A - Z OF WINE SPEAK
Time to de-mistify a little of what we’re banging on about! The A-Z of Wine Speak begins here. Over the next 26 weeks, we’ll be explaining one wine-term or phrase per week. No test at the end – just your own cerebral satisfaction! 1 minute read.
A is for ‘Appellation’ /ˌapəˈleɪʃ(ə)n/ An appellation is a ‘controlled area’ of wine growing (Appellation Controlee or AC in France). We’ve all seen AC names – Chablis; Bordeaux, etc. They are designated areas under which certain wine rules apply. These rules might apply to the grapes allowed, maximum yields, winemaking style, ageing requirements etc. The aim is to preserve a style and quality associated with a name. AC’s can range in size from an entire region (like Bordeaux) down to a specific site (like Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos). The rules get stricter the smaller the AC. Appellations exist all over the world under different titles; look out for DOC on wines from Italy and Spain – it’s the same thing.
B is for ‘Botrytis’ /bəˈtrʌɪtɪs/ Botrytis (or more specifically, Botrytis cinerea) is a desirable mould (a ‘Noble Rot’ no less), that forms on ripe grapes at the end of the growing season. It only grows in specific climatic conditions - places like Sauternes in France for instance - and only in certain years where the weather is conducive to it. The effect on the grapes is to gently shrivel them, intensifying their sweetness, whilst also lending it’s very own flavour profile to the resultant wine. Sommeliers often use the words ‘honey,’ ‘beeswax’ and ‘ginger’ to describe the flavours that botrytis adds to wine. Tokaj and Riesling Spatlese are other examples of botrytised wines, and, along with Sauternes, often rank amongst the very best wines in the world. For an affordable example, try the Cadillac ‘Noble Harvest’ 2011 at £22.00
C is for ‘Carbonic Maceration’ A term especially relevant to wines from Beaujolais. This is an anaerobic winemaking practice where whole, uncrushed grapes are fermented in a sealed vat containing a layer of carbon dioxide. The exclusion of oxygen results in fruity, soft red wines, with distinctive kirsch and banana aromas. These wines have little tannin and are intended for youthful consumption. The method is widely used throughout France's Beaujolais region (with the Gamay grape) but is not uncommon in Tempranillo from Spain and Carignan from the Languedoc. Try the ‘Les Pivoines’ Beaujolais Villages at £9.80 for a perfect example of the style.
D is for ‘Dosage’ /dəʊsɪdʒ/ In Traditional Method sparkling wines (Champagne, Cremant etc.) the ‘dosage’ is the amount of sugar added to the wine just before corking. It determines the sweetness of the Champagne (all naturally occurring sugar in the wine having been consumed in the second fermentation). Generally, sugar is added to balance the high acidity of the Champagne, rather than to produce a sweet taste. Brut Champagne will only have a little sugar added, and Champagne called brut nature or zéro dosage will have no sugar added at all. The sweetest level is 'doux' (meaning sweet) followed by, in increasing dryness, 'demi-sec', 'sec', 'extra sec', 'brut', 'extra brut' (very dry), 'brut nature/ultra brut' (no additional sugar, bone dry). The Ayala Brut Nature is our firm-favourite zero dosage Champagne.
E is for ‘Élevage‘ /el(ə)vaʒ/ A French term for the evolution of wine between fermentation and bottling. Comparable to the term "raising" in English; think of élevage as a wine's adolescence or education. The raw fermented juice is shaped during this period into something resembling its final form, through techniques such as barrel aging, filtering and fining. Good winemaking decisions during élevage can help the juice achieve its full potential; bad decisions can leave it flawed. Overall, a big factor in the final quality and style of a finished wine.
F is for ‘Flight’ We’re not talking aviation here... A flight of wines is basically a ‘comparison tasting’ which can be across styles, vintages, or categories, or a mix of these. More analytical comparisons are made in ‘horizontal’ or ‘vertical’ tasting flights. A horizontal flight might, for instance, compare half a dozen different Riojas from a particular vintage, say, 2015. A vertical flight will take ONE particular wine – say, Marques de Murrieta Rioja Gran Reserva - and compare it across past vintages. The purpose here is to not only appreciate the annual variations, but also how the wine is ageing. Vertical tastings are an important and regular fixture amongst the fine wines of the world.
G is for ‘Garrigue’ / French (ɡariɡ) / Garrigue refers to the low-growing vegetation found on the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast. These bushy, fragrant plants grow wild in the scrub, and include varieties such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender; garrigue refers to the sum of them. Think Herbes de Provence, or the pungent, floral fragrances found in aromatherapy oils. The term is often thrown out when talking about wines from the Med region, where one can positively smell, or even taste, these aromatics in the wine. Chateauneuf du Pape, or good Cotes du Rhone Villages are likely candidates for finding this ‘garrigue’ profile. Look out for them in our organinc Domaine de Dionysus Cotes du Rhone at £12.80
J is for ‘Jeroboam’
A big ol’ bottle of wine! There are two sizes of Jeroboams: the sparkling wine Jeroboam holds 4 bottles, or 3.0 litres: the still wine Jeroboam holds 6 regular bottles, or 4.5 litres. Named after the Biblical First King of Northern Kingdom of Israel after the revolt. There is much speculation as to why larger bottle sizes are all named after Biblical patriarchs and royalty, but from the Jeroboam at 4 bottles, up to Melchizedek, that holds 40 regular bottles, these celebratory sizes are certainly fit for a King or two! If you’re in the mood to go large, we have a stunning one-off SELA Rioja, from Bodegas Roda for £160. A favourite of Rioja aficionados, this is for sharing with good friends only!
K is for ‘Koshu’
Japan’s ‘native’ grape and one of the prettiest wine grapes, with its rose-coloured berries and pendulous bunches. Up until the 21st Century it was common practice to make sweet wine from Koshu; nowadays more dry wines are being produced, occasionally in sparkling form. Grown in Japan for more than 1000 years, how Koshu arrived in Japan remains something of a mystery; it seems most likely that it was introduced by traders on the Silk Road as it belongs to the same genetic group as European vines. Koshu wines are known for light body, strong minerality and restrained flavours of white peach and citrus. Fashion-conscious sommeliers around the world are starting to take notice of this little-known Japanese specialty.
L is for ‘Loire’
Ah, Loire Valley wines... So much diversity, so many classics; Muscadet, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Vouvray, Chinon… Sparkling wines, dry wines, plus some of the finest sweet wines in the world. From east to west, the Loire Valley covers the full spectrum of wine style. It’s flagship grape, Chenin Blanc, is responsible for much of the regions fame, alongside Sauvignon blanc in Sancerre and Melon de Bourgogne in Muscadet. However, Loire Chardonnay can also be wonderful, as indeed can the Rosé wines from Anjou, and an increasing portfolio of reds from Cabernet Franc, Pinot noir, Gamay and Malbec, really means that this region can offer almost everything to even the most the insatiable wine drinker. Our shop favourites include Mourat OVNI Chenin Blanc at £14.50, Cuvee de Silex Vouvray £14.80 and Chapeau Melon Rouge Pinot noir-Gamay at £10.50