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Sampling of words that describe wine

Wine DictionaryButtery, tannic, structured, oaky — for the uninitiated, wine lingo can be confusing. It’s almost like listening to a foreign language, where many of the words sound the same, but have different meanings.

These words are not meant to be confusing, but an attempt at establishing a language for describing wine. The terms, while not official, are common descriptors used to discuss the vast array of wine styles.

Many of these terms appear regularly in Uncorked, but a couple may be new to some readers.

Crisp: This term is used to describe a wine having a high amount of acidity. It’s the same sharp, puckery sensation of biting into a Granny Smith apple.

Flabby: The opposite of crisp, this refers to a wine with too little acidity. It is usually caused by either picking grapes too late or their exposure to excessive heat during ripening. Both factors allow the grape acids to decompose. The wine will have a flat, uninteresting taste.

Finish: A wine’s finish is a term for the after taste. Young, simple wines will generally have a “short” finish and more complex wines will leave you tasting flavors long after your initial sip.

Big: If a wine is high in alcohol it is described as being big and full-bodied.

Well-balanced: A wine is well-balanced when its alcohol strength, acidity, sugar and tannin complement each other so no single element is obtrusive or overpowering.

Green: This term is used when a wine is made from grapes not reaching full ripeness. The wine will taste tart and sometimes have harsh flavors and textures.

Hard/harsh: A wine with too much tannin and not enough fruit.

Closed: When opening youthful wines intended for aging, the aromas and taste are sometimes almost void. This void or “closed” state is not considered a fault, rather a stage in a wine’s aging process. Many times aerating the wine brings out the aromas.

Hot: This is used to describe a wine too high in alcohol. It causes a prickly or burning sensation on your palate. It’s common in fortified wines but makes most dry table wines fall out of balance.

2 California wineries grow organically

Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

September marks the celebration of Organic Harvest Month, a widespread promotion of organic food and agriculture started by the Organic Trade Association 18 years ago. However, California’s Mendocino County wine region committed to organic production long before it was the trend to go “green.”

These farmers, grape growers and winemakers continue to lead the way in the sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming movements. (Biodynamic farming considers the farm a living organism.)

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Ann Thrupp, manager of sustainability and organic development at Fetzer Vineyards, and Martha Barra, owner of Barra of Mendocino. Both affirmed the path and goal of a community committed to wise use of the earth’s resources, which is the goal of the green movement.

Fetzer Vineyards has long been committed to sustainable agricultural practices, Thrupp says. In the 1980s, the Fetzer family established organic fruit and vegetable gardens at the vineyards, eventually transferring their organic farming know-how to the grapes, she says.

In the philosophy of “sharing the knowledge,” in the last 10 years they have aggressively collaborated with other vineyards to expand organic growing practices in the region.

The company’s 10,000-square-foot administration building is made exclusively of recycled materials and it is one of California’s first wineries to use 100 percent “green” energy for all winery operations. With the push in lightweight packaging and companywide waste reduction, Fetzer continues to be a respected role model for the wine industries ecologyfriendly future.

Barra’s life motto — “I would rather burn out than rust out” — is a drive overflowing from the way she lives her life into Barra of Mendocino’s dedication to promoting sustainable practices. The winery has been growing organic for more than 50 years, but for “the first 30 we didn’t know it,” she says.

Pushing past farming practices, last year the winery, in partnership with Ukiah Natural Foods, launched ReCork (recork.org), a recycling program for wine corks. In the already eco-friendly community, recycling was not across-the-board because even though the bottles were recycled and the grapes were organic, the corks were ending up in landfills. The program established drop-off locations for corks. They are then ground up and used by Sole, a footwear manufacturer.


  • 2008 Fetzer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $10 retail)
  • 2008 Fetzer Vineyards Pinot Noir, California (about $10 retail)

Wines turn ‘green’ – organically speaking

Everybody’s going “green” these days, from cosmetics to construction materials, and the wine world is no exception.

It was not uncommon 10 years ago to see the vineyard shed filled with an array of toxic chemicals used to prevent problems in vine growing — mildew, weeds, disease and pesky insects. But today many growers are addressing concerns in farming practices and the environment while taking a back-to-basics approach.

This renewed commitment to the earth isn’t a challenge to those who believe quality, clean fruit makes the best wine.

Fred Cline and Bob Cannard, co-founders of Green String Farm, believe sustainability in farming is the healthy, local and socially responsible way to be “green.”

On a recent trip to California’s Sonoma Valley I had the opportunity to talk with Cline and Cannard about their approach.

Cline is the owner of Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Cannard is a smallscale farmer and organic farming teacher. He is also the sole purveyor for produce for Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. Since 2000, they have been growing the Green String way — naturally and sustainably — while avoiding chemical pesticides, fertilizers and fungicides.

“The past has been agriculture for people and none for nature,” Cannard says of the way grapes have been farmed. “Our adversity with nature needs to be set aside.

“Bugs in a vineyard are not pests; they simply show us the vines are healthy.”

He is not just offering advice to the industry. He and Cline are living and breathing their philosophy each day in their growing practices.

Their main goal is retaining healthy vines while planting organic cover crops, using “compost tea” irrigation (molasses, fish emulsion and other nutrients), sheep grazing for weed control and insect predators to act as pesticides.

So far, few farmers have joined this approach, but Green String may be the future’s benchmark model of green growing. And as more consumers seek truly organically grown food, the wine industry will continue to evolve.


  • 2007 Cline Pinot Grigio, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2006 Cline Sonoma Zinfandel, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2007 Cline Cashmere, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2007 Cline Marsanne Roussane, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2007 Cline Ancient Vines Carignane, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2006 Cline Cool Climate Syrah, California (about $20 retail)