Wine 102: Wine Glossary A-B
Acidity: The sour or tart taste in wine and other food. The primary natural acid in grapes and wine is Tartaric acid; the second most abundant is Malic acid. Acidity contributes to the keeping ability of fine wine. Generally hot growing seasons or hot climates result in lesser amounts of acid in the grapes while cool growing seasons or cool climates result in higher acid levels in the grapes. A certain amount of acid in wine is desirable and contributes to the character of the wine. Too much acid can make the wine too tart while too little can leave the wine flat.
Aging: Term describing the storing of wine under certain specific conditions for the purpose of improving the wine.
Wood Aging of wines (more red wines are aged this way than whites) at the winery for long periods in oak barrels adds oak-flavor and makes the wine more complex. The tannins from the wood actually enhance the ability of the wine to age in the second type of aging.
Bottle Aging of wines (either red or white) develops a pleasing taste and odor characteristic called “bottle bouquet” as the tannins soften. But beware, roses and light white and red wines are often at their best young. The wines that age the best are some California Cabernets, Bordeaux, red and white Burgundy, Italian Borolo, vintage port and some other sweet dessert style wines.
Barrel fermenting: The act of fermenting white grape juice in barrels instead of using the more usual stainless steel tanks. Red wines are never fermented in barrels because of the necessity to ferment red wines in contact with the grape skins. It is virtually impossible to move grape skins in and out of a barrel through the small bung hole.
Botrytis cinerea: Pronounced boh-tri-tis sin-ehr-ee-uh. Botrytis is a fungus which grows on the skins of certain grapes as they ripen on the vine under specific weather conditions. Called “noble rot” because it can turn ordinary fruit into precursors of great dessert wines as long as the grapes are fairly ripe already when the “rot” starts. The fungus causes the grapes to shrivel, thus concentrating the sugars and actually maintaining the acid levels which help the resulting wines from being cloyingly sweet. Wines that are made from these grapes are called “late harvest” in California, in France the famous “sauternes” results, in Germany there is “Beerenauslese” and “Trockenbeerenauslese”, and in Hungary the “Tokay Aszu” is made from infected grapes. The most popular varieties used to make these exceptional dessert wines are Chenin Blanc, Furmint, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon.
Breathe: When the cork is removed from the bottle and the wine is exposed to outside air, the wine is said to “breathe” or aerate. This process is accelerated if the wine is decanted or poured into a wine glass. There is a debate about the beneifits of “breathing”…advocates say it allows young wines to soften on the palate and for the bouquet to evolve. Detractors say it dulls a wine’s flavor. There is no debate, however, that white wines, rose’s, and lower quality reds do not benefit from “breathing”. Higher quality red wines and some white burgundys may benefit from “breathing”.
Brix: (pronounced bricks) Named after A.F.W. Brix, a 19th Century German inventor, the Brix scale is a system used in the U.S. to measure the sugar content in grapes. The Brix is determined by a hand-held instrument called a Hydrometer. The Hydrometer measures the sugar level in the grape juice in degrees. The grapes for most table wines have a Brix reading of between 20 to 25 degrees at harvest. Each degree is equivalent to 1 percent of sugar in the juice. This used to be called the Balling Scale which had an inaccuracy that was corrected by Dr. Brix.