What Every Wine Geek Needs to Know, Right Now

At the Wine Ambassador, we're all about cultivating the wine geek in all of us! The world of wine is always changing, and even the most experienced wine experts are always learning. At the end of last year, this review of the Oxford Companion to Wine was published, and it does a great job of highlighting how resources such as this one have to evolve as the art of winemaking continues to expand. We hope this article will help to increase your curiosity!

With the fourth edition to the Oxford Companion to Wine, some new terms and trends have come into play.

by Elin McCoy

Original article found on Bloomberg.com on November 6, 2015.

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Listen up: Do you know what these phrases mean: “Pet-nat,” “concrete eggs,” “en rama,” “koshu,” or “red blotch”? You’re not up to speed with the latest trends if you don’t. These terms tip off changes in the ever-more-evolving wine world that affect what you’re drinking.

Fortunately, they also happen to be among the 350 new entries in the just-published 4th edition of the weighty, authoritative, indispensable Oxford Companion to Wine, so it’s easy to catch up. [Image: Source: Oxford University Press]

First published in 1994 and last revised in 2006, the book keeps pace with the times. The new must-have edition packs 978,609 words and more than 4,000 entries into 912 pages. It weighs 6.2 pounds, so forget reading it in bed.

Over lunch at Gramercy Tavern, accompanied by glasses of savory 2012 Kiralyudvar Furmint Sec ($20 at retail), OCW editor Jancis Robinson filled me in on how she and her co-editor Julia Harding, both Masters of Wine, backed up by some 200 experts, updated this sumo wrestler of a reference guide.


Their guiding question: What new trends, regions, grapes, winemaking methods, and more would people want to look up?

Such as ‘petillant naturel,’ the lightly fizzy, often cloudy bubbly known affectionately as pet-nat. Currently beloved by hipster sommeliers, it’s a return to a old-fashioned way of making sparkling wine. My current favorite is Agnes & Rene Mosse Moussamoussettes Rosé ($20).

The popularity of this low-fi winemaking is one example of the recent mainstreaming of "natural wine." The term, barely used in 2006, gets an entry.

Chateau-Pontet-Canet

“There’s been a massive change in the style of wine that people seek,” explained Robinson. “Very ripe, high-alcohol wines are out. Winemakers are looking to tradition—returning to their grandparents’ methods—and moving away from aging wine in new oak.” (Wake up, barrel-addicted California winemakers!) Bordeaux’s Chateau Pontet-Canet, like a growing number of estates, has replaced some cooperage with "concrete eggs" (look under "concrete"). Producers who use these egg-shaped concrete tanks for fermention and ageing instead of oak barrels say it results in wines that have fresher, fruitier aromas and rich textures without the harsh overlay of oak.


[Image: Bordeaux’s Chateau Pontet-Canet, like a growing number of estates, has replaced some cooperage with "concrete eggs." Source: Chateau Pontet-Canet]


Current curiosity about native grape varieties that people hadn’t heard of a decade ago inspired the inclusion of Japan’s koshu (try delicate white Grace Kayagatake Koshu, $25) and Santorini’s red mavrotragano (try Domaine Sigalas, $30), while "sauvignon gris" has become newly fashionable. An example I tried last week: subtle, complex 2014 Les Arums de Chateau Lagrange ($20). The white blend from Bordeaux now includes 20 percent sauvignon gris.

New wine spots you’ll be hearing about include Nova Scotia, a source of quality ice wines, and, thanks to climate change and milder winters, Sweden (yes, really) with about 350 wine growers. Most are hobbyists producing tiny amounts of grapes. But about three dozen commercialize their wines (the best are the whites) at winery restaurants or through Sweden’s government-owned chain of liquor stores.

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Current curiosity about native grape varieties that people hadn’t heard of a decade ago inspired new entries in the 4th edition. From left: Agnes &; Rene Mosse Moussamoussettes Rosé; Lustau Fino en Rama from El Puerto de Santa Maria; Domaine Sigalas' mavrotragano; Grace Kayagatake Koshu; Les Arums de Chateau Lagrange.

