Here in our GeekSpeak Glossary we attempt to render some of the jargon that wine geeks love to sling around into plain, easily-comprehensible English. More often than not we fail, but we fail GLORIOUSLY!
Disclaimer: It should be noted that all definitions are entirely our own, and consequently are, more often than not, wildly inaccurate.
Acidity: One of the elements, along with Tannin, that forms the Backbone or Spine of a wine. A wine with low acidity will taste round in the mouth, fat and limp. A wine with high acidity will taste shrill and sharp. The idea is to get it somewhere in the middle. As grapes ripen and gain sugar, they lose acidity, so winemakers in warmer climates often have to manipulate the Acidity of their juice by adding various or sundry acids to it.
Backbone: See Spine.
"Bad Bottle": Mythical creature that is invoked when someone thinks someone else's TN is all wrong. A non-New York Winegeek will tell you you must have had a Bad Bottle if you say that you didn't enjoy a wine that he or she did at some point in the past. It's less confrontational than saying "you wouldn't know a good wine if it bit you on the ass," and easier to use in polite company, but essentially means the same thing. A New York Winegeek, on the other hand, will probably use the "...bit you on the ass" line, as we're a little more thick-skinned around here.
Beaver: See Termite.
Blind Tasting: Nothing to do with Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles, this geekspeak phrase refers to tastings where the identity of the wine being tasted is hidden, either by "bagging" the bottle or just by decanting the wine and hiding the bottle in the bushes, past the sprinkler system in that little gully. To further complicate things, SINGLE Blind Tastings are when you know what wines are in attendance but not which bottle is which. DOUBLE Blind Tastings are when you have no idea at all what is in the bottles. Got that? Good.
Botrytis: A Winegeek's favorite fungus: Botrytis Cinerea ('noble rot') grows on grapes in certain areas and shrivels them up, concentrating their flavor and interacting with them chemically in beguiling ways. Botrytis is found in the great sweet dessert wines of Sauternes and the Loire Valley, as well as in the grout between your shower tiles (France only).
Breathe: Giving a wine time to react to air before you slug it down. Some wines 'open up' or 'flesh out' with extended aeration, some don't do anything at all. Very old wines can simply fall apart after fifteen minutes' contact with air, so this isn't always a benificial thing, but a big young tight wine can seem marvellously changed into a friendlier critter entirely after a few hours' decanter time. See also Decant.
Brett/Bretty: Some kind of little bug or something (okay, it's a yeast called Brettanomyces) that can make a wine smell stinky or manurey. In small doses, it can be interesting, adding nice earthy, 'barnyard' notes, but you get a lot of it and it's poop city.
Chaptalization: Adding sugar to fermenting grape juice in order to pump up the alcohol level of the resulting wine. This is sometimes done in cool climates or poor years where grapes don't ripen quite enough to develop high amounts of sugar. Different places have different laws regarding this kind of thing.
Connoisseur: A word you should never use around a Winegeek. If he or she is a gentle Winegeek they will merely flinch, then softly remind you to call them either simply 'Winegeek' or 'Oenophilic-American,' but calling a brittle, testy Winegeek this offensive moniker can get you a bad look at the business end of a Screwpull.
Cooked: A wine that has been damaged by heat somewhere between the winery and your table. You can sometimes tell a bottle is Cooked by looking for a pushed-up cork or leakage stains around the capsule, but sometimes the damage is not evident until you taste a stewed, nasty wine.
Corked/Corky: Yes, we know most wine bottles have corks in them; no, that's not what geeks mean when they say a wine is Corked or Corky. What they mean is that the wine has been contaminated by a chemical called 2,4,6-trichloroanisol (TCA) that lurks in the black, evil hearts of some small percentage of corks, and makes the affected wine smell really dank and musty; often described as smelling like 'wet cardboard,' but more like wet cardboard that's been sitting for a while in the far corner of your funky old basement. It's pretty nasty -- smell it a few times and you won't forget it. On a side note, we knew a girl in high school also named Corky who smelled perfectly fine. She works on 'The Simpsons' now...
