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Backbone: Describes the structure of a wine, referring to balanced acidity, alcohol and, in red wines, tannin. Wines lacking structure are thin or flabby.
Backward: Describes a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage.
Balance: A wine is balanced when its elements are harmonious and no single element dominates. The "hard" components—acidity and tannins—balance the "soft" components—sweetness, fruit and alcohol.
Barrel Aged: Denotes a wine that has spent a period of time in barrels before bottling. This affects wine in numerous ways—the flavors in newly blended wines knit together, tannins in red wines soften and white wines become richer and more full-bodied. Aging in new oak barrels (barrels used for the first few times) can add aromas and flavors of vanilla, spice and smoke.
Barrel Fermented: Denotes wine that has been fermented in small casks (usually 55-gallon oak barrels) instead of larger tanks. Advocates believe that barrel fermentation contributes greater harmony between the oak and the wine, increases body and adds complexity, texture and flavor to certain wine types. Its liabilities are that more labor is required and greater risks are involved. It is mainly used for whites.
Barrel Making: After the wood for a barrel is cut and dried, the cooper heats the wood while shaping it into a barrel. Steam, natural gas, boiling water, the burning of oak chips or some combination of these is used in the three-part heating process. The first application of heat (the warming stage) is called chauffage, the bending of the wooden staves into a barrel shape is called cintrage and, finally, the toasting of the wood for flavor is called bousinage.
Baumé: A measurement of the dissolved solids in grape juice that indicates the grapes’ sugar level and ripeness and therefore the potential alcohol in the wine. Commonly used by winemakers in France and Australia. Other sugar measurement scales include Oechsle and Brix.
Bead: The stream of tiny bubbles found in sparkling wines; a small, persistent bead is an indicator of quality.
Beans: Small bean-shaped pieces of wood added to wine during winemaking to impart oak flavors. Less expensive than oak barrels, beans are used primarily in inexpensive wines. They are rounder in shape and thought to add fewer harsh flavors than oak chips.
Beerenauslese (BA): German classification based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. Beerenauslesen are made from individually selected grapes that are very ripe. Usually these grapes have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, further concentrating their high sugars. These wines are rare and costly.
Bentonite: A clay compound used in the fining process of white wines. The clay binds with solids that might otherwise cause a white wine to become cloudy, removing them from the wine, although some molecules that would contribute to the wine's flavor profile are also removed in the process.
Berry: This term has two meanings. An individual grape is called a berry by grapegrowers. It also describes the set of fruit flavors found in many wines, which includes strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, etc.
Bin Number: A term sometimes used to designate special wines, but often applied to ordinary wines to identify a separate lot or brand.
Bite: A marked degree of acidity or tannins. An acid grip on the finish should be more like a zestful tang, and is in general prized only in richer, fuller-bodied wines.
Bitter: Describes one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet). Some grapes—notably Gewürztraminer and Muscat—often have a noticeable bitter edge to their flavors. Bitterness can also be imparted by the use of underripe or green stems during the fermentation and aging processes. If the bitter quality dominates the wine's flavor or aftertaste, it is considered a fault. In sweet wines a trace of bitterness may complement the flavors. In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness doesn't always dissipate with age. Normally, a fine, mature wine should not be bitter on the palate.
Black Grapes: Another term for red grapes. Also, in medieval times, used specifically in reference to Malbec in Bordeaux and Cahors in France.
Blanc de Noirs: "White from blacks," meaning a white wine made of red or black grapes, where the juice is squeezed from the grapes and fermented without skin contact. The wines can have a pale pink hue. This term is used for Champagne that is made entirely from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier instead of a mix of both red and white grape varieties.
Blending: Wines are blended for many reasons. To make a more harmonious or complex wine, wines with complementary attributes may be blended. For example, a wine with low acidity may be blended with a high-acid wine or a wine with earthy flavors may be blended with a fruity wine. To create a uniform wine from many small batches is another goal, since grapes from different vineyards, stages of the harvest and pressings are frequently vinified separately and the small batches differ slightly. Red Bordeaux offers a prime example; five different grapes may be used, each contributing its own nuances to the blend.
Blunt: Strong in flavor and often alcoholic, but lacking in aromatic interest and development on the palate.
Blush: Also known as rosé, this term describes a pink or salmon-colored wine made from red grapes. The wine may be dry or sweet.
