Wine Term Of The Week – March, 2012

In keeping up with a feature I started on here in February I am trying to log a “term of the week.”  It could be from anywhere, wine, beer or spirits.  The hope is this will be a helpful feature making you all more and more familiar with the wide world of beverage alcohol.  However I will be the first to admit this is not a unique idea.  There are many blogs that have helpful definition sections, plus between apps and websites there are a copious number of ways in which you can get the definition you are seeking.  But you came here.  Plus the hope is I can provide definitions to terms you may not already know or have ever thought about.  I also won’t be simply copying formal definitions from dictionary’s.  I will try to provide descriptions that are helpful and easy to understand well also providing some insightful context.  Enjoy.

March 5th, 2012: vqalogo
 You probably see this labelling term on most of the Ontario wine you buy from the LCBO.  But do you know what it stands for and what it actually suggests about the wine? Well for starters it stands for “Vintners Quality Alliance” and it is a regulatory system in Canada that is the premier symbol for quality wine.  Very similar, conceptually, to the appellation systems in France (AOC) or Italy (DOC), it is a labelling term that ensures the grapes, winemaking, varietal percentage, and various other factors meet certain regulations and restrictions therefore suggesting the quality of the final product.  At the end of the day it is a distinguisher (is that a word?) to help the consumer tell one wine from the next and it helps us assume a wine is of particular quality without being able to taste before we buy.

March 12th, 2012:glenfiddich age
Age Labels on Whisk(e)y: 
When you look at a bottle of Single Malt, Irish Whiskey or even Bourbon your purchase will often be swayed by the age on the label.  But what exactly does that age represent?  Well for starters it is the amount of time that the whisky has spent in an oak barrel.  Of course the type of oak barrel and the regulations for ageing differ depending on where the product is made, but the ageing is in oak.  The actual age number you see on the bottle represents the minimum amount of time any portion of the liquid spent in the barrel.  For many the final product is made up of a blend of many different distillations or even a blend of many different whisky’s but you can be assured that if an age is stated on the bottle that is the absolute minimum amount of time that product spent in oak.  So yes conceivably you could actually buy a Glenfiddich 12 year old that has portions of the blend which spent over 20 years ageing.  Of course with a huge producer like that it is quite unlikely, but you get the point.
What if no age is stated on the bottle?  Well in Scotland and Ireland this means a minimum of  3 years ageing.  Whereas in the US they don’t exactly specifiy a mimium if you don’t state the age on the label.  However the going trend is a minimum of 2 years for American made Whiskeys.

March 19th:
Shiraz vs. Syrah: This may come off as a juvenile clarification to some of you, but there still seems to be plenty of confusion surrounding the classification of Syrah and Shiraz.  It is 100% true that they are exactly the same thing.  They are both the “Syrah” grape variety.  What happened was during the rise to prominence of Australian wines in the late 1980’s they coined the term Shiraz.  To be truthful it is not much more than a marketing gimic which has worked tremendously.  So much so that despite Syrah being around for centuries in France this confusion still exists and this post needed to be written.  Like with any other grape variety there will be a difference in flavour between a Shiraz from Australia and a Syrah from France or anywhere else, but that is to do with the wine making methods and the growing conditions, not the grape itself.  So be careful the next time you boisterously claim you love Shiraz, but dislike Syrah or vice versa.  Shiraz will be found primarily in Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, whereas Syrah can be found in France, Chile, Argentina, the USA, and Canada.

March 26th, 2012:
Tannin is probably one of the most widely used terms when someone is describing a wine to someone else.  Those who are knowledgeable will comment not only on the strength of the tannin, but also what type of tanning they detect (lean, astringent, etc.)  But what is it?  It is an astringent substance that is found in the stalks, seeds, and skins of the grapes as well as the oak ageing process.  When tasting wine it is the sticky, dry sensation you get on your cheeks and gums.  If you swirl the wine around in your mouth and feel as though your gums are stuck to your teeth, that is a lot of tannin.  The more contact a wine has with the contributing factors the more tannin that will be passed into the wine. Since white wine doesn’t use the skins, stalks, or seeds of the grapes very little tannin (if any) is ever passed on to white wines which is why it is not discussed.  Red wines will always have tannin but of course some more than others.  I often hear people joke about the tannin in the wine “oh great tannins” “I can really taste the tannin” but I reason that those people don’t understand the importance that tannin has on red wine.  It gives it body, structure, flavour, and texture and is one of the most important components in determining the ageing potential of great red wines.  It also happens to be the compound that pairs so well with the protein in red meat and one of the main reasons we consider tannic wines to be perfectly paired with steak and fine red meats.

– Mark
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