Category Archives: Winemaking

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Know your Bubbles – part 2: Beyond Champagne

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(See also Know your Bubbles – part 1: Méthode Champenoise)

The méthode traditionnelle (or traditional method) has been adopted throughout France and worldwide as the most successful approach to quality, ageworthy sparkling wine production. While the exact aging requirements and grape varieties may change, and the limit on pressing is less strict, the traditional method mirrors the méthode Champenoise and has at its heart the principle of a second fermentation in the bottle.

In France, there are seven AOP regions for crémant wines produced by the traditional method: Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Limoux, Crémant de Die, Crémant du Jura, and Crémant d’Alsace. Other appellations in France producing traditional method sparkling wines include Vouvray, Montlouis-sur-Loire, and Saumur in the Loire; and Vin de Savoie and Seyssel in Savoie. Fully sparkling wines from the aforementioned appellations will be labeled mousseux, whereas lightly sparkling wines are labeled pétillant. Blanquette de Limoux AOP wines from the Languedoc region are also produced by the traditional method, from a minimum 90% Mauzac, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc.

Spanish Cava (mostly in Catalonia but also in other regions such as Valencia, La Rioja, Aragon, Extremadura) is a white or pink sparkling wine produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia, 40 km to the south west of Barcelona. Under Spanish Denominación de Origen laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions and must be made according to the Traditional Method with second fermentation in the bottle and uses a selection of the grapes Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Subirat.

In Italy, sparkling wines are made throughout the whole country but the Italian sparkling wines most widely seen on the world market are the Franciacorta from Lombardy, Asti from Piedmont, Lambrusco from Emilia and Prosecco from Veneto. Though Franciacorta wines are made according to the traditional method, most Italian sparkling wines, in particular Asti and Prosecco, are made with the Charmat method (see below).

Portuguese Espumante (sparkling) is produced in throughout Portugal. While Spain has one regulating body, DOC Cava, spread across several different political regions, quality portuguese Espumante is produced solely in DOC Bairrada, located just south of Vinho Verde. In order for a wine to be certified as a quality Espumante from DOC Bairrada, it must be made in the traditional method (indicating the year of harvest) and stamped with the VEQPRD (Vinho Espumante de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada) certification. Other certifications are VFQPRD, a regional sparkling wine made in the traditional, charmat or transfer method in one of the following determined regions: Douro, Ribatejo, Minho, Alentejo or Estremadura. VQPRD is a sparkling wine that can be made by injecting the wine with gas in the traditional champagne, charmat or transfer method anywhere in Portugal. Espumosos is the cheapest and lowest level of sparkling wine, made by injecting the wine with CO2.

Quality sparkling wines are made on USA West Coast, in Carneros, Napa Valley, Anderson Valley, Willamette Valley, and Washington. Traditional method sparkling wines are also made in New York and Canada. Graham Beck is at the forefront of traditional method “Cap Classique” sparkling wines in South Africa. Major Champagne houses have established outposts in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Ukraine, and even Brazil!

Other Sparkling Winemaking Methods

The Charmat Process (aka Cuve Close or Tank Method) is quicker, cheaper, and less labor-intensive than the traditional method. After the wine undergoes primary fermentation, liqueur de tirage is added to the wine, provoking a second fermentation, which occurs in a pressurized enamel-lined tank, or autoclave, over a matter of days. Once the appropriate pressure is reached (usually 5 atmospheres), the wine is chilled to arrest fermentation. Some appellations require the wine to remain in tank for a minimum period of time, such as one month for Asti DOCG. The wine is then filtered and bottled, usually with a dosage. The lack of extended lees contact in the tank method is not suitable for making quality wines in the style of Champagne. The bubbles in tank method wines will be larger and coarser, and the wine will have a less uniform texture than wines made by the traditional method. However, this method is appropriate and even preferred for sparkling wines emphasizing fruit and varietal aromatics rather than the flavors derived from autolysis. Mousseux (French for “sparkling”) wines, most Italian Asti DOCG and Prosecco are produced in this method.

Continuous Method (aka Russian Continuous Method), is similar to the tank method, but the base wine is pumped through a series of interconnected (continuous) tanks while undergoing the second fermentation. Liqueur de tirage is constantly added to the wine, and lees accumulate in the first several tanks, offering a higher degree of autolyzed flavors than the standard tank method. The majority of German Sekt is produced by either the tank method or the continuous method.

Carbonation is the cheapest method of sparkling winemaking, and involves a simple injection of carbon dioxide into still wine. The bubbles do not integrate into the texture of the wine at all, and fade quickly upon opening. This method is not used for quality wines.