Decant: Pouring a wine into a container made of glass or some other inert material, for the purpose of either a) getting rid of the sediment that forms with an older wine or b) giving a younger wine time to air out or 'breathe.' See also Double Decant.
Descriptor(s): See Note(s).
Double Decant: Pouring a wine into a container made of glass or some other inert material, then pouring the wine back into the bottle and corking it up again. Usually done to bottles you're going to carry off to a geek gathering, the idea here is to just air the wine out once and set the process of breathing in motion.
DHMO: Dihydrogen Monoxide, a chemical that has been found in samples of wine coming out of California. For more information on the perils of DHMO, go to the Official DHMO Website.
DNPIM: "Do Not Put In Mouth." Usually used as an informal rating ("That Peter Michael Chardonnay is really DNPIM!").
Dump Bucket: (Also Spit Bucket) A wide-mouthed container that is on the table at most geek confabs. Geeks usually have a taste or two of any given wine, then pour or spit the rest into an available receptacle.
Finish: Aftertaste. What happens in the confines of your own mouth after you swallow a nice gulp of vino. We feel that this is a private matter between an adult and his or her consenting beverage.
Flight: When Winegeeks gather in their geeky covens to do their thing, wines are sometimes served sequentially in small bunches (say, groups of four), sometimes thematically linked -- these bunches are Flights. Small flocks of winegeeks themselves are called Gaggles, Pods or Drunken Nitpickers, depending on their plumage.
Fruit Bomb: A wine, usually from the New World, that emphasizes big upfront fruitiness over subtlety or earthy characteristics, that figuratively explodes with fruit in your mouth. Not necessarily pejorative, although certainly one geek's Fruit Bomb is another's mere Fruitcracker.
GobLover: A member of the tribe of Winegeeks who favor big, rich fruity flavors in their wine, ideally in combination with low acidity and a 'meaty,' 'chewy' mouthfeel, i.e. GOBS of fruit flavor. For the antithesis of a Goblover, see SodSucker.
Heat: A slight burning sensation in the mouth produced by a high alcohol level. Not good. The alcohol levels in many 'blockbuster'-styled wines has been creeping up from around 12% to upwards of 15% and higher.
Infanticide: Cheeky geek way of saying a bottle has been consumed far earlier than it ought to have been, and thus wasted. ("It was Infanticide to open that '96 Latour; it needs decades yet...")
Jeebus: Hipster Winegeek synonym for Offline.
Malo: Malolactic fermentation, a secondary fermentation that is used to turn sharper malic acid into softer lactic acid, often resulting in a creamier mouthfeel in the finished wine. Rhymes with 'tallow' or 'fallow' (to avoid confusion with the Hawaiian loin-garment).
Nose: Geekspeak for the bundle of smells that hit you when you stick your nose into a wineglass and inhale through it, having properly Swirled first, of course. Some people make distinctions between 'aroma' and 'bouquet', but we think those people are a little fishy and often look askance at them when their backs are turned.
Note(s): Individual flavor or aromatic element in a wine, often some kind of a fruit (blackberry, cherry, lemon, grapefruit), spice (oregano, dill, vanilla), or wet mammal (i.e., dog, cat, squirrel). Notes in a wine are hints, suggestions, and only that. When a geek says she found 'chocolate' in her Bordeaux, it doesn't mean she thinks someone actually slipped some Swiss Miss into her glass, just that she believes there is a chocolatey nuance to the smell or taste of the wine.
Oak (New-, Over-): If you want to start a fight at a Winegeek confab, just ask 'How much Oak is good in a wine?' and stand back and watch the fur fly. Many premium wines are put into small oak barrels, or if you want to be fancy, 'barriques' for aging (and many not-so-premium wines have oak chips dunked in them like a teabag). This can impart nice, complex, toasty dark notes to the wine, or it can leave it smelling and tasting like the inside of your high school woodshop. The newer the oak barrel, the more flavor it will impart to the juice that is inside it. Anti-oak geeks say that oakiness is used to cover up weak fruit or bad winemaking, pro-oak geeks (see Beaver, Termite, Woodchuck) say that used as a spice, it adds depth and complexity. There are all kinds of oak (French, American, Slovenian... no, seriously, Slovenian), each with a slightly different set of flavors to impart. Everyone has a different tolerance level for degrees of oakiness; deep down we're all geeks--can't we all just get along?
