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Oregon Wine Term Glossary

author: Jean Yates

Featured Terms

Oregon AVA

This stands for American Viticultural Area, this country's answer to the appellation systems used in Europe. Often simply called, appellations, AVA's are designated geographic areas recognized as named places for growing grapes. It is important to realize that AVAs (or appellations) do not in any way indicate wine quality, and the systems in Europe often do. As administered by the US Alchohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), AVA's only designate geographic boundaries as grape growing areas. When the grapes in a wine have been grown within the boundaries of an AVA, the name of that AVA can be used on the bottle's label as an indicator to the consumer of the source of the wine - NOT the quality of the wine.


Oregon Pinot noir Can Get Botrytis

The common name for what is really "botrytis bunch rot," a fungal disease that can attack ripe or nearly ripe grapes. The unusual thought about botrytis bunch rot is that it comes in two forms, one very good and one very bad. When non-winemaker refer to "botrytis," they generally mean Botrytis cinerea (also known as "Noble Rot") - the good form. Under the right conditions, this form of botrytis can attack healthy, primarily white grape berries. Spores grow on the grape skin, allowing air to enter the grape and evaporating the water in the grape. This concentrates sugars and flavors, and adds its own unique "botrytized" character to sweet wines. In its bad form, botrytis is known as "grey rot." This form attacks damaged grapes, spreads rapidly, and significantly reduces yields and quality.


Oregon Grapes Measure of Sweetness - Brix

A common measurement of the amount of natural sugars in grapes, expressed as "degrees brix" in America. Also, an indication of the potential alcohol in a wine when fermentation is completed; generally the higher the brix in the grapes, the higher the alcohol in the finished wine. Also, an important indicator of ripeness, and a tool used to help determine when to harvest grapes.


Oregon Wine Clones

A clone is a plant that has been propagated by taking a cutting or bud from a "mother vine" in order to provide a genetically identical plant. Clones are taken from plants that display specific desirable characteristics, such as resistance to fungus, earlier ripening, etc., in order to bring those features into the vineyard.


Crusher-Destemmer

When grapes arrive into the winery from the vineyard, they are often placed into a destemmer machine in order to remove the grapes from the stems, or a crusher-desetmmer machine to also break the grape skins and reveal the pulp, juice, and seeds that make up the must. Destemming and crushing can be done as separate operations using separate machines, or combined into a single process that is done by a crusher-destemmer.


Oregon Pinot noir and Chardonnay Dijon Clones

This commonly used term is actually a misnomer. It refers to a group of Pinot noir and Chardonnay grape clones imported to America from the Burgundy region of France. Given "D" numbers, the most common Pinot noir Dijon clones are 114, 115, 767, 777, and Chardonnay numbers 75, 76, 78, 95, and 96, among others. The introduction of Dijon Pinot noir clones provided a new variety of growing and flavor characteristics that complemented Oregon's two traditional clones, Pommard and Wädensvil. Dijon clone Chardonnay is better adapted to cooler climates, providing earlier ripening than the traditional Chardonnay clone. Ironically, the clones have nothing to do with the town of Dijon in France. It seems that the numerical designation for a set of "Burgundian clones" were given a "D" prefix, and because the certification package arrived in the US with a Dijon address, they were given the inaccurate, but completely accepted name of "Dijon Clones."


Oregon Vineyards Ripen with Hang Time

A term used to generically describe the ripening time of grapes on the vine. As a very broad rule of thumb, the longer grapes are left to hang on the vine at the end of the season, the more sugars and flavors they will develop. In cool climate growing areas, like Oregon's Willamette Valley, the amount of hang time that can be achieved is limited by the onset of autumn rains. Consequently, winegrowers looking to achieve maximum ripeness must run the gamble of ruining their crop by allowing the grapes to remaining on the vine too long, possibly becoming diluted by rains and/or susceptible to fungus and disease caused by wet weather. In warm climate regions, like the Columbia Valley, this isn't as much of a concern, and larger amounts of hang time can generally be achieved. There is usually a limit to the amount of hang time that is desirable, however, as the sugar/acid balance changes as the grapes continue to mature on the vine.


