Make the Most of Your Vineyard Visit
1. Plan ahead. Many wineries have limited hours. Appointments to taste and tour wineries are very easy to set up and in many cases can be quite impromptu, so don’t hesitate to call ahead even if it’s last minute.
2. Ask questions. Wine tasting is an opportunity not only to educate your palate, but also to learn more about the winemaking process.
3. Designate a driver. For a carefree day of tasting, this is the best way to go. Available local tour services are fun and especially affordable. It is illegal for a tasting room to serve wine to anyone who appears intoxicated, even if they have a designated driver — so taste responsibly.
4. Feel free to use the dump buckets set out on the tasting bar for excess wine.
5. Limit yourself to no more than four wine tastes per winery.
6. Ask before you picnic at a winery, and never bring other alcoholic beverages to drink at a winery.
7. Children are welcome during non-event weekends, but please keep an eye on them. Most wineries operate heavy equipment and therefore it is not safe for unsupervised children. Remember, no one under the age of 21 may sample wine — not even your children.
8. Always taste from whites to reds. If you’ve already entered the red list and want to try a particular white again, try another day. If you’re on the cusp of whether or not to buy it, take your best guess or come back for another try later.
9. Try vertical/horizontal tasting. Vertical tasting involves sampling the same wine from different years. Horizontal tasting involves sampling the same vintage year and wine from different wineries.
10. Step away from the wine. If you’re in a winery that’s very busy at the tasting bar, back away from the bar after receiving a tasting.
11. Don’t wear perfume, cologne, or lotions. The aromas of the wine mingle with strong scented cosmetics, which alter perception in taste, and can ruin the experience for others.
12. Follow the winery’s advice on tasting order. Winemakers’ styles differ, so trust the order provided by each winery’s experts.
13. Acidity: Since acid is present in all grapes, it’s also present in all wines. It is extremely important in determining structure, shape and lifespan, and it helps preserve wine for longer aging. Good acid levels can make a wine crisp and refreshing, supporting the aftertaste.
14. Appellation: In the United States, appellation is a grape-growing area defined strictly by a geographic area. If a wine label cites an appellation, 75% of the grapes must be grown in that appellation. (For a more detailed explanation of Appellation, see 37, 38 and 39.)
15. Aroma: Refers to fragrances in the wine that are characteristic of the grapes. For instance, Chardonnay might be described as citrusy. Its aromas of lemon, lime or grapefruit come from the grapes; they are not added. Also see Bouquet or Nose.
16. Balance: An integration of the major components of wine (fruit, acidity, tannins, alcohol, oak) so none outweighs the other. A balanced wine fills the mouth with flavors.
17. Barrel Fermented: Wine that is fermented in 55-gallon oak barrels contributing to an increased complexity and flavor. The interaction with wood adds suggestions of spice and vanilla to wines.
18. Body: The feeling of a wine’s weight in the mouth, such as full-bodied, medium-bodied or light-bodied.
19. Bouquet: The fragrances in the wine that are introduced by the wine-making process, including the smell of the oak (vanilla) or the yeast in the wine.
20. Chewy: Describes full-bodied, sometimes tannic wines — rich enough to chew on.
21. Complexity: The interplay of a wines many characteristics. A wine can be at once rich and deep, yet balanced and showing finesse.
22. Corked: The term corked refers to wine that smells moldy and disagreeable as a result of a bad cork likely tainted with bacteria called TCA (trichloroanisole).
23. Dry: A wine with little or no perceptible sweetness.
24. Earthy: Wine, such as Pinot Noir, that has the smell or slight taste of fresh dirt.
25. Enology: The science of winemaking, also spelled oenology.
26. Estate Bottled: Indicates the winery owns or controls the grapes that produced the wine in the bottle.
27. Fermentation: The process by which yeast converts sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, turning grape juice into wine.
28. Field Blend: A common practice among the early grape growers in Mendocino County, where complementary grape varieties were interplanted in a vineyard. The grapes are harvested and fermented together, creating a field-blend wine.
29. Finish: The taste that remains in the mouth after the wine is swallowed. A long, lingering finish is considered desirable.
