Whether during the vinification (i.e. winemaking) process or when sampling wines, the myriad of technical terms used can be quite daunting. You may come across them in descriptive texts presenting wines, on bottle labels, or in the advice given to you by wine connoisseurs, the sommelier in a restaurant or your local wine merchant.
They might make you nervous, be unfamiliar to you or simply make you laugh, but nonetheless they all have a very precise meaning and deserve to be ‘deciphered’ :
an integral part of the balance of a wine, acidity is not necessarily synonymous with a bad wine. On the contrary, the acidity supports the aromas and gives the wine its fresh and lively character. However, the problem is when a wine has too much acidity (when it causes a prickling sensation in the mouth) or not enough (in which case the wine will taste dull and ‘flat’).
consists in letting the wine breathe by passing air through it when turning it in the glass to bring out all the aromas.
when the must is placed in the vat, it is made up of juice, pulp, skin and seeds. The skin contains natural yeasts which, on contact with the other elements, will set off a transformation of the sugars into alcohol. This is alcoholic fermentation. As the process advances, the solid matter will rise to the surface of the vat and form the ‘ cap’.
But these natural yeasts alone are not enough for an effective fermentation process, which is why winemakers add selected yeasts depending on the desired result (fermentation time, extraction of aromas, etc.)
we can say that a wine’s bouquet or taste has ‘animal’ notes to define two things:
* elegant animal notes (leather, fur, etc.) which bring complexity and harmony to the wines. We particularly find them in Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Cru wines from the north of the Rhone Valley in which the Syrah grape variety predominates.
* unpleasant animal notes (stable, goat, horse manure, etc.) which signify a problem in the winemaking or ageing process.
The animal character of a wine can reveal itself the moment the bottle is opened (when the wine has lacked air, although after aeration these notes disappear) or in old wines. While animal notes are most often used to describe red wines, they also exist in certain white wines.
this is a bit like the wine’s birth certificate. The decree, defined by the French AOC validating body (the National Institute for Appellations of Origin - INAO) stipulates very precisely how the wine must be made: single grape variety, blended wine, minimum authorised percentage of each grape variety, geographic limit of the appellation, degree of alcohol, quantity of sugar, etc.
as well as the notions linked to organic viticulture, biodynamic agriculture aims to help the plant to defend itself with the help of natural products used in homeopathic doses; using only manure or straw composts and choosing the optimal dates for each operation according to the position of the planets in the sky.
this is the operation that consists in blending several grape varieties to create a wine. Each grape variety is generally vinified separately and then blended with others according to the percentages chosen by the winemaker depending on the desired result and in compliance with the appellation decree. The blending of complementary grape varieties such as Syrah and Grenache creates complex wines with subtle aromas.
ensemble formed by the solid parts of the grape (skins and seeds) which rise to the top of the vat during fermentation.
when the vinification process is complete, the wine is cloudy. By natural sedimentation, the wine will become clear but to ensure that it remains clear after a few years in the bottles, the winemaker will clarify the wine by ‘fining’ it: this operation consists in adding a substance to gather together all the particles suspended in the wine, called the ‘lees’. They will then be filtered to remove them from the wine. This ensures that the wine is stabilised: it will not become cloudy again after a few years in the bottle and its ageing potential will be improved.
just after harvesting and before pressing the grapes, the winemaker can decide to remove the stems to work with just the fruit. The aim is to avoid a wine with overly vegetal or bitter flavours. This operation is mostly used for red wines which require a relatively long period of maceration for the juices and the skins. By removing the stems, we obtain rounder, fruitier and more deeply coloured wines. Depending on the weather conditions during the year, the winemaker will decide to partially or totally de-stem the harvest. The riper the grapes the less effect the stems will have on the taste of the wine. On the other hand, if the grapes are very ripe, the winemaker may even choose to keep them in the winemaking process in order to enhance the tannins, complexity and freshness of the wine.
this technical term encompasses all the grilled, torrefied, smoky and burnt notes that we may encounter when tasting a wine… These notes may be linked to the fact that the wines are matured in wooden casks or barrels. Like many other aromas, the aging of the wine has a significant effect on these notes and an empyreumatic scent or taste is not necessarily definitive.
a production method combining the principles of reasoned and organic viticulture. A vineyard functioning in integrated production will seek to develop alternative techniques to pesticides and other chemical treatments as much as possible. However, these products may be used in cases where no other treatment will preserve the plants. The decision to adopt the integrated viticulture method is often a first step towards organic viticulture.
