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Wine Glossary

The terms and definitions listed below are simply our humble attempt to master many of the broad, elusive concepts of natural wine. When we really get into the minutiae of wine (chemistry, biology, agronomy, Steiner, philosophy and the like), we realise the old axiom rings true: the more you know, the more you realise you know absolutely nothing. As with all things in education we’re always learning and changing, so you may see the occasional update to this page. And if you have any suggestions or comments about what’s here, or any terms you’d like to see, our door is always open in-store or via email.

A

France’s protectionist system of designating and controlling geographically-based names.

We recommend the film Natural Resistance which offers a few winemakers’ insights into the complexities at play within the government’s protectionist systems of regulation. 

An umbrella term to describe a bright, sharp, tart, or sour taste in wine. All wines have acidity to varying degrees, and styles of acidity can range from the gentle and integrated to the buoyant and prickly. Refreshing and lifting, acidity is one of the major pillars of wine.
Anything added to a wine during fermentation or after. While sulfites are the most common additive in wine, industrial winemakers may add anything from oak chips to sugar to sorbic acid to manipulate their wine. 
A clay vessel used for wine fermentation and aging. With its origins in Georgia (known there as the qvevri), amphoras have historical roots all around mainland Europe and continue to be used by many today. 
An all-consuming obsession shared by many. That once lacklustre, sleepy time between 15:00-19:00, transformed into something worth celebrating everyday through the imbibing of thirst-quenching, life-affirming alcoholic beverages. Holier than Sunday in some parts of France & Italy. 
The direction a vineyard faces plays an important role in the wines that are ultimately produced from it. Slopes that have a sun-facing aspect (south-facing in the northern hemisphere and north-facing in the southern hemisphere) benefit from a full day’s worth of warmth, whereas east or west facing sites will only warm during part of the day. In turn, vineyards with a steep southerly aspect (in the old world or northern hemisphere) see warmer topsoils and thus more nutrition for the vines. 

B

One of the many vessels winemakers may choose for fermentation, elevage, or both. A barrel is perhaps one of the most symbolic tools in the cellar; they come in a range of sizes and can be made from different types of wood: oak is the most common, but wines raised in acacia and chestnut are no strangers to our shelves. The age of a barrel is of great importance to the influence it will ultimately have on a wine; brand-new oak can bring a powerful woody, vanilla, and tannic character to a wine, while older barrels provide a more neutral environment for the liquid inside. The porous nature of wood helps in wine aging, as the liquid undergoes micro-oxidation during its time spent in the vessel. Winemakers may choose barrels over other more neutral vessels to increase structure, body, or aging potential for their wine.
Biodiversity in a vineyard replicates the delicate ecosystem present in unadulterated nature (a forest, for example) through the encouragement of indigenous plants and animals to exist in symbiosis with the vines. For us, healthy vineyards teem with life: birds, bees, beetles, insects of all sorts, alongside plenty of flora variety. Some vignerons may even allow deer or wild boar to roam their vines freely. Not only does biodiversity in a vineyard increase vine health but also helps to better the functioning ecosystem of the surrounding areas. 

An exhaustively researched and written-about subject in the world of wine, one which warrants a much greater description than the one we’re about to present. That said, we can offer a very rough description of this fascinating topic. Biodynamic farming is a style of organic agriculture cultivation developed by Austrian anthropologist Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925). Under the umbrella of biodynamics, polyculture and animal husbandry are central to working farms, and farming practices focus more on preventative actions rather than treatments; a variety of natural preparations (of plant-based, animal, and mineral origins) are utilised in the farm to prevent disease and to bolster the health of the soil and plants. Of equal importance is the relationship of the farm to the exterior forces of the world at large, particularly the gravitational pull dictated by the moon’s rotation around the Earth and the Earth’s rotation around the sun. Ultimately, the working biodynamic farm is self-sufficient, its ecology mimicking a natural, non-agronomic ecosystem that protects itself from external forces and promotes the health of all that grows. 

A non-exhaustive list of useful texts on biodynamics:

  • Nicolas Joly, Biodynamic Wine Demystified
  • Maria Thun, The Biodynamic Year - Increasing yield, quality and flavor, 100 helpful tips for the gardener or smallholder 
  • Monty Waldin, Biodynamic Wine Guide
When we talk about body or weight in a wine, we mean to describe the textural sensation of the wine on the palate. A light-bodied wine may feel as featherweight as spring water, whereas a full-bodied wine may feel more akin to heavy cream. While weight and texture can sometimes feel like esoteric concepts when tasting wine, we encourage any aspiring tasters to just pay attention to the sensations of every liquid you consume — context is everything.
A fungal rot also known as “noble rot” that can yield wonderful results in the production of sweet wine. The disease primarily affects vineyards in damp climates and relies on very high humidity to infect vines. Perhaps the best known region to produce wines from grapes affected by botrytis cinerea is Sauternes in Bordeaux. 

For some, size matters. Anyways, here’s this helpful list of bottle sizes:

  • 75cl: bottle
  • 150cl: magnum
  • 300cl: jeroboam (or double magnum)
  • 600cl: methuselah
  • 900cl: salmanazar
  • 1200cl: balthazar
  • 1500cl: nebuchadnezzar 
  • 1800cl: melchior
A rogue yeast that can find its way into red wines and produce a particularly barnyard-y, sometimes metallic, and sometimes dirty, aroma and taste. While at very low levels it may add intrigue, in general it’s considered a spoilage yeast and finds a much better home in sour beers than in your glass of wine. 

