Wine events and tastings are on the go again in a semi-vaccinated world, and attendees of said vinous occasions might be finding themselves a bit rusty. Not only in the department of once again sipping, swirling and spitting wine in the company of other people instead of lying locked-down and comatose on the sofa drinking Cap Classique through a straw. But, also in engaging with other like-minded wine folks, as well as the winemaker or marketer presenting the tasting to you and 30 of the closest people you don’t know.
It might just be necessary, thus, to brush-up on some wine-speak. For there is nothing like a bit of informed-sounding vinous vernacular and trendy wine terminology to get you recognised as a veritable wine buff. For this you will receive sleek gazes from the ladies and sneers of envy from their partners. Throw in some of these words during the tasting, preferably in question or comment to the presenter of said occasion, and you will be seen as the clever, coolest wine buff around.
- Lees-work: Lees are expired yeast cells in the winemaking process, and lying in a mass at the bottom of a tank of fermented Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc the sludge resembles dinosaur snot or vegan vomit. But fear not. When stirred through the wine, these miniscule particles of dead yeast impart brooding complexity and creamy palate-weight to the wine. So, when tasting white wines, show your stuff by casually requesting information on how long the wine was exposed to the lees, and by which process the lees was managed in getting it through the wine. For this, you can use terms such as “lees-management” or “lees-contact”, but the casually masculine “lees-work” is a stunner.
- Autolysis: Now that one has enquired as to how the lees was worked through the wine, you can go one-step up, and comment on or query the process of “autolysis”. Autolysis is defined as: A chemical reaction between the wine and the lees by which enzymes break down the dead yeast cells, producing amino acids and releasing proteins and carbohydrates into the wine. Of course, you nore the attendees of this wine-tasting event has a clue what this means. Except for, possibly, the winemaker who has paid attention in the oenology class. However, having you murmur “autolysis” and – even better – the winemaker acknowledging that the word actually exists in winemaking, you are heading towards the status of the informed star of the tasting.
- Malolactic fermentation: This is some kind of weird secondary fermentation wines go through which converts sharper malic acid (the same acid found in green apples) into softer lactic acid (the same acid found in milk). Apparently, this process reduces acidity and the wines become softer, rounder and more complex. Whatever. It is just another stunningly impressive piece of wine-speak to throw about – casually as if this is the parlance of all wine-folk and an ever-so-obvious part of the conversation. A bit of chumminess with the winemaker can be emphasised by referring to “malo” instead of the whole malolactic thing. Like, “was malo done in barrel or tank”? It does not matter or no-one cares, but the impressions others will have of your inside knowledge is what counts.
- Residual sugar: Very straightforward, the grams of sugar per liter in the finished wine, and another of those aspects no-one really cares about at a wine-tasting. But by raising the question, the questioner buys some serious wine street-cred. Again, it is important not to imply that your concern and curiosity in residual sugar derived out of book or other reading. Therefore, it is far better to just refer to “R..S”. Like, “the R…S in this Riesling is surely higher than what I am tasting? Must be the high acid.” Hip, on form, killing it. You are an animal of the wine grape. Keep going.
- pH: Despite it appearing on every tasting note and in every article written by a smart-ass wine-writer, general knowledge of what pH actually is, remains scarce. For the record, this be a chemical measurement of acidity or alkalinity; the higher the pH, the weaker the acid. Low pH wines taste tart and crisp; higher pH wines are more susceptible to bacterial growth. A range of 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while 3.3 to 3.6 is best for reds. But again, for general wine lovers and wine media, pH is of little use because few know the relevant effect it has on the final product. However, during a tasting, surrounded by sniffers, tasters and note-takers, you will once again take command of things by enquiring as to the pH levels of the wine. For extra ego-stroking, one can also ask about the pH of the soils in which the vineyards that have provided the relevant wine, are rooted. Your roots being a wine master of the universe.
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