Wines, no matter how well made, contain
quantities of acetic acidity
that have a vinegary smell. If there is
an excessive amount of acetic acidity, the wine will have a vinegary
smell and be a flawed, acetic wine.
acidic: Wines need natural acidity to taste fresh and lively, but an excess of
acidity results in an acidic wine that is tart and sour.
acidity: The acidity level in a wine is
critical to its enjoyment and livelihood. The natural acids that
appear in wine are citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic. Wines from hot
years tend to be lower in acidity, whereas wines from cool, rainy
years tend to be high in acidity. Acidity in a wine can preserve the
wine's freshness and keep the wine lively, but too much acidity, which masks the wines
flavors and compresses its texture, is a flaw.
aftertaste: As the term suggests, the
taste left in the mouth when one swallows is the aftertaste. This word
is a synonym for length or finish. The longer the aftertaste lingers
in the mouth (assuming it is a pleasant taste), the finer the quality
of the wine.
aggressive: Aggressive is usually
applied to wines that are either high in acidity or have harsh
tannins, or both.
angular: Angular wines are wines that
lack roundness, generosity, and depth. Wine from poor vintages or
wines that are too acidic
are often described as being angular.
aroma: Aroma is the smell of a
young wine before it has had sufficient time to develop nuances of
smell that are then called its bouquet. The word aroma is commonly used to mean
the smell of a relatively young, unevolved wine.
astringent: Wines that are astringent
are not necessarily bad or good wines. Astringent wines are harsh and
coarse to taste, either because they are too young and tannic and just need time to
develop, or because they are not well made. The level of tannins (if
it is harsh) in a wine contributes to its degree of astringence.
austere: Wines that are austere are
generally not terribly pleasant wines to drink. An austere wine is a
hard, rather dry wine that
lacks richness and generosity. However, young Rhônes are not as
austere as young Bordeaux.
backward: An adjective used to describe (1) a young largely unevolved, closed, and undrinkable wine, (2) a wine that is not ready to drink, or (3) a wine that simply refuses to release its charms and personality.
balance: One of the most desired traits
in a wine is good balance, where the concentration of fruit, level of
tannins, and acidity are
in total harmony. Balanced wines are symmetrical and tend to age gracefully.
barnyard: An unclean, farmyard, fecal
aroma that is imparted to a
wine because of unclean barrels or
unsanitary winemaking facilities.
berrylike: As this descriptive term implies, most red wines
have an intense berry fruit character that can suggest blackberries,
raspberries, black cherries, mulberries, or even strawberries and
big: A big wine is a large-framed,
full-bodied wine with an
intense and concentrated feel on
the palate. Most red Rhône wines are big wines.
blackcurrant: A pronounced smell of blackcurrant
fruit is commonly associated with certain Rhône wines. It can vary in
intensity from faint to very deep and rich.
body: Body is the weight and fullness of a wine that can be
sensed as it crosses the palate. full-bodied wines tend to have a lot
of alcohol, concentration, and glycerin.
The fungus that attacks the grape skins under
specific climatic conditions (usually alternating periods of
moisture and sunny weather). It causes the grape to become
superconcentrated because it causes a natural dehydration. Botrytis
cinerea is essential for the great sweet white wines of Barsac and
Sauternes. It rarely occurs in the Rhône Valley because of the
dry, constant sunshine and gusty winds.
bouquet: As a wine's aroma becomes more
developed from bottle aging, the aroma is transformed into a bouquet that is hopefully
more than just the smell of the grape.
brawny: A hefty, muscular,
full-bodied wine with plenty of weight and flavor, although not always
the most elegant or refined sort of wine.
briery: I think of California Zinfandel when the term briery
comes into play, denoting that the wine is aggressive and rather
brilliant: Brilliant relates to the color of the wine. A
brilliant wine is one that s clear, with no haze or cloudiness to the
browning: As red wines age, their color changes from
ruby/purple to dark ruby, to medium ruby, to ruby with an amber edge,
to ruby with a brown edge. When a wine is browning it is usually fully
mature and not likely to get better.
