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Little Wine Lexicon

Posted on12/08/2022 by
Love0

The world of wine is a huge and complex universe, with lots of technical terms. The unprepared can sometimes be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of words and expressions, but fret not! With this useful little wine lexicon, Pleasure Wine will help you understand wine much better and impress your friends in the process. If you feel like something's missing, leave us a comment and tell us what words we need to add to the list!

  

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Airing

Also known as "decanting" or "carafing". Before tasting a wine, you sometimes have to air it for a bit, by pouring it in a carafe. This operation reveals the aromas and subtle fragrances of a wine, due to it being in direct contact with a high quantity of oxygen.

Ampelography

A field of botany invented by Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel in the early 20th century. It is the study of vineyards, their identification and their classification.

Angels' Share

A word used to describe the evaporation happening when an alcohol matures inside its oak barrel. The term "angel" supposedly comes from alchemists who thought that the part of spirits leaving the cask went to Heaven. This process may be normal and unavoidable, but it's also responsible for accelerating the development of a fungus, called Baudoinia Compniacensis, which blackens the walls of many distilleries.

Anthocyanin

This term may sound a bit complicated but it's actually just the name of the pigments you find in grapes. These anthocyanins are responsible for the fruits' purple hue. In Autumn, you can also find them in the leaves, changing their color due to the lower chlorophyll levels.

Anthracnose

A cryptogamic disease (caused by a parasitic fungus) which appears during humid weather. Anthracnose usually prefers springtime or summertime, when temperatures are somewhere around 20°C. This disease leaves dark spots on grape leaves, which end up rotting. Most of the time, anthracnose is transmitted by watering. To avoid this, make sure to water the soil and not the plant itself, and leave some room between each grape vine to prevent contamination.

AOC

A very famous mention, found on many wine bottles. AOC stands for "Appellation of Controlled Origin". It is an official French certification since 1936, obeying strict guidelines. The INAO, short for "Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité" is the entity that suggests appellations, which have to be approved by decree afterwards. For the consumer, AOC is a guarantee of craftsmanship and quality products.

AOP

The French term "Appellation d'Origine Protégée" corresponds to the English "PDO" for "Protected Designation of Origin". It guarantees customers that the wine they bought was made in a single geographic area and comes from local grapes only. This European appellation goes hand in hand with the notion of "terroir", not unlike the AOC used in France.

  

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Balanced

When a wine is balanced, it means that there is a perfect harmony between different components, such as alcohol, acidity, sugar, tannins…

Barrique

First used by the Celts, the barrique was made to transport different foods and alcohols. Alcoholic beverages were kept in barrels made from oak or chestnut wood. This is actually still the case today, since wines and spirits are stored in barriques. Their wood mainly comes from the Limousin forest, for Bordeaux wines, and the Vosges forest, for Burgundy ones.

Beerenauslese

Here's a term coming from our German neighbors. "Beerenauslese", or BA for short, means "selected grapes" and is used to describe grapes affected by the "noble rot" we were talking about last Friday. Because of that, BA wines are very sweet and can be stored for a long time.

Biodynamic

The ancestor of organic agriculture. Biodynamics are a set of rules that take into account the cosmic cycles, the protection of the soils and the use of natural products. Biodynamics often use the image of the cow, as its dung is one of the many ingredients promoted by this type of agriculture.

Bloom

If you look closely at grapes, you'll see a thin white layer around the fruit itself. This is where the yeasts are located. They are essential to the wine fermentation process, as they're responsible for the creation of alcohol in the final product. The bloom also acts as protection against parasites and bad weather conditions.

Botrytis

The Botrytis Cinerea fungus, also known as "noble rot", is a parasite that affects the vineyard. It sucks all the water out of the grapes, leaving only sugar. This helps make some of the sweetest wines around. Be careful, though: if the fungus is left unchecked, it can destroy grapes by making them burst.