Body: The impression of weight, fullness or thickness on the palate; usually the result of a combination of alcohol, sugar, dissolved solids (including sugars, phenolics, minerals and acids) and, to a lesser extent, glycerin. Common descriptors include light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied. For example, skim milk could be considered "light-bodied," whole milk "medium-bodied" and cream "full-bodied." Although a fuller-bodied wine makes a bigger impression in the mouth, it is not necessarily higher in quality than a lighter-bodied wine.
Botrytis Cinerea: Also known as "noble rot," it is a beneficial mold that grows on ripe wine grapes in the vineyard under specific climatic conditions. The mold dehydrates the grapes, leaving them shriveled and raisinlike and concentrates the sugars and flavors. Wines made from these berries have a rich, complex, honeyed character and are often high in residual sugar. Botrytis contributes the unique, concentrated flavors in such wines as BA and TBA Rieslings from Germany, Sauternes from Bordeaux, Aszú from Hungary’s Tokay district and an assortment of late-harvest wines from other regions.
Bottle Aging: A period of time spent in bottle prior to release and/or consumption; a small percentage of wines gain complexity and bouquet during extended bottle aging. The vast majority of wines produced are meant to be consumed shortly after release.
Bottle Shapes: Although a standard wine bottle holds 750 milliliters, or 25.4 ounces, wine bottles vary in shape, depending on regional, cultural and marketing considerations. The basic shapes identify wines by type in most parts of the world. Bordeaux-style wines (red wines made of blends relying on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc; whites made of Sauvignon Blanc and/or Sémillon) are put in Bordeaux-style bottles with straight sides and high shoulders. Burgundy’s traditional varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) go into slope-shouldered Burgundy-style bottles. Aromatic wines (such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer) usually go into tall, narrow German-style bottles and sparkling wines go into thick, heavy Champagne bottles with deep punts designed to withstand the gas pressure inside.
Bottle Shock: A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile, older wines) are shaken in travel; a few days of rest is the cure.
Bottle Sickness: A temporary condition characterized by muted or disjointed fruit flavors. It often occurs immediately after bottling or when wines (usually fragile, older wines) are shaken in travel. A few days of rest is the cure.
Bottled By: Means the wine could have been purchased ready-made and simply bottled by the brand owner, or made under contract by another winery. When the label reads "produced and bottled by" or "made and bottled by" it means the winery produced the wine from start to finish.
Bottling: Putting wine into bottle is an automated process. The bottle is washed, dried and then filled with wine. Before the cork is inserted, a puff of inert gas displaces any oxygen remaining in the bottle to prevent spoilage.
Bouquet: The smell that a wine develops after it has been bottled and aged. Most appropriate for mature wines that have developed complex flavors beyond basic young fruit and oak aromas.
Brawny: Describes wines that are hard, intense and tannic with raw, woody flavors. The opposite of elegant.
Breathe: See Aeration.
Brettanomyces (Brett): A spoilage yeast that can cause what are commonly described as barnyard aromas and flavors in a wine. Some people feel that, in small amounts, it can add a pleasant spicy, leathery component or complexity to a wine. Others feel that it is a flaw in any amount. Sensory thresholds and tolerance of brett vary.
Briary: Describes young wines with an earthy or stemmy wild berry character.
Bright: Used for fresh, ripe, zesty, lively young wines with vivid, focused flavors.
Brilliant: Describes the appearance of very clear wines with absolutely no visible suspended or particulate matter. Not always a plus, as it can indicate a highly filtered wine from which many of the components that contribute flavor have been stripped.
Brix: A measurement of the sugar content of grapes, must and wine, indicating the degree of the grapes' ripeness (meaning sugar level) at harvest. Most table-wine grapes are harvested at between 21 and 25 Brix. To get an alcohol conversion level, multiply the stated Brix by .55.
Browning: Describes a wine's color, and is a sign that a wine is mature and may be faded. A bad sign in young red (or white) wines, but less significant in older wines. Wines 20 to 30 years old may have a brownish edge yet still be enjoyable.
Budbreak: Refers to the start of the new growing season, when tender green buds emerge in early spring’s warm temperatures; typically March in the Northern Hemisphere and September in the Southern Hemisphere. The vines are especially vulnerable to frost at this stage.
Bung: The rubber, glass or plastic stopper that can be placed into a barrel’s bung hole, similar to a cork placed in a wine bottle. Barrels are usually filled through the bung hole.
Burnt: Describes wines that have an overdone, smoky, toasty or singed edge. Also used to describe overripe grapes.
Buttery: Indicates the smell of melted butter or toasty oak. Also a reference to texture, as in "a rich, buttery Chardonnay."
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