Pinot Noir Terminology
Baumé:A measurement of the specific gravity of grape juice which provides an indication of sweetness and ripeness. Most Pinot Noir is harvested at a Baumé level of 13 +/-. A different scale, Brix, is used in France and North America for the same purpose. Divide Brix by 1.8 to obtain the Baumé equivalent.
Biodynamic Viticulture: A method of organic horticulture, originally described by the Austrian philosopher, Rolf Steiner (1861-1925), which treats the farm as a holistic, unified, selfnourishing organism. Planting, harvesting and other activities are synchronised to cycles of the moon and planets. Soils are improved using special natural preparations. These preparation recipes, numbered 500-508, describe in precise detail the use of manure, minerals and medicinal herbs to create and apply treatments to the soil and plants.
Brettanomyces: “Brett.” Usually considered a spoilage yeast since it can produce off flavours. A low level may not be unpleasant, indeed it has been known to beguile some tasters. The taste is described as Band-Aid or horsey.
Bulldog Pup: A device that moves wine from barrel very gently by using gas pressure from an inert gas such as Argon
Climate Change: A long-term, significant change in weather patterns, particularly temperature, rainfall, and storm patterns. Governments internationally have accepted that the earth is currently experiencing a period of long-term global warming, especially from human factors, such as industrialisation. The implications for viticulture are that some grape varieties are quite sensitive to specific climate parameters, such as temperature ranges, rainfall, etc. Therefore, in many regions around the world, some grape varieties may find “homes” in new areas where they would not previously have flourished, and vice versa. A few climate change “sceptics” remain, but their numbers are dwindling.
Clones: In the case of Pinot Noir this refers to a whole family of grape vines that although having very similar characteristics also have subtle differences. In the French catalogue of grape varieties cultivated in France, 1000 different clones of Pinot Noir are described. Mutations (genetic changes) occur under the influence of factors such as heat, radiation, including UV light and chemicals. The longer a vine exists the more likely it is that one of the mutagens will cause a new clone to appear. Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties and as such many clones have formed. In Australia there are 15 significant clones of Pinot Noir, of which the most commonly planted is MV6. Newer clones, including those known as the Dijon or Bernard clones such as 114, 115 and 777 have begun to appear at vineyards in recent years.
Cold soak: The pre-fermentation maceration of grape skins in their own juice – the theory is that better colour, more sophisticated tannins and more vibrant fruit flavours are extracted because a more favourable combination of phenolics is dissolved and extracted by water than by an alcoholic solution. A practice carried to extremes in Burgundy by consultant oenologist Guy Accad who advocates 5-15 day cold soaks at 8-14°C with a high dose of sulphur (0.1 g/l).
Continentality: The difference between the average mean temperature of the warmest month and that of its coldest: MTWM-MTCM Climates with a wide annual range are called continental; those with a narrow range, maritime.
Cultured Yeast: A range of commercial products also known as Active Dry Yeast/Rehydrated. An alternative to wild / natural yeasts. Yeast cells consume sugar in grape juice during fermentation and yield alcohol and CO2 as by-products.
Fermentation temperature: There is a great diversity of opinion on fermentation temperature for Pinot Noir – some work to a maximum of 28°C, others will allow it to rise above 35°C.
Filtration: A device that pushes wine through a fine paper like gauze material. The aim is to separate floating solids and leave the wine bright. The filters may also absorb some flavour.
Fining: The addition to wine of materials such as egg white that will attract microscopic components in the wine and then sink to the bottom of the tank. The aim can be twofold, leave the wine looking brighter and also to remove unwanted flavour or textures such as excessive tannin or bitterness.
Hang Time: The time from verasion till physiological ripeness when grapes can develop varietal character. The longer the hang time, generally the greater will be the intensity of the wine.
Heat Degree Days (HDD): Growing season temperature summations over a 10°C (50°F) base (below which vines do not grow) HDD = (mean monthly temperature-10) x number of days in month.
Hydrogen Sulphide: Hydrogen sulphide (H2S), a foul smelling gas reminiscent of rotten egg.
