Wine from A -Z : A Lesson in Wine Terminology

As a Yadkin Valley winery based in North Carolina, our professionals at RayLen Vineyards are often asked about wine terminology, which admittedly can be quirky and even perplexing. Granted, some terminology is fiddly, but others make the experience of wine drinking even more pleasurable. With that in mind, here’s a list of some wine terminology from A to Z:

A

Acetic
This is the taste that happens when wine turns to vinegar after having prolonged contact with air. When this happens the wine is said to have been “pricked.”

Aroma
This is the grapey smell of young wine.

B

Baked
This describes wine that tastes of hot sunshine.

Big
This describes wine that has strong, pleasantly memorable and satisfying characteristics, when the taste, smell and look of the wine just all come together.

Bouquet
The bouquet of the wine describes the complexity of undertones and overtones of its smell. Since it is a function of the wine’s maturity, it differs from mere aroma.

C

Clean
This describes a wine that is thoroughly refreshing and free from defects in taste, color or smell.

Cloudy
No wine should ever be cloudy. All wine should be brilliantly clear. If it’s cloudy, pour it down the drain.

D

Dry
Dry just describes how much sweetness the wine doesn’t have. Dry wines happen when most of the sugar in the grape is eaten up by the yeast that live naturally on the skin of the fruit and converted to alcohol.

E

Earthy
This is when the wine tastes of earth, of the soil the grapes sprang from. Earthy can be a compliment or a complaint and is often used to describe Italian wines.

Ethanol
Ethanol, whose chemical formula is C2H6O is the type of alcohol that’s safe to drink within certain limits. Sugar is broken down by yeast into ethanol and carbon dioxide.

F

Foxy
Foxy has nothing to do with foxes, but with the characteristics of the American fox grape, a grape that we at RayLen Vineyards know quite well. Foxy grapes have a lovely, sweet musk about them.

Finish
This is the flavor that lingers in the mouth after the wine has been drunk. The wine is considered truly great if its exact flavor lingers for a long time.

G

Gris
The word may mean “gray,” but it describes a very pale type of rosé.

H

Hard
Hard describes a red wine that has a bit too much tannin.

Heady
This describes a wine that has a pleasingly high alcohol content.

I

Intense
Intense describes the quality of the wine’s color. The drinker knows it when they see it.

K

Kerner
The Kerner is a type of German grape. It’s a cross between the Trollinger and the Riesling and creates a wine that’s acidic, spicy and fruity.

L

Long
This is what the finish should be. It should stay in the mouth for a long time.

M

Maderized
This means that the wine is turning brown thanks to the combination of age and oxygen. Unless the wine is a type of Madeira or sherry, maderization is not good.

Musty
Like old clothes and shoes, wine can develop a musty smell. it usually comes because the wine’s been kept in a barrel with rotting staves.

N

Noble Rot
Noble rot happens when a fungus breaks down the skin of the grape and lets the juice evaporate a bit. This causes the sugar and other flavors to become concentrated. The result is an especially luscious wine.

O

Oak
This quality is imparted into the wine by the wood of the barrel it’s in. However, in a good wine the quality of oak should be barely there.

P

Pear Drop
A pear drop is a type of British candy and describes a smell of wine. Despite its name, pear drop smells more like bananas than pears. As with oak, the smell shouldn’t be overwhelming.

Perlant
These are the tiny bubbles that cling to the sides of a glass of wine. It’s also called pétillant.

R

Rancio
Despite its closeness to the word “rancid,” rancio can be an attribute in fortified, oxidized wines like those from Spain and the southwestern part of France.

S

Séché
This means the wine is too dry and too old.

Smoke
Smoke isn’t the same as “cloudy.” Indeed it refers somewhat to the bouquet of the wine and is appreciated in whites.

T

Truffles
A hint of truffles in a wine’s bouquet is much sought after, and it is best sought in Burgundies.

U

Unresolved
An unresolved wine isn’t ready to drink.

V

Vanilla
Interestingly, the scent of vanilla in wine is most often imparted by the oak cask that holds it. It’s most often detected in brandy.

W

Welschriesling
This is a type of grape found in Austria and other parts of central Europe. It’s a white grape that’s not related to the Riesling grown in the Rhine.

Y

Yeasty
A yeasty smell can be attractive in a younger wine, but it most often means the wine is still fermenting even in the bottle and isn’t stable.

Z

Zinfandel
This is the red grape found in California. The wine is best drunk when young, but if it’s aged properly for a long time, Zinfandel can taste as good as a good Bordeaux.

If you want more information about the wines we make at Raylen Vineyards, our Yadkin Valley Winery, visit us at 3577 Highway 158, Mocksville, North Carolina, or give us a call at 336-331-5557.