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Wine-Geek Speak




Have you ever wondered what the *bleep* all those wine geeks are talking about around the wine bar? All that wine geek-speak you hear, which makes them sound either really smart or just plain silly, I guess it all depends on your perspective. 

Do you know friends and/or family who talk about wine in this manner? Do wonder silently if they really know what those dimestore words mean and how why they use them or are they just your garden variety wine-snob wanting to lord their vino knowledge over you?

In all honesty the answer is yes and no, I will admit that I'm guilty of this crazy wine "geek-speak" myself, but on the flip side of the coin, one could ask is it really needed or necessary? 

I would have to say yes and here's why, you need to be able to label your experiences with wine, it's like building your taste muscle [palate] and without a proper vocabulary, that would be impossible to do, thus wine geek-speak is needed and necessary. 

Since that is the case, I thought it would be helpful to put together some terms you may run into, now and then so you can get a handle of what the *bleep* these wine snobs are saying and what the mean, when they say it.

Most of the definitions and musing are provided courtesy of Beppi Crosariol, a Columnist who writes for the Globe and Mail. But this is just the beginning of the of the wine geek-speak list, so please feel-free to add some yourself via the comment section and I will add them to this evolving list.

ABC: Known as, Anything But Chardonnay; this is anyone who detests simplistic overly oaked "California" Chardonnay. Often it just about anyone sick of this varietal, as it one of the most planted and consumed wines in the world. Some folks who refer to themselves as ABC fans, become wine rebels and will only drink white wine varietals that have nothing to do with Chardonnay.

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, instead of dry dusty, earthy like flavors. Not necessarily pejorative [but usually], although certainly one geek's Fruit Bomb is another's step toward Nirvana.

Buttery: Whenever I say the word "buttery" I can't help using a southern accent. Now when I encounter this flavor in wine, it often reminds me of hot buttered movie theatre popcorn, blech. It's a taste term typically found in rich, creamy California style of barrel-fermented [normally new barrels] Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic fermentation.

Cloying: No, we're not talking your ex-girlfriend here. Actually, it's to disgust or sicken [someone] with excess of sweetness, richness, or an obsequious sentiment:  For example; "a romantic, rather cloying story" or that dessert wine was far too cloying, could have used a bit more acidity.

Corked: foul, musty odour due to a mouldy cork, caused by a random compound known as TCA. Not to be confused with broken-cork particles that have fallen into the bottle or glass. Your line: “I’m getting TCA off this pinot grigio. Or did someone just remove their shoes?”

Parkerization: Nope it has nothing to with guns or metal but the question is answered by Alice Feiring who says, "it's the widespread stylization [or deconstruction of wineof wines to please the taste of influential wine critic Robert M. Parker and other influential wine critics."

Feirinization: Alice Feiring [wine commentator] who runs [hard and fast] in the complete opposite direction of Robert Parker. Loving on and lauding praise upon wines which are uber high-acid, boasting of overriding minerality, 0th use barrel-like flavors and very little if any fruit type flavors. Admiring only wines from thee most obscure regions and a seeker of the most esoteric wines the world has to offer.

Volatile: Not talking about your bosses temper, oh-no it's a pungent odor of vinegar or nail-polish remover caused by too much acetic acid, also known as volatile acidity. “This vin de pays reminds me of my last pedicure.”

Gamey:  A rather imprecise taste term usually reserved for older wines that exhibit smells and flavours associated with damp undergrowth, mushrooms, well hung pheasants [< the name of my new band] and unwashed farmers' feet [eww, don't you wonder how they tested that one?]. 

Hot: An unpleasant medicinal fume or burn found in some wines, but by no means all, wines with high alcohol and some folks are far more susceptible to higher ABV percentages than others.“I find this Santa Barbara pinot hot. Keep it away from the candle centrepiece.”

No Acid: A flat taste due to insufficient acidity.“This Aussie chardonnay could be a contender on The Biggest Loser. Where’s the acid?”

Sod-Sucker: A description of any wine-geeks whose tastes run to wines made with uber high-acid, less fruit-driven styles or wines which taste like a mouthful of a freshly made earthen dam, mushrooms and the leaves decaying on a wet forest floor. 

A SodSucker can often be caught extolling the virtues of  red Burgundy's 100% Pinot Noirs or Loire reds. These folks are the Arch-enemy of the folks who prefer a dry, rich red wine, that actually tastes like fruit [god-forbid]. Contribution by Compleat Wine Geek

Tannic: astringent, mouth-parching quality also found in strong black tea. Caused by compounds derived from skins, seeds and stalks of grapes and also from wood barrels. Different from acidity, which makes the mouth water.“What a tannic monster. They should serve this in Royal Doulton with cream and sugar, maybe some scones and jam.”

Angular: too tannic and thin. “What else would you expect opening such a young Barolo? It’s harder than my ex-husband’s head.”

Backward: an old wine that tastes younger than expected, often because of substantial tannins that have yet to soften with cellaring. “I find this cabernet so backward it rivals Stephen Harper’s immigration policy.”