Bourret

The French name used for a drink made with still-fermenting grape must. It's not wine yet, but rather a kind of sweet grape juice, a bit fizzy, with only a little alcohol. Since sugar hasn't fermented enough to fully turn into alcohol. But keep in mind that the "bourret" is evolving: the alcohol level can go up to 10% if you wait too long. The bourret (or "vin bourru") is a local specialty, usually celebrated during the Fall. It's found in many European countries, such as Germany (where it's called "Federweisser" or "Federrotter") the Czech Republic (the famous "Burčák"), or Hungary (the name for it is "Murci", over there).

Budding

Also called flowering, the budding process is when the young buds start to develop, usually around March. The buds slowly open and a thin layer of skin comes out, that will later turn into a leave.

Bung

A bung (or "bonde" in French) is a type of plug made of wood, silicone or glass, which is used to seal wine barrels or vats. The plugged hole is usually also used to fill up the container.

  

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Caudalie

A caudalie corresponds to one second, more or less. It is used to measure the persistence of a wine's aromas on the palate. During a wine tasting, whether you spit or swallow, the caudalie usually lasts from 3 to 9 seconds.

Cellar Master

As you all know, Cognac is a blend of multiple eaux-de-vie. In order to balance these different alcohols and to help brands retain their unique identities, cognac houses call upon cellar masters. Their job is to test the products and make sure tastes and aromas stay the same, thus keeping a level of quality much appreciated by consumers.

Centripetation

A clarification technique, used when the must is not too thick. It consists in using centripetal force to bring all the insoluble matter to the center of a vat, in which the must is injected.

Chaptalization

This is when you add sugar to the wine must, in order to obtain a higher alcohol level in the final product. Since yeasts need sugar and CO2 to produce alcohol, the more sugar you have the more alcohol you get. This process is called the fermentation.

Charmat Method

A winemaking method using a pressurized steel vat, which can contain many hectoliters of liquid. Trademarked by academic Jean-Eugène Charmat in 1907, the eponymous method adds sugar and yeasts to the wine (maintained at 20°C and 5 bars) for at least three weeks, so as to make it foam, resulting in sparkling wine.

Chewy

A wine can be "chewy" when its texture is so thick that you could almost chew its tannins. You may also use the term "unctuous" to describe such a wine.

Clavelin

A very specific bottle, made to contain yellow wines from the Jura region. The clavelin was born in the 18th century and can hold 62 cl of liquid, the equivalent of what was known as a "cheveau" (a unit of measure during the Old Regime). It was first produced by the Clavelin family in the Vieille-Loye glassworks, using bottles invented by Kenelm Digby in 1632, in Britain, as models.

Climat

A French word used for Burgundy wines. A Climat is a distinct parcel of vineyard, as defined by the official land registry. Each parcel corresponds to a specific grape variety (wine made from these grapes will bear their name, such as Chambertin, Corton, Montrachet...) and has existed for decades. A Climat has specific geological makeup, hydrometrics and sun exposure. There are more than a 1000 of them in Burgundy, across 60 km of land.

Closed

Term used for a wine that's too young, stuck in a transition phase before reaching maturity. During that period, a closed wine appears dormant, as if its potential can't fully express itself. To solve such a problem, you can try oxidizing it by pouring the bottle's content in a decanter.

Complexity

A wine can be "complex" when it has many different layers that unravel as you taste it. There is such a strong harmony between its odor, taste, texture... that it becomes quite difficult to analyze.

Cryoextraction

A process which replicates the creation of natural ice wine (the "Eiswein" invented by the Germans during the 18th century). Cryoextraction means that grapes are frozen before pressing, thus separating the water from the juices. That way, the wine produced becomes much sweeter.

  

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Demeter

A certification created in 1932 by a German agricultural cooperative, which was founded in 1927. Since its early days, Demeter has defended the principles of biodynamics, laid out by its inventor Rudolf Steiner. A Demeter certified wine means that consumers can enjoy an organic product, which follows very strict guidelines. In total, 745 French companies are certified.

Destemming

The step right after the harvest. This operation allows the separation of the grapes and the stem, using special equipment. The process is not automatic; it depends on what the winegrower wants. Destemming results in a wine with more tannins. Without it, the wine stays "rounder".