Source:
 http://www.champagne.fr
 https://www.guildsomm.com
 http://www.winespectator.com
 http://winefolly.com

 


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Know your Bubbles – part 1: Méthode Champenoise

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(See also Know your Bubbles – part 2: Beyond Champagne)

The techniques of sparkling winemaking did not originate with the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon, nor was the first purposely sparkling wine produced in the region of Champagne. Regardless, through centuries of refinement Champagne has become the world’s leading sparkling wine and the vinous embodiment of luxury and celebration.

Méthode Champenoise is the labor-intensive and costly process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. Also known as méthode traditionnelle or metodo classico.

Méthode Champenoise begins in the press house. Black grapes must be pressed especially quickly after harvest, lest they colour the must. Extraction is limited to 102 liters from 160 kg of grapes. The extracted juice is then divided into the vin de cuvée (the first 2,050 liters) and the vin de taille (the following 500 liters). The vin de taille is usually richer in pigment and tannin. The must, which is often chaptalized, will then undergo primary fermentation, which may occur in either stainless steel or oak barrels. The base wines often undergo malolactic fermentation, although this is not a universal practice. After both the primary and malolactic fermentations have concluded, the base wines will generally be clarified, through fining, filtering, or centrifuge. The clarified base wines remain in either stainless steel or barrel until late February or March of the year following the harvest. At this stage the blender will taste the lots of base wine, and determine a house’s hallmark blend, drawing on reserve stocks from previous years to provide complexity and richness. After the assemblage and cold stabilization, the blend will be racked and bottled with the addition of liqueur de tirage, a mixture of still wine, yeasts, sugar, and fining agents that will serve to ignite the second fermentation.

The second fermentation is the heart of the méthode Champenoise. Each bottle is affixed with a crown cap after the liqueur de tirage is added, and yeast begins its work. The secondary fermentation lasts up to eight weeks, as the yeast slowly converts the additional sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide creates a pressure inside the bottle of five to six atmospheres. During the second fermentation, the bottles are usually stored horizontally. Autolysis, the breakdown of dead yeast cells, forms sediment, or lees, in the bottle as second fermentation occurs. The wine will be aged on the lees for a minimum of 12 months prior to their removal from the bottle through dégorgement.

In preparation for dégorgement, the sediment must first be trapped in the neck of the bottle. Producers proceed to remuage, or riddling, which manipulates the sediment into the neck and bidule through sharp twists and inversion of the bottle. The widow Clicquot’s breakthrough involved the development of the pupitre: two large wooden planks fastened together in an upright “A” shape, with sixty angled holes cut into each plank of wood. A remuer would fractionally turn and tilt each bottle over a period of about eight weeks, slowly inverting the bottles with the neck pointing downward. Despite the fact that a top remuer is rumored to handle upwards of 70,000 bottles a day, Champagne is an industry, and more efficient methods are required. The modern remuage operation is shortened to a week or less through the use of a Spanish invention, the gyropalette, an automated device that holds 504 bottles. The gyropalette has replaced hand-riddling at all of the major houses, although some prestige cuvée bottlings are still handled manually.

Once the sediment is successfully collected in the neck of the bottle, the bottles remain in the upside-down vertical position for a short period of time prior to dégorgement. The modern method of dégorgement à la glace involves dipping the neck of bottle in a freezing brine solution. The bottle can then be turned upright. The force of internal pressure will expel the semi-frozen sediment (and a small portion of wine) as the crown cap is removed. As the wines are fully fermented to total dryness, the bottles are then topped off with dosage, a liquid mixture of sugar syrup and wine. Rarely, bone-dry non-dosage styles are produced. The amount of sugar in the dosage is determined by the desired style of the wine. Brut is the most common sweetness level and the level at which most houses bottle vintage and prestige cuvées.

Source:
 http://www.champagne.fr
 https://www.guildsomm.com
 http://www.winespectator.com
 http://winefolly.com

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Cheap quality wines

Life is too short…

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Cheap quality wines

Life is too short to drink bad, cheap quality wines. I truly believe it! The problem is to identify the cheap quality stuff… particularly when it come to wines.

Most of people don’t know how to qualify a wine. And that’s totally OK, as they didn’t attend the same education as a sommelier, for instance. They are usually driven by taste – but taste might not be enough.

“Good wine is the wine you enjoy drinking!”

Not really… Your idea of sun-­dappled vineyards and grand châteaus might be very romantic, but in reality, cheap wine – no matter how “lovely” it tastes – might owe more to chemists than to viticulturist. Wines, like most foodstuffs, has been industrialized as well, might be made of grapes that come from anywhere, cooked up in ­behemoth factories.

Looking after your pocket or your health

As an example, oak barrels make wines taste more complex, drier and give them notes of coconut or vanilla. As they’re expensive, cheap wines will look for cheaper alternatives as oak chips, sawdust, or wood essence.

Another trick is is a substance called Mega-­Purple. A thick goo to correct colour issues, where a few drops can turn a wine from a weak salmon blush to an appealingly intense crimson, helping consistency from batch to batch.