Oregon and Northwest Ice Wine

Whether it is spelled "Icewine" as in Canada, or "Ice Wine" in the US, the term always refers to wines made from grapes that have been naturally frozen on the vine. Wines made from grapes that have been frozen post-harvest can no longer be called Ice Wine in the US. Canada produces more Icewines than anywhere else, with Germany a close second. In the Northwest, true Ice Wines are rarely made (more of them come from Washington, and only a small handful come from Oregon). When the water inside a grape freezes, it can be extracted from the juice during pressing, resulting in an intensely concentrated wine. Because true Ice Wine is usually produced very late in the year, the grapes have had excessive hang time and therefore possess high sugar levels; consequently, Ice Wine is invariably exceptionally sweet. It is also extremely expensive to make, and can only be made in very small quantities, therefore it is often quite costly to purchase.


Oregon Wineries Ferment with Indigenous yeast

Yeasts are requires for fermentation to take place. Typically, winemakers add yeast to the grape must to initiate fermentation. This gives the winemaker some degree of control in how the fermentations are conducted. Different yeast strains are bred to emphasize different actions, and they can have important affects on the character of the finished wine. Another approach, however, is to not add yeast, but to rely on the naturally occurring yeast cells to initiate fermentation. Called indigenous, native, or ambient yeast, these cells occur naturally in the environment, live on grape skins in the vineyard, and can dwell within the confines of the winery building itself. Winemakers may choose to use indigenous yeasts because they feel it is part of the natural cycle of winemaking, and that it is a part of the terroir, or specific character of the place where the wine is grown and made. It is also often the case that winemakers who wish to be as hands-off as possible, will prefer to rely on native yeasts rather than inoculate with commercial yeast strains.


Oregon Vineyards are made of Jory soils

A type of volcanic soil common in certain areas of the Willamette Valley, particularly in the so-called Red Hills of Dundee. Famous for imparting bright cherry and floral characteristics to Pinot noir.

Must

Must is the thick goo of grape skins, pulp, seeds, and juice that is the end product of sending whole grape clusters through a "crusher-destemmer" machine. It is the start of the actual wine-making process. It is the must that is placed into fermenters to begin primary fermentation.


PH

pH is a measure of the degree of acidity, based on a logarithmic scale. Drinking water is considered "neutral" between acid and base, with a pH of about 7. Solutions that have less acid (more base) have pH numbers above 7; solutions that have more acid have pH numbers below 7. Grape must and wine are acidic, with pH values frequently ranging between 3 and 4. Win with lower pH if often perceived as sharp and acidic, while wines with higher pHs are perceived as flabby or flat. PH is used as an important measure of ripeness and must composition in the cellar.


Oregon Wine, When Fermenting, Must be Punched down

When grapes are placed in their fermentation tanks, the must begins to naturally separate. The mixed skins, pulp and seeds float to the top of the juice, forming a "cap" that can be remarkably tough and resilient. In order to achieve a good fermentation, and to ensure maximum extraction, the cap must be periodically broken down and pushed back into contact with the juice. The primary way of doing this is to punch down the cap, breaking it up and pushing it into the juice. Another method is to pump juice from underneath the cap over it, thereby achieving the same effect. This is called "pumping over." Deciding on which method is bet to use is an important winemaking decision, and is made on the basis of many complex considerations.


Phenolics

Chemical compounds naturally existing in grape stems, skins, seeds, juice, and pulp that are related to both the color and the final development of flavor in red wines in particular (they do exist in white grapes, but to a much lesser extent than in red grapes). The chemical reactions in winemaking that rely on phenolics are many and complex, and relate to the development of color, tannin, and taste in wine. Phenolic reactions begin when grape skins are crushed and the chemicals exposed to the acidic grape juice. Alcoholic fermentation accelerates extraction of phenolics.