C

A method of red wine fermentation made famous by, but is certainly not singular to, Beaujolais. In this process, whole grapes ferment on an intracellular level (within the intact berry) in an anaerobic (devoid of oxygen) environment. Generally speaking, wines that undergo carbonic maceration tend to be light-bodied, brightly coloured and slightly fruity.
An umbrella term for the space in which winemakers vinify their wine. 
A French word for a wine storeroom for bottles, barrels, or both, generally above ground but not necessarily so. Pronounced “shay.”
A sparkling wine production method wherein secondary fermentation (when the bubbles are produced) takes place in a tank after dosage (addition of sugar) rather than within a bottle. This is the method used for the production of Prosecco and is a rather modern development in sparkling wine production.

Seemingly skimming the clouds, resting atop the vertiginous slopes above the city of Sion in the Valais, you will find the municipality of Ayent, the home of Domaine de Cherouche, the small but extremely impressive domaine of Marc Balzan and Andrea Grossman.

Sion is the capital of the canton of Valais, and indeed this area has played pivotal role throughout the history of the region, through its pre historic settlement (the earliest traces of human existence here have been dated as far back as 6200 BC), through the development of the valley into an agricultural hub, through the villages growing into towns and then into cities, and now into it’s modern day self. Sion is known for it’s energy generation, waste processing, as a medical hub for the region, and more importantly for our focus - it is known for its vineyards and its wine, and it is now the third largest wine growing region in Switzerland.

I visited Marc and Andrea in late October of 2019 on a whirlwind ‘producer tour’ that took us across France, Switzerland and Austria. I had not come across their wines before, and knew very little of the Domaine at that time and was incredibly excited to make the journey. Marc had worked across Europe in positions adjacent to the world of wine in the hospitality sector for many years as a butler and maître d’hôtel, after returning to his home in the Savoie, his interest in wine was piqued by his sommelier colleagues in the late 80’s and he began to focus more on his wine education, participating in tastings, working in wine stores, competing in sommelier tournaments, visiting salons and working in vineyards. He also worked for two years overseeing the farming at the renowned and mythical Swiss estate ‘Mythopia’ before he and Andrea moved on to begin their own domaine.

Andrea’s journey took her from her home in Zurich where she was training to be a teacher, to working in the vineyards of Lavaux, and she stayed close to the region, in Lausanne, for ten years working in various cellars and vineyards, also painting and teaching German for a living, before the desire to grow and make her own wine grew stronger and stronger.

Then a vintage arrived in 2007 when Marc and Andrea were working the same vineyards in Lavaux, and the rest is history. They began working towards the goal of a project together, and in 2010 Domaine de Cherouche was born.

So, on this visit in 2019, we arrived to Sion in the afternoon, an early morning train from Lyon had bought us us up into the mountains and onwards to our alpine destination. We were only able to visit for a few hours, an engagement the following day in Südstiermark, Austria, meant that we had to be on a night train to Vienna by 6pm that evening. Having never met before, I was a little nervous when we exited the train station and were met by Andrea, Marc and their children. We made our greetings in a warm but definitely slightly happy-awkward manner, and piled into a little silver van and began to weave and wind airway upwards, out of the city and up into the mountains.

I was sitting by the window - on the side that fell away to the valley below - and as this was my first visit to the Valais I was awestruck (and a little terrified) of the steep mountainsides and of the sheer scale of the valley. It was just to so magnificently grand in scale, and stunningly beautiful. 

Upwards we continued, until we arrived to a wonderful house built from stone and wood, nestled into the steep slope with the compact but ship-shape and well organised cellar below.

We decamped from the van, and after dumping our bags at the back door of the house, we eagerly went straight to look at the vines, which didn’t take long as the closest vines are planted just behind the house. They have eight plots of vines in total, spread over 1.6 hectares below and above the house, where they farm a mix of gamay, pinot noir, chasselas, chardonnay and the more rare and site specific varietals of petit arvine, amigne, and paien. Their farming is certified organic and they only use copper and sulphur in minimal amounts in the vines.

Standing with Andrea at the top of the hill we talked a little about the challenges of farming in such a location. The mountain slopes rise steeply upwards behind the house, and curve and slice their way down to the valley far below. The terraces are worked into incredibly steep slopes, and are spread up to 850m altitude. Farming here takes courage and dedication, two traits that are no stranger to the personalities of Marc and Andrea, who changed their lives to follow their passion, and to end up here in the clouds of the Valais, living their dream.

Marc appeared from the cellar and we followed him into the vines. The soil was remarkable. Jagged shale and schist peppered with quartz lay underfoot, and the vines and small trees in the vineyards send their roots deep down to penetrate and weave around the stones. To visit here and walk the narrow paths between the rows is lesson in geology - and the ingenuity of the farmer. I was becoming very keen to get into the cellar and taste the wine that could be produced from such a site, and by these people.

My wish was granted soon thereafter, and we puffed our way back up the steep slope to enter the cellar, though Marc strolling casually, seemed unbothered by the incline, the altitude, or by the hand rolled cigarette tucked in the corner of his mouth.

Marc likes to experiment in the cellar, but also strive for purity and true expression of the vintage and the terroir.  A short walk and shuffle past some giant covered plastic fermenting vats deeper into the back cellar revealed a row of steel tanks, filled with the not-yet-finished wines of that years harvest. I had never tasted amigne before, let alone amigne still fermenting in tank, and it was a joyous and informative experience. It was all fresh acidity, minerality and pithy flesh, but then a subtle stony power weaving its way underneath, and I got that rush that always happens to me when tasting in the cellar, of tasting the wines that are not yet ready, the wines that tease and entice with the promise of the future…we continued on to a dame-jeanne of piquette, that was bright and invigorating after our journey, then on to a vat of still fermenting, vibrant, playfully herbal and yet more structurally serious gamay that snapped the palate into shape. Hello, I thought.

