In terms of wine

I think it is time to define some wine terms that are used to describe wine. I am asked about once a week to define some of the terms I use in this column as well as terms used in other wine articles around the globe. So here are some of the most used terms as well as wine jargon one might use on a daily basis. Here we go:


This is a wine-adjective that tells us the amount of wood used on the wine.

Many winemakers age or ferment wine on some sort of wood, usually oak. This contact with wood can really spice up an offering and make the wine more round and appealing.

The trouble arises when too much of a good thing overpowers the wine, and the varietal character of the grape becomes lost in the bargain. This can happen when a new oak barrel is used as the extract from the wood can become simply too much for the juice to handle.

Also, we can have too much contact with the wood and cause problems of another nature, usually bacterial. So a "woody" wine can be a wine that shows dominance of oak over balance.


This is a confusing term in wine parlance. Sweet can mean a wine with residual sugar or it can also describe the juiciness or intensity of fruit in a wine by saying this wine has "sweet, ripe fruit."

Dry wines, the opposite of "sweet," are wines displaying less than about 2 percent residual sugar.

A sweet wine can also be so well-balanced as not to seem sweet by virtue of its fine acid levels. Many of the superb 2005 German Rieslings are so beautifully balanced.


This is a term we use to describe the high alcohol levels found in many red wines.

When I started in the wine business (when Johnson was president) it was extremely rare to find a red wine exceeding 13 percent alcohol.

Today, it is not easy to find a red wine under 13 percent alcohol and this can be a real problem.

"Hot" wines tend to push the level of flavors to a jammy intensity in some instances. The nose as well as the finish in these wines can be very overpowering. The other issue with these wines are the reluctance of many over alcohol wines to do well with cuisine. Alcohol in high levels are a limiting factor all around.


Wines with little or deficient acid levels are considered to be "flat." These are wines that are dull, have no "life" to them and do poorly with cuisine. A "flat" wine has lost any of its thirst quenching quality and tends to have a finish that simply drops off the planet.


Here is the bouquet variable. The nose of the wine is the pulse of the wine. Just about everything comes up in the nose; over wood, high alcohol and off flavors first arrive in the nose of the wine. I think that this little creature, the nose is the best tool to gauge the quality of any wine.

Well, there you have them. More next week!

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