What’s really in your cheap wine?

Vat­-produced wines can be coaxed into drinkability by just adding the right stuff: sulfur dioxide, ammonium salts, oak adjuncts, tartaric acid, powdered tannin, sugar, pectic enzymes, gum arabic, dimethyl dicarbonate, among others, although on the record no one will cop to using them.


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Mechanical Harvesting vs. Hand Picked Grapes

Wine grapes hand-pickerThe harvesting of wine grapes is one of the most crucial steps in the process of winemaking. The time of harvest is determined primarily by the ripeness of the grape as measured by sugar, acid and tannin levels. The weather can also shape the timetable of harvesting. In addition to determining the time of the harvest, winemakers and vineyard owners must also determine whether to use hand-picker workers or mechanical harvest machinery.

The question of using mechanical harvesting versus traditional hand picking is a source of contention in the wine industry. Mechanical harvesting of grapes has been one of the major changes in many vineyards in the last third of a century, and it’s been adopted in different places for various economic, labour and winemaking reasons. It keeps the price down to the $8 range, which no one expects to be hand-crafted. There is nothing gentle about mechanical harvesting. It beats up the grapes so badly that they end up looking more like oatmeal than grapes.

Even if some of us do more or less regularly drink mass-produced industrial wines, we all know that hand-craftsmanship is best, and despite the costs, some wineries prefer the use of human workers to hand-pick grapes. The main advantage is the knowledge and discernment of the worker to pick only healthy bunches and the gentler handling of the grapes.

There are several reasons we might choose to hand harvest. Some varietals don’t shake off the stems easily, so the plants would have to be beaten senseless in order to get the grapes off. The production of some dessert wine like Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese require that individual berries are picked from the botrytized bunches which can only be done by hand. In areas of steep terrain, like in the Priorat and Monsant, in Spain, it would be virtually impossible to run a mechanical harvester through the vineyard.

The quality of the wine is actually the main determinate of harvest technique. When the harvester shakes the grapes loose, lots of them end up breaking open. This can be mitigated by running the machine slower, but it’s inevitable. When you’re making white wine, particularly a delicate flavoured wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, that contact between the skins and the juice can add undesirable bitterness to the final product. By hand harvesting the grapes arrive at the press pad largely intact, taking pressure off the cellar crew to get them crushed and pressed ASAP.


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Low Yield Vineyards

Quality & Low Yield Vineyards

In viticulture, the yield is a measure of the amount of grapes or wine that is produced per unit surface of vineyard. Yield is an important quality factor in wine production.

In general, there is consensus that if vines are cropped with a very high amount of grape clusters, a poor wine will result because of slow and insufficient ripening of the grapes.

Natural vs Conventional Wines

The reason conventional winemakers believe they can make good wine from high yielding vineyards is that the quality of the grapes is relatively unimportant in conventionally made wines. Any lack of taste in the grapes can be compensated for in the winery. Which is too bad! I wrote about it in this article, Life is too short…

A naturally made wine relies for its taste solely on the grapes from which it is made. A great natural wine, one that truly expresses its terroir, can only be made from the low-yielding vines.


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Italy beats France as wine producer

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source: EU Commission

source: EU Commission

Italy has surpassed France to take to crown of world largest wine producer in 2015, according to European Union data. This year’s benign weather conditions have resulted in an abundant grape harvest across the Mediterranean peninsula, as opposed to that reaped on the other side of the Alps.

The figures submitted to the European Commission in mid-September show total output approaching 50 million hectolitres, while in France production declined by one percent. The Burgundy and Beaujolais regions were worst affected, but it’s thought that both areas could see price rises in the coming months.

One reason for the rise in Italian output is simply that the 2014 harvest was particularly bad due to the weather.

Despite this year’s overall good conditions some vineyards were forced to use emergency irrigation in the July heat.

But thanks to a cooler September, the 2015 Italian harvest is set to yield what one producer described as a “pretty good vintage”.

source: euronews


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Quantity vs. Quality: where is the intersection?

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Quantity vs. Quality: where is the intersection?

Quantity vs. Quality: where is the intersection?

I have a particular interest in fine wine. Not those of exorbitant prices, but more the artisan ones, which sometimes might be priced as well.

Artisan wines are those which winemaking tries to avoid automation and machinery to the fullest! Some artisan practices are hand-picked grapes, sorting tables to sort grapes for quality, removing rotten and unsuitable grapes along with leaves and petioles (which doesn’t happen in machinery harvest). Then the grapes might be foot-trodden, and the fermentation begins naturally; mixing grape skins and juice by hand, many times a day, among other very labour intensive processes.

I was reading about such interesting subject, and I came across several articles discussing how it is becoming increasingly harder to find fine wines. Apart from the labour related added-value, it seems that you cannot easily find artisan fine wines at reasonable prices any more. But why?

