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Acidity: The sour or tart taste in wine and other food. Sparkling wines usually contain higher acidities than white still wines, which themselves usually contain higher acidities than red still wines. It is the acidity which gives fine sparkling wines their crispness.

Aftertaste: The "shadow taste" remaining in your mouth just after swallowing a sip of wine. Sparkling wines strive for a special delicacy in the taste; a taste which quickly "melts away" after swallowing, leaving your mouth fresh and clean.

Aging en Tirage: Aging a sparkling wine during production "on the yeast," i.e., to delay the disgorging for many months (even years for the finest sparkling wines or Champagnes). Aging en Tirage allows the superb flavor of autolyzed yeast to develop in the wine. The French call this highly prized flavor "goût de Champagne."

Aperitif wine: Any wine served before a meal. The British and Europeans regularly drink Champagne an aperitif - Americans should too!

Appearance: A term used in sensory evaluation of wine to describe whether a wine is crystal clear (brilliant), cloudy, or contains sediment. In this context, it has nothing to do with color. In sparkling wines, appearance usually refers to the "bead."

Appley Nose: A tasting term to describe an aroma in wine that is reminiscent of fresh apples. Most often this term applies to sparkling wine and some of the best Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc still wines.

Aroma: Smell or fragrance from wine that has its origin in the grape – as opposed to "bouquet," which has its origin in the processing or aging methods.

Atmosphere: Unit of measure for pressure inside a bottle of sparkling wine or Champagne. 1 Atmosphere equals 14.7 pounds per square inch (the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level in the world). Commercial sparkling wines commonly contain 4 to 6 atmospheres of CO2 pressure when measured at room temperature. A well-chilled sparkling wine contains the same amount of CO2, but because more of the CO2 remains dissolved in the wine at colder temperatures, the measured pressure is lower. And, the bubbles last longer in the glass.


Bead: A colloquial term referring to the bubbles that float in groups on top of a fermenting wine or Champagne/sparkling wine in the glass.

Blanc de blancs: Literally translated, this means white of white which means that the Champagne is made using only the Chardonnay grape. When young, these wines are relatively light, delicate and creamy. However, with a little aging these Champagnes often develop a fabulously toasted, biscuity, rich flavor.

Blanc de noir: Although the "white of black" may sound like a contradiction, it is not. What it tells you is that the Champagne has been made only using black grapes(Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier). Champagne made from black grapes is typically full bodied and rich.

Bouquet: Smell or fragrance in wine that has its origins in the wine's production or aging methods. This is in contrast to Aroma, which comes not from aging or handling, but from the grapes themselves. The smell and taste of "goût de Champagne" in sparkling wine is an example of bouquet, not aroma, because it comes from long aging of the wine in contact with the yeast – the same yeast which has transformed the wine from "still" to "sparkling."

Brilliant: A sensory evaluation term to describe a wine that is crystal clear and absolutely free from sediment or cloudiness.

Brut: French term referring to the driest (least sweet) Champagne.


Carbon dioxide (CO2): CO2 is also the gas that makes sparkling wine "sparkle." Think of it: without CO2 you have only still wine; with CO2, you have Pizzazz!

Champagne: The sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. By treaty, other European countries may not use the name "Champagne" for their sparkling wines.

Champagne Grapes & Flavor: Champagnes are typically made with a blend of 3 grapes; the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. You may be surprised to learn that two of the grapes of Champagne are black (Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier). Interestingly, the production process quickly strips out the color which is mainly held in the outer skins. Thereby, the end result is the light and clear sparkling color. Rosé, or pink Champagne, is made by allowing the skins of the black grapes to impart a small amount of color and then removing them, or by adding still red wine to the finished product.

Champagne Sweetness: The key to the flavor of good Champagne is that it does not taste obviously fruity. Instead it should mingle with the flavor of fruit, biscuits, fresh bread, nuts, or even chocolate. To get this flavor Champagne grapes are generally picked earlier in the season, when the acidic levels are higher and sugar levels are lower.

Classifications are used to refer to sweetness (or its absence, called dry). Producers can regulate the sweetness by controlling fermentation. For example, stopping fermentation early leaves some natural grape sugar in the finished wine. Below is a listing for your reference (and yes, Sec usually means dry - but not in Champagne!)

