Explaining obscure wine terms

I thought I might write to you today about some wine terms which pop up from time to time in print that might be a bit obscure and need some clarification. I get asked about many of these terms at the university as well as in the shop, so it's probably a good time to get them out in the open and explore them.

Corky: This is a term used to describe a wine in which the predominant nose or taste sensation has a cork flavoring. It is important to understand that this is never a good sign in a wine and derives from a microbial problem.

Many years ago I brought a stunning Oregon pinot noir to a tasting in California and the wine was "corked" so badly that the entire glass stunk like cork to the point that I had to ask for another.

Corked wines are bottle variations and rarely affect an entire batch of wine. With today's increase of screw caps and synthetic closures we are finding fewer and fewer cork problems. Some years ago it was not uncommon for a wine competition to lose 10 to 15 percent of the entrants due to corkiness. Today we see little of this problem.

Private reserve: This is a meaningless designation unless we know the intent of the winery that uses it. There is no legal or official meaning to the term "Private Reserve." Most wineries put this designation on a label to distinguish it from other bottlings released from the winery. This designation can refer to a limited release, more or newer oak, or from more down time in a cellar before being released from the winery. It can also be used on a bottling released much later than others of the same vintage date. It is best to check with a wine professional if you are going to invest in such a wine and spend a higher price than you might ordinarily.

Family select: This is much like what was written above but is being seen more and more often on certain labels. This designation is seen more with family vineyards with some history, trying to let us know that this is what "the family drinks" from the vineyard. This may or may not be the case but the designation is still stuck on labels.

I find it sometimes pretty funny when I press a winery on the use of this term and find out that there are more than a few hundred cases of this wine. Just how big is your family?

Bin 121: Again, this is a designation seemingly coming from nowhere to somehow distinguish one wine from a winery from another release or label from the same winery. Any bin number can pop up and have no relationship to anything else unless the winery specifies exactly what is associated with that bin number.

For example, Bin 6 can have a bit less oak than a regular release, or it can come from a group of vines which the winemaker deems to be better than others on the estate. Hopefully, there is some sort of back label giving us an idea why one wine was sorted out for special consideration. Many times there are no answers but the bin concept has somehow been kept alive.

Single vineyard: This tells us that the wine in the bottle comes from one designated vineyard site on an estate. Many times the words "single vineyard" don't tell us what single vineyard the wine comes from, which is pretty silly. Other times the name of the single vineyard will be listed and the term "single vineyard" will be omitted. It can all be pretty confusing.

Woody: This tells us that the wine has a preponderance of wood flavors. Woody wines have enough oak to mask or deflect the varietal flavors of the wine in the nose as well as in the taste. For the most part, "woody" wines are born from new oak, rather than from long periods of oak contact with the wine. New oak is very intense and can impart oak flavor very quickly to wine — too much, if not watched carefully.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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