciting technologies at their disposal to channel their ambitions. Certain regions have conventions regarding extraction, for example in Piedmont (home of Barolo and Barbaresco) the tradition is to extract heavily by pressing and through prolonged maceration. The aim is to get everything – all the ‘information’ – out of the grapes to maximise complexity.
A measure of land (Ha). One hectare is around the size of a rugby pitch or 1.5 football pitches. One hectare is 2.47 acres. Vineyard land is typically measured in either hectares or acres.
Something of an amorphous tasting term which we urge you to consider only if it has meaning for you. Wine critic, Robert Parker is an exuberant advocate, boasting of 60 second finishes... Here Parker refers to the amount of time new, distinct flavours continue to develop and evolve in your mouth after each sip of the wine.
Leaving the grapes to stew in their own juices to extract flavour and character. Can be very short i.e. a couple of hours or as long as 30-60 days. Decisions to do with maceration relate to the traditions of the region, grape variety and winemaker preference or style.
Minerality refers to the salty and stoney characteristics in wines. This is a tricky term, often misused. Many commentators talk about a mineral character being sucked up from the soil through the vines roots. This is bunk. Bad science. It may be however there is ambient residue which is then pressed with the grapes i.e. grapes grown by the coast can have a sensation of saltiness attributable to the sea nearby.
The recent natural wine movement defines 'natural' as wines made with minimal intervention i.e. no added sulphur. This can describe anything from some of the purest, most expressive wines in existence to faulty, messy and downright shitty wines (sadly more often the latter). We happily select wines from the quality end of the natural spectrum, not because they are natural but because they are good.
Many wines are aged in oak barrels. Of the many barrel options available to winemakers, most significant relate to the wood’s origin and the tonnelier (barrel maker). The key decision is what percentage of new oak barrels to use, if any. A new oak barrel that has never been used before imparts the most oak character and the greatest affect on the wine’s character.
Winemaking is essentially a battle between oxidation and reduction. Oxidative means an excess of oxygen and reductive an absence of oxygen. Many wines are deliberately oxidatively aged i.e. oxygen is encouraged and welcomed in the winemaking process. A classic example are the great oxidative whites of the Jura. A more recent example would be orange wines. Oxidation can be a fault, some believe it’s always a fault!
The opposite of oxidative. Reductive winemaking deliberately excludes oxygen to preserve the original flavours of the grapes as much as possible. An example of this would be a squeaky clean, New Zealand sauvignon blanc – or on a grander scale – the majestic white burgundies of a producer such as Coche-Dury (characterised by their smoky reductive character). Reduction can be a fault, with some wines so reduced that they never reveal their character.
The level of sugar in a wine. Some winemakers choose not to ferment all the sugar out of their wines to balance the acidity. German Riesling is a good example.
The dry and bitter sensation in wine. Tannin comes from grape skins, seeds and stems and is a key structural element of wine, red wines particularly. Oak barrels impart tannins to wine.
Trichloroanisole or TCA is a wine fault typically referred to as cork taint, as it affects the cork and then the wine when the cork seals the bottle. Everybody has a different way of describing cork taint but once you have smelt it you will instantly recognise it again. TCA destroys wine sadly, as it is a fatal flaw.
The impact of the soil, the lay of the land and climate of a particular place on the wine. Often used in a daft or pretentious way but the concept of terroir is at the core of wine appreciation. As with food, authenticity and pleasure run parallel in the enjoyment of wine. It’s fine to play with, even subvert ingredients but a wine’s origin holds the key of how to get the best out of it.
Vineyard work or viticulture is everything that happens up until the grapes are picked.
The year in which the grapes for the wine were grown. The climatic conditions of each vintage are at the heart of the character of the wine.
Winemaking or viniculture is everything that happens after the grapes have been picked.
The volume of juice harvested from a specific vineyard area (in Europe this is typically measured per hectare). Low yield can indicate high quality because it implies a rigorous selection process. This is no guarantee, however, as the vineyard may simply be more sparsely planted and therefore yield fewer grapes and less juice.