In contrast to fine wine, the world is awash with an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grape juice in mass market quantities, usually blended from bulk wines from various sources, where questionable winemaking practices are largely used, under the regulatory myopia of governments. Although they are also called “wines”, such beverages end up subverting artisan wine making, altering consumer tastes, and sabotaging the future of fine wine.

But… Does anybody care?

What usually drives regular wine consumers when buying their bottle of wine is price, eventually. Sometimes a pinch of knowledge, for consciousness’ sake, which might be as vague as a grape (“I like my Merlots”) , or a country (“I love Australian wines”).

How to change this tendency, when increasingly brand burning in the supermarkets works favourably to a government willing to tax minimum prices for wine (and alcohol in general) regardless its quality, in a misguided attempt to solve abusive alcohol consumption?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know a better answer than awareness!

When tax regulation, and industry association policies conspire to eliminate the characteristics of a product with the intention of make them insipid, burden them with punitive costs and undermine the provenance on which their individual brands stand, then we can aggrieve.

So, is there an intersection, or should we just avoid the large chain retailers who treat wine as a loss leading inducement for filling grocery carts, and buy only wines made truly from winemakers’ heart?

I don’t know a better answer than awareness! If this trend continues unabated, in the near future we might have nothing left but an illusion of choices, engulfed in an ever-rising ocean of wine-like beverage, on display in the crowded soulless supermarkets shelves!


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Grapes

PDO and PGI

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Grapes

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is defined as the name of a region or a specific place used to describe a wine product which denotes that the grapes have come exclusively from that area and are only of the Vitis vinifera genus, and the production of the wine takes place in the named area.

Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is slightly less restrictive and is defined as the name of a region, a specific place or a country used to describe a wine product which possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to the geographical origin, that at least 85% of grapes used for its production have come from that area and are of the Vitis Vinifera genus or a cross of Vitis Vinifera and another genus of Vitis and the production of the wine takes place in the named area.

These are general European terminology, but each country will have their own words to say more or less the same thing, which basically tries to protect the region and the producers in that region.

In Spain, the categories are Vino de Mesa (table wine), Vino de la Tierra, VT or VdlT(“wine of the country”), Vinos de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (VCIG or VC), Denominación de Origen, or DO, Denominación de Origen Calificada, or DOC (sometimes referred to as DOCa, or DOQ in Catalunya), Vino de Pago, or VP

Vino de Mesa is the lowest rung on Spain’s wine quality ladder.

VT is like the Vins de Pays for French wines. It doesn’t necessarily mean the wine has no quality, but just that the wine didn’t follow the rules and restrictions (and sometimes the quality level) which a higher qualification rules.

VCIG is the European PGI. It’s like the French Vin Délimité De Qualité Supérieure (VDQS), or the Italians IGT, which is basically a holding place for aspiring a higher qualification.

DO and DOC (DOCa, DOQ) are the highest appelations in Spain, comparable to France’s AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). All DOs have regulatory bodies responsible for creating the definition of each DO.

VP is a new concept with an entirely different method of classifying quality. Pago means vineyard, so the simple explanation of what constitutes a DO Pago is that it is a single estate wine.


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A Glossary of Wine Terms

A Glossary of wine terms

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by Robert Parker

winewords

acetic: Wines, no matter how well made, contain quantities of acetic acidity that have a vinegary smell. If there is an excessive amount of acetic acidity, the wine will have a vinegary smell and be a flawed, acetic wine.

acidic: Wines need natural acidity to taste fresh and lively, but an excess of acidity results in an acidic wine that is tart and sour.

acidity: The acidity level in a wine is critical to its enjoyment and livelihood. The natural acids that appear in wine are citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic. Wines from hot years tend to be lower in acidity, whereas wines from cool, rainy years tend to be high in acidity. Acidity in a wine can preserve the wine’s freshness and keep the wine lively, but too much acidity, which masks the wines flavors and compresses its texture, is a flaw.

aftertaste: As the term suggests, the taste left in the mouth when one swallows is the aftertaste. This word is a synonym for length or finish. The longer the aftertaste lingers in the mouth (assuming it is a pleasant taste), the finer the quality of the wine.

aggressive: Aggressive is usually applied to wines that are either high in acidity or have harsh tannins, or both.

angular: Angular wines are wines that lack roundness, generosity, and depth. Wine from poor vintages or wines that are too acidic are often described as being angular.

aroma: Aroma is the smell of a young wine before it has had sufficient time to develop nuances of smell that are then called its bouquet. The word aroma is commonly used to mean the smell of a relatively young, unevolved wine.

astringent: Wines that are astringent are not necessarily bad or good wines. Astringent wines are harsh and coarse to taste, either because they are too young and tannic and just need time to develop, or because they are not well made. The level of tannins (if it is harsh) in a wine contributes to its degree of astringence.