Offline: When Winegeeks who have met online get together in the real world to sit down and knock back some juice, they call it an Offline. See also Jeebus.
Oxidized/Oxidization: Oxidization is what happens when a wine is exposed to air. Some wines, like sherry or vin jaune, are intentionally oxidized because people like them that way, other times oxidization is a flaw, making a wine taste flat or baked.
Parker Lemmings/Sheep: Critical name callously used for people who seem to inexplicably and slavishly follow the dictates of the American author and wine critic Robert Parker, Jr., who in his publication The Wine Advocate hit upon the odd yet wonderfully marketable notion of "rating" wines on a "hundred-point" scale, much like a grade on an elementary school quiz. Mr. Parker's system of "scoring" wines numerically seems to appeal to many people's sense of wanting the experience of tasting something to be simple and linear. Geeks get very het up about both sides of this issue, for reasons unknown to us.
Prongs/Prong System: The only truly subjective system for the comprehensive scoring of wine. See Prong System Explicated.
QPR: 'Quality to Price Ratio' -- this handy little acronym lies at the heart of many a geek-to-geek conversation. Basically, it means you get more than your money's worth from a particular bottle. A bottle of plain $8 white burgundy that tastes like a Grand Cru Chablis would be great QPR, and you would happily step on your grandmother's head to grab the last case. A $400 cult cabernet that tastes like sangria-fixins, on the other hand, is very poor QPR indeed, and you would send it to eBay for someone with more money than sense to buy.
Reverse Osmosis or RO: One of several fairly new winemaking tricks that are used to remove water from wine, in order to make it more concentrated and rich. Purists hate this kind of manipulation, viewing it as the McDonaldization of wine. We're not quite sure what to make of it, but we do like tossing the phrase into casual conversation once in awhile to see if people are listening.
Riedel(s): The Rolls-Royce of wineglasses, hand-blown by unionized Austrian river sprites in their secret lairs and cooled in aromatic oils on the thighs of Vestal Virgin Supermodels. Or at least that's what we'd guess, based merely on the prices.
RS: Residual Sugar. In completely 'dry' wines the little yeasties have eaten up all the sugar and turned it into alcohol and other stuff you don't want to know about. When they are interrupted or stopped for one reason or another, RS is left, which, oddly enough, makes the wine taste kinda sweet. Americans usually like a little RS in their wines as long as you don't tell them it's there.
Scores/Scoring: Many Winegeeks swear by various supposedly 'objective' systems whereby wines are assigned "stars" "clouds" "puffs" "points" "poodles" "glasses" or other linear measurements, the most popular at the moment being the Wine Spectator/Robert Parker-style "100 point" scale. We think this is an interesting and unusual notion, but don't indulge in it ourselves, preferring the honest subjectivity of the Prong System. Of course, we also only read the movie reviews in the New York Times, so take that for what it's worth.
Sniffing: This seems pretty self-evident, doesn't it? Winegeeks spend a lot of time doing this, often concentrating hard enough on whether that Note is 'basil' or 'oregano' to make blood vessels in their tiny geek brains burst asunder.
Snobbery: All Winegeeks are snobs, and seek to dominate lesser, wrong-thinking men and impose their views on them. Come the Revolution, Winegeeks will rule over beer-, soda-, water- and milk-drinkers with an iron fist, doling out tiny portions of their precious fluid in exchange for adulation, worship and other appropriate responses.
SodSucker: Winegeek whose tastes run to wines made in a high-acid, less fruit-driven style, wines that taste of earth and leaves. A SodSucker can often be caught extolling the virtues of Burgundy or Loire reds. Arch-enemy of the GobLover.
Speculator, The: Smug geek nickname for the American magazine Wine Spectator, the major market-mover in the U.S.A.
Spine: The backbone of a wine upon which the fruit hangs. In white wines the spine is usually provided by acidity, in reds by both acidity and tannins.