This vinification method is used to make
soft, fruity, very accessible wines. Whole clusters of grapes are put
into a vat that is then filled with carbonic gas. This system is used
when fruit is to be emphasized in the final wine in contrast to
structure and tannin.
Rhône reds can have a bouquet that suggests either
faintly or overtly the smell of cedarwood. It is a complex aspect of
chewy: If a wine has a rather dense, viscous texture from a
high glycerin content, it is often referred to as being
chewy. High-extract wines from great vintages can often be chewy,
largely because they have higher alcohol hence high levels of
glycerin, which imparts a fleshy mouthfeel.
closed: The term closed is used to denote that the wine is not
showing its potential, which remains locked in because it is too
young. Young wines often close up about 12-18 months after bottling,
and depending on the vintage and storage conditions, remain in such a
state for several years to more than a decade.
One of the most subjective descriptive terms used, a
complex wine is a wine that the taster never gets bored with and finds
interesting to drink. Complex wines tend to have a variety of subtle
scents and flavors that hold one's interest in the wine.
concentrated: Fine wines, whether they are light-, medium-, or
full-bodied, should have concentrated flavors. Concentrated denotes
that the wine has a depth and richness of fruit that gives it appeal
and interest. Deep is a synonym for concentrated.
corked: A corked wine is a flawed wine that has taken on the
smell of cork as a result of an unclean or faulty cork. It is
perceptible in a bouquet that shows no fruit, only the smell of musty
cork, which reminds me of wet cardboard.
Many producers in the Rhône Valley produce
special, deluxe lots of wine or a lot of wine from a specific grape
variety that they bottle separately. These lots are often referred to
decadent: If you are an ice cream and chocolate lover, you know
the feeling of eating a huge sundae of rich vanilla ice cream lavished
with hot fudge and real whipped cream. If you are a wine enthusiast,
a wine loaded with opulent, even unctuous layers of fruit, with a huge
bouquet, and a plump, luxurious texture can be said to be decadent.
deep: Essentially the same as
the fact that the wine is rich, full of extract, and mouth filling.
delicate: As this word implies, delicate
wines are light, subtle, understated wines that are prized for their
shyness rather than for an extroverted, robust character. White wines
are usually more delicate than red wines. Few Rhône red wines
can correctly be called delicate.
demi-muid: 650-liter Burgundy barrels which are essentially the equivalent of three regular barrels.
diffuse: Wines that smell and taste
unstructured and unfocused are said to be diffuse. When red wines are
served at too warm a temperature they often become diffuse.
double decanting: This is done
by first decanting the wine into a decanter and then rinsing the
original bottle out with non-chlorinated water and then immediately
repouring the wine from the decanter back into the bottle. It varies
with the wine as to how long you cork it.
dumb: A dumb wine is also a closed wine, but the term dumb
is used more pejoratively. Closed wines may need only time to reveal their
richness and intensity. Dumb wines may never get any better.
earthy: May be used in both a negative and
a positive sense; however, I prefer to use earthy to denote a positive
aroma of fresh, rich, clean soil. Earthy is a more intense smell than
woody or truffle scents.
elegant: Although more white wines than red are described as being elegant, lighter-styled, graceful, balanced red wines can be elegant.
extract: This is everything in a wine besides water, sugar,
alcohol, and acidity.
exuberant: Like extroverted, somewhat
hyper people, wines too can be gushing with fruit and seem nervous and
fat: When the Rhône has an
exceptionally hot year for its crop and the wines attain a super sort
of maturity, they are often quite rich and concentrated, with low to average acidity. Often such wines
are said to be fat, which is a prized commodity. If they become too
fat, that is a flaw and they are then called flabby.
flabby: A wine that is too fat or obese is a flabby
wine. Flabby wines lack structure and are heavy to taste.