  1. Brut: dry, less than 1.5% sugar
  2. Extra Sec: extra dry, 1.2 to 2% sugar
  3. Sec: medium sweet, 1.7 to 3.5% sugar
  4. Demi-Sec: sweet, 3.3 to 5% sugar (dessert Champagne)
  5. Doux: very sweet, over 5% sugar (dessert Champagne)

Chardonnay: This is clearly the world's greatest white wine grape variety. Chardonnay produces many of the finest white wines, both still and sparkling, all around the globe.

Cremant: A category of Champagne or sparkling wine that contains less carbonation than standard Champagnes or sparkling wines. Cremant Champagnes are usually quite light and fruity but not often very bubbly.

Crisp: Tasting term to describe good acidity and pleasant taste without excessive sweetness. This is an especially desirable trait in a sparkling wine.

Cuvée: A given lot or batch of wine usually held in a single tank or large cask. Cuvée often refers to a specific blend of still wines that was blended purposely for later Champagne making in France.


Demi-sec: A French Champagne term signifying that the product is medium-sweet.

Disgorging (dégorgement): In Champagne processing, disgorging is the act of removing the frozen plug of ice (containing spent yeast) from a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, after riddling. Disgorging takes place on a bottling line just prior to adding dosage and the final corking of the finished bottle of Champagne.

Dom Perignon: The person who is usually credited for producing the world's first "sparkling wine," or "Champagne." Maybe he was -- and maybe he wasn't first. See English Champagne, below. In 1668, Dom Perignon was appointed head cellarer at the Abbey of Hautvillers near Reims in the French district called Champagne. His experiments are credited with producing the first deliberate sparkling wine in the world. This was a wine so unique and dramatic that it assumed the name of the whole district, Champagne, for its own identity.

Dom Perignon and others had noticed previously that new wines came to life in the spring after winter temperatures warmed. The Champagne region is cold, making the grape harvest late in the season. Yeast couldn't always complete its fermentation before winter cold slowed the action to a stop, leaving a residue of unfermented sugar in the wine over the winter. Later, when warmer days returned in spring, the yeast resumed fermentation – giving rise to CO2 bubbling out of the new wine.

Malo-lactic fermentations probably occurred at the same time, but the effect was the same: carbon dioxide gas gave new life to the wine. At some point, probably a bottle or two had been closed tightly enough to prevent loss of CO2 before all the sugar could be fermented. Upon opening the bottle, who knows? Perhaps Dom Perignon really did utter those words attributed to him: "Holy smoke Pierre! Come quickly! I'm drinking stars." Or, somethin' like that.
P.S. Dom Perignon was also one of the first to use natural corks vs. a piece of wood to seal wine bottles.

Dosage: (dose-ahhj) The few ounces of wine, sometimes sweetened, which is added to each bottle of Champagne after disgorging to make up for the liquid volume lost by disgorging.

Dry: In the wine world, dry is never the opposite of wet. Whether in a fermentation tank or in a wine glass, dry means the complete absence of sugar in the wine.


English Champagne: Dom Perignon, the Benedictine monk who made wine at Hautvillers Abbey in the Champagne region of France, is commonly given full credit for inventing Champagne. But, in truth and fairness, the English may have been producing sparkling wine for a full decade before Dom Perignon did! They certainly had been producing strong glass bottles by that time. They also used corks (the only other necessity for Champagne) long before the Champenoise did. English wine merchants were receiving new wine in casks from Champagne each winter. It is likely that they bottled some of it before all the original sugar had fermented. When the remaining fermentation took place in spring, they had unique, carbonated "Champagne" to enjoy.

The English even understood that adding sugar to wine prior to bottling would increase the eventual sparkle. Six years before Dom Perignon took the job at Hautvillers Abbey, it was reported that English wine coopers had used sugar molasses in all sorts of wines to make them drink "brisk and sparkling." Wherever and whatever it was that happened to create the first sparkling wine, the wine world hasn't been the same since. For my own taste, sparkling wine, including Champagne, is my favorite of all wine types. Oh sure, I love a great Cabernet Sauvignon all right. But sparkling wine, well, great sparkling wine has, you know, Pizzazz!

Épernay: City on the Marne River in the Champagne region of northeastern France. The city is located very near the center of all the vineyards in Champagne.  Épernay is a major center for the business of Champagne production and sales.

