You only need a small but devastating vocabulary of ‘wine speak’ to put the most pretentious toff back in their box. Here are 10 terms (and what they actually mean) which will have you sounding like a regular Robert Parker
1. Terroir (French) – (pronounced tehr-rwar) describes the influences that the soil, climate, slope and any other aspect of the environment the grapes are grown in have on the flavours in the wine. Much of the European appellation (or regional) controls and laws are based around this philosophy. You have to love this one, as there is no exact English translation, so you can legitimately pepper your conversation with French. A great way to start an argument with a French-ophile is to suggest terroir has nothing to do with wine and vise versa with an Aussie winemaker. The ultimate “toff” word.
2. Malolactic Fermentation – sometimes called “Secondary Fermentation” is the conversion of malic acid which is naturally occurring in new wines into lactic acid and carbon dioxide making the wine less acidic.
As a basic rule, malolactic fermentation (MLF/Malo) is desirable in highly acidic red wines from cooler climates and some Chardonnays; most other whites do not undergo MLF. If you open a bottle of wine and it’s slightly fizzy (and it’s not a sparkling wine) it is likely that malolactic fermentation may have started in the bottle this is undesirable and you can tell the snooty sommelier that you “require another botte, thank you”
3. Volatile acidity – is the total concentration of volatile acids in wine including tartaric acid, (the acid in apples) acetic acid (the acid in vinegar) and malic acid (common in cherries and tomatoes)
This is the perfect term to drop if the wine tastes like vinegar “ As in “This wine is excessively volatile.”..sniff.
4. Cigar Box Character– a cedary aroma, which if we weren’t being total snobs, which could be describe as tobacco. Often used to describe old cabernet sauvignon wines.
Natalie MaClean summed the use of this term up perfectly in her article “Wine Snob, Pas Moi?”
Simply throw off a few generic descriptors, such as “audacious” or “saucy,” and then move into the esoteric: “Under an initial layer of antique cigar box, I’m sensing ephemeral nuances of spring daisies and an arc of cassis and tar notes.”
5. Extraction – the extraction of desirable colour, tannins and flavour compounds from grape skins and seeds, particularly for red wines Over extracted or phenolic wines have the unpleasant astringent bitter character you get if you chew on the skins and seeds of grapes.
6. Barnyard/ forest floor, undergrowth/ feral – Musty/ earthy/ herbal/ savoury/ flavours associated with decaying leaves and grass sometimes used in conjunction with ambiguous terms like meaty, sweaty or funky. Great to drop when drinking expensive Pinot, “It has an underlying gamey, feral complexity”
7. Brettanomyces Pronounced brett-ANO-mice-SEES but usually just called “Brett”… a nasty yeast that makes your wine smell like a mouse or alternatively a bandaid. This is a fault and can indicate “less than perfect hygiene” in the winery.
8. Unbalanced – one or more elements of a wine looks more obvious than the other elements eg too much oak, acid, alcohol etc. Not a term that should be used when describing sommeliers, particularly to their faces
9. Mousse – The head on a sparkling wine. Heaven forbid you ever suffer the indignity of drinking a carbonated wine you’ll deeply miss the characteristic mouse of finer sparkling wines. Usually used in conjunction with the term bead which describes the size and texture of the bubbles. A fine French Champagne may be described as having “A long lingering mouse and fine bead”
10. Sommelier – Ancient French for “packhorse” yes really. A term generally used by unqualified wine waiters to distinguish themselves from unqualified wine toffs