austere: Wines that are austere are generally not terribly pleasant wines to drink. An austere wine is a hard, rather dry wine that lacks richness and generosity. However, young Rhônes are not as austere as young Bordeaux.

backward: An adjective used to describe (1) a young largely unevolved, closed, and undrinkable wine, (2) a wine that is not ready to drink, or (3) a wine that simply refuses to release its charms and personality.

balance: One of the most desired traits in a wine is good balance, where the concentration of fruit, level of tannins, and acidity are in total harmony. Balanced wines are symmetrical and tend to age gracefully.

barnyard: An unclean, farmyard, fecal aroma that is imparted to a wine because of unclean barrels or unsanitary winemaking facilities.

berrylike: As this descriptive term implies, most red wines have an intense berry fruit character that can suggest blackberries, raspberries, black cherries, mulberries, or even strawberries and cranberries.

big: A big wine is a large-framed, full-bodied wine with an intense and concentrated feel on the palate. Most red Rhône wines are big wines.

blackcurrant: A pronounced smell of blackcurrant fruit is commonly associated with certain Rhône wines. It can vary in intensity from faint to very deep and rich.

body: Body is the weight and fullness of a wine that can be sensed as it crosses the palate. full-bodied wines tend to have a lot of alcohol, concentration, and glycerin.

Botrytis cinerea: The fungus that attacks the grape skins under specific climatic conditions (usually alternating periods of moisture and sunny weather). It causes the grape to become superconcentrated because it causes a natural dehydration. Botrytis cinerea is essential for the great sweet white wines of Barsac and Sauternes. It rarely occurs in the Rhône Valley because of the dry, constant sunshine and gusty winds.

bouquet: As a wine’s aroma becomes more developed from bottle aging, the aroma is transformed into a bouquet that is hopefully more than just the smell of the grape.

brawny: A hefty, muscular, full-bodied wine with plenty of weight and flavor, although not always the most elegant or refined sort of wine.

briery: I think of California Zinfandel when the term briery comes into play, denoting that the wine is aggressive and rather spicy.

brilliant: Brilliant relates to the color of the wine. A brilliant wine is one that s clear, with no haze or cloudiness to the color.

browning: As red wines age, their color changes from ruby/purple to dark ruby, to medium ruby, to ruby with an amber edge, to ruby with a brown edge. When a wine is browning it is usually fully mature and not likely to get better.

carbonic maceration: This vinification method is used to make soft, fruity, very accessible wines. Whole clusters of grapes are put into a vat that is then filled with carbonic gas. This system is used when fruit is to be emphasized in the final wine in contrast to structure and tannin.

cedar: Rhône reds can have a bouquet that suggests either faintly or overtly the smell of cedarwood. It is a complex aspect of the bouquet.

chewy: If a wine has a rather dense, viscous texture from a high glycerin content, it is often referred to as being chewy. High-extract wines from great vintages can often be chewy, largely because they have higher alcohol hence high levels of glycerin, which imparts a fleshy mouthfeel.

closed: The term closed is used to denote that the wine is not showing its potential, which remains locked in because it is too young. Young wines often close up about 12-18 months after bottling, and depending on the vintage and storage conditions, remain in such a state for several years to more than a decade.

complex: One of the most subjective descriptive terms used, a complex wine is a wine that the taster never gets bored with and finds interesting to drink. Complex wines tend to have a variety of subtle scents and flavors that hold one’s interest in the wine.

concentrated: Fine wines, whether they are light-, medium-, or full-bodied, should have concentrated flavors. Concentrated denotes that the wine has a depth and richness of fruit that gives it appeal and interest. Deep is a synonym for concentrated.

corked: A corked wine is a flawed wine that has taken on the smell of cork as a result of an unclean or faulty cork. It is perceptible in a bouquet that shows no fruit, only the smell of musty cork, which reminds me of wet cardboard.

cuvée: Many producers in the Rhône Valley produce special, deluxe lots of wine or a lot of wine from a specific grape variety that they bottle separately. These lots are often referred to as cuvées.

decadent: If you are an ice cream and chocolate lover, you know the feeling of eating a huge sundae of rich vanilla ice cream lavished with hot fudge and real whipped cream. If you are a wine enthusiast, a wine loaded with opulent, even unctuous layers of fruit, with a huge bouquet, and a plump, luxurious texture can be said to be decadent.

deep: Essentially the same as concentrated, expressing the fact that the wine is rich, full of extract, and mouth filling.

delicate: As this word implies, delicate wines are light, subtle, understated wines that are prized for their shyness rather than for an extroverted, robust character. White wines are usually more delicate than red wines. Few Rhône red wines can correctly be called delicate.

demi-muid: 650-liter Burgundy barrels which are essentially the equivalent of three regular barrels.

