“Wine Speak” for the Holidays

Hello, holiday season. A friend of mine who works for a California winery provided this month’s blog post. Thank you, Rob!

“Harvest is in full swing in California Wine Country.  Most folks don’t realize, Harvest begins in August of each Year! 

This is when Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are harvested at lower Brix (sugar level) to produce Sparkling wine (12.5% to 13.5% alc. as opposed to 14.5% alc. content for Still Wine).  The goal is to have all the fruit crushed by the very end of October- if possible, before the winter rains arrive in November.

  • Still Wine:  Still Wines can be White, Rose’ or Red wines, but never Sparkling.  Still Wines are the traditional wines we all know, which comes from grape fermentation.
  • Cuvee’:  When you see this French term printed on any wine label, Sparkling, or Still, ,this simply means the wine is a certain blend. 
  • Vintage:  The year the grapes were grown and harvested.
  • NV:  When you see “NV” on a bottle of Port, as an example, this means “Non-Vintage,” or a blend of different vintages (such as 2019, 2021 and 2023 in the same bottling).
  • Meritage:  Probably the most mis-pronounced word in wine country!  Most folks, channeling their inner-Parisian, will say: Meri-TAAHGE. 
  • The correct pronunciation is:  MERH-RI- TIDGE.  This is a California born term adopted in 1988, celebrating Californina Merit and Heritage for making wine.  The grapes must be a blend of the grapes used in Bordeaux (grown in CA).  A red Meritage may be made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot.  A white Meritage would be a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
  • Sweet vs. Fruit Forward:  A sweet wine contains residual sugar not converted into alcohol.  That is, its not made bone dry, leaving no trace of sugar. Some winemakers leave small amounts of sugar in wine to make them more appealing.   A few examples of wines that may contain residual sugar: Port style wine, Late Harvest wine, some (NOT all) Gewurztraminer, some (NOT all) Resiling , and Moscato wine to name a few.  Some of us will take a sip of dry still wine and conclude that the wine tastes “sweet.”  What you are tasting is the fruit and not heavy oak from the barrel.  The wine is not sweet at all, yet what we deem in the business as “Fruit Forward”.  Fruit forward wines are not necessarily “sweet” wines.

Tip for the day:  Keep wine simple!; Do you like it, or not?

Try less of trying to pick out what a Winemaker or Sommelier describes what the wine tastes like to them.  Remember….everyone’s palate is uniquely their own!


May your holidays be full of cheer! (and wine, if you like 😉😊).

3 thoughts on ““Wine Speak” for the Holidays”

  1. Thanks for the lesson, Rob! I never knew what cuvee meant, but I thought it would be more complex than just “blend.” I’ll remember that next time.


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