Geeky Wine Terms Explained!
It happens all the time, explaining how a wine is made and you'll drop a silly technical term casually - more often than not in another language and with the suffix of "-age" - and what follows is a blank look of confusion. It's easy once you're in the know but if you're not in the know, it can be awfully intimidating to ask at the risk of looking foolish. We here at Unico believe in the age old of "no dumb questions", so we're here to lift the lid for you guys on some of the more technical wine questions you might hear on the day to day. Some you may have heard, some not, some I myself have only learned while putting together this little piece! This is only a slice, there's plenty more to come! Let's get a little bit geeky.
Terroir loosely translates to "sense of place", often used to describe when a wine tastes accurately of where it was made, or even just describing the place. While terroir is in our mind, the most important thing when crafting a wine, be wary when using it, because one of your not so wine geeky friends might give you a heavy eye roll.
Important to the end result of a wine, Elevage is basically the time the wine spends ageing after fermentation before into bottle, whether it's in stainless steel, in barrel or any vessel of choice. Elevage doesn't always mean that the wine is going to be better, you've got to make the wine built for long periods of elevage too, whether it be higher tannin or acid levels that need to soften over time - Nebbiolo is the prime example, in comparison to stuff like Beaujolais Nouveau which you want to drink as fast as humanly possible.
Lees: Gross & Fine
You've definitely heard the term lees before and are likely well across them. Little dead yeast cells that hang around in wine after fermentation. Ageing on lees is a bit of a winemakers choice, depending on the character wishing to be added to the wine, as it's a great way to balance harsh acid and add another element of texture or some toasty brioche flavours.
Gross lees are the heavier and larger form and you want on your wine for only a short amount of time before taking off by the process of "racking" (transferring the liquid from one vessel to another after the larger lees have settled to the bottom). Fine lees take a bit longer to settle and can stay in the wine for a little while and do a great deal in imparting flavour into the wine - you'll just want to rack the wine before you bottle! Which funnily enough leads (or lee-ds, ha ha), us to...
Battonage is the action of stirring the lees to add texture and flavour to the wine. If you've ever had a super toasty and nutty Chardonnay or other textural white, you'll have experienced a wine with heavy use of battonage. This can be done on gross and fine lees, the gross adding more flavour than the fine so it's all about balance - you don't want to over do it!
Malolactic Fermentation or "Malo"
Generally going hand in hand with some good lees and and battonage - the Chardonnay special - Malolactic Fermentation is known as the 'secondary fermentation'. While for the most part done in pretty much all red wines, it's a choice to do in white wines, where all of your malic acids are fermented into lactic acids - this is where you get into your hyper creamy "flabby" wines. It can be nice in small doses for white wines and rosés, but if it's overdone, you'll feel like you're drinking cream
Bloody fungus. Botrytis is all about grapes, where it appears on bunches mid season looking like a grey mould and removes the water contents of the grape leaving a more intense and dense flavour. Now this is not a bad thing for the most part - some of the most coveted wines in the world are botrytis affected (think Sauternes!) You can make sweeter or dry wines from them, although the risk is fermentation stopping pretty early on heavily botrytis affected wines as Botrytis produces an anti-fungal that kills yeast - you've gotta be on it in the winery and more importantly in the vineyard!
Carbonic Maceration or "Cab-Mac"
Love Cab Mac - we've talked about it a bit previously too! In a nutshell, Carbonic Maceration is the fermentation of grapes on whole bunches in an oxygen devoid space - made famous in the region of Beaujolais where they employ the technique on their native Gamay. What this imparts to the flavour is a ripe bubblegum-like jubey flavour that is unmistakeable, juicy plush red fruits - it's just really, really delicious. While some argue it's not the most complex flavour - there is a huge divide in Beaujolais on this - we say who cares when it makes wine this yummy.
Most commonly found on the labels of really fun rosé, it translates to "bleeding off" - it's essentially taking off excess "free-run juice" from a tank of crushed grapes before pressing, which does two things: not only produces a lighter style of wine that is known as the saignee, but also concentrates the flavour of the crushed grapes the juice has been removed from. While it's been a technique used in wineries for a long time, it use in commercial rosé has only been relatively recent - it's a great way to get some wine out the winery while you wait for the pressings to mature!
Definitely on the more difficult to explain end here - Phenols are essentially a group of several hundred chemical compounds that create the make up of the texture, flavour and even colour of your wine! This is more so directed at red wines and orange/amber/off-white wines as they contain the most tannin, arguably the most important "flavanoid" phenol that affects the flavour and structure of the wine! When some one whips out the comment "this wine has great phenolic structure" (worthy of an eye-roll), they're talking about the use of skin contact and barrel ageing that creates the structure of the wine. There are a whole bunch of "non-flavanoids" like tartaric acids that are crucial to the makeup of the wine, but you wont be able to truly pick that up. It's a deep subject so if you're super keen to get nerdy, there's plenty to sink your teeth in to!
One of the more divisive oxidative issues in wine. Basically reduction is the result of exposing too much oxygen to the wine making process, which produces sulphur compounds that affect the aromas of the wine. Now heres where it gets contentious, because there is arguments of "good reduction" and "bad reduction", favoured more often in white varieties like Chardonnay (very much adored in Chablis) and Savagnin, and maligned in pretty much all red varieties, with varieties like Syrah being most susceptible - good reduction generally smells like a struck matches and flint, where on the not so kind end, smells more like rotten eggs and a dirty barnyard. It's all personal preference at the end of the day so try spot it in your wines and you'll be able to discover what you're into!