diffuse: Wines that smell and taste unstructured and unfocused are said to be diffuse. When red wines are served at too warm a temperature they often become diffuse.

double decanting: This is done by first decanting the wine into a decanter and then rinsing the original bottle out with non-chlorinated water and then immediately repouring the wine from the decanter back into the bottle. It varies with the wine as to how long you cork it.

dumb: A dumb wine is also a closed wine, but the term dumb is used more pejoratively. Closed wines may need only time to reveal their richness and intensity. Dumb wines may never get any better.

earthy: May be used in both a negative and a positive sense; however, I prefer to use earthy to denote a positive aroma of fresh, rich, clean soil. Earthy is a more intense smell than woody or truffle scents.

elegant: Although more white wines than red are described as being elegant, lighter-styled, graceful, balance red wines can be elegant.

extract: This is everything in a wine besides water, sugar, alcohol, and acidity.

exuberant: Like extroverted, somewhat hyper people, wines too can be gushing with fruit and seem nervous and intensely vigorous.

fat: When the Rhône has an exceptionally hot year for its crop and the wines attain a super sort of maturity, they are often quite rich and concentrated, with low to average acidity. Often such wines are said to be fat, which is a prized commodity. If they become too fat, that is a flaw and they are then called flabby.

flabby: A wine that is too fat or obese is a flabby wine. Flabby wines lack structure and are heavy to taste.

fleshy: Fleshy is a synonym for chewy, meaty, or beefy. It denotes that the wine has a lot of body, alcohol, and extract, and usually a high glycerin content. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage are particularly fleshy wines.

floral: Wines made from the Muscat or Viognier grape have a flowery component, and occasionally a red wine will have a floral scent.

focused: Both a fine wine’s bouquet and flavor should be focused. Focused simply means that the scents, aromas, and flavors are precise and clearly delineated. If they are not, the wine is like an out-of-focus picture-diffuse, hazy, and possibly problematic.

forward: An adjective used to describe wines that are (1) delicious, evolved, and close to maturity, (2) wines that border on being flamboyant or ostentatious, or (3) unusually evolved and/or quickly maturing wines.

foudre: Large oak barrels that vary enormously in size but are significantly larger than the normal oak barrel used in Bordeaux or the piece used in Burgundy. They are widely used in the Rhône Valley.

fresh: Freshness in both young and old wines is a welcome and pleasing component. A wine is said to be fresh when it is lively and cleanly made. The opposite of fresh is stale. fruity: A very good wine should have enough concentration of fruit so that it can be said to be fruity. Fortunately, the best wines will have more than just a fruity personality.

full-bodied: Wines rich in extract, alcohol, and glycerin are full-bodied wines. Most Rhône wines are full-bodied.

garrigue: In the southern Rhône Valley and Provence, this is the landscape of small slopes and plateaus. This Provençal word applies to these windswept hilltops/slopes inhabited by scrub-brush and Provençal herb outcroppings. The smell of garrigue is often attributed to southern Rhône Valley wines. Suggesting more than the smell of herbes de Provence, it encompasses an earthy/herbal concoction of varying degrees of intensity.

green: Green wines are wines made from underripe grapes; they lack richness and generosity as well as having a vegetal character. Green wines are infrequently made in the Rhone, although vintages such as 1977 were characterized by a lack of ripening.

hard: Wines with abrasive, astringent tannins or high acidity are said to be hard. Young vintages of Rhône wines can be hard, but they should never be harsh.

harsh: If a wine is too hard it is said to be harsh. Harshness in a wine, young or old, is a flaw.

hedonistic: Certain styles of wine are meant to be inspected; they are introspective and intellectual wines. Others are designed to provide sheer delight, joy, and euphoria. Hedonistic wines can be criticized because in one sense they provide so much ecstasy that they can be called obvious, but in essence, they are totally gratifying wines meant to fascinate and enthrall-pleasure at its best.

herbaceous: Many wines have a distinctive herbal smell that is generally said to be herbaceous. Specific herbal smells can be of thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, fennel, or basil and are common in Rhône wines.

herbes de Provence: Provence is known for the wild herbs that grow prolifically through- out the region. These include lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano. It is not just an olfactory fancy to smell many of these herbs in Rhône Valley wines, particularly those made in the south.

hollow: Also known as shallow, hollow wines are diluted and lack depth and concentration.

honeyed: A common personality trait of specific white Rhône wines, a honeyed wine is one that has the smell and taste of bee’s honey.

hot: Rather than meaning that the temperature of the wine is too warm to drink, hot denotes that the wine is too high in alcohol and therefore leaves a burning sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed. Wines with alcohol levels in excess of 14.5% often taste hot if the requisite depth of fruit is not present.

inox vats: This is the French term for stainless steel vats that are used for both fermentation and storage of wine.

intensity: Intensity is one of the most desirable traits of a high-quality wine. Wines of great intensity must also have balance. They should never be heavy or cloying. Intensely concentrated great wines are alive, vibrant, aromatic, layered, and texturally compelling. Their intensity adds to their character, rather than detracting from it.

jammy: When wines have a great intensity of fruit from excellent ripeness they can be jammy, which is a very concentrated, flavorful wine with superb extract. In great vintages such as 1961, 1978, 1985, 1989, 1990, and 1995, some of the wines are so concentrated that they are said to be jammy.