Latitude Temperature Index (LTI): Developed at Lincoln University, New Zealand, for separating districts in cool climate regions. Based on the fact that, in summer, high latitudes have longer days and that in these higher latitudes a greater proportion of the day is in the upper half of the temperature range thus modifying MTWM. LTI = MTWM x (60-latitude)
Lees and Lees Stirring: The dead yeast cells and other solid materials that have settled out from a wine onto the bottom of a barrel. In Chardonnay and very rarely in Pinot Noir, a winemaker will stir the lees up on a regular basis. The dead yeast cells absorb oxygen and also add a bread/cheese flavour to the wine.
Maceration: Literally to soften or separate as a result of soaking, in winemaking it refers to the dissolving of phenolics (tannins, colouring materials and flavour compounds) from the grape skins, seeds and stalks into the juice. Maceration takes place pre fermentation (see Cold Soak), during fermentation and post fermentation. Conventionally, post ferment maceration goes on for 5-12 days.
Malolactic Fermentation: A secondary fermentation which converts harsh malic acid into softer lactic acid and carbon dioxide.
Massale Selection: (“Selection from the mass”) The ancient “old world” technique, still used today, of maintaining the health and character of a vineyard, or starting a new one, by selecting cuttings for propagation from the most desirable older vines in a vineyard, based on the viticulturist’s detailed site and plant knowledge, rather than using purchased vines from an external supplier. This is important to maintain the typicity, consistency or expression of the wine from a particular vineyard. In most “new world” vineyards, propagation is achieved by buying vine clones with known characteristics from a reliable nursery.
Mean Temperature Warmest Month (MTWM): The mean temperature of the warmest month (normally January in the southern hemisphere, July in the northern hemisphere) - February on the Mornington Peninsula.
Must: The mix of juice and skins in a fermenting tank (fermenter)
Organic Wine: Wine made from grapes which are produced in a sustainable manner, with respect for the natural environment and terroir, and with no use of synthetic chemicals, in either the vineyard or the winery, according to government or independent certification standards. Many wineries, which employ organic viticultural practices, do not necessarily certify their wines as organic.
Organic Viticulture: Agricultural practices which treat the vineyard as a sustainable, natural ecosystem. The core principal is based on managing the microorganisms in the soil, which in turn will regulate the health and balance of the plants growing in that soil. Organic certification involves the elimination of all synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, replacing them with composting, beneficial organisms and mechanical control methods. Organic methods typically involve the acceptance of some moderate level of crop loss, which is considered a normal aspect of a natural ecosystem.
Own Roots: Vines are grown on their “own roots” when they are not grown on “rootstock”, that is, when they have not been grafted. In phylloxera-prone areas, this can involve perilous risks, but many vignerons believe that vines on their own roots better express the character of the vine in its terroir.
pH: A measure of the acidity in a solution. A value of 7 is neutral (say drinking water), lower values are more acidic, higher values more alkaline. The scale is logarithmic so a wine with a pH of 3 has 10 times the acidity of one with a pH of 4. Wines generally have a pH between 3.3 and 3.7.
Pigeage: The French term for punching down the cap of grape skins and other solids during fermentation to encourage the extraction of colour and tannins.
Plunging: See pigeage
Phenolics: A large group of highly reactive chemical compounds of which phenol (C6H5OH) is the basic building block. They occur in great profusion in grapes, particularly stalks, seeds and skin and are more abundant in red grapes. The phenolics classified as flavonoids make up tannin, colour and some flavour compounds. Phenolics in oak include tannins and vanillin. Phenolics are thought to have anti-oxidative properties which reduces the incidence of heart disease.
Physiological Ripeness: A loose term defining ripeness by such things as skin colour, seed colour and firmness, berry texture and flavour as opposed to ripeness defined by sugar, must weight, acidity and pH.
Polymerise: Polymerization is the molecular process in which smaller molecules combine to form very large molecules. In ageing wines, simple phenolic molecules combine to form larger tannin polymers which eventually grow so large that they fall from the solution as sediment.
