Wine 101

Some helpful information about wine

Descriptions by Steven Goller, Wine Consultant
Walpole Wine & Spirits

Wine Terms

Stainless Steel Fermentation — Traditionally, the way wine is fermented is in large stainless steel tanks. This method accents the true, natural characteristics of the grape variety.

Barrel Fermented — Wines are fermented in oak barrels to add structure and complexity. Depending on the type of oak, size of the barrel, and the age of the barrel, different styles and amounts of flavors are imparted. Generally, oak adds woody aromas, caramel, vanilla and spice characteristics, and some tannins.

Tannins — Tannins are an astringent characteristic predominantly found in red wines. They come from grape seeds, skins, and stems, and also from oak barrels. They are usually sensed in the back part of the tongue as the wine is swallowed and are useful in balancing the fruitiness of red wines. Tannins, acidity, and bold structure are essential for prolonged wine aging.

Acidity — A necessary ingredient in wine to balance fruitiness, add a lively, crisp mouth feel, and is also essential for aging wines. Noticed on the sides of the tongue, sometimes misrelated as dryness in wines. Without proper acidity, wines would taste flabby, overripe, and overly alcoholic. Acidity is what cleanses and refreshes the palate.

Oak — Oak barrels add complexity, richness, and vanilla spice to wines. Different types of oak and the degree of “toast” impart different levels of flavor and spice.

Sweetness — Sweetness in wine is usually tasted on the tip of the tongue and recognized in the lingering sweet taste due to residual sugar left in the wine. In dry wines, the sugars are fermented out; in sweet wines, the fermentation is stopped, leaving sugars and sweetness behind in the finish. This term is often confused with fruitiness.

Fruitiness — Fruitiness is the degree of fruit complexity that you first taste in a wine. Wines can be fruity and be either dry or sweet in the finish. Reislings are the easiest example, since they exhibit delicate fruit flavors with a crisp, dry finish, or a lingering sweetness.

Decanting — Wines are decanted for three main reasons; just pulling the cork on a bottle and letting it sit will NOT work. In young red wines, aromas are enhanced, as well as helping to soften mouth feel and tannins by introducing them to oxygen in the process of transferring them to a decanter. Old red wines benefit from decanting by leaving sediment behind in the bottle. Sediment accumulates (over age) in red wines that are usually bottled unfiltered, and are an accumulation of fine grape skins and yeast residue. In older wines, decant them just before you drink them to savor the delicate aromas. Lastly, red wines are decanted for elegance. Nothing entices your senses or looks nicer than translucent rubies with a crystal shimmer. Note: Red wines with screw caps will benefit from pouring them into a glass and letting them sit for about 15 minutes.

Screwcap — Professionally known as the Stelvin closure, currently replacing natural corks. It is a perfect seal for a wine bottle that ensures the wine's varietal character and flavor. The screw cap has been improved and implemented by many wineries (and in fact whole countries), in an effort to shelter wine lovers from the “off” aromas and flavors caused by TCA (an organic cork taint). TCA is a bacterium that naturally occurs in corks. The cork is sanitized before bottling but, due to the porous nature of natural corks, the wine travels through the cork, coming in contact with this bacterium. When affected, the aromas of wet socks and musty flavors totally degrade the wine, but in lesser degrees the “off” flavors do not let you totally enjoy the wine. Once you get over the loss of the romance of pulling a cork, you will be impressed with the true varietal characters of your wine that follow.