We tasted through many tanks that afternoon before moving up into the house, and on to tasting a vertical of cuvées selected from vintages 2015 - 2018. We sat there in the early evening in the dining room, whilst the kids zoomed about us on rollerblades and Andrea worked just next to us in the kitchen preparing dinner. It was an extremely memorable tasting. Obviously wine in tank (from another vintage) is a different beast to a ‘finished’ wine in bottle, but to this day I still remember being struck by just how different the wines here were. The clarity, focus and subtle power of the 18’s rode confidently across the echoes of the 19’s that I just tasted in the cellar below. What had been achieved from that terroir, from the specificity of practice in the cellar left me a little confused, but also in awe. I’ve tasted and compared a few ‘unfinished’ and ‘finished’  wines in my time, and the evolution here was truly thrilling for me, though at the time on that whirlwind trip I couldn’t organise my thoughts to place exactly how.

Later on the train to Vienna, we decide we just have to have another look at one of those wines and we (predictably but prematurely) broke into my suitcase stash. Using my Swiss army knife, I opened a bottle of this uniquely Swiss wine as we rumbled through the night in the Swiss mountains. I remember being greatly amused by that.

I sat back and slowly sipped the Chant de la Lienne 2018, a 100% chardonnay that leapt from the glass and passed in a riot of minerality and tangy, round-yet-gently bitter and fleshy fruit across my palate, as I reflected on the warmth and ease of the hospitality we’d just been shown, a reception and experience that I felt, and still feel, summed up the wines almost perfectly - if ‘perfection’ is even possible for something so full of life and ever changing. Surveying the vineyards with Marc and Andrea, or walking amongst the vines, talking with them about their farming and their goals, you are struck by the unity of this pair, the quiet focus that drives them ever forwards. I’d never met them before, but they exuded such a sense of balance and of grounding in their individuality, their winemaking, in their their certainty, that just felt so familiar, so open and welcoming.

I felt that the wines of Domaine de Cherouche are a perfect marriage of the place where they are grown and of the people that give them life. They are strikingly individual, comprised of parts unique and hitherto unknown, and yet are deeply inviting and rewarding just the same.

A process whereby a farmer will select the biggest, strongest vine of a vineyard to clone repeatedly for the creation of a new vineyard. This method is a favourite of the industrialists, as it values quantity over quality or diversity in terms of fruit production.
A walled or enclosed vineyard.
Just a regular wine that hasn’t been filtered! Sediment in the bottle can either be tipped and swirled around the bottle to incorporate into the wine, or left to settle at the bottom so the drinker can have clarified wine. Either way, it’ll do you no harm at all, and in fact, may help to stabilise wine naturally (rather than through added sulfites). It’s also important to note that not all unfiltered wines may appear very cloudy; depending on where in the tank the wine was pulled from, there may be a varying degree of sediment. A bottle pulled from a full tank may have very little sediment, whereas a bottle pulled from the very last drops of the tank may have quite a bit more.
After grapes are harvested, winemakers have a choice to either separate the varietals, parcels, or vineyard sites into their own vessels for separate fermentation, or to co-ferment the disparate entities together. We’ll most commonly talk about co-fermentation when we’re referring to two different grape varietals that are fermented in a singular vessel together and at the same time.
A communal space to which farmers can sell their crop. In the case of winemaking, grape growers who either chose not to vinify wines themselves, or have too much volume of fruit to vinify themselves, may sell their grapes to their local cooperative which will in turn produce inexpensive wine of varying quality. While there aren’t many strictly organic / natural cooperatives on our radar, we do buy wine from a few (like Les Vignerons d’Estezargues or Valli Unite), and hope to see more in the future!
Also known scientifically as TCA (trichloroanisole), cork taint affects between 3 - 5% of all wines sealed under cork and produces a musty, wet-cardboard aroma and taste (Robinson & Harding, 211). Although TCA can be faint in some wines, a good indicator of cork taint is also the absence of fruit character on the palate. Any wine merchant worth their salt should be able to identify it, so if ever you’re unsure about a bottle, bring it to your nearest professional. It’s standard practice for a wine retailer to replace corked wine free of charge. 
A vat or a tank used for the fermentation or elevage of wine. Vessels that categorise as cuve include stainless steel tanks, fibreglass tanks, plastic vats, or lined concrete tanks. If ever you get to taste wine pulled straight from such a vessel, you’re drinking what’s considered a “brut de cuve.”
The name of a particular batch of wine. In some cases, this refers to simply what’s factual about the wine: the winery, the vintage, the AOC / DOC quality designation, the vineyard site or grape varietal, and tank or barrel number. The cuvee may also simply be a creative name for the wine chosen by the winemaker. In either case, the word “cuvee” refers to a particular bottling of wine.

D

Italy’s protectionist system of designating and controlling geographically-based names. 

We recommend the film Natural Resistance which offers a few winemakers’ insights into the complexities at play within the DOC/DOCG system of regulation.

An international brand representing biodynamically farmed agriculture. This certification not only requires its constituents to forgo chemical fertilisers or additives, but also has a fairly strict outline of how to improve the various life processes in both the soil and foodstuffs being produced. (“This Is Demeter | Demeter International”).
A glass vessel used in winemaking for fermentation, elevage, or both. The word demijohn comes from the original french damejeanne but the vessel is also known as a carbouy elsewhere in the English speaking world. Ranging between 4 and 60 or so litres in capacity, we most commonly see the 50-ish litre sizes used for winemaking.
The process of removing grapes from their stems and leaves. While the majority of wines in existence are made using this process, we work with some winemakers who would protest the idea of removing the stems and leaves the vines worked hard to produce; in an interview with our friends at Diversey Wine, Edouard Adam of Domaine Mada says “je me fais chier à faire pousser des raisin sur des grappes, c’est pas pour égrapper -” in English, “why would I bother to grow grapes on stems just to remove the stems? (Diversey Wine Newsletter 12/9/20).” That said, it’s tradition in many of our favourite regions to destem grapes (as is the case in Jura), so it really comes down to the question of winemaker preference or regional tradition. 
The process wherein grapes are pressed or squeezed of their juice just after harvest so as to not allow any time for the skins of the grapes to macerate amongst the juice. True white wines or blanc de noirs are produced in this fashion.
The process of removing the frozen sediment from a bottle of traditional-method or ancestral-method sparkling wine. We are particularly fond of a disgorgement “a la volée” or a flying disgorgement — it’s worth a Youtube search.