Extra Dry: In Champagne, France this term usually means "extra sweet."


Fermentation: Originally, "to boil without heat." The process, carried on by yeast growth in grape juice or other sugar solutions, by which sugar is transformed into ethyl alcohol and CO2. The CO2 bubbles out of solution, giving the appearance of boiling without heat. In making sparkling wine, the CO2 cannot escape and is trapped inside the sealed bottle. There, much of it dissolves and becomes a major feature of the finished sparkling wine.


Grand Cru: The classification of Champagne vineyards developed in the mid 20th century as a means of setting the price of grapes grown through the villages of the Champagne wine region. Unlike the classification of Bordeaux wine estates or Burgundy Grand cru vineyards, the classification of Champagne is broken down based on what village the vineyards are located in. A percentile system known as the Échelle des Crus ("ladder of growth") acts as a pro-rata system for determining grape prices. Vineyards located in villages with high rates will receive higher prices for their grapes than vineyards located in villages with a lower rating. While the Échelle des Crus system was originally conceived as a 1-100 point scale, in practice, the lowest rated villages are rated at 80%. Premier cru villages are rated between 90 and 99 percent while the highest rated villages, with 100% ratings are Grand crus. Less than 9% of all the planted vineyard land in Champagne has received a 100% Grand cru rating.

When the Échelle des Crus was first established only 12 villages received Grand cru status. In 1985 that number was expanded to 17.

Grandes Marques: The Champagne houses used to be organized into a syndicat des Grandes Marques, which had 28 Members, not all of them of equal quality. That has now been replaced by a Club des Grandes Marques with 24 members. Grandes Marques include Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Veuve Cliquot, Perrier-Jouet, Taittinger, Pommery, Bollinger, etc…

Grower Champagnes: Champagnes that are produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes come. While large Champagne houses, may use grapes sourced from as many as 80 different vineyards, Grower Champagnes tend to be more terroir focused, being sourced from single or closely located vineyards around a village. A Grower Champagne can be identified by the initials RM (meaning Récoltant-Manipulant) on the wine label.
Grower Champagnes have been described as "artisanal winemaking" with terroir being at the forefront for each wine rather than an emphasis on a consistent "house style" that can be made year after year. Also many show a lower dosage, and occasionally no dosage at all, than most negociant manipulant bottlings. The dosage is often a key variable in maintaining a Grand Marques "house style".


Large-Format Bottles: The consistent verdict from the experts is that wine from bigger bottles lasts longer, and tastes consistently better, than when matured in standard 75cl size bottles. Who can fail to appreciate the craftsmanship in a spectacular bottle, or the sense of excitement and anticipation as the cork is skillfully eased from its neck? Nothing like naming the size of these bottles as a quiz at a cocktail party.
































Maceration: The act of soaking grape solids in their juice for certain time periods prior to fermentation of the juice. The pink color of Rosés comes from a few hours of contact with dark skin grapes to allow just enough flavor and red pigment to dissolve into the juice prior to fermentation of the juice.

Methode Champenoise: (Pronounced "met-toad champ en waaz" with accent on the waaz).The traditional bottle-fermented method for producing sparkling wines, including fermenting, aging en Tirage, riddling and disgorging – all in the same bottle that will eventually reach the consumer. But Methode Champenoise is still the only method used for the very highest quality sparkling wines of the world.


Négociant: A large Champagne house that sources the majority of their grapes rather than growing them. The initials NM (meaning Négociant-Manipulant) appear on their labels.

Non-Vintage: A non-vintage bottle includes a blend of grapes from several vintages. Most Champagnes are non-vintage. The Grandes Marques each have a "house style". A key fact is that this style has a very consistent taste. This means you should be able to buy it anytime, anywhere, and it will always taste as you expect. These wines are made for immediate consumption and few will benefit from further aging.


Pinot: One of the world's most important family names among the world's wine grape varieties. The most famous member is Pinot Noir, although its white-fruited variant, Pinot Blanc, deserves special recognition as well.

Premier Cru: See "Grand Cru."

Punt: The concave indentation in the bottom of certain wine bottles, especially those containing sparkling wine. A sommelier pours wine with his thumb in the punt and the bottle cradled in his other four fingers.

