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Wine Jargon: The Wine Making Process

Let’s continue our look into wine-world jargon (click here for Wine Jargon: The Growing Process), this time spotlighting wine making.

This is by no means a comprehensive collection of terms (I’ve left out most of the cool French ones). But it will get you started. And if there is one area that really needs jargon, this is it. Let’s say you’re taking a winery tour or visiting the barrel storage room and your guide says, “…we leave it on the lees, and rack it once, just prior to bottling.” Say what? Well, read on and find out what the heck this means.

  • ACID: The four major types of acids found in wine are tartaric, malic, lactic, and citric. They help to preserve the wine and are an important component in their overall balance and structure.
  • ALCOHOL: Ethyl alcohol is formed by the interaction of yeast on the sugar content of the fruit during fermentation.
  • ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: The percent of alcohol is required by law to be stated on the bottle within 1.5 percent. Wine labeled as “table wine” is not required to state its alcohol percentage. Wines are usually in the 12.5 to 14 percent alcohol range, with some going as high as 17 percent.
  • AMERICAN OAK: In contrast to the more expensive French oak, American oak is marked by strong vanilla, with some dill and cedar flavors. It is commonly used for aging cabernet, merlot, shiraz, and zinfandel, for which it is may be the preferred oak. American oak barrels sell for $500, only half as much as French oak barrels.
  • BARREL FERMENTED: Denotes wine that has been fermented in small casks (usually 55-gallon oak barrels) instead of larger stainless steel tanks or concrete vats.
  • BLENDING: Combining two or more wine varietals. This is usually done after each fermented wine has rested in barrels for several months.
  • BOTTLE SHOCK: A temporary condition that can occur immediately after bottling or when wines are shaken during travel.
  • CHARMAT: Mass production method for sparkling wine. Indicates the wines are fermented in large stainless steel tanks and later drawn off into the bottle under pressure. Also known as the “bulk process.” See also METHODE CHAMPENOISE.
  • CO-FERMENTATION: Fermentation of two or more grape varieties in the same bin/barrel/tank. May be done for various reasons, most often to improve the aromatics or “fix” (lock-in) the color of the wine.
  • COLD STABILIZATION: A clarification technique in which a wine’s temperature is lowered to 32 degrees, causing the tartrates and other insoluble solids to precipitate out of the wine.
  • DESTEMMING: Refers to the separating of grapes from their stems by machine after the fruit is brought in from the vineyard. Assuming the stems are not used in the fermentation process, they are usually pulverized and recycled, often into the vineyard.
  • DRY: Having no perceptible taste of sugar. Most wine tasters begin to perceive sugar at levels of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.
  • ESTATE-BOTTLED: A term once used by producers for those wines made from vineyards they owned and that were contiguous to the winery’s “estate.” Today it indicates the winery either owns the vineyard or has long-term rights to purchase the grapes.
  • FERMENTATION: Process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, turning grape juice into wine.
  • FIELD BLEND: The name applied to a wine that comes from a vineyard that is planted in several different grape varieties, all harvested together to produce a single wine.
  • FILTERING: The process of removing particles from wine after fermentation.
  • FINING: A technique for clarifying wine using agents such as bentonite, gelatin, or egg whites, which combines with sediment particles and causes them to settle to the bottom, where they can be easily removed.
  • FORTIFIED: A wine whose alcohol content has been increased by the addition of brandy or neutral spirits.
  • FREE-RUN JUICE: The juice that escapes after the grape skins are crushed, squeezed, or broken prior to fermentation.
  • FRENCH OAK: The traditional wood for wine barrels. It supplies vanilla, cedar, and sometimes butterscotch flavors.
  • LEES: Sediment remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. Often used as in sur lie aging, which indicates a wine is aged “on its lees.” See also SUR LIE.
  • MACERATION: During fermentation, the steeping of the grape skins and solids, where alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color, tannin, and aroma from the skins.
  • MALIC: Describes the green apple-like flavor found in young grapes. The flavor diminishes as the grapes ripen and mature.
  • MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION: Secondary fermentation occurring in most wines. A natural process that converts malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This reduces the wine’s total acidity, and softens the wine.
  • MERITAGE: Term used by California wineries to describe their own Bordeaux-style blends. The term arose to name wines that didn’t meet labeling requirements for varietals (75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, Petite verdot and malbec; for whites, sauvignon blanc and semillon.
  • METHODE CHAMPENOISE: The process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made using this process. See also CHARMAT.
  • MUST: Unfermented grape juice. Extracted by crushing or pressing grapes into the tank or vat before fermentation.
  • NON-VINTAGE: A wine blended from more than one vintage. Common in Champagnes, sparkling wines, sherry, and ports.
  • PH: A chemical measurement of acidity or alkalinity; the higher the pH, the weaker the acid. Low pH wines taste tart and crisp; higher pH wines are flabby. A range of 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while 3.3 to 3.6 is best for reds.
  • PUNCH DOWN: Process or punching or pushing the “cap” of grape skins that otherwise would float on top of the fermenting juice. This adds color and complexity to the wine.
  • RACKING: The practice of moving wine by hose from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. Used for aeration, clarification, and just prior to bottling.
  • RESIDUAL SUGAR: Unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine. Often perceptible in a white wine such as chardonnay, where it imparts a light sweetness that many find agreeable. See also DRY.
  • SUR LIE: Wines aged sur lie (French for “on the lees”) are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or otherwise filtered.
  • TANNIN: The mouth-puckering substance found mostly in red wines, derived primarily from grape skins, seeds, and stems, but can also be imparted from oak barrels. The sensation on the palate is “cottony.” Tannin acts as a natural preservative that helps wine age and develop; tannins dissipate with time.
  • VINTAGE DATE: Indicates the year a wine was made. In order to carry a vintage date in the United States, a wine must come from grapes that are at least 95 percent from the stated calendar year. See also NON-VINTAGE.
  • VOLATILE ACIDITY: An excessive and undesirable amount of acidity, which gives a wine a slightly sour, vinegary edge
  • WHOLE CLUSTER: Usually refers to the method of leaving the grapes on their stems through the fermentation process. Sometimes fermentation is done with a combination of whole and destemmed fruit, e.g. 40 percent whole cluster fermentation.
  • YEAST: Micro-organisms that produce the enzymes that convert sugar to alcohol. Comes in “native” or natural occurring form, or is available commercially in many formats. Necessary for the fermentation.

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