How many of us enjoy drinking white wine and would like to learn how to appreciate it better, but get put off by all the jargon?
Even the tasting notes on the label on the back of the bottle can be a minefield of unfathomable technical terms.
Trying to learn about white wine can be a difficult task. It takes a degree of determination to translate some of the texts in books, magazines and websites into a language which the average wine drinker can understand.
It is possible, with some research and experience, to begin to become familiar with these wine terms but it can be a long process.
Therefore, to help you along your journey here are a few of the most commonly used white wine terms. Before long not only will you be able to understand the tasting notes on a bottle of white wine, but you’ll be utilizing the jargon yourself and discoursing on wine like an expert!
Acid is a vital part of white wine, helping to give it that refreshing zing. It is essential that the wine has the correct balance of acidity, however, as too much acid makes the wine taste too sharp whilst not enough means the wine is likely to be dull and flat. Winemakers aim to achieve the correct balance through natural processes but sometimes they are forced to add more sugar or acid to get it right.
Appellation d’Origine Controlee or AOC denotes the geographical system under which French quality white wines are classified. AOC on the label of a French wine means that it meets defined standards concerning issues such as grape varieties, alcohol content, limits on the amount of grapes harvested per hectare and methods of cultivation. French AOC white wines include Chablis and Muscadet.
Balance is a word used frequently when wine tasting. It refers to the way natural elements in the white wine such as fruit, acids and alcohol relate to each other. Sometimes they are harmonious in which case the wine is said to be “balanced” – this is particularly true in white wine when the fruitiness and sweetness from the grape juice is offset by the crispness of the acid.
Some sweet white wines are said to be botrytized or made from grapes with botrytis or noble rot. This is a process encouraged in many wine making regions whereby the grapes are infected with a mould resulting in a concentration of the sugar and acidity in the grapes. These highly prized grapes produce some of the most magnificent and long lasting sweet white wines.
Bouquet is a term often used as being interchangeable with aroma or smell. All refer to the scent of a white wine but whilst a wine’s smell or aroma comes from the scents produced from the grapes the “bouquet” should refer to the scents resulting from the maturing of the wine in the bottle. However, the differences are so subtle that the terms have become almost synonymous.
Cru is one of those words which crops up on French white wine labels. Most of us think it is good but are not really sure what it means. Cru translates as “growth” but in wine terms means that the grapes have come from a specific vineyard. Under French AOC rules vineyards, or crus, are classed at several different levels including premier cru and grand cru.
Cuve is the French word for a vat for wine. Cuvee is French for the wine in the cuve or vat. The term is used on French white wine labels to indicate that the wine has come from a single vat and is therefore not blended. Yet again, as happens so often in the world of French wine, there are different levels of cuvee. The best wines are labelled as premiere cuvee meaning that they have been produced from the first gentle pressing of the grapes.
Denominacion de Origen or DO is the Spanish wine classification system. Spanish white wines with DO on the label should be of at least reasonable quality. Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC is Italy’s version of the classification system. Once again, the white wines are produced according to strict rules to earn the DOC classification. You may also see DOCG or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. This is an even higher classification level and is awarded to the regions supposedly producing the highest quality wines. However, as with the French AOC system, these classifications are no guarantee that you will like the white wine. They mean only that the wine has been produced according to certain standards and therefore the wine drinker should have some idea of what to expect.
Image by quinn.anya.