Pupitre: (pup-éé -ter) French name for the hinged, wooden "A-Frame" rack used for hand-riddling Champagne bottles prior to disgorging. (Riddling settles the yeast sediment into the neck so that it can be easily removed by the disgorging step.)


Reims: (pronounced "ranss") Beautiful cathedral city in northeastern France. Along with the town of Épernay, Reims is the center of the Champagne region.

Riddling: A stage in making Champagne when the bottles are placed on special racks called pupitres that hold them at a 45° angle, with the crown cap pointed down. Once every two days the bottles are given a slight shake and turn, alternatively on right then left, and dropped back into the pupitres, with the angle gradually increased. The drop back into the rack causes a slight tap, pushing sediments toward the neck of the bottle. In 8 to 10 weeks for Champagne, the position of the bottle is straight down, with the lees settled in the neck. Manual riddling is still done for Prestige Cuvées in Champagne, but has otherwise been largely abandoned because of the high labor costs.

Rosé: French word for pink wine, the word is in common use all over the world. Most of this style wine is made by adding a little still red wine to the white Champagne. However, a very small amount of it is made by staining the white juice by allowing the red grape skins to soak in it for a short while.


Sec: French term meaning "dry," or lacking sugar. However, on French Champagne labels it means that the wine is sweet.

Secondary fermentation: Any fermentation that happens after the primary (yeast) fermentation has been completed. In Champagne the secondary (in the bottle) is the yeast fermentation that is used to change still wine into sparkling wine.

Still wine: Wine that is not sparkling, i.e., does not contain significant carbon dioxide in solution.

Sur lies: French term (and recent, snobbish American term) meaning that the Champagne was held in contact with yeast lees in barrels longer than usual in aging and processing. The result is often a Champagne with a pleasant yeastiness and more complexity than ordinary wines.  In sparkling wines, sur lies can turn a good wine into a superb one because the yeast contact takes place inside a sealed bottle where oxidation is impossible. Generally, a longer time on yeast lees means a higher quality sparkling wine.


Tart: Acidic.

Terroir: Comes from the word terre "land". It was originally a French term in wine, coffee and tea used to denote the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestowed upon particular varieties. It can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product.

Tirage: (Tier-âhh-j) Production term that describes the first bottling step, which turns a new wine into Champagne or sparkling wine. After the tirage, the new sparkling wine is aged on the yeast, then riddled, disgorged and, finally, labeled for sale.


Vigneron:  Someone who cultivates a vineyard for winemaking. The word connotes or emphasizes the critical role that vineyard placement and maintenance have in the production of high-quality wine. The term is used when referring to a winemaker from France. Vincent of Saragossa is the patron saint of vignerons.

Vintage: In short, the "year" or season of winegrowing. You will pay extra for good vintage Champagne, which is derived from a single year´s crop. The producers will reserve the finest fruit for this style of Champagne, adding to its desirability. Not every year is declared as a vintage year, as vintage Champagne is only made if conditions are good enough. A vintage will reflect as much of the character as it does the producer, so it may taste quite different from one year to the next. For example, a Champagne made during a very hot year will taste much richer, rounder and less acidic than one made from a cooler year. Most good Champagne houses will age their vintage Champagne for five to seven years for further development before release.


Yeast: Unicellular microorganisms which occur naturally in the air, on the ground and making a thin coating on everything else you can see around you. This is especially true in areas where fruits are grown. Whether "wild" or "cultured," yeast can quickly metabolize natural sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide through a process called fermentation. When all, or most, of the natural sugar in grape juice has been transformed into alcohol, the juice is legally "changed into wine."

Yeast lees: Solid sludge-like sediment, primarily spent yeast, which settles to the bottom of a fermentation tank after the fermentation has been completed. Yeast lees from primary fermentations should not be allowed to remain in contact with the new wine any longer than is necessary. This is because spent and decomposing yeast is the primary source of H2S (the odor of rotten eggs) in wine. This can be confusing: the world's best sparkling wines and Champagnes are produced by deliberately leaving the wine in intimate contact with spent yeast in sealed bottles for years during the secondary fermentation. The answer is in the strains of yeast used for champenization and the strict oxygen-free conditions inside a Champagne bottle compared to a large tank.