30. Fortified: The addition of brandy or spirits to wine to increase alcohol content.
31. Grassy: An aroma or taste of grass or newly-mowed hay — usually associated with Sauvignon Blanc.
32. Lees: Sediment and yeast found in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. More winemakers are using the old technique of aging wine on the lees to increase complexities in aromas and flavors.
33. Legs: The drops of wine that slide down the sides of the glass when it is swirled, indicating the alcohol content in the wine. 34. Length: The amount of time a wine’s taste and aroma are evident after swallowing.
35. Made and Bottled By: The legal phrase used if a winery crushed, fermented and bottled at the same location at least 10% of the wine in the bottle.
36. Nose: Refers to how the wine smells, similar to aroma and bouquet — as in, “This wine has a great nose.”
37. Oaky: Describes the aroma or taste character of a wine that has interacted with the oak of a wood barrel.
38. Oxidized: A loss of freshness from exposure to air. If a wine has been open for several days, it will become oxidized.
39. Produced and Bottled By: A legal phrase that indicates the winery crushed, fermented and bottled a minimum of 75% of the wine in the bottle.
40. Racking: The traditional practice of moving wine from one container to another. Essentially it is decanting on a grand scale by moving wine from barrel to barrel to rid the wine of sediment.
41. Residual Sugar: The amount of unfermented grape sugar remaining in a wine. Dessert wines have a high level of residual sugar, while dry table wines have little to no residual sugar.
42. Split: The term used for a six-ounce bottle of wine, usually champagne.
43. Sulfites: A natural by-product of fermentation. Sulfites (in small quantities) may be added to wine to guard against spoilage.
44. Sur Lie: A term used for wines aged on the lees (also see Lees #32).
45. Table Wine: The legal term for wine that is less than 14% alcohol. Any wine over 14% alcohol must state the alcohol content on the front label and may not use the term “table wine” on the label.
46. Tannin: Chemicals found in the skins of many fruits, including grapes, which impart astringency. Tannin naturally preserves wine from oxidation and is a primary component in determining the wine’s structure and aging potential.
47. Tartrates: Natural, purely harmless crystals from the tartaric acids present in wines that often form in used casks, in wine sediment and on used corks. Although they look like cut glass, they are completely safe, and are a positive indication to experienced tasters that a wine has not been overly processed.
48. Unfiltered: Some winemakers do not filter their wine because they believe filtering strips aromas and flavors from the wine. However, these wines can be clarified using a fining process.
49. Unfined: Wine that was not treated with any fining agents; however, it can be clarified using filtering. Some winemakers believe fining wine strips essential aromas and flavors from the wine.
50. Varietal: Term used to describe a wine produced from a particular type (variety) of grape. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and hundreds of others are examples of varietal wines.
51. Varietal Character: The aromas and flavors typical for a particular grape variety.
52. Variety: Term used to describe a type of grape. A wine made from a particular grape variety (e.g., Zinfandel) is referred to as a varietal.
53. Vintage: The year the grapes were grown and harvested.
54. Viticulture: The science of grape growing. When including the production of wine, the proper term is viniculture.
55. Wine Thief: A glass or plastic tube used to get a sample of wine from a barrel or other container.
56. Yeast: Important microorganisms that cause fermentation by converting sugar to alcohol.
57. Appellation: is a term used to define different grape growing regions. If “California” is on a wine label, the wine is made from grapes grown anywhere in California. If “Mendocino County” is on the label, then at least 75% of the grapes were grown in Mendocino County. Within the Mendocino County appellation there are almost a dozen sub-appellations, including the Anderson Valley, Redwood Valley and Mendocino Ridge.
58. Many appellation boundaries are easy to understand. State and county appellations of origin such as California and Mendocino County are defined by governmental boundaries.
59. Sub-appellation boundaries are determined by similar climatic conditions, soil types and weather patterns, or what the French call “terroir.” Variations in terroir contribute to different flavors in the same grape variety grown in different regions. Mendocino County currently has 10 such legally defined AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas.
60. Alicante Bouschet: A cross between Petit Bouschet and Grenache, Alicante Bouschet’s red flesh and dark skin produce a wine with deep, intense color.
