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

H is for Heurige /German [ˈhɔʏʁɪɡɐ]
Heurige is the name given to taverns in Eastern Austria at which local winemakers serve their new wine under a special licence in alternate months during the growing season. The Heurige are renowned for their convivial atmosphere, with locals enjoying young wine and simple food. ‘Heuriger’ is the abbreviation of "heuriger Wein" (this year's wine) in Austrian and Bavarian German. Originally, they were simple open-air taverns on the premises of winemakers, where people would bring along food and drink the new wine. Nowadays, the taverns are often situated at a distance from the vineyards and offer both food and drinks. Capture the atmosphere with a wonderful organic Austrian Gruner Veltliner at £12.60 from Sepp Moser, available in store!

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

M is for 'Malolactic Conversion' Who the what now?! Relax – it’s simpler to explain than it sounds, but it is one of the most important processes in winemaking, in terms of determining a style. All wines contain acids, and quite simply, it’s a chemical change in the ‘nature’ of the acidity of a wine. It happens naturally in all red wines and is either allowed or prevented in white wine making. The chemical reaction converts the sharp, apple-like (‘malo’) acids in the wine, into milk-like (‘lactic’) acids, that are softer, rounder and more palatable. Its very common in Chardonnay, for instance, but very unusual in Sauvignon blanc. The inherent flavours of the grape help the winemaker determine whether or not it is appropriate to allow Malolactic Conversion to occur. Temperature control is the most usual way to manage this process until the wine is finished and bottled, whereby it becomes stable.

N is for ‘Natural Wine’ A generalised term used to describe wines that are produced with sustainable, organic, and/or biodynamic viticulture. These wines are processed using minimal or no additives, including no sulfur dioxide (sulfites) and minimal intervention. Because of the lack of clarification and fining, natural wines are typically cloudy and some may still contain yeast sediment. They often have a more ‘fermented’ taste, rather like a cider, and tend to be more fragile and sensitive than other wines and hence should be stored carefully.

O is for ‘Orange Wine’ Whilst currently ‘having a moment’ in wine fashion, the tradition of orange wine is incredibly ancient, originating with the very first wines from Georgia up to 8000 years ago. The term is used to describe a style of white wine where the grape must is fermented with the skins and the seeds, much like a red wine. This extended contact with the skins and pips dyes the wine a deep orange colour, and gives richer, more resinous textures and complex flavours.  Wines from eastern Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy, and in Brda in Slovenia have lead the resurgence in recent interest in this style.

P is for ‘Phylloxera’ This little louse was responsible for the near entire eradication of European vineyards in the late 1800’s. Hitting first in France, the louse attacked the roots of the vines, causing them to whiter and eventually die. It was unstoppable and spread rapidly to all corners of Europe (and beyond) killing up to 90% of all vineyards on the continent. How was it stopped? Well, it wasn’t. The solution came when American vine species were found to be resistant to the louse. After the devastation, European vines were replanted, but grafted onto these Phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks. Even today, in many places it is still illegal to plant un-grafted vines, so damaging was the plague. The epidemic shaped wine history and the industry massively, opening up new territories in the absence of others (its why we drink Rioja, for instance). Quite a little critter!

Q is for ‘Quinta’ Quinta simply, the Portuguese term for a wine estate. A Quinta is a primarily rural property, especially those with historic manors and in continental Portugal. The term is also used as an appellation for agricultural estates, such as wineries, vineyards, and olive groves.  ‘Quinta da Gricha’ is a full-fruited, elegant ‘Quinta’ wine from the heart of the Douro Valley and one of our new favourites in store.

R is for ‘Riesling’ Ah, the much-maligned German grape, yet loved by Sommeliers and winos the world over. A truly exquisite variety, capable of being producing the full spectrum of wine styles; from bone-dry, electrifyingly bright and crisp wines, bursting with citric-mineral aromatics, to late harvested dessert wines that beguile with dried mango, apricot compote and pineapple.  Mouth-watering acidity and ‘slatey’ freshness pervade all Rieslings, making them unfailingly refreshing and moreish. Get over the ‘Blue Nun’ reputation and discover this grape anew. Try this from Bibo Runge.