Bottle stink: usually excess hydrogen sulfide in a wine that’s had too little exposure to oxygen. Smells like rotten eggs or sewer pipe. Most common in bottles sealed under screwcap. Blows off with exposure to air.
“Eau de Halifax Harbour, anyone?”

Barnyard: A manure-like smell due to brettanomyces, an unfriendly yeast found in old barrels. Pleasant in small quantities but a big dose is the sign of a flawed wine. “Am diggin’ the barnyard in this old-school Burgundy. Oink, oink, yo!”

Oaky: strong vanilla, coconut or toasty quality common in wines aged in heavily charred, new-oak barrels. “Help, someone pull the splinters from my mouth. Was this California chardonnay made in a winery or a lumberyard?”

New World: fruit-forward character common in wines from sunny regions outside Europe, such as California, Chile, Argentina and Australia. Fashionably cited in the case of modernist European wines with similar character. “This Pomerol is more cloying than a Kenny G album. Where’s the gritty Bordeaux terroir?”

Terroir: A catch-all term which often denotes the classic flavours of a wine from a specific place.“The petrol fumes coming off this Mosel riesling remind me of the time we picnicked next to the autobahn near Trier. Rockin’ terroir!”

Matchstick: A fresh-struck-match quality aroma typically found in wine treated with too much preservative sulphur. Dissipates somewhat after contact with air as you swirl the glass.“Getting a bit of matchstick off this sauvignon blanc. It could light my cigarette.” Sometimes described as burnt rubber bands. 

Oxidized: tangy, sherry-like quality in white wines; prune- or port-like quality in dry reds. A product of too much oxygen exposure, usually because of a faulty cork or too much time in cellar. “I would have preferred to drink this white Rioja while watching the Leafs win their last Stanley Cup.”

Closed: subdued aroma or flavour, which can “open up” with exposure to air.“I’ve seen more extroverted reds standing guard outside Buckingham Palace. Hand me a decanter.”

Flabby: very fruity, with insufficient acidity. A pleasant, slightly sweet initial flavour but a sign the wine may not cellar well or taste good after the first glass.“This flabby white zinfandel is making me thirsty – for real wine.”

Confected: candy-like flavours. The mark of a “chemistry set” cuvée that may have been overly manipulated.“Was this Beaujolais pressed from Jolly Ranchers or were real grapes actually involved?”

Mute: Its not just the rarely used button your cell phone, no instead it almost always means there's no discernable aroma[s] escaping from the glass. It's often encountered after uncorking younger [recently bottled] bottles that should have been left to age a few years longer. Example, “This three-year-old grand cru Burgundy must be going through a "Hope and Change" phase.”

Balanced: all the flavour components, such as fruitiness, acidity and tannin, in perfect harmony. The most critical feature of a good wine. “This ’82 Petrus could perform in Cirque du Soleil.”

Full-Bodied: This is not a description of body types. When someone says a wine is full-bodied they typically are talking about wines characterized by their mouth-coating density or wines which have rich, complex flavors that linger in the mouth.

Cheerleader: Typically a wine writer [aka blogger] or just an overzealous vino-sapien who fawns over each and every wine they encounter, in an obsequious manner, lauds faux praise upon even plonkish wines [especially true of wine bloggers thirsty for ever growing supply of sample wines]

Pump Over: Does not mean you may need to change your shorts soon. In the wine world it is also known as rémontage, the process of pumping red wine up from the bottom of the tank and splashing it over the top of the fermenting must.

Length: The persistence of flavour in the mouth long after the wine is gone, a hallmark of a good wine.“The finish on this Sauternes reminds me of the sustain on that Les Paul guitar from This Is Spinal Tap. It goes on forever.”

Varietal: textbook quality of a grape. For example, a classic pinot noir tastes of fresh berries, spice and earthy vegetation, while a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tends to give off fresh grass, citrus and bell pepper aromas. “Good varietal character on this pinot. Raspberry, beetroot, cinnamon – the whole nine yards. More, please.”

Wine Diamonds: Tartrates, affectionately known by industry professionals as “wine diamonds,” are tiny, crystalline deposits that occur in wine [bottom of the glass] when potassium and tartaric acid, both naturally occurring products of grapes, bind together to form a crystal. They are completely harmless and natural. The formation of wine diamonds is seen much more often in white wines and far it's far less common in red wines.

Snobbery: Let's face it, 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. Contribution by Compleat Wine Geek

Balanced: It's a bit of a subjective call, but you typically know once you taste it. What wine geeks mean when the say a wine is "balanced" they mean all three component parts, such as *tannins, *fruit, *acidity and possibly sweetness, are correctly matched and in harmony, and none stands out inappropriately.

Assemblage: Is not you and a bunch of your radical friends chanting and carrying signs while hanging out in front of public buildings to criticize the government. No, no instead it is a common French term used to describe the process of making a wine by blending the component parts into one finished wine. Like many of the better wines you have come to know and love from places like Bordeaux. 


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