Oregon Vineyards are Phylloxera

An aphid pest that feeds on the roots of grapevines, eventually killings them. Vineyards that are infected with phylloxera must be re-planted with phylloxera resistant rootstock, there being no know way of eradicating or mitigating an infected area. In the mid-ninteenth century, phylloxera devastated European vineyards, where there was no natural resistance. European viticulture was saved by grafting vines onto native American rootsocks.


Rootstock

The rooting portion of a plant. The fruiting portion of the grapevine, known as a scion, can be grafted onto the rootstock. Grafted vines display certain resistance and growing characteristics based upon the kind of rootstock used. The most important characteristic of certain rootstocks is resistance to the phylloxera louse, but additional characteristics include ripening times, drought resistance, and varying degrees of vigor.


Stuck Fermentation

Fermentation is the action of yeast consuming sugar and producing alcohol. In dry wine making, the goal of fermentation is for the yeast cells to consume all of the natural sugars in the grape juice, resulting in a dry wine. Sometimes, though, the yeast action can stop prematurely, halting the fermentation process and resulting in a wine that retains undesired sugars. This is referred to as a "stuck fermentation," and when the term is used, it is not a good thing! Fermentations can become stuck for a variety of reasons, from poorly performing yeast strains to excessively warm fermentation temperatures. Sometimes stuck fermentations can be fixed through corrective action on the part of the winemaker. When successful, the wine will ferment to dryness and no harm will be done. If unsuccessful, and the wine retains undesired sugars, the stuck lot may be considered a loss.


Terroir

A French concept that is difficult to translate, but which is frequently used in wine discussions. The full term, gôut de terroir, generally means the total characteristics of a vineyard location that combine to create a unique "taste of place." The idea is that each grape growing site has its own particular set of circumstances - elevation, aspect, topography, soil composition, wine, rail, sunlight hours, etc. - that combine to create a unique character that can be tasted in the wines grown from that spot. Further, terroir is neither good nor bad, but is indigenous to the spot where the grapes were grown - it is just as possible to have a terroir that is unpleasant as I is to have one that is good. The idea, then, is for the grower to find terroirs that produce appealing wines. Unfortunately, most people feel that terroir doesn't truly show itself in a vineyard until the vines reach a certain age, or until the roots of the vines grow deep enough to be in contact with the bedrock. Though a controversial concept in American winegrowing, ity has proven particularly appealing in the northwest.


Vine Spacing

An important tool in helping grow quality wine grapes. Generally, grape quality is related to both yield per acre and yield per vine. The closer spaced the grape vines are in a vineyard, the more each vine must compete with others for nutrients. This competition helps reduce the vine's vigor, and it spends more of its energy producing smaller but more intense fruit. A vineyard's density is usually expressed as the distance between vines and the distance between rows. High density modern vineyards are frequently planted with spacing as close as 1 meter (3-ft., 3-in.) apart for each vine and each row. This would be "meter by meter" spacing. Larger spacings result in fewer plants per acre.


Vintage Variation

Every growing year is different, resulting in wines whose character reflects the nature of the growing year. While this is basically, true, it is even more true in cool climate growing areas, like Oregon's Willamette Valley. That is because grapes growing in these climates become ripe at the very end of the growing season, and are therefore more susceptible to weather patterns at that time. Even slightly early autumn rains can dramatically affect the quality of the vintage, even though the rest of the growing year may have been ideal. In warmer climate growing areas, like eastern Washington and California, grapes achieve ripeness well before the end of the growing season, and many weeks before the autumn weather begins to change. In these circumstances, vintage variation is much less. Vintage variation is important to consumers in two ways.


Vitis vinifera

Often, winegrapes are generically referred to as "vinifrea" to distinguish them from other grape varieties. Non-vinifera grapes, including the labrusca grapes native to America, generally don't have desirable characteristics when made into wine. Vinifera grapes are generally the only grapes used for wine.