A final addition of sugar to a traditional-method sparkling wine which starts the secondary fermentation in the bottle. In Champagne we’d refer to dosage as liqueur d’expedition, and the secondary fermentation as the prise de mousse.

The total dosage also influences the final legal classification for Champagne sugar levels, as per Champagne’s official website:

  • < 3g/L: with zero dosage: brut nature / brut zero / non-dose / zero dosage
  • 0-6g/L: extra brut
  • < 15g/L: brut
  • 12-20g/L: extra dry 
  • 17-35 g/L: dry
  • 33-50 g/L: demi- sec
  • > 50g/L: doux
The farming of vineyards without the use of irrigation and instead relying on natural rainfall: considered a sustainable approach to agriculture.

E

One of our favourite French words (but not quite — see vigneron/nne) that just won’t translate; a clumsy attempt would get you “raising” or “maturing”, but ultimately elevage is simply elevage. It’s the time a wine spends developing in the cellar, whether that be in a tank, cuve, barrel, tonneau, or bottle, all under the watchful eye of the winemaker.
The elevation above sea level of any vineyard site plays a role in how grapes will grow on the vine and ultimately how a wine will taste. Because temperature will fall by about .6 degrees celsius per 100 meters rising elevation and because climatic variables like rainfall and cloud cover will increase in likelihood, grapes grown at higher elevations often retain greater acidity and freshness than the same grapes grown at sea level (Robinson & Harding, 258). 
You’ll probably see us talk a lot about extraction in our descriptions and for good reason: the extraction of a wine refers to the density, intensity, concentration, and power a wine takes on. Extraction will commonly directly correlate with the amount of maceration the grapes undergo, but can also signal a variety of winemaking practices like stirring lees (batonnage) or punching-down (pigeage), both of which can bring out more intensity of flavour and tannin. 

F

A process through which heartless winemakers can strip their wines free of character, personality, until everything is one homogeneous, uninspiring, insipid liquid that consumes us all. OK, not really — filtering simply clarifies a wine to be free of any particles remaining from fermentation, and fining wine can create a more gentle mouthfeel and remove any harsh, astringent tannins. That said, wines of tremendous clarity, gentleness, and purity can certainly be created without these interventionist techniques.

The choice to fine or filter wine also plays a role in whether a wine is vegan, as several common techniques for fining include eggs, gelatin, or fish bladders. 

The layer of yeast that develops on the oxygen line of wine inside a vessel. The film of yeasts balances the exposure of the wine to oxygen and endows a particular saline, yeasty character to the liquid. The regions most commonly utilising flor in their wines would be Jerez in the production of sherry, or in Jura for the production of Vin Jaune. 
Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) was a Japanese farmer, writer, and natural-farming philosopher who published the book The One Straw Revolution in 1975 after many years of honing a naturalist approach to rice growing. He was a pioneer of the hands-off or low-intervention approach to agriculture, favouring leaving his crop to develop on its own in lieu of tedious interventions in the fields, contemporaneously favoured by the industry at large. Today, his teachings are incorporated in the farming techniques of many natural wine producers, and have inspired similar concepts and philosophies of farming. 

G

A French designation of a site, vineyard or property translating literally to great growth. The top ranking for a wine site in France, with Premier Cru coming second.
The person who grows the grapes; we know this might seem wildly redundant, but it’s an important distinction to make as not all who grow grapes make wine, and not everyone who makes wine grows grapes.
Grower Champagne refers to the domaines in Champagne that fall under the recoltant-manipultant tier; this means that the winemaker owns, farms, and vinifies only their own grapes (a wildly different approach from the major Champagne houses that buy grapes en masse from industrial grape farmers scattered throughout the AOC of Champagne).

H

The process by which grapes are removed from the vines and are readied for vinification. By and large, we work with winemakers who harvest their grapes manually rather than mechanically. 
An agricultural measurement equaling 100 ares, 10,000 square meters, or 2.47 acres.

I

The yeasts that naturally occur in a cellar or chai where fermentation or elevage takes place. It’s with these ambient yeasts that spontaneous fermentation can occur. Spontaneously fermented wines are imbued with a real singularity of place, specific to the winemaker, cellar, and region, which simply cannot be replicated with commercial, pre-packaged yeasts.
A term used to describe  a grape variety grown in its place of origin. For example, malbec is an indigenous grape variety of Cahors, France. 
A process where a not-very-natural winemaker adds commercial yeast to their vessel to kick-start primary fermentation. Alternatively, secondary fermentation (bubble stage) can be inoculated with natural products like grape musts, lees, or a bit of sweet juice.

J

K

L

Semi-self explanatory: when grapes are harvested later than normal for the region. Vignerons/nnes may choose to ripen their grapes for longer on the vine to achieve a number of results in the ultimate product, but ultimately a longer ripening period will allow for greater concentration of sugars in the grape. 
The English word for the formation of dead yeast cells that accumulate at the bottom of a vessel during fermentation or elevage, known as lie in French.
A French word that refers to a plot of land with a local name, rooted in either the topography of the region or a historical context. Also used to refer to a plot of land within a larger appellation, especially in Burgundy. 
An approach to viticulture that translates to “reasoned struggle. Farmers who practice this type of agriculture avoid agrochemicals unless they are absolutely necessary, rather than utilising them routinely.