fleshy: Fleshy is a synonym for chewy, meaty, or beefy. It
denotes that the wine has a lot of body, alcohol, and extract, and usually a high glycerin
content. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage are particularly fleshy
floral: Wines made from the Muscat or
Viognier grape have a flowery component, and occasionally a red wine
will have a floral scent.
focused: Both a fine wine's bouquet and flavor should be
focused. Focused simply means that the scents, aromas, and flavors are
precise and clearly delineated. If they are not, the wine is like an
out-of-focus picture-diffuse, hazy, and possibly problematic.
forward: An adjective used to describe
wines that are (1) delicious, evolved, and close to maturity, (2)
wines that border on being flamboyant or ostentatious, or (3)
unusually evolved and/or quickly maturing wines.
foudre: Large oak barrels that vary
enormously in size but are significantly larger than the normal oak
barrel used in Bordeaux or the piece used in Burgundy. They are widely
used in the Rhône Valley.
fresh: Freshness in both young and old
wines is a welcome and pleasing component. A wine is said to be fresh
when it is lively and cleanly made. The opposite of fresh is stale.
fruity: A very good wine should have enough concentration of fruit so
that it can be said to be fruity. Fortunately, the best wines will
have more than just a fruity personality.
full-bodied: Wines rich in extract, alcohol, and
glycerin are full-bodied wines. Most Rhône wines are
garrigue: In the southern Rhône
Valley and Provence, this is the landscape of small slopes and
plateaus. This Provençal word applies to these windswept
hilltops/slopes inhabited by scrub-brush and Provençal herb
outcroppings. The smell of garrigue is often attributed to southern
Rhône Valley wines. Suggesting more than the smell of herbes de
Provence, it encompasses an earthy/herbal concoction of varying degrees of
green: Green wines are wines made from
underripe grapes; they lack richness and generosity as well as
having a vegetal
character. Green wines are infrequently made in the Rhone, although
vintages such as 1977 were characterized by a lack of ripening.
hard: Wines with abrasive, astringent tannins or high
acidity are said to be
hard. Young vintages of Rhône wines can be hard, but they should
never be harsh.
harsh: If a wine is too hard it is said to
be harsh. Harshness in a wine, young or old, is a flaw.
hedonistic: Certain styles of wine are
meant to be inspected; they are introspective and intellectual
wines. Others are designed to provide sheer delight, joy, and
euphoria. Hedonistic wines can be criticized because in one sense
they provide so much ecstasy that they can be called obvious, but in
essence, they are totally gratifying wines meant to fascinate and
enthrall-pleasure at its best.
Many wines have a distinctive herbal smell that is
generally said to be herbaceous. Specific herbal smells can be of
thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, fennel, or basil and are common in
herbes de Provence:
Provence is known for the wild herbs that
grow prolifically through- out the region. These include lavender,
thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano. It is not just an olfactory fancy
to smell many of these herbs in Rhône Valley wines, particularly
those made in the south.
hollow: Also known as shallow, hollow
wines are diluted and lack depth and concentration.
honeyed: A common
personality trait of specific white Rhône wines, a honeyed wine
is one that has the smell and taste of bee's honey.
hot: Rather than meaning that the temperature
of the wine is too warm to drink, hot denotes that the wine is too
high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back
of the throat when swallowed. Wines with alcohol levels in excess of
14.5% often taste hot if the requisite depth of fruit is not present.
This is the French term for stainless steel vats
that are used for both fermentation and storage of wine.
intensity: Intensity is one of the most
desirable traits of a high-quality wine. Wines of great intensity must
also have balance. They
should never be heavy or cloying. Intensely concentrated great wines are alive, vibrant,
aromatic, layered, and texturally compelling. Their intensity adds to
their character, rather than detracting from it.
jammy: When wines have a great intensity of fruit from
excellent ripeness they can be jammy, which is a very concentrated, flavorful
wine with superb extract. In great vintages such as 1961, 1978,
1985, 1989, 1990, and 1995, some of the wines are so concentrated that they
are said to be jammy.
system: This is a filtration system using diatomaceous earth
as the filtering material, rather than cellulose, or in the past,
before it was banned, asbestos.
