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Méthode Champenoise: The labor-intensive and costly process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. Also known as méthode traditionnelle.
Méthode Traditionnelle: See Méthode Champenoise.
Aeration: This process of encouraging a wine to absorb oxygen is also called breathing. Simply pulling the cork out of a bottle may not allow for sufficient air contact; decanting or even swirling the wine in a glass are preferred methods. The goal is to allow the wine to open up and develop, releasing its aromas into the air. Ten to 30 minutes of aeration can help open tight young red wines that are meant to age. Some wines can also develop off odors or a bottle stink that blows off with a few minutes of aeration. Since older (15-plus years) red wines are more delicate and can lose their fruit during aeration, aeration is not recommended; the wines can evolve quite quickly in the glass.
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC or A.O.C.): The French system of appellations, begun in the 1930s and considered the wine world's prototype. To carry an appellation in this system, a wine must follow rules describing the area the grapes are grown in, the varieties used, the ripeness, the alcoholic strength, the vineyard yields and the methods used in growing the grapes and making the wine.
Carbonic Maceration: Most frequently associated with Beaujolais, this is a method of producing light-bodied, fresh and fruity red wines. Instead of crushing the grapes and releasing the juices to be fermented by yeasts, whole grape bunches are placed in a tank and the oxygen is displaced by carbon dioxide. Fermentation starts on an intracellular level inside the berry, producing some alcohol as well as fruity aromatics. In practice, the weight of the grapes on the top crushes the grapes on the bottom and yeasts ferment the juice; the wine is partly a product of carbonic maceration and partly of traditional yeast fermentation.
Charmat: A less expensive, mass-production method for producing bulk quantities of sparkling wine. The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, rather than in a bottle, decreasing lees contact and producing larger, coarser bubbles. The wine is filtered under pressure and bottled. Also known as the bulk process or tank method. Wines made this way cannot be labeled méthode Champenoise.
Rustic: Describes wines made by old-fashioned methods or tasting like wines made in an earlier era. Can be a positive quality in distinctive wines that require aging. Can also be a negative quality when used to describe a young, earthy wine that should be fresh and fruity.
Degree Days: A method of classifying the climate based on the number of days the temperature is within a range that vines can grow. In California, climates are rated from coolest (Region I) to the warmest (Region V). This classification can help winemakers determine where to plant which variety.
Irrigation: Watering the vines. Banned in some regions, yet indispensable to establishing and maintaining vineyards in arid regions, especially where soils retain little moisture. Two methods include drip irrigation and the less precise flood irrigation.
Organic Wine: The rules and methods for producing organic grapes and wine are still evolving. The answer usually depends on the country of origin and the various governing organizations involved. France, for example, legally defined organic farming in 1981 as "farming which uses no synthetic chemical products." In most cases, organic wines are fermented from grapes grown without the use of synthesized fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. In organic wines, natural yeasts and minimal amounts of sulfur are often used in the fermentation process.
Recently Disgorged: Indicates that the lees have been removed from a sparkling wine just prior to release. After sparkling wine has undergone the second fermentation in the bottle, the wine can remain on the lees for many years to develop additional complexity and richness.
Riddling: In making sparkling wine, the process of moving the sediment remaining in the bottle from the second fermentation to rest on the cap for easy removal. The process of riddling is unique to méthode traditionelle and was developed by Madame Clicquot (Veuve Clicquot) in the early 1800s to remove the cloudy lees from the bottles. The bottles are loaded in a horizontal position onto wooden racks called pupitres. At this point, the sediment rests on the side of the bottle. As the bottles are riddled, or given a sharp quarter-turn daily and gradually tilted upside-down, the sediment works its way to the bottle neck. Today, most producers use efficient mechanical riddlers.
Secondary Fermentation: The process that creates the bubbles in sparkling wine. As the wine is bottled, a small amount of yeast and sugar is added before the bottle is sealed with a sturdy crown cap. The yeasts quickly start fermenting the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Since the gas cannot escape, it dissolves into the wine.
Tank Method: Also known as charmat, a less expensive method for making sparkling wine. The tank method is used to produce bulk quantities of inexpensive sparkling wines. The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, rather than in a bottle, decreasing lees contact and producing larger, coarser bubbles. The wine is filtered under pressure and bottled. Wines made this way cannot be labeled méthode Champenoise.
Transfer Method: Technique for making sparkling wine in which, after the second fermentation in the bottle and a short period of sur lie aging (but before riddling), the wine is transferred—with sediment—to a pressurized tank. The wine is then filtered under pressure and bottled. With the enormous savings in labor and time, the wines are slightly less intense and less creamy than those produced using the more time-consuming and expensive méthode Champenoise.
Smudge Pot: Oil-burning heaters used to prevent or reduce frost damage in orchards and vineyards. Typically consisting of a wide base topped by a chimney, smudge pots may be lit when frost threatens. They offer some protection by creating air currents that can disrupt settled colder air at ground level. Due to their consumption of oil and smoke production, as well as labor requirements, use of smudge pots is in decline in favor of other frost-protection methods such as wind machines and aspersion.
Ripasso: Italian term for a process in which dried grapes or leftover grapeskins (pomace) are added to a fermented wine for a period of maceration to increase its intensity, flavor, alcohol and color. This method is used to make some wines from Valpolicella, using the leftovers from the area's Recioto or Amarone wines, made from raisinated grapes dried on mats in the appassimento process.
Ancestral Method: An inexpensive but risky and difficult-to-control method of producing sparkling wine, and almost certainly the oldest, in which the primary fermentation is stopped before completing, and a secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle, ending when the yeast cells deplete the supply of residual sugar. There is no dosage, or sugar addition, to kick-start the secondary fermentation, and the wine is not disgorged to remove any sediment or lees remaining afterward.
Sforzato: An Italian term meaning "strained," sforzato wines (also know as sfursat) are made in northern Italy's Valtellina region of Lombardy in the appassimento method, similar to Amarone, by laying harvested grapes on straw mats to dry for several months. The drying process concentrates sugars and results in higher alcohol wines. In the Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG, the wines must be a minimum of 90 percent Chiavennasca, the local name for Nebbiolo, and have at least 14 percent alcohol.
Passito: An Italian term literally translated as "sweet," passito is used in Italy to describe wines that have been made from dried grapes, in the appassimento method. Drying the grapes concentrates the sugars, and the process can be used to make both sweet dessert wines like Recioto as well as dry reds such as Amarone and Sforzato.
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