Wine: Demystifying all that wine talk

Sniffing around for more information on wine? Photo: iStock
Sniffing around for more information on wine? Photo: iStock

HANDS up if this applies to you: you enjoy a drop of wine but find the whole wine-talk thing confusing. Pompous sometimes, intimidating at others. Thought so.

Fear not, it's time to demystify things. Here's a few questions you might want answered.

What is terroir?

It's a French word (pronounced ter-wah) that means all the little things that add up to make a vineyard site unique - the slope of the land, the soil type, exposure to wind, sunlight, the big tree in the corner ... how they all combine to give the wine its individuality.

What's the difference between pinot gris and pinot grigio?

Not much. In fact it's the same grape. In France they call it Gris and in Italy they call it Grigio. The French tend to make their pinot gris in a richer, fuller style than the Italians, who prefer a leaner, more acidic style. This then is what influences Australian producers when naming their wine.

Why are roses planted at the end of rows of grape vines?

Roses and grapes suffer from a number of the same fungal diseases. As luck would have it - for grape growers, anyway - roses start to show the effects first. This means that by keeping an eye on the health of these roses, grape growers will know whether their vines are under any disease stress. 

I’ve seen cabernet shiraz and also shiraz cabernet. Are they the same?

The variety that forms the bulk of the wine comes first. So cabernet shiraz has more cabernet than shiraz in the blend and vice versa. If there are more than two varieties in the wine, they must be listed in descending order.

How many grapes does it take to make a bottle of wine?

Ballpark figure, 800.

Can you mix red and white grapes in a wine?

Yes, and chances are you've probably tasted on without knowing it. Shiraz (red) and viognier (white, pronounced vee-on-yay) work well together. Usually it's just a couple of per cent of viognier added to the shiraz. It gives the shiraz a silkier feel in the mouth.

Is there a difference between a vintage and non-vintage sparkling?

Vintage comes from one specific year whereas non-vintage is from a number of years, blended together. The more valued wine is the single vintage. In good years the majority of the fruit will go towards making a single vintage wine (more expensive and more profitable). In lesser years more will go into the non-vintage to ensure the integrity of their single vintage quality.