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.
American Oak: An alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine. Marked by strong vanilla, dill and cedar notes, it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It's less desirable, although used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. New American oak barrels can be purchased for about half the price of French oak barrels.
Lees: Sediment—dead yeast cells, grapeseeds, stems, pulp and tartrates (harmless tartaric acid crystals)—remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. Immediately following fermentation, wine should be racked off of the gross lees, the large particulate matter such as seeds, skins and stems, which are rich in spoilage organisms. The wine may be aged for an extended period on the fine lees, however, in what's called "sur lie" aging. Fine lees, the dead yeast cells leftover from fermentation, can enhance an aging wine with added richness, flavor and aroma complexity, and can also bind with excess tannins.
Oaky: Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side. See also American oak, French oak.
Smoky: Usually the result of fermenting or aging in oak barrel, a smoky quality can add flavor and aromatic complexity to a wine.
Tannins: The mouth-puckering polyphenols, most prominent in red wines, that are derived primarily from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannins are an important component of a wine's structure and texture, and act as a natural preservative that help wine age and develop.
Toasty: Describes a flavor derived from the oak barrels in which wines are aged. Also, a character that sometimes develops in sparkling wines.
Aging: Storage in barrels, tanks or bottles for a period of time allows wine components to knit together or harmonize and develop additional complexity, sometimes referred to as secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors.
Élevage: French term for the progression of wine between fermentation and bottling. Comparable to the term "raising" in English; think of élevage as a wine's adolescence or education. The raw fermented juice is shaped during this period into something resembling its final form, through techniques such as barrel aging, filtering and fining. Good winemaking decisions during élevage can help the juice achieve its full potential; bad decisions can leave it flawed.
Oak Chips: Instead of gaining complexity in expensive oak barrels during the aging process, some popularly-priced wines are aged with small pieces of wood to gain their oaky flavors. Also called beans.
Micro-oxygenation: This technique, used almost exclusively on red wines, allows winemakers to control the amount of oxygen that wines in tank are exposed to. The apparatus involves chambers connected by tubes and valves to an oxygen tank. Small, measured amounts of oxygen are allowed to pass through the wine via a porous stone or ceramic plate at or near the base of the tank. The benefits of this type of oxygen exposure include prevention of oxidation and reduction as well as promotion of healthy yeast cultures, which prevent stuck fermentations. Micro-oxygenation is also believed to soften tannins and, in conjunction with the use of oak chips, is frequently practiced as an alternative to oak barrel aging.
Winemaking: Largely synonymous with "Vinification," winemaking is the process by which harvested grapes are crushed, fermented (and otherwise manipulated through yeast inoculations, temperature control, punch-downs, pump-overs, racking, oak-chip additions, filtering, etc.), aged in barrel, steel tank or other vessel, and finally bottled.
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.
Fino: Fino is the driest classification of Sherry wines. The freshest and palest category of Sherry, finos are protected from oxygenation by a cap of flor yeast while aging in barrel.
Flor: Flor is the Spanish term for a cap of yeast that forms over Sherry wine as it ages in barrel, protecting the wine from oxidation.