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Wine Terms that are Misused and/or Misunderstood

Lake Superior State University recently announced the 38th Annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness. Words that made the list included “passionate,” “bucket list,” and “trending.” This caught my attention and led me to think of a few wine related words that are often misused and or misunderstood.

Minerality This term is so poorly defined that it is essentially worthless but wine critics including myself (reluctantly) continue to use it in their wine reviews. We know that the roots of the grapevine cannot absorb minerals or mineral flavors from the soil. What is perceived as minerality is thought by some to be due to reduced sulfur compounds that can simulate the smell of wet minerals and the taste of flint. Clark Smith (Wines & Vines November 2010) has defined minerality as follows: “An ‘energetic buzz’ in a wine’s finish similar to acidity, with which it is often confused, but further back in the mouth.”

Bouquet This term is often mistakenly used to describe the aromas of a young wine. It should only be used to refer to the complex aromas of a mature wine.

Variety or Varietal? The two words are often misused and interchanged with impunity. Each word, however, has a clear meaning. Variety is a noun and refers to a specific type of grape such as Pinot Noir, or many kinds of wine such as fortified, still, or sparkling. Varietal is both a noun when referring to a wine made from a single grape variety, and an adjective when used to say a wine is varietally correct. In the United States, 75% (95% in Oregon) of the wine must come from the named grape variety before it can be called a varietal.

Acidity There are two main methods of expressing acidity: titratable acidity (TA) which refers to the test that yields the total of all acids present, and hydrogen ion concentration (pH) which is a measure of the strength of acidity. The higher the H+ concentration, the more acidic the solution, and since the pH is the negative log of the H+ concentration, the lower the pH, the more acidic the solution. Wine tends to fall within a range of pH of 3 and 4. The pH is a critical measurement during winemaking and ideally should be below 3.60 for sulfur dioxide to be effective during the winemaking process. A higher pH will reduce the effectiveness of sulfur dioxide and increase the chance of Brettanomyces and spoilage organisms growth. The perception of acidity in a wine is related to the titratable acidity and not pH. Titratable acidity (TA) produces the acid sensation in the mouth and is most critical for mouth feel. pH and TA values do not run parallel. A wine can have a high pH and low TA or vice versa.

Punchdown or punch down? Both in correct use.

Screwcap or screw cap? Both in correct use.

Destemmed or de-stemmed? Destemmed is correct usage. Also destemming.

Winegrower or wine grower? Both in correct use.

Fermenter or fermentor? Fermenter is correct usage.

Reserve This is a term that is overused and nebulous because it has so many meanings. It implies a wine of higher quality, but it can refer to a wine that is a barrel selection, one that has been aged longer, or a wine sourced from the best blocks in a vineyard. Wineries sometimes substitute the word cuvée, a fancy French way of saying a blend. It is often simply a marketing strategy for selling wine (or charging more) in which case it may take on other configurations such as vintner’s reserve, limited reserve, grand reserve, or special reserve (Kendall-Jackson produces thousands of cases of “Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay).

Estate Bottled This indicates that 100% of the wine came from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery, which must be located in an AVA. The winery must crush and ferment the grapes, and finish, age and bottle the wine in a continuous process on their premises. The winery and vineyard must be in the same AVA.

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