Kisselguhr filtration system: This is a filtration system using diatomaceous earth as the filtering material, rather than cellulose, or in the past, before it was banned, asbestos.

leafy: A leafy character in a wine is similar to a herbaceous character only in that it refers to the smell of leaves rather than herbs. A wine that is too leafy is a vegetal or green wine.

lean: Lean wines are slim, rather streamlined wines that lack generosity and fatness but can still be enjoyable and pleasant.

lively: A synonym for fresh or exuberant, a lively wine is usually young wine with good acidity and a thirst-quenching personality.

long: A very desirable trait in any fine wine is that it be long in the mouth. Long (or length) relates to a wine’s finish, meaning that after you swallow the wine, you sense its presence for a long time. (Thirty seconds to several minutes is great length.) In a young wine, the difference between something good and something great is the length of the wine.

lush: Lush wines are velvety, soft, richly fruity wines that are both concentrated and fat. A lush wine can never be an astringent or hard wine.

massive: In great vintages where there is a high degree of ripeness and superb concentration, some wines can turn out to be so big, full-bodied, and rich that they are called massive. A great wine such as the 1961 or 1990 Hermitage La Chapelle is a textbook example of a massive wine.

meaty: A chewy, fleshy wine is also said to be meaty.

monocepage: This term describes a wine made totally of one specific varietal.

monopole: Used to denote a vineyard owned exclusively by one proprietor, the word monopole appears on the label of a wine made from such a vineyard.

morsellated: Many vineyards are fragmented, with multiple growers owning a portion of the same vineyard. Such a vineyard is often referred to as a morsellated vineyard.

mouth-filling: Big, rich, concentrated wines that are filled with fruit extract and are high in alcohol and glycerin are wines that tend to texturally fill the mouth. A mouth-filling wine is also a chewy, fleshy, fat wine.

musty: Wines aged in dirty barrels or unkept cellars or exposed to a bad cork take on a damp, musty character that is a flaw.

nose: The general smell and aroma of a wine as sensed through one’s nose and olfactory senses is often called the wine’s nose.

oaky: Many red Rhône wines are aged from 6 months to 30 months in various sizes of oak barrels. At some properties, a percentage of the oak barrels may be new, and these barrels impart a toasty, vanillin flavor and smell to the wine. If the wine is not rich and concentrated, the barrels can overwhelm the wine, making it taste overly oaky. Where the wine is rich and concentrated and the winemaker has made a judicious use of barrels, however, the results are a wonderful marriage of fruit and oak.

off: If a wine is not showing its true character, or is flawed or spoiled in some way, it is said to be “off.”

overripe: An undesirable characteristic; grapes left too long on the vine become too ripe, lose their acidity, and produce wines that are heavy and balance. This can happen frequently in the hot viticultural areas of the Rhône Valley if the growers harvest too late.

oxidized: If a wine has been excessively exposed to air during either its making or aging, the wine loses freshness and takes on a stale, old smell and taste. Such a wine is said to be oxidized.

peppery: A peppery quality to a wine is usually noticeable in many Rhône wines that have an aroma of black or white pepper and a pungent flavor.

perfumed: This term usually is more applicable to fragrant, aromatic white wines than to red wines. However, some of the dry white wines (particularly Condrieu) and sweet white wines can have a strong perfumed smell.

pigéage: A winemaking technique of punching down the cap of grape skins that forms during the beginning of the wine’s fermentation. This is done several times a day, occasionally more frequently, to extract color, flavor, and tannin from the fermenting juice.

plummy: Rich, concentrated wines can often have the smell and taste of ripe plums. When they do, the term plummy is applicable.

ponderous: Ponderous is often used as a synonym for massive, but in my usage a massive wine is simply a big, rich, very concentrated wine with balance, whereas a ponderous wine is a wine that has become heavy and tiring to drink.

precocious: Wines that mature quickly are precocious. However the term also applies to wines that may last and evolve gracefully over a long period of time, but taste as if they are aging quickly because of their tastiness and soft, early charms.

pruney: Wines produced from grapes that are overripe take on the character of prunes. Pruney wines are flawed wines.

raisiny: Late-harvest wines that are meant to be drunk at the end of a meal can often be slightly raisiny, which in some ports and sherries is desirable. However, a raisiny quality is a major flaw in a dinner wine.

