The Journal / Body

Assemblage

In each issue's 'assemblage' section, we compose a blend of shorter snippets relating to the theme.

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For our Body Issue, we’re taking a stroll through a few things corporeal. As you may have noticed, bodily wine terms are in no short supply – and it’s possible that’s no accident. From the bodies that cultivate, tend, and transform our grapes… to the profoundly sensory act of tasting and appreciating wine (thought to have been a part of human experience for nearly 8000 years), the two are inextricably linked. 

FYI: there’s been discussion in recent years about some less-than-tasteful habits in the language surrounding bodily or gendered terms in wine writing. For this Issue, we unpacked that important subject with groundbreaking author Sandrine Goeyvaerts – please read our interview with her here, to discover why context is everything when it comes to wine terminology. 

And without further ado, let’s get physical…

Body

Full disclosure… in wine as in life, this is a term that’s difficult to define. Depending on who you ask, at what time of day, wine body can be described (and ascribed) very differently. But most agree that it refers to the impression of weight or fullness on the palate, otherwise known as ‘viscosity’.

Most often, this is linked to alcohol and sugar content – but can include minerality, acidity, flavour compounds, colour, solids, tannins, even glycerin. Commonly, we refer to wine as ‘light’, ‘medium’ or ‘full’ bodied – but there are often many subtler shades in between.

Legs (or ‘tears’)

 

When the inside of a glass is coated, whether by swirling before tasting or as the wine is sipped, the ‘legs’ are the streaks or droplets that begin to fall down the sides of the glass.

With higher viscosity, which relates to the types (and quantities) of alcohol or sugars present, legs usually ‘run’ more slowly. Glass or crystal temperature and quality can also impact their formation.

Breathing

Exposing the wine to oxygen before drinking, to improve expression of flavour and aroma. The reason we open a bottle a little while before pouring, or decant into various types of vessel that improve oxygen flow.

Fleshy

A term used to describe wine texture, when the impression is of biting into a juicy fruit such as a plum or nectarine, often present in riper wines from warmer climates. Occasionally, it can also refer to after-taste or texture.

Skin Contact

Part of most maceration processes, skin-contact refers to the steeping of grape juices in the skins and must – solids – of the grapes after pressing and during initial fermentation.  This imparts colour, flavour, and tannins, along with body, as phenolic compounds are transferred from skin to liquid. ‘Skin Contact’ or ‘Orange’ wines are white wines that have been allowed to remain in contact with their skins (extended maceration) for longer periods of time – anywhere from a few days to a year.

Bite

Prized in richer, more full-bodied wines, bite suggests a pronounced degree of acidity or tannins – ideally a zesty ‘zing’ rather than a stinging sharpness on the finish.

Nose

 

A tasting term that describes the aromas and olfactory ‘bouquet’ of a wine. Officially, the second step in wine tasting (after an initial visual appraisal – although there’s no hard and fast rule). A deep breath through the (your) nose over the mouth of the glass, while moving the stem gently, allows the scent of a wine to be drawn into the sensitive pathways within and behind the nasal cavity – where subtle, complex, and often evocative aromas can be received.

A selection of notable noses from our Château Lafite Almanac include: 

“A glorious ‘old ivy’ and coal-tar nose, sweet, soft, delicate” (1887)

“A nose like a chicken coop that improves after breathing” (1889)

“Light rhubarb, cheesy nose” (1928)

“[A] medicinal nose reminding me of the smell of Dr. Gilchrist’s surgery in my Yorkshire boyhood days” 1969 (reflection by the one and only Michael Broadbent)

“Sublime nose of almond and fine spices” (1979)“‘Maritime’ nose, full of surprises and motion when you taste it— just like the tide.” (2001)

“Very lovely nose.” (2004)

Shoulder (bottle)

The part of a traditionally-shaped wine bottle that slopes outward – immediately below the narrow, straight neck.

Arms

In pruning, the Guyot technique is a method where a vine’s younger canes or branches are cut during the winter months, leaving only one or two designated canes or ‘arms’. These emerge directly from the vine’s trunk, usually spreading out to left and right along a trellis. Each arm is left with a spur (the remnants of a pruned branch) at the base – which will become the next year’s designated cane. The method protects from frost, and concentrates growth for stronger, healthier vines.

Backbone

A term used to describe a wine’s structure, referring to the balance of acidity, alcohol and tannins. Wines with ‘backbone’ are full-bodied, well structured and balanced by just the right amount of acidity.

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