Wine-Geek Speak




"Thomas Jefferson was not our first wine geek, but he was definitely the most influential." ~ Wine Skool'd

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 understand what those dimestore words mean and how or 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 similar to any exercise routine meant to build physical stamina, but in this case, it's the building of your taste muscle, also known as your 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.

Many but not all the contributions below are the musings 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.

Lees: I know when many of you hear the term 'lees' you may be thinking jeans, but no, it's referring to the dead yeast cells hanging around in unfinished wines. 

Sur Lie: A French term which sounds a bit like the English word 'surly' which a completely different connotation altogether. Translated into English, Sur Lie means "on the lees" and is also a winemaking technique for giving a bit more 'roundness' to white wines which are typically high in acid. They are often stirred as well to enhance this process. 

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.

Traditional Method: This has nothing to do with Fiddler on the Roof, singing about 'tradition' instead it refers to the process by which Champagne is produced with the secondary fermentation happening inside the bottle, which is where all the bubbles come from. Outside of the Champagne region, this method is also used to make non-champagne bubbly, for example, Cava in Spain and Franciacorta in Italy. 

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. While this term is not necessarily pejorative [but usually], it can indeed be said, that one geek's Fruit Bomb is another's a step toward wine Nirvana. See the bottom shelf of any grocery store wine aisle. 

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 theater popcorn, blech. It's a tasting term typically found in rich, creamy California style of barrel-fermented (frequently new barrels) Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic fermentation in 100 percent new barrels, with extra toast.

Cloying: No, we're not talking your ex-girlfriend here. Actually, it's to disgust or sickens [someone] with an 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 odor due to a moldy 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, tenth use barrel-like flavors and minimal if any fruit type flavors. Admiring only wines from 'thee' most obscure regions and a seeker of exceedingly esoteric wines that the world has to offer.

Volatile Acidity: 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, typically referred to as VA. “This Vin de pays reminds me of my last pedicure.”

Gamey: A somewhat imprecise taste term usually reserved for older wines that exhibit smells and flavors 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 centerpiece.”

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, and 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 Sod-Sucker 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 people who prefer a dry, rich red wine, that actually tastes like fruit [god-forbid]. *This contribution by the 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 wooden 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 bottle of 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 lumber yard?”

New World: fruit-forward character familiar 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 flavors of 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 sulfur. 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 the cellar. “I would have preferred to drink this white Rioja while watching the Leafs win their last Stanley Cup.”

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

Decanter: An online wine magazine and a glass vessel for allowing wine to breathe. Many wine enthusiasts have no idea what this is or what it means. There also seems to be a divide in the wine community as to need for such an item in the first place, seeing their belief that most wine is ready to go soon as you pop the cork or crack open the screw cap. That said, it's another vessel that will hold the contents of the wine, allowing the 'oxidation' process to begin far more rapidly than it would with just having the cork removed. 

Flabby: very fruity, with insufficient acidity. A pleasant, slightly sweet initial flavor 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 flavors. 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: It's not just the rarely used button mobiles' call screen, 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 flavor components, such as fruitiness, acidity, and tannin, in perfect harmony. The most critical feature of good wine. “This ’82 Petrus could perform in Cirque du Soleil.”

Full-Bodied: This is not a description of body types. When someone says 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-sapiens who fawn over each and every wine they encounter, in an obsequious manner, lauding faux praise upon even plonkish wines. This is especially true of wine bloggers thirsty for an ever-growing supply of sample wines. Yes, I'm talking to you, and you know who you are. 

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 flavor in the mouth long after the wine is gone, a hallmark of 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 frequent in red wines.

Snobbery: Let's face it, all Winegeeks are snobs on an individual level, and seek to dominate lesser, wrong-thinking vino-sapiens and impose their views on them. Come the Revolution, 'wine-geeks' 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. Attribution: 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 they say a 'wine' is "balanced" they expect all three component parts, such as *tannins, *fruit, *acidity and possibly sweetness, are correctly matched and in harmony, and none of the individual components stand 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 typical French term used to describe the process of making 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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