Technical Wine Terms Q to T

  • Qualitatswein: a German term meaning literally 'quality wine'. The term covers the two upper tiers of Germany's four-tier wine classification system: QbA (Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) and Pradikatswein (formerly Qualitatswein mit Pradikat or QmP). See: German wine label information.

  • Rain shadow: a geo-meteorological phenomenon of great importance to viticulture, in which an area of elevated topography blocks the passage of rainclouds between two points. The effect creates a 'shadow' on the leeward (downwind) side, where precipitation is much lower than on the windward (upwind) side. This is perfectly exemplified by the Vosges mountains of Alsace, which shelter the vineyards below from rain-bearing westerly winds. Rain shadows may hinder or benefit a viticulture, depending on the extent to which they dry out the land.

  • Rancio: a particular aroma associated with wines that are oxidatively matured, often hot conditions. The resulting wines, often fortified or vins doux naturels, develop distinctive aromas of nuts, raisins, dried/overripe fruits, molasses, caramel and sometimes even (as the name implies) rancid butter.

  • Residual sugar: natural sugar which remains in a wine after alcoholic fermentation. A wine will contain residual sugar if:

    • the grapes were harvested with extremely high sugar levels (must weight). Yeast cannot survive once alcohol levels pass a certain point (about 16% ABV), so any sugar remaining after this point will be residual in the finished wine.
    • the wine was fortified with spirit, stopping fermentation before the natural grape sugars have been consumed by the yeasts.
    • the wine contains sugar types (e.g. arabinose) which standard wine yeasts cannot break down.

  • Rootstock: The root onto which a vine scion is grafted. The practice of grafting the fruiting vine of one species onto the rootstock of another is common and widespread; it is most often used to mitigate viticultural risks, most notably phylloxera. For example, vitis vinifera vines are commonly grafted onto the phylloxera-resistant rootstocks of vitis berlandieri, vitis riparia and vitis rupestris, combining the fruiting qualities of the former with the pest-resistance of the latter.

  • Saignee: French for 'bled'; a technique used for the production of rose wines in which the free-run juice is run off or 'bled' from a batch of crushed dark-skinned grapes after a short period of maceration or skin contact, resulting in a pink-colored wine. The method is also useful to enhance the quality of red wines, as the ratio of juice to grapeskin increases, producing a more deeply colored concentrated red wine.

  • Schist: a form of complex metamorphic rock with a physical and chemical nature that has been altered through heat, pressure or chemical reactions. Schists are high in minerals like mica, chlorite, talc and graphite which are often found as flaky layers. They are also thought to be responsible for imparting characteristic mineral notes to wines from many well-known regions of the world, including Cote-Rotie, parts of Alsace, Central Otago and Priorat.

  • Solera: a blending and maturation technique used for heavier styles of wine, particularly sherry, to create a consistent product. A typical solera consists of tiers of barrels stacked in such a way that the lowermost barrel acts as the source for the final blend. Each time an amount of liquid is drawn out, of it, the wines in the upper barrels are used to replenish it, thereby creating a fractional blend.

  • Sur lie: a French term literally meaning 'on lees'. Lees are the residue of fermentation, composed of dead yeast cells and grape particles. Typically, the term is used to denote a style achieved by maturing the wine in contact with the lees, a process that adds to its complexity, mouthfeel and texture. The wine which best exemplifies this style is Muscadet, from France's Loire Valley.

  • Tannins: a group of chemical compounds or phenolics found predominantly in the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Tannins are vital to a wine's profile as they are partly responsible for its taste and sensory properties. They also play an important part in stabilizing the color of red wines by binding with the anthocyanins. Tannins in wine are also derived from oak, during both barrel maturation and barrel fermentation.

  • Teinturier: French word meaning literally 'tinter', or 'dyer', denoting wine grape varieties with pigmented flesh (e.g. Alicante Bouschet, Dunkelfelder and Saperavi). While most grape varieties have uncolored flesh - and give clear juice - the teinturier grapes have red-tinted flesh, and make significantly richer-colored wines. Originally used just as a blending component, some teinturier varieties are now used to make varietal wines, most notably Alicante Bouschet in Portugal and Spain.

  • Terroir: the grape-growing conditions of a particular site, which include the area's climate, soil composition, presence of water, position on a slope and altitude.

  • Thiols: also known as mercaptans, thiols are compounds that can be both beneficial as well as detrimental to a wine's aroma. Sulfur-containing compounds are transformed during fermentation and contribute to classic varietal aromas such as passionfruit in Sauvignon Blanc, and gunflint/smoky aromas in other white wines. During and following alcoholic fermentation, yeasts and lees can release unpleasant smelling thiols like Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) or Methanethiol. If not treated, they may be described as rotten egg, cabbage, garlic and struck match. These negative effects may be corrected with copper sulfate or aeration. Screwcapped wines with a hermetic seal encourage the formation of these unpleasant-smelling thiols, which is often referred to as 'reduction'.

  • Topography: relates to the physical features of a region which play a vital role in shaping the overall climate and, correspondingly, the local viticultural conditions. It is a broad term that involves many geographical elements such as altitude, proximity to hills or elevated land masses, the location of any nearby water bodies, such as rivers, lakes and oceans, the slope of the land, the position on a slope (also known as aspect).

  • Tries Successives: a grape-harvesting technique used particularly for the creation of sweet wines. Multiple passes (tries successives) are made through a vineyard, during which only the very ripest grapes, and those affected by botrytis, are picked.