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Russ Briley Wine-ing: Some wine ‘term-enology’

Learning the lingo will help you feel knowledgeable

Posted: February 10, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: February 10, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Russ Briley Russ Briley
Russ Briley

You have all heard many wine terms, but do you know what they all mean?

I used to be intimidated going to wine bars and wineries where terms and lingo were tossed out left and right. I would nod my head in great lemming form without a clue as to what I was acknowledging. At times I felt as if another language was being spoken. I certainly did not want to ask what something meant and risk the silent "I can't believe you asked that" stares from the "experts" around me.

Try sauntering up to any crowded wine-tasting bar and I can guarantee you will hear common wine terms such as "fruit forward," "tannins," "acid" and the dreaded "corked." So here's a wine vocabulary "cheat sheet" to use when you need it:

Acid: The component in wine that causes your mouth to water after taking a sip. Usually more present in white wines.

Aeration: Pouring a usually young wine into a decanter to expose it to air and open up the flavors.

Balance: When all five wine components - acid, sugar, alcohol, fruit and tannins - are relatively equal. No one component stands out. Many European winemakers always strive for this balance.

Bottle shock: Caused by excessive movement of the wine after it has been sitting or aging for a long time. It usually happens right after bottling. Can cause the flavor to become dull. Usually corrects itself in a few weeks or months.

Barrel fermentation: White wines that are fermented in large oak barrels instead of stainless steel containers.

Brix: The measurement of sugar level in the juice of a grape. Used to estimate the alcohol content in the finished wine.

Cooper: Person who makes oak barrels for wine.

Corked: Refers to bacteria in the cork that ruins the flavor of the wine. A corked wine usually produces a smell of wet newspaper or cardboard. Drinking a corked wine will not hurt you. It has been estimated that 2 to 5 percent of all wines that use natural cork have this bacteria.

Crush: When white or red grapes are crushed after harvest and before fermentation.

Decant: Pouring an older wine into a decanter to prevent the sediments from ending up in your glass.

Dry farming: Grapes are grown without artificial watering or irrigation.

Enology: The science of winemaking.

Finish: The aftertaste of the wine. Measured by balance and the length of time the taste lingers in your mouth after you swallow.

Fruit forward: When the fruit scent or taste overshadows other characteristics of the wine. Many Californian wines are produced this way.

Horizontal tasting: Tasting the same varietal of the same vintage from different wineries.

Legs: The rivulets of wine that run down the sides of a glass after it has been swirled. How fast or slow they move, or the width of the legs, have nothing to do with quality. Slower legs are usually an indication of higher alcohol content.

Magnum: A double-size bottle of wine.

New World: Refers to relatively new wine-growing areas, such as the United States, South America, New Zealand and Australia.

Nose: The aroma and bouquet of wine after it has been swirled in a glass.

Old World: Refers to European countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, where wine first prospered.

Press: Occurs before fermentation in whites as the crushed grapes are pressed to extract only the juice and then fermented. Red grapes are pressed after fermentation.

Split: A 1/4-size bottle of wine.

Tannins: A compound that comes from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Responsible for some of the complexity and flavors in wine. Also allows for long aging. Drinking a highly tannic, usually young red wine causes your mouth to pucker and leaves it dry.

Toasting: The toasting of the staves (slats) of an oak wine barrel produces a toasty, vanilla flavor in wine. A winemaker can order barrels with varying levels of "toast."

Vertical tasting: Tasting the same wine of different vintages from the same winery.

Viticulture: The science of grape growing.

While there are many more terms in this crazy language, this should give you a good head start. Feel free to email me if you need to add to this list.

Quick quiz: true or false:

A.) In the wine movie "Sideways," merlot-hating Miles referenced and finally drank a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc. In the movie, he said he was saving this great wine for a special occasion, even though it is actually a merlot-based, blended Bordeaux wine.

B.) In parts of the Rhone Valley in France, there is a law that prohibits flying saucers and flying cigars from landing in a vineyard.

C.) In the famous 1976 Paris tasting, two Napa Valley wines - Chateau Montelena chardonnay and Stag's Leap cabernet sauvignon - beat out their French counterparts in a blind tasting.

D.) Only about 5 percent of all California wine comes from the Napa Valley.

Believe it or not, the answer to all questions is true.

Some of the vocabulary terms are referenced from "The Wine Bible" by Karen MacNeil.

© Ventura County Star

As well as writing a wine column for the Ventura County Star, Russ Briley, long time Santa Clarita Valley resident, recently completed the Wine Studies program at COC. Russ and his wife Nancy also own Nuggucciet Cellars, where they produce small lots of Pinot Noir wine. Visit Briley at


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