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Wine Jargon: Why Does Cool Climate Matter?

Cool climate is the kind of phrase that spills from the mouths of sommeliers, winemakers, sales reps, and export managers often enough that it may risk falling from the class of 'semi-technical term' to the level of 'brandspeak'. Hopefully, this won't be the case, because the phrase describes an important effect of a wine's place of origin, and some of us are sort of in love with that effect, and don't want to see the words lose their sheen. For now, the phrase still moves us. More

Wine Jargon: What Does Decanting Do To Wine?

I was just over that threshold of legal drinking age the first time I bought a bottle of wine in a restaurant. The waiter asked if I would like it decanted, and I froze, totally unsure of what criteria should drive this decision. I stared, agape, then glanced at my date. She didn't know, either. "No, no, that's okay," I said, a decline-from-panic, and the waiter gave a shrug that read Hey, you're the boss, hoss. More

Wine Jargon: Why Are Some Wines Spicy?

Not long ago, at a wine tasting, my friend John said to me, "If I owned two vineyards, I'd name one Spicy, and the other Smooth. I'd make ten million dollars." Clearly, John has a mind for marketing. But it turns out there's a chemical explanation for some wines tasting spicy. More

Wine Jargon: What is Residual Sugar?

Residual Sugar, or RS for short, refers to any natural grape sugars that are leftover after fermentation ceases (whether on purpose or not). You should think of RS as having a balancing relationship with a wine's acidity. They are on opposite sides of the seesaw, so if the wine has sugar you will probably want acidity, too—otherwise the wine will feel cloying. On the other hand, certain very high-acid wines, like Vouvray or Riesling, can be far more tasty with a few extra grams of RS. More

Wine Jargon: What is Minerality?

"Lick it," he told me, "Lick the rock." I had heard of this kind of thing before, but still, I figured that Thibeault Liger-Belair, winemaker and inheritor of crazy-good chunks of prime Burgundy vineyard land, must have been at least halfway kidding. He wasn't. He demonstrated, turning an oblong hunk of mottled limestone in his hand and then dragging it lengthwise down the center of his unfurled tongue. More

Wine Jargon: What is pH?

Lately, I've been trying really hard not to do obnoxious things, like quote a wine's pH at the table. If I do, it will be something insane, like 2.8 or 2.7 (!), or whatever. Otherwise, I'm trying to keep it to myself. You don't care about pH, do you? Or do you? More

Wine Jargon: What's The Deal With Oak?

Most commonly, when we use the word oak, we mean to describe the flavor that new (or nearly new) barrels bestow upon wine that has spent time inside them. This flavor can vary, but usually anything that smells like coconut, vanilla, cedar, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, or, well, the split wood of oak trees, is a dead giveaway for aging in new (or newish) oak barrels. Uncertain? Go pour yourself a glass of bourbon, and smell that. There's what oh-so-much oak smells like. Whole splintery planks of it. More

Wine Jargon: What Is Tannin?

Red wine is not the only place you encounter the stuff. Black tea has tannin in spades (especially when oversteeped), as does the skin of a peanut. The skins of common apple varieties are always a bit tannic, but the tannin of crabapples and traditional cider apples is usually so intense (especially with their soaring levels of acidity) that it makes them pretty much inedible. More

Wine Jargon: What Is Acidity?

Last night, when I used this word at your table, I loaded it with such obvious ardor that you must have wondered if acidity wasn't some weird byword for quality, that acidity=good. And the equation might hold, at least for many sommeliers. Acid may be for us what capsaicin is for judges of chili cook-offs. More

Wine Jargon: What Does Decanting Do To Wine?

I'll let the Rude Gus troll-tone slide this time, and say a little more about technique, since you brought it up. In decanting for sediment, the goal is to leave sediment in the bottle, so yes, the sharper shoulders of a Bordeaux-shaped bottle can be helpful, but, unless you are pouring it all out at once, you will redistribute sediment throughout the wine as soon as you turn the bottle back up (especially if it is a fairly old wine with muddy sediment). So, a decanter lets you trap sediment in the bottle and then pour around as you like. Ask any Ancient Roman, he'll tell you all about it.

As far as aeration goes, like I said, it seems to be a matter of taste. I like to serve wine at various levels of aeration, depending on the wine and the dish it is pairing with. There is also an aesthetic/presentation component here, and while I appreciate Myhrvold's blender idea, I'm not sure running the Vita-Prep on the floor with somebody's Brunello bouncing around inside would contribute very much to the dining experience. Also, I firmly believe that the blender trick and Vinturis make the wine far too homogenous, aerating it all all once, instead of in layers, which for me leads to a duller, more uniform wine without much vitality.

Wine Jargon: What Is Tannin?

Yep CandiRisk, tannin acts as a kind of natural preservative, as does acidity and alcohol (I probably should have included that one in my short-list, also). This doesn't mean that you need a lot of all three for a wine to age. For instance, a sweet German Riesling might have tons of acidity, not a lot of alcohol, and pretty much no tannin, but it can age for decades on just the preservative ability of the acid alone (it will probably get a little help from the residual sugar, too). On the other hand, a red wine from Bordeaux will have lower acidity than the Riesling, but it will have plenty of tannin and more alcohol. This recipe allows for decades of aging, too.

And yes you are correct about tannins fading over time. In the solution of the wine they combine with each other to form increasingly complex shapes. It seems that this makes them taste softer, less astringent. As they combine they eventually get too heavy to stay in solution, so they also precipitate out and join the ranks of sediment. The wine will get softer still.

We shouldn't, however, ignore the issue of balance. For the wine to age gracefully (i.e. gain complexity and stay beautiful) the wine needs to have a good balance between its key components, all of which are changing, softening, and basically degrading in solution. In a balanced wine, the acid, fruit, tannin, etc. will all work to support each other and keep the wine developing in an interesting way. If the wine isn't balanced--for instance, if there is a ton of tannin but not much fruit or acidity--then the weaker spots will fall apart earlier than the strong parts, and so we will end up with a still-tannic wine with no fruit or refreshing acidity, which is no fun at all.

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