(Read E–M here)
There are many aspects to learning about white wine. As well as learning about the grapes, how to store, how to serve and how to taste there are a multitude of white wine terms to understand. Hopefully our journey through the dictionary of wine terms is contributing to your understanding of white wine.
We shall continue our A – Z of white wine terms with the French term “Mousse” which describes the effervescence of a sparkling wine. The effervescence is best judged in the mouth as the size and intensity of bubbles in the glass can be affected by the surface area. “Mousseux” is the French term for a sparkling wine not produced by the traditional method.
“Noble rot” is a term sometimes seen on the label of a sweet white wine. It has the same meaning as botrytis cinerea. It is the only type of rot welcomed by wine makers as its effect on the grapes is responsible for some of the world’s greatest sweet white wines.
Expert wine tasters frequently talk about the “nose” of a white wine. This term means the overall smell of the wine. The perfume, aroma or bouquet of a white wine is all part of the “nose”.
Most white wines are aged and fermented in oak barrels. The two most common types of oak used are French and American. French wine makers almost always use French oak and most of the best Californian whites are aged in French oak. American oak is used in Spain, especially Rioja and most Australian wine makers use American oak. The wine absorbs hints of vanilla from the oak and the effect is usually more noticeable from American oak.
A few white wine tasting terms you may come across are “palate“, “perfume” and “petrol“. The palate is the flavour or taste of the wine – in other words, how it tastes in your mouth. The perfume is the pleasant scented quality of a wine’s bouquet. It may not appear to be a compliment to describe a white wine as “petrolly” but many of the best Rieslings from both Germany and Australia acquire this characteristic through aging. The petrol character sits comfortably alongside the lovely honey character which also develops in Riesling with aging.
Another frequently heard tasting term is “racy“. It suggests the white wine gives a taste sensation rush with plenty of acidity and a fresh liveliness. It is often used to describe Rieslings. Another well used tasting term is “rich” or “richness”. This tends to refer to a pleasing balance of fruit and depth on the palate.
“Sec” on a bottle of French white wine means the wine is dry. The Italian equivalent is “secco” and the German term is “trocken“. This is not to be confused with the German term “sekt” which means sparkling. The Italian term for a sparkling wine is “spumante“.
French white wines sometimes have the term “sur lie” on the label. This translates as “on the lees” and means the wine is bottled straight from the cask or vat where it has been fermenting. Whilst this practice brings risks of bacterial infection it works to enhance the fruit characteristics of a naturally bland grape and adds a yeasty depth. Muscadet is the best known example of this practice.
Terroir is a French term often quoted by wine experts. Its literal translation is “soil” but it has come to refer to the overall growing conditions of the grape including not only soil but also climate, altitude, sunshine and anything else which may have a relevant effect on the grapes.
If a white wine is described as a “varietal” it means it is made from a single grape e.g. Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, or from a blend featuring at least 75% of a single grape. The wine should demonstrate the typical characteristics of the individual grape variety.
Some wine estates promote certain wines as from “vieilles vignes”. This means the wine has been produced from grapes on old vines which usually results in a greater intensity of flavour. However, there is no legal definition of an old vine – it could be anything from 25 to 100 years old.
Vin de Pays is the country wine of France. Don’t avoid it just because it does not have an AOC classification. It means that the wine maker has chosen not to follow the local AOC rules and has produced a wine of his own choice. Many Vin de Pays or as good as or better quality than the AOC wines.
“Yield” is a term used often when discussing the quality of wines. It refers to the quantity of fruit and ultimately the wine produced from a vineyard. Usually the smaller the yield of grapes per vine the more intense the wine.
Image by basheertome.