[Image: Current curiosity about native grape varieties that people hadn’t heard of a decade ago inspired new entries in the 4th edition. From left: Agnes &; Rene Mosse Moussamoussettes Rosé; Lustau Fino en Rama from El Puerto de Santa Maria; Domaine Sigalas' mavrotragano; Grace Kayagatake Koshu; Les Arums de Chateau Lagrange. Source: (from left) Agora Vino; Lea & Sandeman; Redwhiteandbubbles.com; Grace Wine; Mondovino.com]

Maison-Etienne-Guigal

The latest exciting trend of the sherry revival is "en rama," or crisp, superfresh, unfiltered raw sherries bottled straight from the cask. A top example: Lustau Fino en Rama from El Puerto de Santa Maria ($20), first released two years ago.

Even the language people use to describe a wine’s taste is shifting. The OCW has added a tart, highly entertaining entry on "minerality." A now ubiquitous buzzword used by critics and sommeliers, it implies quality and refers to flavors that remind wine lovers of chalk, slate, and wet rocks.


One depressing contemporary issue reflected in the massive tome is the rise in wine crimes.

Robinson and Harding included "counterfeit wine," "authentication," "provenance," and "vandalism" for the first time. One of the latest examples in the news: In September, thieves stole €40,000 worth of grapes from Maison Etienne Guigal in the Rhone Valley, which go into a fabulous rare white dessert wine called Luminescence ($125).

[Image: In September, thieves stole 40,000 euros of grapes from Maison Etienne Guigal in the Rhone Valley. Source: Maison Etienne Guigal]

Wine apps are another recent wine-world addition (look under "apps, wine").

Though there are now hundreds you can download onto your tablet or smartphone, and more will be coming, most I’ve tried are useless. Among the most popular are free tasting note databases, such as label reader Delectable, one of my favorites. Scan a label at a wine store or restaurant and get information, price, and reviews and rate it yourself.

label-reader-Delectable

You may not be as interested as I am in red blotch (a recently identified vine virus that’s playing havoc with the ripening of grapes in California vineyards), but given the state’s ferocious wild fires this year, you may want to check out new entry "smoke taint," which includes the latest research on how it affects a wine’s taste.


The 21st century urban winery movement also gets recognition, and hundreds are now in cities across the U.S., including New York. Berkeley, Calif., is the pioneering hotbed, with several vintners, including Edmunds St. John (Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir, $22) and Broc Cellars (Valdiguié, $25), making delicious wine.

[Image: Among the most popular wine apps are free tasting note databases, like label reader Delectable. Photo illustration: Jeremy Allen/Bloomberg; app: Delectable; phone: Apple]


The OCW is such a comprehensive compendium of what’s au courant in the wine world that I found myself wondering why wine crowdfunding wasn’t among the new terms.

Turning to such sites as Seedrs.com and Indiegogo.com is how many wineries are beginning to raise cash. In August, eccentric California vintner Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon offered wacky perks to those who contributed a total of $171,470 on Indiegogo.com for Popelouchum, his project to breed 10,000 new grape varieties. The wackiest: a 650-pound spacecraft sculpture designed to look like his Le Cigare Volant wine logo.

Bonny-Doon-Le-Cigare-VolantIf the trend lasts, I’m guessing this term will make it into the next edition (or maybe even the online version that will make its debut on www.jancisrobinson.com later this fall). Meanwhile, just about everything else you want to know about wine is right here.


[Image: Bonny Doon's Le Cigare Volant wine logo (above), which served as inspiration for the 650-pound spacecraft sculpture eccentric California vintner Randall Grahm offered as a perk on Indiegogo.com (below). Source: Bonny Doon Vineyard]

Information on this book: The Oxford Companion to Wine, Fourth Edition, edited by Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding. $65, $40 on Amazon.com; digital versions also available.

We hope this article adds to your wine IQ! The Wine Ambassador is a wine community based on enjoying and learning more about the world of wine!