M

A process in winemaking wherein grape juice is left on the skins of the grapes during fermentation. Maceration may be static, where the skins are simply left inside the fermentation vessel, or dynamic, with manual batonnage or punch-downs taking place periodically. A more manual maceration may result in more extraction of tannins or deeper colour in the wine. All red and orange wines undergo maceration, whereas white wines are simply pressed off their skins and ferment solely as liquid. A short maceration gives just a bit of colour, aromatics and texture, whereas a longer, more manual maceration may result in deeper colour and tannic structure. 
The process during fermentation of converting malic acid into lactic acid and carbon dioxide, which takes place after the primary alcoholic fermentation. This conversion takes place thanks to lactic acid bacteria which would, in the case of natural wine, be naturally occurring in the cellar. Malolactic fermentation can have a number of desired effects on a wine, most notably a reduction in acidity, a possible stabilisation, and often a more rounded, textural aromatic and palate structure. 
A propagation technique for vines wherein cuttings are made from individual vines from a range of sites, rather than producing multiple clones of one singular, superior vine. The variety of vines created through this method allows for greater biodiversity and, many would argue, greater harmony amongst the vineyard site and ultimately in the wine.

Referring to mechanical harvesting, pruning, destemming.

Not often seen in the world of natural wine, but a very common practice in industrial winemaking: where harvest, pruning, sorting and destemming is completed with the use of tractors or specialised machinery. Once I spoke with a person who worked in Marlborough, New Zealand in a massive, industrial winery and they said that the machines were so large and automated that there would often be small animals both dead and alive fed into the machine alongside the grapes it was meant to collect. Cute!

As we’ve discussed before and will discuss again, the climate of a region is of the utmost importance to the character of a wine. That said, while all regions have an overarching macroclimate, a number of variables present themselves such as aspect, elevation, cover crop, or surrounding topography changes — all of which may result in particular microclimates within a greater region.
An oft-disputed tasting note on the aromatic wheel. Minerality can describe the sensation of everything from salitness to steeliness, and can be a rather elusive flavour descriptor to understand. Old-school wine text may say it’s akin to licking rocks or stones, and for us that’s true, but maybe not recommended.
A term to describe a region dominated by one singular type of agriculture production. Monocultures have negative effects on the surrounding land insofar as they, unsurprisingly, stifle biodiversity and can thus erode fragile ecosystems that sustain life. 

A tasting term used to describe a retronasal wine fault that can be experienced only upon breathing out after having swallowed or spit; it’s an important distinction as it means that mouse itself cannot be smelled or tasted initially on the palate.  While there isn’t a confirmed cause of mousiness in wine, most scientific research shows that it stems from rogue yeasts like brettanomyces or lactic acid bacteria present in the wine. Exposure to oxygen or high pH in wine may also play a role in the emergence of mouse. The pH argument finds support from the fact that the sensation of mouse can often dissipate when the pH in the taster’s mouth changes by, say, eating something rich or fatty.

Many winemakers speculate that climate change may play a role in the increasing number of bottles that have this particular fault, as changing pH levels in soil, ambient yeasts, or ecosystems may ultimately impact the wine. Unlike other wine faults like volatile acidity, mouse can be mutable; wines that show mouse just after bottling may be completely fine after a period of time left alone under cork. That said, once a bottle is open and begins to show mouse, it will rarely ameliorate and can worsen in the glass. Mouse can come in a few different shapes and sizes, but common red flags would be a savoury, nutty, or dirty sensation on the palate after swallowing. 

A French word from sparkling. Slightly different from petillant as it often refers to wines produced in the traditional method or the more modern Charmat method, both of which tend to produce a finer, more whipped or airy textured bubble.

N

A nebulous term that doesn’t have one formal agreed-upon definition. For some, natural wines encapsulate any wine product that originates from organic, biodynamic, or sustainable farming. For us, natural wines should also go through spontaneous fermentation (using the indigenous yeasts in a cellar rather than commercial or inoculated) and should not go through any removing processes like reverse osmosis, fining, or filtration. For most producers, small quantities of sulfites may be used just before bottling to help stabilize the wine, but for true purists, there should be no additions in the wine whatsoever. 
A grape grower who sells their grapes; a negociant wine would indicate a wine made with purchased fruit. Buying grapes is now a fairly common and growing practice in natural wine, especially if a region has been negatively affected by climatic circumstances like frost, mildew, drought, or burn. Some notable winemakers buying negociant fruit would be Alice Bouvot of Domaine l’Octavin, Patrick Bouju & Justine Loiseau of Domaine la Boheme, and Antony Tortul of La Sorga.
New wine, or wine bottled just after fermentation is complete, usually before the winter. Popularised by the late Georges DuBoeuf who created Beaujolais Nouveau as a way to sell cheaply-made Beaujolais to export markets like the U.S. That said, as lovers of all things juicy and delicious, we’re happy to drink nouveau, but particularly so when in Rome.

O

In the simplest terms: white wine made like red wine.

White grapes are macerated on their skins (or: undergo skin contact) for any period of time to produce a dizzying array of wine styles. Orange wines can range from feeling more akin to white, with just a touch of amplified aromatics and colour, all the way to fleshy, broad, astringent wines with dense tannic backbones and extracted aromatics. 

Orange wine has recently become one of the most popular genres of wine within the natural wine spectrum, but it’s fundamentally important to understand that not all natural wine is orange and not all orange wine is natural. 