61. Barbera: Known for its rich color, low tannins and high acid, this Italian grape came to California in the 1880s and today is part of the “Cal-Italia” varietal trend produced by several Mendocino County wineries.
62. Cabernet Franc: Wine produced from this grape can have the intensity of flavors of a Cabernet Sauvignon without the overpowering tannins, allowing it to be enjoyed without waiting years for the tannins to soften.
63. Cabernet Sauvignon: Described as the “King of Red Wines,” this small grape produces some of the most magnificent and sought after wines in the world. Through DNA testing Cabernet Sauvignon was found to be a cross between Cabernet Franc (red grape) and Sauvignon Blanc (white grape).
64. Carignane (Carignan): Grown by early California wine pioneers Carignane produces a fruit-driven, easy-to-drink wine that is used as a blending wine, as well as a single varietal wine.
65. Champagne: Term for sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France.
66. Charbono: Thought to be a relative of Barbera or Dolcetto, or both varieties, that dates back to the 1880s in California. It is popular within the current “Cal-Italia” movement in the wine industry.
67. Chardonnay: The Queen to Cabernet Sauvignon’s King, this white grape variety produces the famous Champagne, Chablis, White Burgundy and Maconnais wines from France, and is the most popular white wine in the world. As a varietal wine, Chardonnay can range from rich, oaky and buttery to fresh, crisp and fruity.
68. Chenin Blanc: Once a popular wine ranging in style from dry to semi-dry to sweet, Chenin Blanc primarily is used for blending. The fruity, well-balanced wine is more challenging to find as a single varietal, but for white wine lovers, it can be worth the hunt.
69. Cinsaut (Cinsault): A Rhône varietal used to blend grapes or to produce an aromatic rosé, Cinsaut produces a soft, lightbodied red wine with perfume aromas and fruit forward flavors.
70. Dolcetto: From the Piedmont region of Italy, Dolcetto is produced in two distinctly different styles: a soft, slightly sweet aperitifstyled wine or a robust, hearty rich wine. A classic Dolcetto exhibits flavors of citrus peel, almonds, blueberries and even licorice.
71. French Colombard: Also known as Colombard, this white grape variety once was the second most planted grape in California. Today it rarely is found as a varietal wine, but with its fruit-forward flavors, it is used as a blending grape.
72. Fumé Blanc: A fanciful name for Sauvignon Blanc.
73. Gewürztraminer: Originally from the Alsace region of France, Gewürztraminer quietly gained fans for its strong floral aromas and classic lychee-nut and spicy flavors. This versatile, fruity white wine can be made semidry to bone dry as a late harvest dessert wine.
74. Grenache: In France’s Rhône region, Grenache is used in the classic Châteauneuf-duPape. In California it is often used in delicious Rhône varietal blends or in Rosé. Rivino.com
75. Malbec: Often used in Bordeaux-style blends and as a single varietal wine.
76. Marsanne: A white grape originating in the Rhône region of France. It frequently is blended with other Rhône varietals.
77. Meritage™: A trademark name developed by the Meritage Association to identify blends made from specific Bordeaux varietals. Association wineries’ Bordeaux must be produced from a blend of two or more of the following varieties in order to be called a Meritage: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenere. No single variety can be more than 90% of the blend. For a white wine Meritage, the wine must have two or more of the following varieties, and no single variety can be more than 90% of the blend: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert.
78. Merlot: A classic Bordeaux grape traditionally used for blending. In the early 1970s Merlot gained popularity with wine drinkers seeking a softer, fruitier red wine.
79. Mourvèdre: Mourvèdre arrived in Northern California in the 1870s from the Mediterranean regions of Spain and France, where it was called Mataro. It often is blended with varietals, such as Grenache, to create a fruity, crisp Rosé.
80. Muscat: A versatile grape with perfumy aromas and fruit-forward flavors dating back to early civilizations. Muscat varieties include Muscat Blanc, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Hamburg (Black Muscat), Orange Muscat and more.
81. Peloursin: An almost extinct French Rhône region variety that has been identified as having ties to Petite Sirah.
82. Petit Verdot: Used to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon or with other Bordeaux varietals to add color, a spicy quality and additional structure or backbone. This wine is rarely found as a single varietal.
