Demystifying the Glug

A layman’s translation of some of those funny (and not so funny) words and phrases with which wine buffs like to sprinkle their conversations.

Alcohol gives body and flavour to a wine. Actually there are many alcohols. The main one in wine is ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Methyl alcohol and others are present in tiny amounts, but are unpleasant in large quantities.

Smell of a wine. Purists say it’s only part of the smell – defined by the variety of the grape.

Very straight-laced wines from the top French chateaux. They only begin to taste good when they’ve had a few years in the bottle. The large amount of tannin has mellowed and is balanced by the alcohol and sugar in the wine. Maybe easier defined as the opposite of wines made for drinking young – Beaujolais, etc.

In a good balanced wine the different ingredients – sugar, acids, tannins, alcohols, etc. – all make up part of the taste. No one element predominates. Balance develops during ageing, but should be evident to an expert even in a young wine.

Simply means the wine has a good strong taste. The stronger flavoured wines usually contain more alcohol, too. St Emilion wines are often referred to as big.

One of the four basic taste sensations. Red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon taste bitter when they’re young because of their relatively high tannin content.

Blanc de Blancs
White wine made from white grapes. Wow!

Blanc de Noirs
White wine (sometimes with a pink tinge) made from the juice of red grapes.

The glugginess of a wine. Related to the alcoholic strength. Visible in the roads when you swirl a glass. Wines from hotter areas tend to have more body.

Noble Rot. A fungus that shrivels the grapes and concentrates the sugar content. Under controlled conditions this can result in a very pleasant wine. Sauternes are vastly improved when made with this sort of grape.

Smell. Again. Purists say this is the smell and taste of the whole wine, not just the grape. It is affected by pressing, fermentation, filtering and storage.

Perfectly clear, not a trace of cloudiness or haze. Brilliant wines usually have a high acid content.

A measure of a grape’s sugar content, and therefore the likely eventual alcoholic content of the wine.

Dry, as opposed to sweet.

Bulk Secondary Fermentation
A process that horrifies the good people of Champagne. It’s a method for making sparkling wine, but the second fermentation takes place in a tank rather than the bottle.

Carbonic maceration
Alternative method of fermentation. The grapes aren’t crushed – they ferment underneath a covering of carbon dioxide. This seems to make a wine ‘fruitier’. Some Beaujolais wines are made this way, and the Australians are experimenting with the method.

The addition of sugar to the crushed grapes and juice in order to increase the alcoholic content of the wine.

A variant of the basic vine. Different plants flourish in different climates and/or soils.

Cold fermentation
The juice is refrigerated during fermentation – the longer brewing time seems to concentrate the flavour.

Wine that has an unpleasant musty smell and taste. It’s caused by a mould in the cork. Once you smell it, you know!

Squashing the grapes might be a better term. Crushing them will also mash open the pips and spoil the taste. The best wines come from grapes that have been broken open so that the juice runs out. The old method of treading by foot seemed to do that job very well. Treading the wine is still done in some parts of Portugal, even today.

Pouring a wine from its bottle to a jug or another bottle does two things; it aerates the wine and separates the liquid from any gunge that might have precipitated to the bottom of the bottle.

(Pronounced with a French accent) Adding syrup to dry champagne after degorgement to replace the small amount of wine lost with the cork and to adjust the sugar level.

Same as brut. A wine that isn’t sweet at all.

The grapes were grown, crushed, fermented and bottled in the same place.

Traces of various chemicals in a wine that give it complex flavours.

After fermentation wine contains a lot of solids. They will separate from the liquid eventually, but the job can be accelerated by adding finings (for example egg white) that sticks to the solids and helps them separate faster. An even speedier process is filtering or centrifuging. Many people say that all these methods of speeding up things affect the taste of the wine.

Used to speed up the separation of the liquid from the solid after fermentation. Also see Filtering.

A wine that has had brandy or raw grape spirit added. Brandy, port and Madeira are all fortified wines.

Hydrogen Sulphide
Known to all schoolboys (and girls). It’s produced in tiny quantities by the yeast during fermentation. Racking the wine will usually get rid of it. If you find a bottle that smells slightly of it, try dropping a copper coin in the bottle or decanter. If you find a bottle that smells strongly of it, open another bottle.