in the ‘cap’, the tannins and colouring substances in the skins will gradually dissolve in the juice. This is maceration. This dissolution is accelerated by the alcohol derived from fermentation (which explains the importance of quick and efficient fermentation) but also by the temperature. For optimal maceration of red wines, the temperature must be kept between 28°C and 30°C. Temperatures any higher will block the process since the yeasts will no longer be able to do their work.
naturally present in the juice of grapes (and in lots of other fruits), malic acid is transformed into lactic acid on contact with the natural bacteria present in the wine. This helps to lower the acidity of the wine and to obtain more supple tannins. This fermentation takes place when the wine is left in the vat for a couple of weeks at a temperature varying between 18°C and 20°C.
mineral notes define aromas of gunflint, wet stone, and flint, which are appreciated in certain white wines and often intensify with age. They are rare in red wines and mostly appear in certain young wines.
this is the non-fermented juice obtained after pressing the grapes. Must is made up of grape juice and solid matter such as the skin, pulp, seeds and, in some cases, the stems of the grapes.
describes a wine that has substance and is rich and velvety on the palate. It is a positive qualification, and is sought after for red wines to lay down.
a production method that takes into account all the earth-water-plant-air-fauna-flora interactions. It aims to contain the ‘enemies’ of the vine by strengthening the natural defences of the vines and by relying on the cycles of nature. It is an approach that refuses any use of synthetic chemical products and therefore accepts the risks of qualitative and quantitative losses. There is no ‘organic wine’ but rather ‘wines made from organically-grown grapes’. These wines are controlled and certified each year and then traced until they are bottled. They can display the AB logo or the European logo certifying that they are ‘organic’.
this is the time during which the aromas of the wine remain on the palate, after the wine has been drunk or spat out. It is a sign of the quality of a wine.
during the maceration of red wines, this operation consists in withdrawing the must from the bottom of the vat and pouring it back over the cap. Like in the punching down and rack and return processes, the aim is to enhance the tannins, aromas and colour of the grapes.
this third technique used to extract the solid grape matter during the maceration of red wines (see punching down and pump over) consists in collecting the must found in the vat in order to transfer it into another vat and then to reincorporate this must on the cap of marc which, in the meantime, will have amassed at the bottom of the vat.
a production method which aims to develop the way the earth is worked to ensure a reasoned use of pesticides. This means that the decision to treat the vines is no longer systematic but depends on the real risk of the vine becoming infected or damaged. Therefore reasoned viticulture also ties in with sustainable development goals. Since 1998, the ‘Reasoned Viticulture’ approach is organised by an association called ‘Terra Vitis’. Its members are controlled each year by an independent body which guarantees that the specifications are being respected and gives the vineyards the right to use the ‘Terra Vitis’ logo.
step consisting of separating the liquid juices from the solid matter in the must obtained after fermentation and maceration.
this is the vegetal part of a bunch of grapes, which remains when all the grapes have been removed.
after vinification, a wine may be placed in a cask, vat or barrel to mature. In the case of maturation in a cask, the winemaker can regularly stir up the lees that sink to the bottom of the cask to mix them with the juice (similar to the operations of punching down or ‘treading’ the grapes in open vats/pump-over/rack and return during vinification). This operation gives the wine more substance and roundness.
they are elements that are found in the skin, stem and seeds of the grapes. Depending on the vinification process, the winemaker will seek to extract more or less tannins. From a wine tasting perspective, the tannins should ‘melt’ into the rest of the wine in order to be pleasant. An overabundance of tannins gives a sensation of bitterness and harshness on the palate. A young wine may have distinct tannins which will change over time and ‘melt’ into the rest of the wine, while allowing it to mature.
mode de production qui prend en compte l’ensemble des interactions terre-eau-plante-air-faune-flore. Elle vise à contenir les « ennemis » de la vigne en renforçant les défenses naturelles des plantes et en s’appuyant sur les cycles de la nature. Elle renonce à toute utilisation de produits chimiques de synthèse et accepte donc les risques de pertes qualitatives et quantitatives. Il n’existe pas de « vin biologique » mais des « vins issus de raisins de l’agriculture biologique ». Ces vins sont contrôlés et certifiés chaque année puis traçés jusqu’à la mise en bouteille. Ils peuvent apposer le logo « AB » ou le logo européen attestant de leur caractère « biologique ».
describes a wine which has been matured in a barrel or cask. The wood gives the wine a real complexity by developing aromas such as toasty notes or vanilla. A young wine can have a very distinct woody character which will slowly fade over the years... but not always! This is when the winemaker’s talent comes into play in order to dose the wood to just the right degree to avoid ending up with ‘plank juice!