That said, given its immediacy in terms of feeling really different from most wines in the conventional sphere, it's an exciting jumping-off point for many people dipping their toe into the world of natural wine.We encourage you to dive in headfirst — the water’s just fine.

In this glossary definition we’ll cover organic wine in the world of the European Union certification specifically, and the definition provided does not necessarily cover the standards for organic certification elsewhere in the world.

With regards to EU standards within certified organic farming, the Commission oversees and sets standards for the production, distribution, and marketing of products within the organic sphere. Their aims include sustaining biodiversity within agriculture, overseeing the responsible use of energy and natural resources, and preserving any local ecological balances (Organics at a Glance).

It’s only since 2012 that the term organic wine could actually be used on a wine label; previously winemakers only had the option to label their wines as being produced using organic grapes. This change is significant insofar as it marked a change in the approach to regulation; prior to 2012, organic certification could only be applied to agricultural products (thus, grapes, rather than wine). Since 2012, the European Commission’s oversight has expanded to include regulations during the vinification process; particularly with regards to the use of sulfites — now with strict amounts permissible — and barring the use of desulfurization techniques and sorbic acid (Press Corner).

For us, “going organic can be a wonderful starting-off point in the world of natural wine, but like with most governmental organisations, has the potential to be marred by tedious bureaucracy or capitalistic intentions. Because the regulations of agriculture under the EU organic certification are fairly permissive, we tend to work with winemakers who far exceed the minimum standards required by the organisation.

P

An Italian term for a sweet, dried-grape wine. Winemaking involves allowing grapes to dry outdoors (often on straw mats) before vinifying, allowing sugars to concentrate. In France, wines made in this process are called vins de paille, in Austria: Strohwien.
A portmanteau term meaning permanent agriculture and an approach to land management antithetical to monoculture. In this approach, sustainability and diversity of ecosystems are prioritised by requiring a variety of agricultural projects which in turn promote biodiversity. 
A term for a traditional or ancestral method of sparkling wine production. In this style of sparkling wine, secondary fermentation happens in the bottle and without any dosage (added sugar). Another way of considering the fermentation process for ancestral method wines is as continual, rather than having a distinction between first and second, because in fact the wine continuously ferments between the first and second fermentation without a human intervention to delineate the two processes as separate.
A monumental historical event in wine history, the rise of phylloxera was first recorded in 1863 in France when farmers began to notice that small root-feeding aphids had infected their vineyards and were killing off their vines. The insects came from America and devastated over 2.5 million hectares of vines at its peak (Robinson & Harding, 553). The infestation devastated the wine trade of the contemporary era, and spread well outside of France alone. During the height of the devastation, countless researchers set to task to find a solution for the disease, and ultimately a team of researchers from around the world found that by grafting vitis vinifera (or European rootstock) onto American rootstock the disease could be stopped. Today, the majority of French vines will be planted in this fashion.
A term used to refer to a vineyard site, the overarching area of the vineyard site, or a section of rows within a vineyard site. Essentially, a catch-all phrase for a selection of vines, grouped together by some commonality.
A French designation of a site, vineyard or property that alludes to the increased quality of that particular site. Second to Grand Cru, where the terms use is most prevalent in Burgundy.
The early-spring farming practice of cutting unwanted branch growth from the vine, making way for a healthier flow of nutrients and energy to the fruit yet to grow later in the year. In summer, some farmers will do a green prune wherein leaves are cut back to allow for ample sunshine and ripening of the grapes.
The process of submerging the cap or the layer of grape skins, yeast, and healthy bacterias that develop at the top of a fermentation vessel. 

Q

The Georgian term for amphora, or clay vessel. In traditional Georgian winemaking, qvevris are buried underground.

R

The process of removing clarified fermenting juice from sediment and dead yeasts from the bottom of a vessel. Known as debourbage in French.
Scientifically speaking, reduction is “a chemical reaction that is in effect the complement of oxidation and one in which an element or compound gains electrons… electrons are transferred from the component being oxidised to the one being reduced” (Robinson & Harding, 598). While reduced conditions can be favourable to a wine during elevage or during its time spent under cork, reduction can also produce some less-desirable side effects such as the forming of sulfur compounds which can lead to an unpleasant aroma in wine. Common olfactory experiences of this side effect of reduction could be anything from struck-match (actually, a rather in-favour scent and one that may be forced into wine in some circumstances, like in Pouilly-Fume) to boiled cabbage, burnt rubber, rotten eggs, or just good old-fashioned poo.
The amount of sugar remaining in the bottle after fermentation has completed. All wine contains sugar, but wines that are labeled as sweet will contain a fair amount (in the case of Champagne, over 33g/L) of sugar on top of what was required to complete alcoholic fermentation. That said, the sensation of sweetness on the palate of a wine is also largely informed by the context of the wine: how much acidity, structure, and fruitiness is present determines how the brain interprets the role of sugar on the palate.
A category of wine as designated by its colour. The most common vinification technique used to create rose wine would be to only very lightly macerate red grapes so as to only extract the faintest of colour from the skins. However, rose wine can also be produced through blending red and white varietals together, as well as via the Saignee method, wherein after a short maceration on the skins, a part of the juice from a cuve of red wine is bled off and vinified separately from its skins and seeds to make a powerful, albeit very pure, style of rose. 