rich: Wines that are high in extract, flavor, and intensity of fruit.

ripe: A wine is ripe when its grapes have reached the optimum level of maturity. Less than fully mature grapes produce wines that are underripe, and overly mature grapes produce wines that are overripe.

round: A very desirable character of wines, roundness occurs in fully mature wines that have lost their youthful, astringent tannins, and also in young wines that have soft tannins and low acidity.

savory: A general descriptive term that denotes that the wine is round, flavorful, and interesting to drink.

shallow: A weak, feeble, watery or diluted wine lacking concentration is said to be shallow.

sharp: An undesirable trait, sharp wines are bitter and unpleasant with hard, pointed edges.

silky: A synonym for velvety or lush, silky wines are soft, sometimes fat, but never hard or angular.

smoky: Some wines, either because of the soil or because of the barrels used to age the wine, have a distinctive smoky character. Côte Rôtie and Hermitage often have a roasted or smoky quality.

soft: A soft wine is one that is round and fruity, low in acidity, and has an absence of aggressive, hard tannins.

spicy: Wines often smell quite spicy with aromas of pepper, cinnamon, and other well-known spices. These pungent aromas are usually lumped together and called spicy.

stale: Dull, heavy wines that are oxidized or lack balancing acidity for freshness are called stale.

stalky: A synonym for vegetal, but used more frequently to denote that the wine has probably had too much contact with the stems, resulting in a green, vegetal, or stalky character to the wine.

supple: A supple wine is one that is soft, lush, velvety, and very attractively round and tasty. It is a highly desirable characteristic because it suggests that the wine is harmonious.

tannic: The tannins of a wine, which are extracted from the grape skins and stems, are, along with a wine’s acidity and alcohol, its lifeline. Tannins give a wine firmness and some roughness when young, but gradually fall away and dissipate. A tannic wine is one that is young and unready to drink.

tart: Sharp, acidic, lean, unripe wines are called tart. In general, a wine that is tart is not pleasurable.

thick: Rich, ripe, concentrated wines that are low in acidity are often said to be thick.

thin: A synonym for shallow; it is an undesirable characteristic for a wine to be thin, meaning that it is watery, lacking in body, and just diluted.

tightly knit: Young wines that have good acidity levels, good tannin levels, and are well made are called tightly knit, meaning they have yet to open up and develop.

toasty: A smell of grilled toast can often be found in wines because the barrels the wines are aged in are charred or toasted on the inside.

tobacco: Some red wines have the scent of fresh tobacco. It is a distinctive and wonderful smell in wine.

troncais oak: This type of oak comes from the forest of Troncais in central France.

unctuous: Rich, lush, intense wines with layers of concentrated, soft, velvety fruit are said to be unctuous.

vegetal: An undesirable characteristic, wines that smell and taste vegetal are usually made from unripe grapes. In some wines, a subtle vegetable garden smell is pleasant and adds complexity, but if it is the predominant character, it is a major flaw.

velvety: A textural description and synonym for lush or silky, a velvety wine is a rich, soft, smooth wine to taste. It is a very desirable characteristic.

viscous: Viscous wines tend to be relatively concentrated, fat, almost thick wines with a great density of fruit extract, plenty of glycerin, and high alcohol content. If they have balancing acidity, they can be tremendously flavorful and exciting wines. If they lack acidity, they are often flabby and heavy.

volatile: A volatile wine is one that smells of vinegar as a result of an excessive amount of acetic bacteria present. It is a seriously flawed wine.

woody: When a wine is overly oaky it is often said to be woody. Oakiness in a wine’s bouquet and taste is good up to a point. Once past that point, the wine is woody and its fruity qualities are masked by excessive oak aging.


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Le Noveau ést arrivé

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This is the slogan for Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the third Thursday in November when wine lovers in France and around the world race to take part in the traditional tasting of the year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Far from France and Beaujolais, Ubifrance celebrated the day by offering a Beaujolais taste at Alliance Française, on Kildare St. There was Patrick Thevenet, presenting wines from AOC Chénas and Moulin à Vent – délicieux!Beaujolais is a French AOC wine usually made from the Gamay grape. Whites are made mostly from Chardonnay grapes though Aligoté is also permitted. Beaujolais tends to be a very light-bodied red wine, with relatively high amounts of acidity.The wine takes its name from the historical Province of Beaujolais, located north of Lyon, and covers parts of the north of the Rhône, in the Rhône-Alpes region, and southern areas of the Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy. The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, for the use of carbonic maceration.

But there are more than Le Noveau in Beaujolais. Some wines are made to be released later, and the best ones come from areas named Crus, classified as stand-alone appellations. They are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and St. Amour. While Le Nouveau is made in a drink-now style, Les Crus are made more traditionally, and tend to be released a year or two later.


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