Pressing: The process of separating the grape skins from the juice/wine. The portion that comes out when the press squeezes the must hard is called the “pressings” and often has more colour and tannin than the free run portion that drains naturally.
Primary Fruit Flavour: The flavour that is typical of a grape variety e.g. in Pinot Noir, cherry and plum. Some winemaking processes such as lees stirring and barrel ferments reduce the primary fruit flavours.
Remontage: French word for pumping over – circulating liquid in the fermentation vessel over the cap of grape solids during red wine fermentation. This encourages colour and tannin extraction.
Rootstock: The roots and shaft of a plant onto which another plant bud or shoot (the scion) can be grafted. The rootstock is the portion of the plant that is in contact with the soil and may be more desirable than the scion’s own roots because of its drought tolerance, resistance to disease, or other properties. For grapevines, the most common reason for grafting vines onto American rootstock varieties is their resistance to the root parasite “phylloxera”.
Saignée: The process of bleeding off a certain amount of free run juice to concentrate a red wine. A rosé is often made from the run off.
Secondary flavours: Flavours imparted by the winemaking process rather than from the grape. If a Pinot Noir finishes its ferment in a new barrel it will gain a coffee/moccha flavour. Lees stirring also reduces primary fruit flavour but will often add texture to a wine.
Terroir: A term that the French use to sum up the characteristics that are unique to a vineyard site. Adjacent vineyards may receive the same rainfall and temperature variation but it is unlikely that they have the exactly the same slope, drainage, soil types or subsoils.
Toast: When an oak cask is bent into shape it is usually placed over a small fire that gives a char/toast layer to the inside of the barrel. Traditionally the levels of toast are Light, Medium and High or Heavy. Many variations are used such as Progressive or Character. The toast level will have a significant impact on the flavour, often adding flavours such as cola, and/or chocolate.
Tonnellerie: A generic French term referring to a company that produces oak casks. French oak barrels are deemed essential for producing fine Pinot Noir. There is debate about whether the source of the oak (forest) or the cask producer (tonnellerie) is the more important element in a wine barrel. Adjacent tonnelleries may use oak from the same forest assembled into casks of the same size but the flavour imparted by their casks will be different. Ageing a wine in a cask will allow a gentle form of oxidation to occur as well as imparting a flavour from the cask itself. A few examples to look out for: Saint Martin, Mercurey, Sirugue, François Freres, Damy, Cadus, Mercier, Dargaud & Aegle, Gillet, Remond and Rousseau.
Famous French oak forests include…
Allier: A département in central France with several oak
forests; tight grained.
Vosge: A forest west of Alsace; tight grained similar to Allier.
Limousin: Forests from a range of départements east of
Bordeaux; wide grained and tannic.
Tronçais: A specific forest in Allier.
Total Acidity: Titratable Acidity or TA. Expressed as grams per litre of acids present in wine, both fixed and volatile. In the “New World”, total acidity is reported as if all acids were tartaric; in France and other European countries it is measured as if they were sulphuric, which is 0.653 of the value expressed for tartaric. Values (tartaric) typically vary between 4.5 g/l (minimum permitted in the EU) and 8 g/l for very acidic or under ripe grapes though the range is generally between 6-7 g/l.
Trellis: A system for training grape vines. Selection of an appropriate trellising system involves many factors and is usually a subjective choice.
Verasion: The stage of fruit development marked by berry colouring.
Volatile: Volatile acids are those naturally occurring organic acids that may be separated by distillation. The most common volatile acid in wine is acetic acid, which gives a vinegar like flavour.
Whole Berry: Grape bunches go through a crusher/destemmer but the machine is adjusted so that although the berries are separated from the stalks they are not crushed.
Whole Bunch: Placing uncrushed bunches of grapes into a fermenter. The process will often give a flavour that is described as “green”. It also adds natural tannin.
Worked: When the winemaker intervenes to encourage the production of secondary flavour, lees stirring, whole bunches, encouraging Malolactic fermentation, etc.
Wild Ferment: A spontaneous ferment started by wild (natural, ambient) yeast, as opposed to one started by inoculation with cultured yeast.