Spitting: Spitting out the wine instead of swallowing it. Not pretty, but necessary at big tastings so you don't get all sloppy and make a pass at that nice man from Mondavi, or, worse yet, break your Riedels. Buckets are provided.
Sticky: Sweet dessert wines. Originally used to refer to Aussie liquor muscats and the like, this has evolved into a term for most any sweetie with high RS.
Sulfites: Yes, we've seen those tiny warning labels on wine bottles: "Contains Sulfites!" they scream accusingly, clearly warning you that drinking the contents will result in immediate hair loss, shingles and/or that problem that Bob Dole talks about. Well, it ain't necessarily so. Sulfites occur in all wines naturally, as a result of the fermentation process, and are also often added by winemakers as a sterilizing agent to keep harmful bacteria from growing in your favorite bottle of merlot. Unless you are one of the tiny, tiny, TINY percentage of people who has an actual sulfite allergy, this is not a problem. If, on the other hand, you're just a a hypochondriac like us please just blame any headaches or skin rashes or minor feminine itching on MSG or chronic fatigue syndrome or some other trendy substance or malady and get your nose back in the wineglass as soon as possible.
Swirling: The act of sloshing the wineglass, with wine in it, around in small circles, the aim of which is to expose as much of the wine to air as possible without splashing it on your frock. Speaking technically, Swirling stirs up all the smellies in the liquid until they get so excited they have to leap into the air above the wine, where your nose can easily capture them. Warning: don't try this with a full wineglass--this is why winegeeks favor pours of a few ounces at most if they're in full-on geek mode.
Tannins/Tannic: Coming from grape seeds, skins, and also from oak, tannins are (along with acid) what give red wines backbone. If you steep tea for too long and your tongue goes all dry and fuzzy when you sip it, that is the work of tannins. Or try licking a banana peel. Or taste a wine from the Madiran region of France made from the tannat grape (whence the word 'tannin' is derived; or maybe it was tana leaves, from the old 'Mummy' movies, we can't remember...). Tannins, given time, generally calm down and 'resolve', precipitating into sediment, which is one of the points of aging wines. Another is the flush of geek pride that comes from being able to say 'Look at all my damn OLD wines! In MY day, if you paid more than forty cents for a bottle of Latour, you was a damn fool...' and so on.
Termite: See Woodchuck.
Terroir: A small, rather yappy breed of dog; 'Toto' in The Wizard of Oz was a Terroir.
Not going for it, huh?
Okay, then, you asked for it...Terroir is a French concept that means something like 'microclimate.' Basically, when used by geeks, it's the notion that there is an individual character to grapes (and hence wines) grown in different locations, different soils, temperature, elevation, and so on, and that the expression of this character (letting the vineyard show through) is the highest goal in winemaking, rather than obscuring the individual character of the wine with winemaking tricks, lots of new oak, heavy filtration, etc. Got it? Good, because this is going to be on the final exam.
TN: Abbreviation for 'Tasting Note,' which is what obsessive-compulsive wine geeks like your humble narrators are scribbling on pads, post-its, napkins, shirtsleeves or anything else they can find to write on when they're done Swirling and Sniffing. Everyone does TNs differently (although ours are best of all because we never disagree with them), but they involve some notation of a wine's color, texture, taste and smell, and sometimes, if a geek is feeling his oats, guesses as to what the wine will taste like down the road a few years.
VA: Volatile Acidity or VA, is a flaw in a wine that is caused by a little bug called acetobacter that gets into the juice and eats a bit of it, causing it to have a vinegary or nailpolish-remover kind of smell. This is not a good thing, although some people mind it far less than others.
Varietal/Varietal Wine: Any wine that is made with (usually, at least in the U.S.) 75% of any particular grape variety (don't be dorky and say "varietal" when you mean "variety," as in a type of grape). In most of the new world, including the U.S., wine is named for the grape variety that's in the bottle, i.e., cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot. In Europe, wine is usually named for the place it comes from, i.e., Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chablis, etc. Many people find this confusing. Not Winegeeks.
Winegeek: Someone who has actually read this far down the page.
Woodchuck: A Winegeek who likes, or has a high tolerance for, a lot of Oak in his or her wine. See Beaver and Termite.