WillaKenzie soils

A type of sedimentary soil common in certain areas of the Willamette Valley. These soils tend to not carry water well, so frequently vines are irrigated at select times to ensure they receive enough water. The wines made from vines grown on these soils tend to have a minerally aspect and reflect darker fruit characteristics.


Whole cluster fermentation

A traditional winemaking technique (used particularly in Burgundy) where grapes are not destemmed and the entire cluster is added to the fermentation tank (meaning grapes and stems). Whole cluster fermentations can provide added structure and character through extraction of tannins from the stems Generally this technique is used very sparingly in the Northwest, partly because it can be difficult to manage the amount of tannins that get extracted, and because it can be difficult to get fully ripe grapes and stems.. The additional body provided by the stems can also increase exposure of the must to oxygen in the fermenter, which can add character. To be most beneficial, grapes and stems must be fully ripe in order to avoid green tannins.




Acetic

Vinegary taste or smell that develops when a wine is overexposed to air.


Acidity

All wines naturally contain acids, which should be in proper balance with fruit and other components. Sufficient acidity gives liveliness and crispness and is critical for wines to age.


Aftertaste

The flavor impression the wine leaves after it is swallowed. Also referred to as the "finish" of a wine. Fine wines have a lingering finish, or aftertaste.


Aroma

The smell of a wine, especially young wines.


Aromatic

A term for wines with pronounced aroma, particularly those redolent of herbs or spices.


Astringent

The "puckerish" quality of high tannin content, which has the effect of drying out the mouth. Many young red wines are astringent because of tannin.


Austere

Somewhat hard, with restrained fruit and character.


Balance

Harmony among the wine's components -- fruit, acidity, tannins, alcohol; a well-balanced wine possesses the various elements in proper proportion to one another.


Big

Powerful in aroma and flavor; full-bodied.


Bitter

Usually considered a fault in but characteristic of such wines as Amarone and certain other Italian reds.


Body

The weight and texture of a wine; it may be light-bodied or full-bodied. Often refers to alcohol content.


Botrytis cinerea

A mold that attacks certain grapes, producing honeyed sweet wines like Sauternes and late-harvest Rieslings.


Bouquet

The complex of aromas that develops with age in fine wines; young wines have aroma, not bouquet.


Breed

Similar to good bloodlines and handling, as in racehorses; the result of soil, grapes and vinification techniques that combine to produce depth and distinctive character in a wine.


Brix

Term used to measure the sugar content of grapes, grape juice (must) or wine. Grapes are generally harvested at 20 to 25 Brix, resulting in alcohol after fermentation of 11.5 to 14 percent.


Brut

Term for dry Champagne or sparkling wine.


Buttery

Descriptor for rich flavor and smoothness of texture, somewhat akin to the oiliness and flavor of butter. More often refers to oak-aged white wines than reds; many Chardonnays and white Burgundies are said to have buttery aromas and flavors.


Chewy

Wines with unusual thickness of texture or tannins that one almost "chews" before swallowing.


Clean

Fresh, with no discernible defects; refers to aroma, appearance and flavor.


Closed

Young, undeveloped wines that do not readily reveal their character are said to be closed. Typical of young Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other big red wines.


Coarse

Rude or harsh in flavor; clumsy or crude.


Complete

Mature, with good follow-through on the palate, satisfying mouth-feel and firm aftertaste.


Complex

Multifaceted aroma and/or flavor. Most wines considered great exhibit a combination of flavor and aroma elements.


Cooked

Heavy, pruney flavor; also said of wines from very hot growing regions or wines that are overripe.


Corked, corky

Smelling of cork rather than wine; due to a faulty cork.


Crisp

Fresh, brisk character, usually with high acidity.

Deep

Having layers of persistent flavor that gradually unfold with aeration.


Delicate

Light fragrance, flavor, and body.


