Bottoms Up: Wine terms you should know

Here are some wine terms you may encounter on labels or in your wine tasting.

Old Vines Occasionally a wine label will state that the wine within is made from old vines. Sometimes it’s right in the wine’s name like Old Vine Zinfandel. What up with that? After grape vines reach a certain age they start to produce less fruit, but the quality of that fruit is better. Most of the time they are pulled up and new ones planted, because they produce so little, and the additional work required to maintain them just doesn’t make it worthwhile. Some producers, however, choose to keep these vines and continue to make wine from them. Since the quality of fruit is better, so is the wine. But guess what? The limited production and excess work involved is passed on to the consumer, so the cost of the wine ends up higher.

Barrel or Tank Samples I’m sure you’ve heard of barrel or tank samples of wine. These are wines that are still in their respective fermentation and/or aging containers. In other words, they are unfinished wines where certain processes are still going on. The components are not yet harmonious, oak appears rough, and even tannins in reds can be devastatingly aggressive. Most folks don’t get to taste these as they’re very difficult to access. Only the best palates, like winemakers themselves – because it’s their job – can make something of these wines. The only other group that often tastes wines in this format is journalists. With our tasting experience, we can at times, project what the finished wine will be like and pass it on to the consumer.

Single Vineyard Wines Single vineyard wines are very special. This means the fruit comes from one particular plot of land, so there is no blending together of fruit from several properties. As a result, they possess more character. Why? Wines blended from fruit from several vineyards mesh together characteristics of many locations and generally are little more homogenous. A single vineyard wine is very unique as it echoes only a specific site, soil composition and environment. They tend to be more diverse in character from year to year, as blending from several sources can smooth out rough edges. Easy to recognize as the vineyard name, i.e. Rockhill Vineyard, appears on the label, they are the ultimate expression of a particular terroir.

The term ‘Superior’ Ever notice the term ‘superiore’ on some Italian wines or ‘superieur’ on occasional French bottlings, and wondered what they meant? Here’s the scoop. Technically, in both countries, this means the wine carrying this term contains 1% more alcohol than the basic, required minimum as allowed by a particular appellation of a certain region. It has also come to symbolize the use of slightly better fruit, perhaps from older vines, or a wine that has been aged a little longer. Overall, it means the wine in question is slightly higher in quality and a bit more meticulous in its production. Not a huge difference, but enough to render the wine’s selling price a few cents more.

Ripasso Method The Veneto region of northeastern Italy is a magical place. Home to such red, vinous delights as Valpolicella and Amarone. It is also the birthplace of a special technique of winemaking called Ripasso. With it a simple Valpolicella is refermented on the dead yeast of Amarone. The resulting wine takes on some Amarone character, is more concentrated and alcoholic. Back in 1964, the well-known producer Masi first created the process in a wine called Campofiorin, and actually registered the concept. Today, this process is widely used and many wineries create their own versions. If you’ve not tried a wine made in the Ripasso method, give it a go. You’ll love it. It’s Valpolicella with attitude.

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