Desuckering

The removal of unwanted branches, in order to make more space for fruit bearing ones.

  

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Empyreumatic

It seems like a difficult concept, but it's actually quite simple. It's the smoky notes you can detect when tasting wine. Good to know: empyreumatic aromas can be nice (tobacco, coffee, roasted nuts...) or not so nice (burned rubber, ash...)

Ethyl Alcohol

A type of alcohol found in wine, often simply called "ethanol". The alcohol present in wine comes from the fermentation process, when sugar turns into alcohol thanks to the yeasts found on grapes. This chemical reaction is also responsible for the creation of gas carbon.

Eye

The nickname given to a bud that has just appeared on the grapevine. The eyes start to pop up once winter is over and they give birth to the grapes and leaves. The less buds or eyes there are, the lower the yield during the harvest. Although the quality of the yield would likely be higher.

  

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Fermentable Monosaccharides

These are the sugars (glucose and fructose) that will be transformed into alcohol (ethanol) by the yeast during the alcoholic fermentation process.

Fining

During this process, right before filtration, winemakers may want to remove all the particles that remain in the wine. To do so, they can use fining agents such as bentonite (volcanic clay), egg whites, casein (milk proteins), PVPP (synthetic agent), silica gel... These agents will stick to the unwanted particles, enlarging them enough so they can be filtered out more easily. This is called "flocculation".

Finish

Just as you suspected, the finish takes place at the end. It's the very final impression left by a wine you've been tasting or drinking, and can be used to describe its aftertaste or its texture. The longer the finish is, the better the wine.

Flash Pasteurization

An offshoot of the classic pasteurization, invented by Louis Pasteur in 1856. The "Flash" version, as its name indicates, is much faster. In a few seconds, liquids (such as wines) are heated up to 85°C and then cooled. Such a process helps preserve the wine's flavor and extends its storage life.

Foudre

The name of a wooden barrel, sometimes nicknamed "monster barrel", big enough to store hundreds of hectolitres of alcohol.

Free-Run Juice

The wine that comes out directly from the vat or barrel, through a faucet at the bottom. This juice is obtained by letting the liquid simply run free, hence the name, instead of pressing the must (which is solid). It contains very little tanins and is more akin to a sweet grape juice.

Frost Crack

As the names indicates, this term is related to cold weather (that grapevines really hate). Frost cracks appear on boughs during the winter and can severely damage the plant and the future harvests.

Fruit Set

The fruit set is when a flower starts to turn into a berry. In the vineyard, it happens after a successful fertilization, and it is a crucial moment for the grapevine. Any disturbance (bad weather, cold wind...) could disrupt the process and destroy the would-be grape.

  

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Gas Carbon

Also known as CO2 (the famous greenhouse gas), it results from the fermentation process and can be found in champagne bubbles. When a wine contains gas carbon, it's called a "pearled wine". Letting it rest in a decanter one hour before tasting will get rid of this gas.

Glycerol

This compound (C3H5-(OH)3) is the third natural component of a wine, right behind water and alcohol. It is formed at the beginning of the alcoholic fermentation process, and it gives a wine its unctuosity. Glycerol levels are usually 3 to 10 ml per liter, but it can vary depending on sugar content or added yeasts. For example, grapes that have been attacked by the Botrytis Cinerea fungus (a.k.a. noble rot) will produce more glycerol, resulting in a sweeter wine.

Grangeon

Originating from the French region of the Bugey (in the Ain department), "grangeons" were little cabins found near vineyards. The name comes from the French word "grange", which means "shed". They were used to store tools, or horses, and they often served as a kind of home away from home, where winemakers could drink and sing together. Nowadays, most of the grangeons have been turned into real secondary residences.

Green Harvest

A winemaker's technique used to reduce the yields during the summer. During a green harvest, you get rid of the unripe grapes that are farther away from the base of the grapevine. In doing so, the yield will be lower and the remaining grapes will mature better. Quality over quantity.