Developed

Mature. A well-developed wine is more drinkable than an undeveloped one.


Distinctive

Elegant, refined character that sets the wine apart on its own.


Dry

Opposite of sweet; somewhat subjective in that tasters may perceive sweetness to varying degree.


Dull

Lacking liveliness and proper acidity; uninteresting.


Dumb

Not revealing flavor or aroma; closed; typical of wines that are too young or too cold.


Earthy

Smell or flavor reminiscent of earth. A certain earthiness can be appealing; too much makes the wine coarse.


Elegant

Refined character, distinguished quality, stylish, not heavy.


Extra Dry

A term used on Champagne labels to indicate not-quite-dry; not as dry as Brut.

Fat

Full of body and flavor; fleshy.


Fine

Distinguished.


Finesse

Distinctive balance; fineness; elegance and flair.


Finish

Aftertaste, or final impression the wine leaves; it can have a long finish or a short one (not desirable).


Firm

Taut balance of elements; tightly knit structure; also distinct flavor.


Flat

Dull, lacking in liveliness; wine without sufficient acid.


Flavor

How the wine tastes.


Fleshy

Fatness of fruit; big, ripe.


Flinty

Dry, mineral character that comes from certain soils, mostly limestone, in which the wine was grown; typical of French Chablis and Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs (Sancerre).


Flowery

Aroma suggestive of flowers.


Forward

Developed ahead of its peers; also, when the fruit is prominent, it is said to be forward.


Foxy

The "grapey" flavors of wines made from native American grapes, Vitis labrusca.


Fruity

Aroma and/or flavor of grapes; most common to young, light wines but refers also to such fruit flavors in wine as apple, black currant, cherry, citrus, pear, peach, raspberry, or strawberry; descriptive of wines in which the fruit is dominant.


Full-bodied

Full proportion of flavor and alcohol; big, fat.


Green

A wine made from unripe grapes that is tart and lacking fruit flavor.


Grip

Firmness of flavor and structure.

Hard

Stiff, with pronounced tannins; undeveloped.


Harmonious

All elements -- fruit, acid, tannin -- in perfect balance


Harsh

Rough, biting character from excessive tannin or acid.


Heady

High in alcohol, very full-bodied


Herbaceous

Aromas reminiscent of fresh grass or hay; grassy, as in certain Sauvignon Blancs; also the green pepper character of some Cabernets.


Herby

Reminiscent of herbs, such as mint, sage, thyme, or of eucalyptus.


Honest

Without flaws, typical and straightforward, simple but not great.


Honeyed

Smell or taste reminiscent of honey, characteristic of late-harvest wines affected by "noble rot" (Botrytis cinerea).

Intricate

Interweaving of subtle complexities of aroma and flavor.

Legs

The viscous rivulets that run down the side of the glass after swirling or sipping, a mingling of glycerin and alcohol.


Length

Lingering aftertaste.


Light

Refers to wines light in alcohol but also to texture and weight, how the wine feels in the mouth. Lightness is appropriate in some wines, a defect in others.


Lively

Crisp, fresh, having vitality.


Long

Fine wines should have a long finish, or aftertaste; see Length.


Luscious

Rich, opulent, and smooth; most often said of sweet wines but also intensely fruity ones.

Maderized

Wine that has oxidized; has brown or amber color and stale odor.


Mature

Fully developed, ready to drink.


Meaty

A wine with chewy, fleshy fruit; sturdy and firm in structure.


Mellow

Smooth and soft, with no harshness.


Moldy

Wines with the smell of mold or rot, usually from grapes affected by rot or from old moldy casks used for aging.


Muscular

Vigorous fruit, powerful body and flavor; robust.


Musty

Stale, dusty or rank aromas.

Noble

Great; of perfect balance and harmonious expression. The so-called "noble" grapes are those that produce the world's finest wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling (some would also include Syrah, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese).


Nose

The smell of the wine; it may have a "good nose" or an "off-nose," meaning defective odors.