S

Any solid material that settles into the bottom of (in this case) a bottle, usually made up of lees or tartates (more excitingly known as wine diamonds). Because fining and filtration have become standard practice in commercial wineries, many consumers can be inexperienced with wines containing sediment, but we assure you there’s nothing wrong with leaving a little sediment in the bottle and in fact, some winemakers would argue that natural sediment can help protect the wine after it’s left the cellar.
A winemaking approach that involves a short carbonic maceration stage at the onset of fermentation, followed by normal alcoholic fermentation after crushing or pressing the grapes that have already begun their intracellular fermentation. 
A wine that hails from vines grown in a specific and designated single vineyard. While rather self-explanatory, the term points to a greater topic of terroir in wine, as winemakers with a good understanding of their land can see varying terroir from one vineyard site to the next. Often, wines are vinified as a single-vineyard so as to capture the specific essence of the land on which they grow. 
The time during which grape juice remains in contact with its skins. See Also Orange Wine.
A wine (or more commonly, sherry) made from an amalgamation of liquid from multiple vintages.
The process wherein ambient yeasts already living within a cellar organically begin the primary fermentation of a wine (rather than with inoculated/cultured/commercial yeasts).
The byproduct of a bit of residual secondary fermentation still taking place in the bottle, most commonly experienced in wines with minimal or zero added sulfites (which would otherwise arrest this process). Spritz in wine could also be the result of a little co2 leftover from the bottling process or a side effect of the fermentation process. We find a little spritz gives a little spice, a little zha zha zhu, a little je ne sais quoi to the whole thing. That said, if it’s not for you, leaving the bottle open for a few minutes or a healthy swirl around a glass should help dissipate any residual fizz.
Perhaps the most common material for vats and tanks used in winemaking; stainless steel does not impart any texture or flavour element to wine, and is thus seen as a neutral vessel.

A derivative of the naturally occurring element sulfur, used since antiquity as a cleansing and preserving agent. Today, sulfites have many uses in the winemaking process, starting with sulfite (often mixed with copper) sprays in the vineyard which winemakers may use to ward off fungal rot. In the cellar, winemakers can use sulfites before, during, or after fermentation to aid in stabilising the wine and fending off intrusive bacteria. While small quantities have been used in winemaking since ancient times, it’s the modern wine industry which has pushed its use to harrowing quantities never before seen: today, up to 150mg/l in red, 200mg/l in white, 235mg/l in sparkling, and 250mg/l are permissible additions in wine under EU law; in the new world, those numbers are even higher (Robinson & Harding, 709). While sulfites are commonly thought of as an addition to a wine, it’s important to note that sulfites are also a naturally occurring element in juice and wine, and all bottles of wine containing over 10mg/l of sulfur dioxide must label their wines as containing sulfites, regardless of if that sulfite level is free (naturally occurring) or total (both naturally occurring and added).

That contains sulfites label on wine came about in the late 20th century amid a surge of concern about allergies to the element. While there’s a small number of people who face an allergy to sulfur dioxide, it’s fairly uncommon, and for those people there’s a lot more to be concerned about than just wine: sulfites are used as a preservative on everything from fresh and dried fruit to packaged salads to minced meat. There’s limited research to suggest that sulfites cause headaches or worsen hangovers, but as with everything there is a good case for lessening the amount of chemicals consumed while already dehydrating oneself with alcohol.

There’s a number of dialogues circulating on the topic of sulfites in wine, with some natural wine purists believing that sulfites have no place in the cellar, and others who, like revered biodynamic winemaker Nicolas Joly suggests in an email sent to wine writer Alice Feiring, “...the question is (not whether to use sulfur or not) but which sulfur to use.” He’s alluding to the fact that there are several types of sulfur dioxide in existence (also outlined in that email), some which are harvested through oil drilling, mining, and lastly, from volcanic origins. He’s one of a growing number of winemakers (notably including Alain Dejean of Domaine Rousset-Peyraguey) who advocate for the singular use of volcanic-origin sulfites as a treatment for wine. 

Equally importantly, while the addition of sulfites to a wine may have a stabilising effect, many winemakers also believe there’s a detrimental impact of the addition on the flavour of their wines. In an interview with Isabelle Legeron in her book Natural Wine, winemaker Sasa Radikon notes that “between 1999 and 2002 we made two versions of the same wine: one where we added 25mg [sulfites] per liter at bottling and one without. Without fail, the wines with the added so2 were 1.5 years behind in terms of aromatic development…” (Legeron, 66). 

Generally speaking, natural wine presents an idea more than it does a defined set of standards, and certainly doesn’t necessarily mean no added sulfites. For example, at the annual natural wine fair Raw Wine, participating winemakers can use up to 30mg/L sulfites in their wines. Here at Noble Fine Liquor, we tend to work with people who use less than 30mg/L as well, but we’re not dogmatic about that number. We have wines that have a decent pinch before bottling, and we stock a fair amount of zero-zero wines (nothing added, nothing taken away). We have a particular interest in winemakers who produce exceptionally clean, precise wines without any additions; for us, it’s symbolic of a winemaker who has a complete understanding of their vines, fruit, and cellar. 

T

Often referred to as a wine’s backbone, tannins provide the structure and the dry sensation experienced in many red or orange wines. Tannins can range in style from the lithe and delicate to the crunchy and cheek-sucking. Tannins come from the skins and stems of grapes, and the level of tannins in a wine relates to the time the juice spent macerating on its skins before pressing.
A singularly French term to denote one of the most important, most fundamental topics in the understanding of wine. Terroir refers to the environment in which a vine grows: that includes the soil, of course, but also the various micro- and macro-climates of the topographical area. Terroir underpins the idea that geography, soil, subsoils, and bedrock influence the overall taste of a wine. 
Known as ouillage in French, topping up a barrel of wine with more wine is common practice so as to replace wine lost through evaporation and to prevent oxidation. The distinction is really only important in regions like Jura, where the opposite can be true, as is such with voile or flor wines, which are by nature, oxidative styles.

