Understanding industry jargon

I am getting tons of questions on very basic wine information. It seems that, as time goes on, the wine writers out there &

or those folks working in the wine industry (especially in winery tasting rooms) &

are not getting basic wine information out to the general public.

Sometimes we hear the wine professionals talking about barrel fermentation, "hang time" and "sitting on the skins" in every day conversation and forget that the consumer might not have a clue as to what is being said. Let me clear up some of the industry jargon so you might have a better grasp on what all of this stuff might mean. Okay, here we go.


162; Hang time: This is a term used to tell us how much time the bunches of grapes will sit on the vine before harvest. Exact "hang time" varies from harvest to harvest, winery to winery and grape type to different types of grapes.

We sometimes see, in really hot temperatures in the fall, bunches lifted from the vine so that the grapes do not get overripe. Overripe grapes can cause torrid levels of alcohol in which the wine will be simply "hot" to the taste and override the other taste sensations that this grape type might otherwise be known for or sought after.

Excessive "hang time" might also affect the grapes in flavor sensations such as a raisin quality or a baked Madeira nuance, which is not at all called for unless a Madeira-type wine is what one wishes to make on purpose.

The longer we see "hang time," the longer the grapes will be subjected to other creatures, such as yellowjackets and other critters that love to munch on high-sugar grapes, the result of more time with the sun. Also to be dreaded are certain types of molds if the grapes hang too long.


162; Sitting on the skins: In winemaking we do not use the term "peels." We use the term "skins." Winemakers allow the skins of red grapes to stay with the rest of the juice in order for some of the natural attributes of the skins to change the wine. This change can mean an increase of tannin and color to the wine.

Too much skin contact can produce too many tannins, making the wine harsh, or too little skin contact can make the wine into a ros&

233; and eliminate much of the richness of the wine. Ros&

233; wines are purposely made by taking the skins from the rest of the juice at a given time. Obviously, the longer the contact, the more red and less ros&

233; the wine becomes. One can also press the skins to get more tannin and more color, but this we will leave for another time.


162; Hot: This might be the most misunderstood wine term today. "Hot" indicates that the wine is out of balance in an alcoholic way. This heat can really damage the other, sometimes beautiful attributes of a wine, by overpowering the entire glass with what can only be described as "vaporous heat." I have tasted what could have been very fine wines that were, sadly, destroyed by this heat.

Highly alcoholic wines can come from a few sources but the main culprit is allowing the grapes to hang too long in this heat where the sugars get so high that the yeast have a field day and, when finished metabolizing the juice, produce torrid levels of alcohol. We see this many times in Zinfandel from the hotter areas of California, where 15 percent alcohol is not uncommon.

On a personal note, I would say that dry wines over 14 percent better have the stuffing and the fruit to carry this alcohol level or just the heat will stick out like a sore thumb. Dry, highly alcoholic wines do poorly in the cellar. What remains after a few years is mostly heat with the rest of the wine disappearing.


162; Laying down: This is the new, chic way of saying "cellaring."


162; Corked: When wine professionals talk of "corked" wines they are saying something very negative about the wine. "Corked" wines are wines in which the cork is smelled and tasted in the glass of wine. This is never okay and comes from a variety of problems. If you smell cork in the glass and if you taste a corkiness on the palate, you should return the bottle of wine or send it back to the kitchen.

Many wine professionals believe the screw caps on wine bottles are really the best thing and avoid "corked" wines altogether. Some say that more than 10 percent of all wines at one time or another over the last 20 American harvests were "corked." Not a good record!

Anyway, there you have a few good wine terms to sip on. See you next week!

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