Nutty

Nutlike aromas that develop in certain wines, such as sherries or old white wines.

Oak, oaky

Aroma and flavor that derive from aging in oak casks or barrels. Characterized by smokiness, vanilla, clove or other spices. Should not be overly pronounced.


Off-dry

Not quite dry, a perception of sweetness too faint to call the wine sweet.


Off-flavors (also off-aromas or off-nose)

Not quite right; flavors or odors that are not correct for a particular type of wine; opposite of clean; defective.


Open

Revealing full character.


Oxidized

Flat, stale or sherrylike aroma and flavor; spoiled as the result of overexposure to air.

Petillant

A light sparkle.

Rich

Full, opulent flavor, body and aroma.


Ripe

Mature, fully ripe fruit.


Robust

Full-bodied, powerful, heady


Rough

Harsh edges, biting, unpleasant.


Round

Smooth and well-developed flavor, without angularity or rough edges.

Sharp

Biting acid or tannin.


Short

Refers to finish, or aftertaste, when it ends abruptly.


Silky

Smooth, sinuous texture and finish.


Simple

Opposite of complex; straightforward.


Smoky

Aroma and flavor sometimes associated with oak aging.


Soft

May refer to soft, gentle fruit in delicate wines, or to lack of acidity in wines without proper structure; used on a label occasionally to indicate low alcohol.


Solid

Sound, well structured, firm.


Sour

Sharply acidic or vinegary


Sparkling

Wines with bubbles created by trapped carbon dioxide gas, either natural or injected.


Spicy

Having the character or aroma of spices such as clove, mint, cinnamon, or pepper.


Spritzy

Slight prickle of carbon dioxide, common to some very young wines; frizzante in Italy.


Steely

Firmly structured; taut balance tending toward high acidity.


Stiff

Unyielding, closed; dumb.


Strong

Robust, powerful, big.


Structure

The way a wine is built; its composition and proportions.


Stuffing

Big, flavorful, full-bodied wines are said to have "stuffing."


Sturdy

Bold, vigorous flavor; full-bodied; robust.


Sulphur, SO2

An anti-oxidant used in making most wines; the fermentation process creates minute natural amounts.


Supple

Yielding in flavor; a wine that is readily accessible for current drinking.


Sweet

Usually indicates the presence of residual sugar, retained when grape sugar is not completely converted to alcohol. Even dry wines, however, may have an aroma of sweetness, the combination of intense fruit or ripeness. Considered a flaw if not properly balanced with acidity.


Tannin

A natural component found to varying degrees in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes; most prominent in red wines, where it creates a dry, puckering sensation in young reds of concentrated extract; mellows with aging and drops out of the wine to form sediment; a major component in the structure of red wines.


Tart

sharp; acceptable if not too acidic.


Thick

Dense and heavy in texture.


Thin

Lacking body and flavor.


Tired

Past its peak of flavor development; old.


Tough

Astringent or hard; wiry; tannic.


Vanilla

A scent imparted by aging in oak.


Velvety

Smooth and rich in texture.


Vigorous

Firm, lively fruit, strong body; assertive flavor.


Vinegary

Having the smell of vinegar; see also Acetic.


Volatile, Volatile Acidity (VA)

Smells of acetic acid and/or ethyl acetate, quite disagreeable when excessive though a tiny amount may enhance aromas.

Watery

Thin, lacking in flavor.


Weak

Lacking grip typical for the wine; without character


Weedy

Aromas or flavors reminiscent of hay or grasses; not necessarily unpleasant unless exaggerated.


Weighty

Strong, powerful, full-bodied, forceful.


Woody

Excessive aromas of wood, common to wines aged overlong in cask or barrel.

Yeasty

A bready smell, sometimes detected in wines that have undergone secondary fermentation, such as Champagne; very appealing if not excessive.


Young

In simple wines signifies youthful freshness; in finer wines, refers to immaturity, wines as yet undeveloped.



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