Gyropalette

The name of a machine used during the fermentation of sparkling wines, like Champagne. The Gyropalette (copyrighted name, belonging to the Oeno Concept company since the 1970s) automatizes the "remuage" (shaking) of the bottles during the aging process, in order to eliminate the deposits found in the wine.

  

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Horizontal

When you taste different wines from the same vintage and the same appellation. This allows you to compare the different wines from the same year and the same region.

Hue

A wine's hue is an indicator of its visual properties. Hue is taken into account during a wine analysis or a ranking, as it helps to deduce certain things about the possible taste. Among them: color, highlights, shade, viscosity and shine.

Hygrometer

A tool that can measure hygrometry, or humidity levels. This indicates whether the cellar where wines are stored is too damp or too dry. If the air is too damp, the labels may deteriorate. If it's too dry, the corks might dry up, which can have an impact on the wine's taste.

  

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Ice Disgorging

To get rid of the yeast deposit that remains inside sparkling wines, the bottles' necks are dipped in an ice-salt bath. After a while, a small plug of ice forms inside the bottles, trapping the yeast which can then be more easily removed thanks to the pressure.

Indigenous Yeasts

These are in fact microscopic fungi, found in the bloom (a thin powdery layer on top of the grape's skin). Indigenous (or native) yeasts enable the alcoholic fermentation of a wine, by transforming sugar into alcohol. Adding yeasts to a vat, in order to boost the winemaking process, is also possible.

Isoamyl Alcohol

One of the four higher alcohols found in 50% of wines. It's sometimes responsible for the acidic taste of nail polish, or banana, you can get with wines that went through a too-low temperature fermentation process.

  

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Magnum

A bottle format. A magnum is a bottle that can contain 150 cl of liquid, which represents two regular 75 cl bottles. This bigger format is good for aging, as the size of the container helps improve the wine inside.

Mildew

A winemaker's nightmare. Mildew is one of the most infamous vineyard diseases and can severely damage grapevines and the resulting harvessts. If you notice oily, yellow spots and the apparition of white fuzz on your vine leaves, then it's probably infected with mildew.

Mouchage

A technique used by winemakers to help with the growth of grapes. With their hands, they pinch all the buds that don't produce any fruits, leaving the ones that do. Thanks to this, the flow of sap is more balanced and the plants can bloom more easily.

Must

Once grapes have been pressed and the juice extracted, a mixture remains in the vat: the must. This is actually the basis of the alcoholic fermentation process, thanks to the yeasts inside.

Mute Wine

A wine whose alcoholic fermentation has been deliberately stopped by adding ethanol to the juice, making the final product much sweeter.

  

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Oidium

Also known as "white rot", this is a fungus that attacks the grapevines and slow their growth. Symptoms are the apparition of white dust on the plants, followed by necrotic lesions on the leaves and finally the popping of the grapes.

Organoleptic

During a wine tasting session, different things are studied: the smell, the appearance and the taste. All related to our senses. Through the analysis of these aspects, a professional taster can determine many information about a wine.

  

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Peak

In the life of a wine, the peak is the state following the maturation period. When a bottle peaks, it means that it has reached the top in terms of quality and that the tasting experience will be optimal. The peak can last some years, depending on the storage conditions. Once a wine has peaked, the following cycle is called the decline.

PGI

You know what an AOC is (an "Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée" in French) but have you ever heard the term "PGI"? It's a Protected Geographical Indication, which applies to wines from one of 75 specific geographical zones found in the French vineyard. Like an AOC, a PGI must obey strict guidelines, although the list of grapes used for PGIs is much larger than the one for AOCs, since it often includes foreign varieties.

pH

The potential of hydrogen is a scientific scale used to determine the acidity of a liquid, going from 1 to 14. The liquid is said to be neutral when its pH is 7. It is alkaline when the pH is above 7 and acidic when under 7. Wine's pH is often between 2.9 and 4.2, depending on the type of wine. Wines that have a regulated pH during the vinification process are often more aromatic.

