Wine Dictionary

By American Wine Appassionata August 19, 2016

Wine Dictionary

Estate Wine:

Estate Wine is a favorite marketing tool because of what it implies, and so, it is a phrase that many wineries covet. In doing so, they have taken the definition of what an Estate wine can be to interpretations that may not have been foreseen by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau(TTB), the federal authority that governs these matters. In reality, in Napa Valley, which encompasses all of Napa County, a winery can contract to oversee a vineyard anywhere in the county, make the wine at its winery located somewhere else in the county and still call it an Estate wine.


In many countries, the term "Reserve" on a bottle of wine means the wine has met strict standards set by the authorities of that country who oversee wine production. The United States, where we perceive that we have excellent governmental requirements to protect us "the consumer". Reserve has absolutely no codified or required meaning. Does that mean a winery can label any wine it wants to a "Reserve"? The answer is unfortunately, Yes. A winery has no legal duty to employ any standards when using the term Reserve.

However, most wineries, have a moral compass, to properly label their high end, upper echelon wine or a wine that is simply so good it begs for the term reserve to be on its label. Most wineries in California, try to live up to their own set of high standards. Therefore, when purchasing a wine of some note and reputation that has the word Reserve on it, you can feel pretty confident that there is something a little special about that wine.

Old Vines:

You may see it on bottles of Zinfandel or hear it in shops. The phrase is the impressive sounding "Old Vines". The usual explanation is that the older the vines, the more experienced they are, and because they tend to produce less fruit than their younger cousins, the concentration in that fruit is superior. While many people believe this scenario to be true due to their own experiences, there really is no published evidence that such is the case.

As with the term Reserve, "Old Vines" is a phrase without any definition. In fact, polls show that even vintners and wine growers are in vast disagreement over what age vines should be to be included in this category. Finally, neither a comparison of scores from the critics, nor our own experiences, suggest that Old Vine Zinfandel is either better, or offers a vastly different taste profile, than Zins from younger vines.


It has become common, even among many in the wine industry, to refer to every blend as a "Meritage" (often mis-pronounced, when said properly it rhymes with "heritage"). It is not correct to call all blends a Meritage. In order to bear that designation, a wine must be a blend of at least two Bordeaux grape varietals, with none comprising more than 90%. Further, its producer must pay a fee to the Meritage Alliance (formerly the Meritage Association). If all of the above are not in place, the wine simply is not a Meritage. Thus, while every Meritage is a blend, not every blend is a Meritage.


The quantitative measurement of sugar in a grape. The discussions you will hear usually revolve around the level of Brix at the time the fruit is harvested, which directly relates to the ultimate percentage of alcohol in the bottle.


The term used when a cork (and by extension, the wine) is affected by TCA (tricloroanisole). Telltale odors and/or tastes are usually described as "wet newspaper". If you taste it in a purchased bottle, take it back to the store or send it back in a restaurant.


Aromas you smell in the wine.


A wine made from a particular type of grape variety, such as a Chardonnay or Merlot. California wines must contain at least 75% of the named grape in order to label it as


Simply the process of transferring wine from a barrel to a tank so the barrel can be cleaned. After cleaning, the wine is put back into the barrel.

Sur Lees:

Describes wines that age on the lees, which are the particles sloughed off during the fermentation.  The lees can add flavor and structure, as well as seemingly creamy quality.


Batonnage is the process of stirring the fine lees remaining in the barrel of unfinished wine.


When yeast is added to fruit juice, (alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced) fermentation occurs. Wines can be fermented in a variety of containers (e.g. barrels or
stainless steel).


This is the period of time that the juice from the grape is in direct contact with the seeds and skins. With red wine, if the contact continues on beyond primary fermentation, so there is an increase in smells and color tones, it is referred to as "extended maceration". Some winemakers believe that extended maceration softens the tannins.

Brett (Brettanomyces):

A strain of yeast that can affect wine in varying degrees, from a pleasant hint of "saddle leather" to nasty "barnyard" like aromas and flavors. Too much Brett in a wine imparts the latter characteristic and can cause the winery to undertake a cleansing program.

Single Vineyard (Vineyard Designate):

A wine with at least 95% of its grapes coming from one vineyard. Many people think that single vineyard wines are superior, but I think this only true if the vineyard and winemaker are equally excellent.

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