83. Petite Sirah: DNA studies show Petite Sirah is the Rhône grape Durif, a cross between Peloursin and Syrah. Although called ‘petite’ the wine is anything but — it offers robust flavors and plenty of tannins.
84. Pinot Gris: Pinot Grigio is a natural mutation of Pinot Noir that yields a soft, perfumy white wine.
85. Pinot Noir: Grown in the cooler regions of Mendocino County, this fog-loving grape is an essential component in the production of some French Champagnes.
86. Port: This term is used to describe the famous fortified sweet wine made in Portugal. Port-style wines are made in the United States from a variety of grapes.
87. Riesling: Also known as Johannesburg Riesling or White Riesling, this classic German varietal was once produced by many California wineries. Now it is rarely found on a winery’s tasting list. Generally a flowery, fruity dry wine with high acid and low alcohol, it can be also be made in a semi-dry and late harvest style.
88. Rosé: A pink or salmon colored wine produced from red grapes. Because the juice has limited contact with the skins and seeds that give the wine structure and tannin, Rosé is a soft, easy-to-drink wine best served chilled.
89. Rousanne: A Rhône variety frequently blended with Marsanne and occasionally Syrah, Rousanne contributes good acidity and aromas of herbal tea and floral notes to the blends.
90. Sangiovese: Brought to Mendocino County by Italian immigrants, Sangiovese is produced as a varietal wine with possibly small amounts of other wines blended in to add a layer of dimension or additional flavor components.
91. Sauvignon Blanc: Also known as Fumé Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc is a classic variety that is an alternative to Chardonnay. Its styles can vary from grassy and herbaceous, to citrus qualities of lime and grapefruit, to flint and mineral qualities with gooseberry flavors.
92. Semillon: Traditionally blended with Sauvignon Blanc to produce dry table wine or a sweet dessert wine, including the renowned dessert wines from Sauternes, France. As a single varietal, Semillon displays aromas and flavors of figs and honey.
93. Shiraz: The Australian and South African name for the Syrah grape. See Syrah for additional info.
94. Sparkling Wine: Usually produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this wine bubbles when poured into a glass due to carbonation. Harvested early to capture the tangy flavors and high acids, a second fermentation in individual bottles starts with the addition of a small amount of sugar. Carbon dioxide, a natural by-product of fermentation, is trapped in the bottles and creates tiny bubbles when the sparkling wine is uncorked. This method of producing sparkling wine is called methode champenoise.
95. Syrah: Syrah is a warm climate wine with characteristics that include white pepper, leather, wild gamey and intense dark berry flavors.
96. Tempranillo: Considered the Cabernet Sauvignon of Spain, Tempranillo has many names including Tinto Fino, Tinta Roriz, Tinta del Pais, Aragonez and Valdepañas. Tempranillo is generally blended with other varietals, similarly to the use of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux.
97. Valdiguié: For years it was known as Napa Gamay or Gamay until DNA analysis properly identified this variety as Valdiguié. This original French variety has all but disappeared as a varietal in France just as it has gained in popularity in California.
98. Viognier: Originally from the Rhône region, Viognier wines have a distinctive fragrance, a combination of floral and fruity aroma and flavors. Sometimes small amounts are blended with Syrah to tame and add elegance to the wine.
99. White Zinfandel (also see Rosé #88): This soft, easy-to-drink wine is produced in a similar style to a Rosé, White Zinfandel is produced from Zinfandel grapes. As the grapes are crushed, the juice picks up some of the pigmentation from the skins, giving it a rose or pink color.
100. Zinfandel: Although how the first Zinfandel vines arrived in the United States is a mystery, DNA testing linked it to both the Italian variety Primitivo and the Croatian variety Crljenak Kasteljanski. Zinfandel was a standard variety found in field-blend wines produced by the Mendocino County wine pioneers. This robust wine has an enormous following among wine lovers.
101. Late Harvest: A term used to describe wine made from grapes picked after the normal harvest time, generally late fall. Such grapes have a much higher sugar content, or Brix, that can translate to a sweet wine that is high in alcohol, making them a perfect complement for after dinner.