Winter wine glossary
As the temperature drops and winter’s earthier flavours become more popular, it’s time to choose a different bottle of wine from the rack. Here, we decode the various wine terms that come with the new season.
In winter, we naturally gravitate towards earthier, more warming wines – something to enjoy while the wood burner’s roaring. These could be spicy, enticing Rhône reds such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape or something lighter and more elegant but still distinctly earthy like Pinot Noirs. You’ll find these wines go well with lots of gems from winter’s larder like mushrooms and game.
When you’re enjoying a full-bodied complex wine, there can be plenty to unpick. And to help us make the language of wine universal - as well as personal - there are certain wine words that professionals reach for. Here we explain some of the most useful wine descriptors to help you talk about what’s in your glass.
This French term, which translates as “forest floor”, conjures up wonderfully earthy smells of wet leaves, rich crumbly soil, sprouting funghi and crushed pine needles. You’ll often find sous bois used in descriptions of red Burgundy – the home of the world’s most famous Pinot Noir. It may indicate an older wine, as these savoury characteristics tend to develop as the first flavours of juicy cherries and red berries begin to subside.
We often talk about a wine in terms of fruit or flowers. But there’s a much wider spectrum of wine terms that we can use, including words like flint, mineral and graphite. Graphite is one to remember, as it’s often used when describing fine red wines from classic regions such as Bordeaux. It’s a part metallic, part mineral, part woody note - think freshly sharpened pencil. Look out for it particularly if you’re drinking a decanted oak-aged Cabernet.
Fancy inhaling a waft of farmyard when you next pour a glass of red? Some of the aromas in this category have notes of bacon, wild game, leather and smoke, so look out for these too.
Brettanomyces – better known as Brett. Brett is a type of yeast. Technically, its presence in wine is a fault (think sweaty gym kit, old rubber or – back to the farmyard – manure) and at its most extreme, it dominates the taste and aroma to the detriment of anything else. But in low levels, the savoury flavour of Brett is thought to add some complexity and interest to a wine. It’s worth noting that a slight whiff of rubber may be noticeable in “reductive” wines due to the winemaking process, and decanting your bottle is the simplest way to clear this.
So when you’re picking a bottle of wine to go with your umami-rich mushroom dishes or rich, nutty cheeses such as Comté, you can now impress your guests with some seasonal wine vocab. And here are some wines that we recommend decanting into eto this winter:
Three bottles to decant and savour this season
2019 Au Bon Climat, Santa Maria Valley, California, USA
This pioneering American producer took a Burgundian approach to winemaking in California. This, one of their entry-level Pinots blended from three of their top vineyards, is ripe and juicy, with red berries, plums and sweet vanilla spice. It would partner perfectly with game. Available at bbr.com
2018 Volnay, Michel Lafarge, Burgundy, France
From one of Burgundy’s most-loved domaines, this Volnay is just entering its drinking window. Made using some Premier Cru fruit, this is violet-scented and complex offering incredible quality for a village wine. As it’s young, this will benefit from decanting. Available at Lay & Wheeler
2019 Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand
Mt Difficulty is perhaps the most well-known Central Otago producer. While its Roaring Meg Pinot is designed to be drunk young, with all the emphasis on bright, ripe fruit, this is a more complex proposition with silky tannin and a hint of oak. This is ripe and delicious, with notes of cherry and spice. Try it with roast duck. Available at Waitrose
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To delve into the flavours of your wine read our guide on how to upgrade your wine-tasting technique. Discover the hidden techniques that the professionals use help them assess, understand and enjoy every glassful of wine.