glossary

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Must: The unfermented juice of grapes extracted by crushing or pressing; grape juice in the cask or vat before it is converted into wine.

Must Weight: Measurement of the sugar content in grape must, or unfermented grape juice, which indicates the potential alcohol of the juice were all of the sugar to be converted to alcohol during fermentation. Like Brix, Baumé and Oechsle, must weight is more accurately a measurement of the must's density or specific gravity.

Musty: Having an off-putting moldy or mildewy smell. The result of a wine being made from moldy grapes, stored in improperly cleaned tanks and barrels, or contaminated by a poor cork.

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Alcohol by volume: As required by law, wineries must state the alcohol level of a wine on its label. This is usually expressed as a numerical percentage of the volume. For table wines the law allows a 1.5 percent variation above or below the stated percentage as long as the alcohol does not exceed 14 percent. Thus, wineries may legally avoid revealing the actual alcohol content of their wines by labeling them as "table wine."

Appellation: Defines the area where a wine's grapes were grown, such as Bordeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin, Alexander Valley or Russian River Valley. Regulations vary widely from country to country. In order to use an appellation on a California wine label, for example, 85 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in the specified district.

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.

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.

Maceration: This process, used primarily in making red wine, involves steeping grape skins and solids in wine after fermentation, when alcohol acts as a solvent to extract color, tannins and aroma from the skins (aided by heat, the amount of skin contact and time). Cold maceration (steeping when the must is not heated), takes place before fermentation.

Vintage: Indicates the year in which the grapes were grown. For vintage dated wines made in the United States, 95 percent of a wine must come from grapes that were grown and picked in the stated calendar year. In the southern hemisphere where the grapes may grow in the year preceeding a February through March harvest, the vintage date refers to the year of harvest. Also refers to the time of year in which the harvest takes place.

Viticultural Area: Defines a legal grape-growing area distinguished by geographical features, climate, soil, elevation, history and other definable boundaries. Rules vary widely from region to region, and change often. Just for one example, in the United States, a wine must be 85 percent from grapes grown within the viticultural area to carry the appellation name.

Oechsle: Scale used in Germany to measure sugar levels and other solids in grapes or must to determine ripeness and potential alcohol. This scale is based on the density or specific gravity of the must. See also Baumé and Brix.

Pump-Over: Also known as remontage, the process of pumping red wine up from the bottom of the tank and splashing it over the top of the fermenting must; the purpose is to submerge the skins so that carbon dioxide is pushed to the surface of the must and released.

Punt: The dimple or indentation in the bottom of a bottle, originally meant to strengthen hand-blown glass containers; now mostly for show, except in sparkling wine bottles. Bottles for Champagne and sparkling wines, which must withstand extra pressure, have especially deep punts.

Reserva: A quality classification in Spain. Red reservas must be aged at least three years, with a minimum of one year in oak.

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.

Skin Contact: Refers to the process of grape skins steeping in juice or fermenting must to impart color and flavor to the wine.

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.

Varietal: Refers to a wine labeled with a single grape variety. Used predominantly in the United States and Australia, the term "varietal" denotes a wine named after and made from a single grape variety. For example, "The popular varietal is served in many restaurants" and "The herbal aromas of this Sauvignon Blanc are varietally correct." For varietal bottling, a minimum of 75 percent of that wine must be made from the designated grape variety. The term is frequently misused in reference to a grape variety itself.

Devatting: Also known as délestage, the oxidative winemaking process in which, after the cap of grape musts, skins, seeds and stems forms on the top of a vat of fermenting wine, the wine is drained through a valve at the base of the tank into another vat and reserved while the remaining solids are allowed to drain for a few hours. The reserved wine is then pumped back into the original tank over the top of the drained skins, seeds and stems. Like punch downs and pump overs, the purpose of devatting is to increase the extraction of color, flavor, tannins and aromas from the solids, as well as aerate the fermenting wine.

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