leafy: A leafy character in a wine is
similar to a herbaceous
character only in that it refers to the smell of leaves rather than
herbs. A wine that is too leafy is a vegetal or green wine.
lean: Lean wines are slim, rather
streamlined wines that lack generosity and fatness but can still be
enjoyable and pleasant.
lively: A synonym
for fresh or
exuberant, a lively
wine is usually young wine with good
a thirst-quenching personality.
long: A very desirable trait in any fine
wine is that it be long in the mouth. Long (or length) relates to a
wine's finish, meaning that after you swallow the wine, you sense its
presence for a long time. (Thirty seconds to several minutes is great
length.) In a young wine, the difference between something good and
something great is the length of the wine.
lush: Lush wines are velvety, soft, richly
fruity wines that are both concentrated and fat. A lush wine can never be an astringent or hard wine.
massive: In great vintages where there is
a high degree of ripeness and superb concentration, some wines can
turn out to be so big, full-bodied, and rich
that they are called massive. A great wine such as the 1961 or 1990
Hermitage La Chapelle is a textbook example of a massive wine.
meaty: A chewy, fleshy wine is also said to be meaty.
monocepage: This term describes a wine
made totally of one specific varietal.
monopole: Used to denote a vineyard
owned exclusively by one proprietor, the word monopole appears on the
label of a wine made from such a vineyard.
morsellated: Many vineyards are
fragmented, with multiple growers owning a portion of the same
vineyard. Such a vineyard is often referred to as a morsellated
mouth-filling: Big, rich, concentrated wines that are filled with fruit extract and are high in alcohol and glycerin are wines that tend to texturally fill the mouth. A mouth-filling wine is also a chewy, fleshy, fat wine.
musty: Wines aged in dirty barrels or
unkept cellars or exposed to a bad cork take on a damp, musty
character that is a flaw.
nose: The general smell and aroma of a wine
as sensed through one's nose and olfactory senses is often called the
oaky: Many red Rhône wines are aged
from 6 months to 30 months in various sizes of oak barrels. At some
properties, a percentage of the oak barrels may be new, and these
barrels impart a toasty, vanillin flavor and smell to the wine. If the
wine is not rich and concentrated, the barrels can overwhelm the
wine, making it taste overly oaky. Where the wine is rich and
concentrated and the winemaker has made a judicious use of barrels,
however, the results are a wonderful marriage of fruit and oak.
off: If a wine is not showing its true
character, or is flawed or spoiled in some way, it is said to be
overripe: An undesirable characteristic;
grapes left too long on the vine become too ripe, lose their acidity, and produce wines
that are heavy and balance. This can happen frequently in the hot
viticultural areas of the Rhône Valley if the growers harvest
oxidized: If a wine has been excessively
exposed to air during either its making or aging, the wine loses
freshness and takes on a stale, old smell and taste. Such a wine is
said to be oxidized.
peppery: A peppery quality to a wine is
usually noticeable in many Rhône wines that have an aroma of black or white pepper
and a pungent flavor.
perfumed: This term usually is more
applicable to fragrant, aromatic white wines than to red
wines. However, some of the dry white wines (particularly Condrieu)
and sweet white wines can have a strong perfumed smell.
pigéage: A winemaking technique of
punching down the cap of grape skins that forms during the beginning
of the wine's fermentation. This is done several times a day,
occasionally more frequently, to extract color, flavor, and tannin
from the fermenting juice.
plummy: Rich, concentrated wines can often have the smell
and taste of ripe plums. When they do, the term plummy is applicable.
ponderous: Ponderous is often used as a
synonym for massive, but
in my usage a massive wine is simply a big, rich, very concentrated wine with balance, whereas a ponderous
wine is a wine that has become heavy and tiring to drink.