U

Any wine that has not gone through the process of filtration to remove residual sediment from fermentation or elevage. See Also Sediment / Bottle DepositFining & Filtrationor Cloudy Wine.

V

The fining or filtration of a wine using animal byproducts like gelatine, casein, albumen or isinglass would be what generally disqualified a wine from gaining a vegan certified sticker on the label, but it’s not necessarily true that any unfiltered/fined wine is therefore vegan. But understanding what constitutes a vegan wine isn’t exactly a black or white issue that can be clarified with a sticker.

This rings particularly true when delving into the world of biodynamic wine, the agriculture which inevitably utilises animals as part of a sustainable and rounded ecosystem: sheep may graze in the vineyards, horses may plough the vineyards, and in extreme cases cow’s horns may be buried in the vineyard in winter, packed with manure, and dug up and scattered about in spring to stimulate the microbial activity of the soil. And even in organic farming, some degree of insect death will take place during the plant’s life, not to mention the inevitable use of manure as a natural fertiliser. 

That said, you’re not necessarily safe going in the opposite direction of mass-produced, commercial wines, for reasons I mention in my note on mechanisation: industrial harvesting of any agricultural product almost inevitably results in unnatural animal death. But these are the wineries far more likely to acquire a certified vegan label on their products.

It’s all to reiterate a theory first introduced to me by the good folks at Les Caves de Pyrene in their blog post What’s the Deal with Vegan Wines which posits that perhaps there is no such thing as vegan alcohol whatsoever. We tend to assert that using manure or animal husbandry in a naturally-farmed vineyard positively benefits a greater naturalist cause that we should and can all agree upon. In the end, central to the concept of natural wine is a deep respect for nature and those who champion it. From there, we leave the choice with you. 

Perhaps our favourite of the untranslatable terms in wine.

A vigneron/nne (here amended to cover the masculine as well as feminine spellings, as is necessary in the deeply binary, pronoun-based Romantic languages) translates in English to “winemaker,” but the term in French also covers the work that takes place in the vineyard (vignes). So in fact, a vigneron/nne is much more than a winemaker, but is more importantly someone that works in the vines. Because we tend to believe, like so many others, that wine begins in the vineyard, we feel this term suits the trade well.

An organisation of winemakers who produce wines Sans Aucun Intrant Ni Sulfite Ajouté' which essentially translates as 'without a single addition or added sulfites. Notable members of this small, punk-ish organisation are Gilles & Catherine Verge, Francois Blanchard, Jerome Saurigny, and Jean-Marc Dreyer. 
A mile marker in a greater conversation about a vineyard’s quality, vine age will affect the subsequent wine being produced through its ability to draw nutrients from the soil and subsoil of the vineyard site. While there is no agreed upon age which constitutes “old vines” or “young vines” it is generally accepted that 30+ year old vines may constitute old vines, but we’d generally only use this term when we’re discussing vines of 50+ years old.
The term to denote the year the grapes of a particular wine were harvested.
A technical fault in wine, expressed in grams per litre. In France, a commission oversees regulation of levels of volatile acidity permitted in wine: 0.9g per litre cannot be exceeded for wines of appellation designation. Volatile acidity can, in its worst iterations, taste of nail polish remover. In its best iterations, it can provide needed balance to a wine: sometimes, a little flash of racy acidity is what takes a wine from rather dull to sensational, lip-puckering, tart and delicious. Somewhere in between, it’s the flavour profile that makes people often liken a wine to cider or kombucha. 

W

The antithetical process to destemmed fermentation; in this process grapes are left on their bunches with their stems to ferment. While an anaerobic environment can be created (encouraging intra-cellular fermentation) in this process, it is not necessarily the same exact process as carbonic maceration. 

Whole-bunch fermentations can be a preferred method of vinification for winemakers hoping to increase aromatics, create texture through the addition of stem tannins (which are often more delicate than say, oak tannins) or remove some colour from the wine (as the stems absorb colour from the fermenting juice). 

X

Y

A term to define the quantity of grapes harvested at the end of a growing season. In some cases, smaller yields may be preferred as it can indicate increased quality and concentration of grapes. Of course, this is antithetical to commercial wine production, where quantity will be prioritised over quality.

Z

Nothing added, nothing taken away. The “om” of the natural wine world.
Say it with me now.

Sources / References

Robinson, Jancis, and Julia Harding. The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford Companions). 4th ed., Oxford University Press, 2015. 

Jean-Paul. “Domaine Mada.” Diversey Wine, 12 Sept. 2020, www.diverseywine.com/blog/2020/08/21/domaine-mada.

“Dosage, Or.” Champagne.Fr, Dosage, or Liqueur d’Expedition, www.champagne.fr/en/from-vine-to-wine/wine-making/dosage. Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.

“This Is Demeter | Demeter International.” Demeter.Net, Demeter, www.demeter.net/what-is-demeter/this-is-demeter. Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.

Feiring, Alice. “A Letter from Nicolas Joly on Sulfur | The Feiring Line.” The Feiring Line, The Feiring Line, 10 July 2012, thefeiringline.com/a-letter-from-nicolas-joly-on-sulfur.

Celce, Bertrand. “Christophe Foucher (Loire).” Wine Tasting, Vineyards, in France, Wine Terroirs, 6 June 2019, www.wineterroirs.com/2019/06/la_lunotte_christophe_foucher.html.

“What’s the Deal With Vegan Wines.” Les Caves de Pyrene Blog, Les Caves de Pyrene, blog.lescaves.co.uk/2019/06/25/whats-the-deal-with-vegan-wines. Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.

Laroche, Guillaume, and Cédric Blatrie. Raisin: 100 Grand Vins Naturels d’Émotion. Editions Reverse, 2019.