You’re the envy of your friends at the restaurant table when you knowingly pick the perfect Viogner, others look to you with awe as you describe the nose of a Malbec. Now it’s time to learn some vineyard, winery and tasting lingo. Throw these words around next time you go wine tasting with your friends in Napa and you’ll be the star of the tour:
Clone – No, not a science-fiction term, although grape clones do result from weird mutations. Wine grapes are known to spontaneously mutate in the vineyard. The result is a very, very close relative of the grape type (or varietal) called a clone. Some clones are given numbers (for instance, “777” is a clone of Pinot Noir) while others are given names based on their history (the “Swan” clone was taken from Joseph Swan’s vineyard) Many wines are a blend of a bunch of different clones. Many wineries are now offering “clonal tastings” where you can taste the clones before they are blended.
Finish – The lingering effect of wine in your mouth. The longer the length, the better. If the wine is acidic, you might describe the finish as “edgy,” while a creamy finish would be better described as “smooth,” or “silky.”
Malolactic Fermentation – This jargony term refers to a bacterial process that takes place in the wine. Yep, bacteria! These little guys turn the acetic acid in wine (which has an apple-y flavor) into lactic acid (the same acid found in milk). The result is that you get a creamy, rich wine when it has gone through malolactic or “ML” fermentation.
Punchdown – A technique during fermentation that mixes up the juice and skins. I spent a good chunk of the summer of 2007 doing punchdowns. Pinot Noir and Syrah have to be punched down three times a day. The winery where I worked had 20 tanks and each took anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. You do the math to determine the amount of manual labor this took!
Check out this cool video from WineSpectator.com that shows you how the punchdowns are done:
Brix – A measure for determining sugar levels in wine (specifically, the ratio of dissolved sugar to water).
Residual Sugars – Also known as “RS” (you’ll hear this term thrown around by really stuffy wine snobs), RS refers to unfermented grape sugar that remains in wine after the fermentation process.
Vertical Tasting – You’ll see these offered at some wineries. A vertical tasting refers to tasting several vintages of the same wine: you’ll taste the 2003, 2004 and 2005 vintages and compare.
For more wine lingo, check out this great glossary over at Fine Cooking that demystifies other wine terms. Learn them all and impress your friends.