Not really the same as cold fermented wine. Cool fermenting, just the same, but refrigeration isn’t usually needed. The main difference is the starting point is frozen grapes. The splitting of the skin seems to release all sorts of flavours.

Late Harvest
The grapes are left on the vine longer than normal, so the taste is more concentrated. More sugar too, giving a higher alcoholic content.

The sediment in the bottom of the fermenting tank. Mostly dead yeast.

Roads. When you swirl a wine in a glass, then study the way the liquid settles back you’ll see the wine separates into streaks. Caused by all sorts of things including alcoholic content. Slow falling legs indicate a full-bodied-wine; quick-falling a light wine.

A procedure involving heating and aging a wine in casks. It darkens the wine and gives it a sherry or marmalade taste. Madeiras are classically treated in this way.

A fortified wine from Portugal. See fortified and maderisation.

Malolactic fermentation
A secondary fermentation in which malic acid (tastes vaguely of tart apples) is converted into lactic acid (buttery taste). Can be natural or artificially encouraged by adding certain bacteria. A common practice in Burgundy.

Methode Champenois
The way champagne is made. After the wine has fermented, it is put into bottles and a little sugar added. Fermentation starts again, releasing carbon dioxide which gives the drink its fizziness. It also forms more alcohol and a crusty deposit consisting mostly of dead yeast cells. The bottles are stored tilted with their necks down and rotated so the deposit is spread evenly on the cork. When the fermentation dies down the cork is removed along with the muck, the liquid topped up and a new cork inserted. Sometimes there is then a third fermentation. All this is very labour-intensive and accounts partly for the price of champagne. Hence bulk processing.

The mixture of grape juice, skins, seeds, and pulp in in the fermentation tank.

Noble rot

A wine that has been made to capture the ultimate in freshness and fruit character and meant to be drunk young. Nouveaux are usually made by carbonic maceration.

A measure of the acidity of a wine. Can only give a rough guide to how it will taste.

A vine disease, also the name of the tiny louse that causes it. It wiped out nearly one hundred percent of Europe’s vines in the 19th century. The wine trade only recovered when it was discovered that vines that had been grafted onto certain American rootstocks were resistant to the louse. Brandy, which had been the English gentleman’s drink was suddenly unobtainable and whisky came to prominence. Scottish whisky barons deny any connivance with the pest, but are eternally grateful to it.

The residue – grape skins, seeds, etc. after fermentation is completed and the wine has been racked or filtered off. Pomace used to be ploughed back into the vineyard, but is now dumped to avoid passing on any disease.

Press wine
After the grapes have been pressed and the juice run off, the pulp, skins, etc., can be pressed again to release more liquid. This is the press, and it is often richer in tannins. It is sometimes blended in with the first pressing.

The process of draining fermented wine from a tank in order to separate it from the sediment at the bottom, or for similarly separating grape juice from skins, etc.

Residual sugar
A measure of the sugar left in a wine after the fermentation is complete. Roughly how sweet (or dry) a wine should taste.

Blending various vintages in order to arrive at a consistent taste.

Sulphur dioxide
A preservative which is added to most wines (although the French say they don’t do this – very much). Smelly when too much is used.

A natural constituent of wines, especially reds. It tastes bitter in isolation – bite into a grape seed to try it – but helps preserve the wine and contributes to a good round taste in small quantities.

Topping Up
The practice of completely filling a cask with wine (hopefully from a cask of the same vintage) to exclude air.

Transfer Method
Compromise way of making near-champagne. The secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, but the liquid is pumped out to a tank before being transferred to a clean bottle.

In a pub this is the overflow from a beer tap. In wine parlance it is the space between the cork and the wine. A large ullage in an older wine is normal; a similar level in a younger one might mean trouble.

A wine made totally or predominantly from a single variety of grape.

What wine becomes when it stops being wine because it’s been in contact with air for too long.

Evaporates easily. Alcohol vaporises at a lower temperature than water, so it is more volatile. Most of the flavour of a wine is dissolved in the alcohol, so the smell is easily apparent.

Many wines are aged in oak casks. In well-made, well-aged wines this adds to the taste complexity of the wine. Old wood, contaminated wood, or excessive wood aging can spoil a wine.

Yeast is an enzyme that converts sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. It is found on grape (and other fruit) skins, or can be added to the must.

Press on for some tasting notes . . .

Or go and do something much more interesting. Like opening a bottle of good red.