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Wine basics part III

This is the last of a three part series on basic wine terms, many of which I will be using in the coming year. These wine terms are used throughout the English-speaking wine world and reflect the history and culture of wine appreciation. These terms will also allow you to get through the various wine mags and winery jargon used in the business today. With the incredible growth of wine production, wine consumption and wine appreciation, these terms will enhance your understanding of this unfolding phenomena. Okay, here we go.

Hot — This is a very important and often-used term to describe a wine that is out of balance. The heat that the word "hot" alludes to comes from excess alcohol in the wine.

Alcohol should never be the driving force in a glass of wine. High alcohol, which comes in a good glass (for example) of Porto, is there in good balance with the fruit and viscosity of the juice. If a sweet or dry wine is driven by the alcohol, the wine is considered "hot."

This heat is first perceived by the nose and can be so overwhelming as to obscure the rest of the sensations of the wine. This "blanket" of heat can also make the wine one-dimensional and wines of a delicate nature such as Gewerztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir can suffer greatly by just small amounts of higher-than-normal alcohol in the wine.

Hot wines are also problematic with cuisine. The high levels of alcohol can put off delicate offerings as well as deaden the perceptions on the palate. I remember some time ago going to a restaurant, ordering a Chardonnay on the list and watching the trout on the plate disappear in fumes of alcohol.

Chardonnay in the white wine category is usually the culprit for high alcohol (as well as being over-oaked) and Zinfandel in the red category is usually the culprit for very excessive alcohol. If a wine sits over 14 percent alcohol and is not a fortified wine — a wine intended to be high in alcohol — beware! Every 1/10 of a point over 14 percent alcohol can be a problem.

  • Insipid — Wines that are insipid are wines with no weight on the palate, no grip to savor aftertastes, a flat bouquet and an overpowering reluctance to sip another glass! These wines are lackluster on every sensation point and are considered poor winemaking efforts. Wines that lack acid — which is the thirst-quenching variable of wine — low-alcohol or wines where the grapes might have been picked without sufficient sugars can become insipid wines.
  • Silk bomb — This is almost always associated with red wine production. Silky wines are wines with polish, wines that have that extra finesse and velveteen quality to them. Silkiness is perceived on the palate at the finish, which seems to go on forever. Silk bomb wines can be just about any red wine, but the true form of silk arrives in the aftertastes.
  • Hard — A hard wine is a wine that is angular and rough on the palate. These are one-dimensional wines that lack nuance and seem to be immature and lacking in refined winemaking. Sometimes we see hard wines from newly minted winemakers without experience hurriedly wanting their wines to hit the market.

Hard wines sometimes age for long periods of time, as they can be full of tannins from either the pressing of skins (peels) or from being over-oaked. Young red Bordeaux are sometimes very hard wines and are purposely destined (designed) for the cellar, with the intent to be aged for many, many years. There are many red wines from Walla Walla, Wash., as well as from California that are also produced in this manner — on purpose, for the cellar.

Well, there are a few choice terms for you! See you next week!