Simplifying Wine Jargon
Here at Verve Wine, we believe that wine should be approachable, fun, and enjoyed without any sense of pretension. However, we get that the wine world can be seemingly full of impossible to understand vocabulary. (Bâtonnage? VA? Malo?) Fear not! This week, we’re breaking down all of the industry’s complicated jargon with a no-frills and easy-to-read guide. Simply read through the list below to be on top of your wine game in no time!
COMMONLY MISUNDERSTOOD WINE WORDS (and what they actually mean!)
Acidity - The lively and crisp component of grapes/wine that make our palates salivate. Tartaric and malic acids are the two most prominent acids found in grapes. Acidity (and sourness) are most commonly felt on the sides of the palate and tongue.
Anthocyanin - Pigments found in red grapes that give the red wines their color
Assemblage - The blend of grapes used to create a final wine
Balance - The harmonious marriage of components in wine (acids, sugars, tannins, and alcohol)
Barrique vs. Demi-Muid vs. Tonneau - 225 liter oak cask vs. 600 liter oak cask vs. 900 liter oak cask
Bâtonnage (Lees Stirring) - The process of stirring lees up into aging wine to add texture and extract flavor
Blend vs. Varietal - Wine made from multiple grape varieties vs. wine made from one single grape variety
Botrytis - Very special and highly regarded mold that grows on grape skins and causes dehydration. This dehydration creates a higher sugar content in grapes, which leads to the production of some of the world’s most highly regarded dessert wines. Botrytis is often referred to as noble rot.
Bottle Shock - A temporary condition that causes wine to taste muted after extensive travel
Bouquet - Aromas in wine
Brettanomyces - A wine fault that causes barnyard, band-aid, and ‘mousy’ flavors
Carbonic Maceration - A winemaking technique that uses intracellular fermentation, meaning that fermentation begins within whole berries (as opposed to crushed fruit.) This process takes place in an enclosed and pressurized tank.
Charmat Method - Sparkling wine producing method where secondary alcoholic fermentation takes place in tank, adding bubbles to wine to make it sparkle. This method is commonly used to create (most) bottles of Prosecco.
Cork Taint (Corked) - Wine fault caused by TCA (trichloroanisole) that leads to flavors and aromas of wet basement, mold, and/or chlorine.
Dosage - The addition of sugar to sparkling wine that determines its final sweetness level
Élevage - The process of ‘bringing the wine up’ and watching over it. In addition to simple aging, this includes the processes of racking, stirring, movement to tank, and/or adding SO2.
Fermentation - The process that converts sugars to alcohol (Simple equation: Yeast + Sugar = Alcohol, Carbon Dioxide, and Heat)
Fining - The clarification process that removes suspended solids from wine to make it clear. Common fining agents include bentonite or egg white. This is generally done for appearance purposes.
Lees - The leftover sediment (dead yeast cells) that occur in wine post-fermentation
Lieu-Dit - French term for a specific vineyard site
Maceration - The interaction of grape juice with grape skins to extract tannins, aromas, pigment, and flavors
Malolactic Fermentation (Malo) - Secondary fermentation in wine that changes malic acid to lactic acid. This process ‘softens’ the flavor profile of a final wine.
Must - Unfermented grape juice that includes seeds, skins, and stems
Natural Wine - Wine that is produced from organic fruit with a 'minimalist' mentality. For a deeper dive into what we believe to be natural wine, click here.
Négociant - A wholesale merchant that purchases base wines from various growers, blends them, and bottles them under their own name
Orange Wine - White wine vinified with skin contact/maceration (as in red wine production). We prefer to call these wines ‘skin-contact wines.’
Oxidation - The process of allowing oxygen to interact with wine during vinification and aging. Excess oxidation can lead to faults in final wines.
Pét-Nat - ‘Naturally sparkling’ wine that is produced via the méthode ancestrale. Wines are bottled prior to the completion of fermentation, which allows the wine to finish fermenting in bottle. Carbon dioxide is trapped within the bottle and creates fizzy final wines, occasionally marked by small amounts of residual sugar. These wines are generally (though not always) bottled under crown cap and tend to have a low ABV (alcohol by volume.)
Spontaneous Fermentation - The process of turning juice into wine using only ambient yeasts, otherwise known as the yeasts that exist naturally on grape skins and in a winery. The opposite of this is known as inoculated fermentation, which involves the use of cultivated yeasts.
Sulfites - Compounds added to wine that prevent oxidation and undesired secondary fermentation. Sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation.
Sur-Lie - Aging that incorporates extensive contact with the lees
Tannins - Phenolic compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems that create a mouth-drying sensation in final wines. Tannins also act as natural preservatives and add to wines ageability.
Terroir - The overarching (and very complex!) term that describes the components [soil types, climate conditions, elevations, etc.] that make a specific region/growing site unique
Traditional Method (Champagne Method) - Sparkling wine producing method where secondary fermentation takes place in bottle. This method is used in Champagne, Cava, and crémant production
Vinification - The process of making wine
Vitis Vinifera - Grape species indigenous to Europe and the Middle East. Most of the world’s wine is produced from vitis vinifera.
Volatile Acidity (VA) - Acetic (and other) acids that give wine a slightly vinegary character. Excessive VA is considered a wine fault.
Yeast - A microscopic fungi used to execute alcoholic fermentation
Yield - The measurement used to describe vine vigor (example: high-yielding or low-yielding vines)