Phylloxera

The phylloxera is a parasitic insect from America that attacks grapevines, targeting their leaves and roots. This insect is often compared to a plant louse and its name is also used to describe the disease that spreads through the vineyard.

Pigeage

To turn grapes into wine, you need to go through pigeage (a.k.a. stomping). It's a simple process that consists in crushing the fruits to release their juice, which will later be stored in vats. Can be done manually (by foot) or mechanically.

Plowing

Tilling the soil near the vine stocks helps not only to get rid of weeds, but to protect the vines during the winter. This is usually done with machines or horses, but sometimes also by hand (if you're motivated enough).

Post-Fermentation Maceration

An additional step for making red wine. This maceration involves leaving the grape must inside the vat once the fermentation process is over. It helps strengthen the structure, flavor and color of a wine.

Prefermentary Maceration

A type of cold maceration. As its name suggests, this maceration is done before the fermentation process, to let the aromas intensify and develop fully. Prefermentary fermentation is mostly used for red wines, although some white wines sometimes benefit from it as well.

Pressing

Winemaking is a succession of steps, from wine growing to bottling. The pressing is the step during which the grape juice is obtained. A machine presses the grapes and the resulting mixture is called the must.

Pruning

Pruning means cutting some branches and offshoots of a grapevine. Thanks to this method, the foot of the plant can then fully benefit from sunlight, which is essential to its growth. It also helps the vine stock fight against diseases. Depending on the winemaker, pruning is done 3 to 4 times a year.

Pump-Over

A winemaking technique used to mix the different components of the future wine. During the pump-over, the must (or grape juice) is taken out of the vat until only the cap remains. After a few hours, once that cap (a blend of pulp and skins) has sunk to the bottom of the vat, the must is reinjected into the container, using high-pressure pumps. The cap gets mixed with the juice, enriching it with sugars and polyphenols.

  

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Queue

A queue is a type of high-capacity wooden barrel. It contains between 412 and 894 liters of wine. The "demi-queue" (half-queue in English) contains between 108 and 290 liters.

  

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Racking

The filtering of all impurities found in wine before fermentation (seeds, skins, branches, leaves, other residues...) Racking can be done in different ways: using nitrogen or cold; using a mechnical centrifuge; adding enzymes or sulphur dioxide...

Raisining

A very old winemaking technique, which consists in drying the grapes on the vine. Doing so augments the sugar concentration inside the fruits, resulting in wines that are sweeter without being too syrupy.

Reduction

A reduced wine means that it's been deprived of oxygen. This phenomenon can happen to any wine, inside the bottle or barrel, and can negatively impact your tasting experience. The resulting acrid smell is often easily fixed, though. Simply let the wine decant for a while before tasting it.

Residual Sugar

Corresponds to the sugar that's left in the wine after the alcoholic fermentation. If it's between 12 and 45 g/l, the wine (usually a white one) is called "sweet". Over 45, it becomes "syrupy".

  

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Sabering

Using a saber to open a champagne bottle. You can find lots of videos on the Internet of people holding a saber in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other, rubbing the blade against the neck. Sabering breaks the top of the bottle (with the cork) and propels it into the air.

Solera

This is an ingenious method of fractional blending: a series of barrels are piled up on top of each other. Around 30% of the older vintages, which are at the bottom, get bottled. The vacant space within those barrels then gets filled with wine from the barrels above, and the process repeats for the rest of them. It might sound complicated, but this system allows for different vintages to age at the same time, resulting in an average age for the entire pile.

Sommelier

Of course, we all know this one. But, did you know that it came from the French word "saumalier"? It appeared in the 14th century and was used to talk about pack animal drivers. Slowly, it morphed into "sommelier", to describe the person in charge of food (and drinks) convoys. Later on, it became the name of the man supervising noblemen's wine cellar.

Soutirage

A winemaking technique which separates the liquid from the solids created during the fermentation process. To keep the clear wine and get rid of the lees (or dead yeast), the winemaker transfers the content from one vat or barrel to another, by opening a valve located near the bottom of the container. A kind of giant decantation, which leaves the deposits in the first vat and the pure wine in the second one.

