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Saignée: A French term meaning literally "to bleed," saignée refers to the process of bleeding or pulling juice from a tank of red must that is just beginning fermentation. The goal is two-fold. First, the lightly-colored juice that is bled out of the tank produces a rosé. Second, the must remaining in the tank has a higher proportion of grape skins to juice; the resulting wine will be richer and more concentrated.
Second Label: Estate wineries often bottle excess production, lesser wines or purchased wines under a label other than the one that made them famous, often at a lower price.
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.
Sediment: As red wines age, color pigments and tannins bond together and fall out of solution, producing a natural sediment. While the sediment is not harmful, it tastes bitter and adversely affects the wine’s mouthfeel. Sediment is most frequently found in older (10-plus years), darker red wines, which typically have more color pigments and tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux and Port. Rarely will lighter reds throw sediment.
Selection Massale: French term for a vineyard management technique by which dead or under-performing vines are replaced with new vines grown from cuttings from many of the best older vines in the vineyard, maintaining both the vineyard's health and diversity.
Sensory Threshold: For any given aroma, flavor or taste, there is a concentration below which we are no longer able to detect it. This point is called the sensory threshold, and where it occurs varies considerably from person to person, determining our ability to taste and explaining why tasting wine is such a personal, highly subjective experience.
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.
Shatter: See Coulure.
Sherry: Sherry is a fortified wine made in Jerez, Spain, most often from the Palomino grape but also from the Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel varieties. Following fermentation, the wine is fortified with distilled wine spirit, up to the minimum strength of 15.5 percent alcohol. The fortified wine is then usually aged in oak barrels arranged in a solera system of multiple vintages, and which may include more than a hundred vintages of Sherry blended together. Sherries may be classified by their quality, age, sweetness and or alcohol contents into categories which include fino, manzanilla, amontillado, oloroso, cream, etc.
Shoulder: The area where the bottle slopes outwards, just below the narrow, straight neck.
Skin Contact: Refers to the process of grape skins steeping in juice or fermenting must to impart color and flavor to the wine.
Smaragd: The top category of white wines made in Austria's Wachau valley. Smaragd-designated wines are made from the ripest grapes in the Wachau, and have a minimum alcohol level of 12.5 percent.
Smoky: Usually the result of fermenting or aging in oak barrel, a smoky quality can add flavor and aromatic complexity to a wine.
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.
Soft: Describes wines low in acid or tannin (sometimes both), making for easy drinking. Opposite of hard.
Solera: A set of barrels, frequently stacked, each containing multiple vintages of wine or spirits. The solera process, by which a given year's wine production is drawn from the oldest barrels in the solera and a portion of each subsequent vintage is used to top off each older barrel, is common to Sherry, Madeira, brandies and some Ports and whiskies.
Sorting: Checking the grape clusters for soundness during harvest. When bins loaded with grapes come in from the vineyard, they may contain overripe grapes, underripe grapes, moldy grapes, leaves and other debris. Many quality-oriented wineries sort through the grape bunches to remove these unwanted items.
Spätlese: German classification based on the ripeness level and sugar content of the grapes. Meaning "late harvest," spätlesen are usually richer than kabinette-level wines because the grapes contain a higher concentration of sugar at harvest. The wines can be dry or sweet.
Spicy: A descriptor for many wines, indicating the presence of spice flavors such as anise, cinnamon, cloves, mint and pepper which are often present in complex wines.
Stale: Wines that have lost their fresh, youthful qualities are called stale. Opposite of fresh.
Stalky: Smells and tastes of grape stems or has leaf- or hay-like aromas.
Stemmy: Describes a wine with green flavors of unripe fruit or wood, frequently a result of a wine being fermented too long with the grape stems.
Structure: Related to the mouthfeel of a wine, provided by acidity, tannin, alcohol, sugar and the way these components are balanced. Wines with low, unbalanced levels of acidity or tannin can be described as "lacking in structure" or "flabby." When the acidity or tannin levels are sufficiently high, a "firm structure" is the result.
Style: Refers to the character, not the quality, of a wine, which is determined in the vineyard and in the winery. Common styles at two ends of a continuum are fresh and fruity at one end and big and oaky at the other end. Style is not strictly correlated with quality; one style is not inherently better than another. Rather, style is a matter of personal preference for both the winemaker and the wine lover.
Subtle: Describes delicate wines with finesse, or flavors that are understated rather than full-blown and overt. A positive characteristic.
Sulfites: Winemakers all over the world use sulfur dioxide to clean equipment, kill unwanted organisms on the grapes and protect wines from spoilage. A tiny amount remains in the bottle, and U.S. label laws require a statement to announce its presence. Sulfites also occur naturally during fermentation process.
Super Second: Bordeaux’s 1855 Classification, which established a five-tiered system of Grands Crus Classées, or growths, has remained relatively unchanged. In recent years, the quality of several second-growths has improved to the point that they can now challenge the first-growths in every way but price. These super seconds include Cos-d’Estournel, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville Las Cases, Palmer (actually a third-growth) and Pichon-Longueville-Lalande.
Super Tuscan: Wines from Tuscany made using international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah rather than relying primarily on local varieties such as Sangiovese. Although their quality can be outstanding, these wines must be labeled with the lower levels of Italy’s classification system, Vino da Tavola or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, since they do not conform to Tuscany’s traditional winemaking practices.
Supple: Describes texture, mostly with reds, as it relates to tannin, body and oak. A positive characteristic.
Sur Lie: Wines aged sur lie (French for "on the lees") are kept in contact with the dead yeast cells and are not racked or otherwise filtered. This is mainly done for whites, to enrich them. (It is a normal part of fermenting red wine, and so is not noted.) The concept originated in Burgundy, with Chardonnay, but is now popular around the world with numerous white grape varieties. Sur lie aging can be overdone, leading to an off-putting leesy flavor.
Sweet: Sweet describes the sugar content in a wine, found at higher levels in late-harvest and sweet wines. Not to be confused with fruity wines. Most people begin to perceive sweetness at concentrations of 0.3 to 0.7 percent residual sugar.
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