(Read A–D here)
Appreciating white wine is not all about the drinking. Part of white-wine appreciation involves learning about the wines and sharing the experience. To fulfil these tasks we need to be able to understand a variety of technical terms.
To begin with the lexicon of white wine can seem as impenetrable as a foreign language but, much like learning a foreign language, with a little bit of study and some practice, anyone can become reasonably fluent in wine speak.
Therefore, we shall continue our journey through the alphabet of white wine terms with a particularly appropriate one for this time of year – Eiswein. Eiswein is a rare white wine made traditionally in Germany and Austria from grapes which are harvested and then pressed while they are still frozen to remove the sweet concentrate. This wonderful sweet white wine is now being made in some New World countries too.
If you see “estate bottled” on a label it means that the white wine produced from the grapes grown in the estate’s vineyards has been bottled on site rather than being sent elsewhere for bottling. This is usually a plus point for a white wine. In France, the term translates as “mis en bouteilles” and then either “au domaine” or “au chateau”. In Spanish the term is “embotellado de/en Origen” and in Portuguese it is “engarrafado na origem”.
If you taste a white wine and someone talks about the “finish” they are talking about the last flavour or flavours lingering in the mouth once the wine has been swallowed. Pretty self-explanatory, really. Another term used to describe the final flavour is “aftertaste”. You would hope that a wine had a good finish as otherwise it can be disappointing. Another tasting term often used but not immediately obvious to understand is “flabby”. To describe a white wine as “flabby” is to be critical – it means the wine tastes watery and dull with insufficient acidity.
“First pressing” is a term sometimes seen on a white wine bottle or in a wine’s description. It means that the wine has been produced using the juice from the very first pressing of the grapes. Wines produced from the first pressing are usually amongst the estate’s best wines as this is when the sweetest and cleanest juice is squeezed out of the grapes.
Some Italian white wines are described as “frizzante“. This means that the wine is lightly sparkling as opposed to a full fizz such as a Champagne or Prosecco. Frizzante white wine can be a lovely refreshing drink.
A viticulture term which crops up occasionally is “grafting“. The scourge of phylloxera, a destructive vine aphid, has forced vine growers in Europe to combine the indigenous European vine Vitis vinifera with phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks. In other words, the fruit-growing branches of the European vine are grafted, or fixed to, the root of the American vine and the two grow together to merge into a healthy vine.
New European white wine classifications are being introduced all the time to differentiate between the various levels of quality being produced. There have been relatively recent classifications introduced in Portugal and Italy to identify wines which are between the quality of basic table wine and the top classifications. In Portugal these wines bear the words Indicacao de Proveniencia Regulamentada or IPR on the label whilst the equivalent in Italy is Indicazione Geografica Tipica or IGT.
Another couple of tasting terms you may come across are “legs” and “length“. When you swirl a glass of wine you sometimes see some of the liquid clinging to the sides of the glass and gradually trickling back down. This means the wine has “legs” and it is usually an indication of the alcohol content of the wine. Also, a white wine may be described as having good “length” which means that the flavours linger in the mouth for a long time after the wine has been swallowed. This is a quality which makes wine tasting particularly enjoyable.
The “middle palate” of a wine is the overall impression given by the wine when it is held in the mouth. This should be when the real flavours of the wine get released before the wine is swallowed and the “finish” begins. Some wines can be a real let down at this point as they seem to have a hole in the middle – the first impression or the “front” of the wine is great but then the sensation fades until swallowing releases the “aftertaste”. A wine such as this is described as having “no middle”.
Some white wines can be described as “minerally“. Good examples of “minerally” whites include young Australian Rieslings and some Vinho Verde wines. A wine is often described as “minerally” when it has a very fresh, pure taste almost reminiscent of wet pebbles.
Image by quinn.anya.