Wines that mature quickly are precocious. However
the term also applies to wines that may last and evolve gracefully
over a long period of time, but taste as if they are aging quickly
because of their tastiness and soft, early charms.
pruney: Wines produced from grapes that are overripe take on
the character of prunes. Pruney wines are flawed wines.
raisiny: Late-harvest wines that are
meant to be drunk at the end of a meal can often be slightly raisiny,
which in some ports and sherries is desirable. However, a raisiny
quality is a major flaw in a dinner wine.
rich: Wines that are high in extract, flavor, and intensity of fruit.
ripe: A wine is ripe when its grapes have
reached the optimum level of maturity. Less than fully mature grapes
produce wines that are underripe, and overly mature grapes produce
wines that are overripe.
round: A very desirable character of wines,
roundness occurs in fully mature wines that have lost their youthful,
astringent tannins, and
also in young wines that have soft tannins and low acidity.
savory: A general descriptive term that
denotes that the wine is round, flavorful, and interesting to drink.
shallow: A weak, feeble, watery or diluted wine lacking concentration
is said to be shallow.
sharp: An undesirable trait, sharp wines
are bitter and unpleasant with hard, pointed edges.
silky: A synonym for velvety or lush, silky wines are soft,
sometimes fat, but never hard or angular.
smoky: Some wines, either because of the
soil or because of the barrels used to age the wine, have a
distinctive smoky character. Côte Rôtie and Hermitage
often have a roasted or smoky quality.
soft: A soft wine is one that is round and fruity, low in acidity, and has an absence
of aggressive, hard tannins.
spicy: Wines often smell quite spicy with
aromas of pepper, cinnamon, and other well-known spices. These pungent
aromas are usually lumped together and called spicy.
stale: Dull, heavy wines that are oxidized or lack balancing
acidity for freshness are
stalky: A synonym for vegetal, but used
more frequently to denote that the wine has probably had too much
contact with the stems, resulting in a green, vegetal, or stalky character to the wine.
supple: A supple wine is one that is soft, lush, velvety, and very attractively round and tasty. It is a
highly desirable characteristic because it suggests that the wine is
tannic: The tannins of a wine, which are
extracted from the grape skins and stems, are, along with a wine's acidity and alcohol, its
lifeline. Tannins give a wine firmness and some roughness when young,
but gradually fall away and dissipate. A tannic wine is one that is
young and unready to drink.
tart: Sharp, acidic, lean, unripe wines are called tart. In general, a
wine that is tart is not pleasurable.
thick: Rich, ripe,
that are low in acidity
are often said to be thick.
thin: A synonym for shallow; it is an
undesirable characteristic for a wine to be thin, meaning that it is
watery, lacking in body, and
tightly knit: Young wines that have
good acidity levels, good
tannin levels, and are well made are called tightly knit, meaning they
have yet to open up and develop.
toasty: A smell of grilled toast can often
be found in wines because the barrels the wines are aged in are
charred or toasted on the inside.
tobacco: Some red wines have the scent of
fresh tobacco. It is a distinctive and wonderful smell in wine.
This type of oak comes from the forest of
Troncais in central France.
unctuous: Rich, lush,
intense wines with layers of concentrated, soft, velvety fruit are said to be unctuous.
vegetal: An undesirable characteristic,
wines that smell and taste vegetal are usually made from unripe
grapes. In some wines, a subtle vegetable garden smell is pleasant and
adds complexity, but if it is the predominant character, it is a major
velvety: A textural description and
synonym for lush or silky, a velvety wine is a rich, soft, smooth wine to taste. It is a very desirable
viscous: Viscous wines tend to be
relatively concentrated, fat, almost thick wines with a great density of fruit extract, plenty of glycerin,
and high alcohol content. If they have balancing acidity, they can be
tremendously flavorful and exciting wines. If they lack acidity, they
are often flabby and heavy.
volatile: A volatile wine is one that
smells of vinegar as a result of an excessive amount of acetic bacteria present. It is
a seriously flawed wine.
woody: When a wine is overly oaky it is often said to be
woody. Oakiness in a wine's bouquet and taste is good up to a point. Once past
that point, the wine is woody and its fruity qualities are masked by
excessive oak aging.