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Terms Dictionary

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Absinthe This light green, potent, herbal and anise infused liqueur inspired artists and writers at the turn of the last century in Paris. In this century, it has inspired the renaissance of Parisian-style bistros as well as a slew of copycat liqueurs including Anisette, Ouzo, Pernod, and Ricard.

Acidity Chemical compounds, most often malic and tartaric in wine, that are evident as a prickling sensation. They give balance, lift, and longevity. Natural acidity is evidence of a cool growing climate. Some extremely sweet dessert wines, such as ice wines from Germany, Austria, or Canada, have piercing, direct acidity as a balancing counterpoint to their sweetness.

Advocaat From Holland, this thick, creamy liqueur is made up of brandy and egg yolks.

Aftertaste Just what it says. The lingering presence of flavors and sensations on your palate after the wine/beer/spirit/cigar is physically out of your mouth. The length of this aftertaste, when referring to wine, is directly related to quality and is called persistence. The longer the finish, or persistence, the higher quality the wine. The opposite is true of cigars. The finer, and older, if well stored, the cigar, the less its presence will be felt after it has been smoked.

Aging As time goes by, the elements in a bottle of fine wine will merge together. A well-aged wine has a seamless personality. A wine that is too young to consume will have multiple components, all fighting for your attention, most commonly oak, alcohol, and fruit extract. Less than 5% of the wine produced around the globe today is meant for aging, so buy what you like and drink it up!

Aglianico From Hellenic, or Ellenico, in Italian, this red grape variety of Greek origin grows in southern Italy. Taurasi of Campania and Aglianico del Vulture of Basilicata are two benchmark examples of the deeply colored, intense, boldly flavored wines from this varietal.

Alcohol Alcohol is a natural by-product of the interaction of plant forms. Ethyl alcohol, the result of fermenting liquids containing sugar, has been used both as medicine and therapy from the earliest recorded times. It is defined as a food because it releases energy.

Ale Top fermented brew with higher alcohol, fuller body, and more bitterness from hops than bottom fermented lagers. The fermenting tank is cooler at the bottom, hotter at the top. The hotter fermentation of ale is responsible for its stronger personality.

Amarone A full-bodied, dry, rich, and sometimes bittersweet (amaro in Italian) red wine from Verona in northeastern Italy made with the same grapes as Valpolicella, primarily the corvina veronese varietal. Amarone is much heavier in body than Valpolicella because the grapes are dried, or raisinated, which concentrates them, and then subjected to further concentration and dehydration by a beneficial mold known as botrytis cinerea before fermentation. Amarones are delicious with mellow, nutty, hard cheeses, earthy game dishes, or with extremely dark, bitter chocolate. Think of them as zinfandels without the boisterous, sweet, jammy fruit.

Amontillado This is a medium dry sherry in the fino category. It is more deeply colored and higher in alcohol than fino proper, but much drier and lighter than the more popular cream sherries such as Harvey's Bristol Cream. Amontillado from Lustau, for example, at about $12 the bottle, is an excellent value and a nice change of pace from chardonnay. Serve 1 or 2 ounces at cool room temperature in a copita or a small white wine glass as an aperitif with cheese, calamari, sardines, or chorizo sausage.

Angostura Bitters A spirit from Trinidad made of a distillation of water, alcohol, gentian root and vegetable flavoring extracts, not from Brazilian angostura bark as the name suggests. Add a few drops to orange juice, sparkling water, or ginger ale, fruit salads, salad dressings, and cream-based soups. It is most often used by bartenders for cocktails such as an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Rum Punch.

ApŠritif A category of liquor or wine meant to stimulate the appetite. Champagne, delicate ros‚ or blush wines, crisp, unoaked sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, or any dry, light, neutral white wine works well, especially when served with appetizers or little snacks such as pretzels, chips, nuts, and olives. Heavier apŠritifs include the fortified Campari, Dubonnet, Lillet, and Fino, Manzanilla, or Amontillado sherry.

Apricot Brandy Apricot Liqueur with a brandy base.

Aquavit Translates to "water of life" and is the national beverage of Scandinavia. This spirit is distilled first from barley or potatoes and then again primarily with caraway seeds. Serve 1 ounce neat and well chilled with caviar or smoked fish.

Armagnac From one of France's two demarcated brandy regions, Armagnac is considered to be more fiery and rustic than cognac. The region is about one/sixth the size of cognac; it generally undergoes single, continuous distillation; and the product is sometimes vintage dated, unlike cognac. Serve neat in a large snifter after dinner.

Aroma The most important part of wine tasting and evaluation. Using your nose is easy; describing what you smell is where the challenge lays. Concentrate, forget all of the mind-boggling wine snob-wielding wine speak, and just say whatever comes to mind. Remember, it is your nose. Whatever you say is right! To flesh out your descriptive vocabulary, take a trip to your spice rack, then to your fruit bowl, then to your fridge. Go into Whole Foods market and stick your nose into those jars full of spices and herbs. If you would like to get more serious, begin with THE WINE AROMA WHEEL from A.C. Noble. Go to http://www.wineserver.ucdavis.edu/oldsite/acnoble/waw.html#get , email acnoble@ucdavis.edu, or call 530-752-0387.

Aromatized Wines A fortified wine in which herbs, roots, flowers, barks, or other natural products have been steeped. Vermouth is the most common aromatized wine. Dubonnet, Byrhh, Lillet, St. Raphael, Campari, Cynar, and Punt ‚ Mes are also in this category.

Asti Spumante Millions of bottles of this Italian sparkling wine are opened at weddings and graduations each June. This inexpensive sparkler from Piedmont is made with the moscato, or muscat grape. It is softly sparkling, semi-sweet, and is of moderate alcohol (usually at about 8% as opposed to the normal 11-14%). If you like Asti and and want to step up a notch, try Moscato d'Asti.

Astringence A physical sensation that actually constricts the muscles on your palate when it comes into contact with sour, bitter, or tart substances. Think of biting into a lemon wedge. Now take that same lemon wedge and sprinkle it with sugar or salt. It becomes much less astringent. This is one of the reasons astringent, or tart wines, do not win high scores from the wine press. They are tasted alone without food and are easily overshadowed by the bigger, beefier, fruitier, oakier, louder wines.