Stabulation

Before the wine fermentation process can commence, the must of the juice is kept in vats on top of thin lees, at low temperatures (5-10°C) after the racking of juices. This method gives the wine a much stronger flavor.

Stalk

The stalk is an important part of the grape, as it connects it to the vine stock. Once the harvest is done, the only things remaining are the stalks and the stock. Separating the grapes from the rest of the plant is known as destemming, or destalking.

Stamping

The method used to mark (with a branding iron) the winemaker's name on corks, wooden crates and barrels.

Stave

A plank of oak wood, attached to other planks in order to form a barrel. There's no added sealant, only an iron circle to keep everything waterproof. These planks are porous, a bit like human skin, as to let the wine breathe inside.

  

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Tannin

Chemical compounds found in grapes, or in oak barrels used during the winemaking process. They can leave you with a dry mouth, or even a sense of bitterness.

TCA

TCA, or Trichloroanisole, is a chemical present in mold you can sometimes find in corks. It can contaminate the wine and completely spoil its flavor. TCA is the main culprit behind "corked" wines.

Terroir

A term that comes from the Latin word "territorium", meaning territory. But the terroir is not only geographical, it is a true ecosystem made from many different elements necessary to the winemaking process. These elements are: the soil, which gives the grapevines their nutrients; the weather, which helps the grapes mature; the topography, which determines the yield; and finally the winemaker, who takes care of the vineyard. Taking all these things into account, you quickly realize that each terroir is truly unique.

Turbidity

A term used to describe a wine's clarity. This is not related to a wine's cloudiness, which comes from tiny (and sometimes not so tiny) particles floating inside the liquid. Turbidity is measured with a tool called the "nephelometer".

  

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Ullage

The ullage is the space not filled by liquid, right under the cork, inside the wine bottle. This space can greatly vary depending on the wine's age, its storage conditions, or the evaporation of the liquid if the stopper is made of natural cork. The older a wine gets, the bigger the ullage. A quick indication of a bottle's age.

  

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Variety

Grape varieties are the different types of grapes used to make wine. There are thousands different varieties, such as the Pinot Noit, the Chenin, the Merlot, the Muscat and many more. The study of these grape varieties is called ampelography. Since each grape variety has its own, unique characteristics, there can be a huge choice of resulting wines!

Veraison

Term used to describe the period during which the grapes change color and their skin becomes softer. Tannins and sugar also start to develop inside the berries. The process usually take one or two weeks, depending on sunlight and temperature. Veraison starts in late July, in France.

Vertical

This term is used for wine collections with multiple vintages of the same cuvee. It's also used during wine tastings, in order to analyze the effects of time on wine, as well as to show what makes each vintage unique. Just so you know: there are a few verticals dedicated to the Château d'Yquem, that span more than 125 years and are worth millions of Euros.

Vine Shoot

The name for a vine stock's fruit-bearing branches. Once the harvest is done and the vine shoots start to dry up, they are cut and ground (or burnt).

Vinification

The vinification is the entire process that turns grapes into wine. There are many steps, pre-fermentation, during fermentation and post-fermentation. On top of the general steps, each winemaker has different techniques that will also impact the final product.

  

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Welschriesling

A white grape variety found in Italy, Austria and other Eastern Europe countries. Although the name might sound familiar to Riesling connoisseurs, this variety has nothing to do with Alsace or Germany. The Welschriesling needs warm weather, otherwise it ends up producing a very acidic wine.

  

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Yeasting

A winemaking technique used to kickstart the alcoholic fermentation of a wine. Yeasting consists in adding yeasts (indigenous or cultured ones) to the grape must, which in turn convert sugars into ethanol, enhancing the flavor of the wine.

Young

A wine can be considered young when it was produced recently or when its cellaring potential is very high. Young wines are usually clearer and shinier.

  

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Zinfandel

A black grape variety from Croatia and also found in California. The Zinfandel is made for warm climates and used in table wine, although today you can find it in many other types of wines.

  

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