Wine Lingo: The Three Vs of Wine
Similar to that Tolkien riddle from The Hobbit, “Toothless bites, voiceless cries,” wine has several aspects that make you tilt your head and go, “Huh? It has a nose and no face?” Like any specialized trade, winemaking and wine tasting have their own unique jargons. We’ve all heard them from our Wine Educators: nose, brix, tannin, terroir, earthy, block, rich, bright, and a whole slew of other words used to describe wines that sometimes sound funny.
Never fear! Wine Lingo is here to erase the confusion and explain those odd phrases and words known throughout the wine world.
We’ll start out with something pretty basic but very important in understanding what is in your glass. A triple dose this week! They are the 3 Vs of Wine: vineyard, varietal, and vintage.
The foundation for all wine, the vineyard is the location where grapes are grown. Breaking it down, the word is vine and yard. A yard for vines, thus vineyard. Pretty easy, right? So when a winery has an “estate vineyard,” it means that they have grape vines growing on their land, usually pretty close to the tasting room.
But then there are individual bottles that have “Champoux Vineyard” or “Wild Pheasant Vineyard” on them, and this is where the vineyard concept gets complicated. There are many vineyards that aren’t owned by a winery. Instead, their owners focus solely on the vines to get the best fruit possible and sell the grapes to wineries.
What’s the big deal with that? Each vineyard will have certain characteristics that other vineyards don’t, even if they are right next to each other. These are called microclimates, and there can be several within one vineyard, let alone the number in one AVA (American Viticultural Area).
And we’ll leave that one alone for a while. In a later edition, I’ll talk all about terroir and AVAs.
One of the most familiar aspects of grapes, “varietal” is the type of grape in a wine. Most labels will include what is in the bottle, be it Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, or one of the less-common varietals like Marsanne or Barbera.
For those out there who think, “wine is wine,” challenge them with a few distinct varietals. Each different grape will have its own unique personality, seen in the flavor and smell of the wine. For example, Syrah is not going to taste like a Cab Sauv, even if they both come from the same vineyard.
Possibly the most variable element in wines, “vintage” is the winemaking jargon for year, specifically the year in which the grapes were picked. Where a merlot grown in the same vineyard by the same winemaker will have a certain profile in 2005, that same grape from the same location and with the same winemaker may have a totally different profile in 2006.
In a word, climate. Growing conditions change year to year, putting different stresses on vines and creating different flavor concentrations in grapes. One year may be much warmer than average, another about par, and a third significantly colder. The result will be three different profiles in the same varietal. Precipitation also plays a huge role, especially in desert climates like Red Mountain and most of Eastern Washington.
So the next time you pick up a bottle, take a look at the 3 Vs. It’ll take a while to get to know the differences among vintages, varietals, and vineyards, but that’s the great thing about wine tasting: it takes practice!
Be on the lookout in the future for more Wine Lingo!
Have a wine word or phrase you’re curious about? Post it in the comments!
Veni, Vidi, Vinum!