UNDERSTANDING OUR WINE NOTES
Each wine on our website has comprehensive Wine Notes to provide you with as much information as possible before you purchase. Here's a guide to what they mean:
The type of wine is a simple premise of looking at red, white or rose. Moving outside this arena, there are many more types to be found:
Sparkling wines indicates just that - bubbles! But within this, there are specific types such as Prosecco, Cava and Champagne that must stick to strict rules regarding region, grape types and production methods to adopt such a name. Only wines from Champagne using certain grapes can be named as such, but there are also many Champagne Method (labelled as Traditional Method) wines from around the world.
Sweet wines, part of the category of Dessert wines, are richly sweet and created through three different methods: Noble Rot (fungal treatment on the vine), Late Harvest (overripe at harvest), Eiswein/Icewine (freezing at harvest), or Straw/Passito (drying out after harvest). They are usually white wines and will be in smaller sized bottles due to their richness and higher alcoholic strength.
Fortified wines are those that have been 'fortified' and usually long barrel-aged before bottling. Fortification began as a method to stop wine from spoiling on long sea journeys, and it is where the wine is mixed with a distilled spirit, traditionally brandy, to give it long life. Sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala and Vermouth are all created this way at their core, with differences in some areas of ingredients and production to produce each unique taste.
Mead is an English speciality and is made by fermenting honey and water. Thick and sweet, meads can be fermented with a range of fruits, herbs and spices for differing flavour. Our range from the Lancashire Mead Company is real mead using the highest amount of honey, rather than 'honey wine' that is often created with much less honey. Although we list Mead here, it is not officially a wine as not made from grapes. It is in a class of its own!
The type of grape used to make the wine is often the central factor when choosing your bottle. Here we try to provide not only the grape type(s), but the percentages in the blend. It is often good to check this as some wines labelled with a single grape type may not be 100%, and can have a certain percentage of wine from other grapes. It is also handy when looking at wine types such as Bordeaux. The last red Bordeaux you loved is not necessarily the same as the next - depending on which side of the river it comes from, it could have a very different make up of grapes.
Here we will tell you the country, wine region, and appellation within that region (if relevant). For example, this could read France/Burgundy/Chablis or Italy/Tuscany/Chianti. The effect this can have on the wine you buy can be staggering, so we will always try to provide as much information as possible and produce a range of handy guides to help you understand different countries, regions and appellations. Have a look here.
Our tasting notes are often a mixture of the information provided by the producer themselves, and our own tasting of the wine. We will describe the aromas and flavours of the wine, as well as palate texture, acidity/tannin level and the finish.
We feel this is important as aromas on the nose can differ from flavours coming through on the palate, whose texture can also define your tasting experience - light and delicate or full and robust. Acidity levels for whiter wines indicate levels of refreshment and can also be denoted by minerality and citrus levels. Tannins for red wines show the level of bitter dryness, so round and full tannins tend to indicate a fuller, more complex wine, whilst light and soft tannins indicate a lighter, fruitier wine. On top of that, the finish can add new nuances to the wine in its aftertaste.
Of course this is only our and the winemaker's opinion. Your palate may interpret slight differences. You can find out more about evaluating a wine and creating your own tasting notes here.
Different grapes have different levels of intensity and colour. Appearance is too big of a topic to cover here but next time you have a glass check out the hue and intensity and see if the wine characteristic are reflected in the appearance.
Is the wine light, medium, or full bodied? This can be key to your choice. If you are looking for an easy-drinking wine to drink on its own, you may wish to avoid fuller body. If you wish to have a wine to pair with a lavish, strongly flavoured meal, you will need to avoid lighter bodied wines.
Dry - Most wines are dry. This means they will show acidity/tannins and it is this sour/bitter element that often makes them thirst quenching.
Off-Dry - This actually means there is a hint of sweetness present alongside the acidty/tannins. Although mainly dry, this sweetness can soften the acid edge.
Medium Dry - A balance of acidity/tannins and sweetness that is quite equal.
Medium Sweet - Definitely sweet dominated, but there is still a hint of acidity or tannin present.
Sweet - As sweet as sweet can be!
Sparkling wines actually have their own sweetness levels and it indicates the residual sugar levels of the wine. Most sparkling wines are dry, but within this there are a staggering 5 levels! Although Brut wines can have any level of residual sugar between 0 and 12 grams, Extra Brut must have less than 6 grams, and Brut Nature must have less than 3 grams.
From driest to sweetest:
- Brut Nature < 3 grams
- Extra Brut < 6 grams
- Brut < 12 grams
- Extra Dry 12-17 grams
- Dry 17-32 grams
- Demi Sec 32-50 grams
- Doux > 50 grams
This indicates if the wine is a blend of two or more grapes, or if it is a varietal with only one type of grape used.
The wine can be - unoaked with no wood contact, fermented and aged for example in stainless steel, clay or concrete; oaked where all the wine is fermented and/or matured in wooden barrels, casks or vats; part oaked where only part of the wine is fermented and/or matured in wood, or where oak staves have been used for delicate treatment.
Oak treatment is more common with red than white wines as it is used to soften those bitter tannins allowing other flavours to stand out. With white wines it can add texture and flavours, and works incredibly well with fuller grapes such as Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. Flavours and aromas of vanilla, smoke, nuts and wood spice are common additions with treatment. Wood allows wine to breathe during its ageing, which helps give smoother, fuller texture.
Within this, the type of oak used can affect the wine. The description will shows whether a wine uses New, Old/Used oak. New oak will impart the most wood flavours into the resulting wine, whilst old/used oak will impart far less, but still soften tannins and smooth texture. This gives wine producers the ability to choose the right oak for their wine and ensure it is complemented and balanced rather than overpowered. Sometimes winemakers will split oak treatment for perfect balance, for instance ageing 80% in old oak and 20% in new before a final blend of the two is created.
ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume and indicates the percentage of alcohol in the wine. Wines tend to range between 11% and 14% ABV, whereas beers that are served in larger portions will tend between 3% and 6%, and spirits in much smaller measures between 37.5% and 46%.
The vintage year of a wine indicates the harvest year of the grapes used to produce the wine. This does not necessarily dictate the year of eventual release as some wines can be released soon after harvest, whilst others may go through long production and maturation prior to release.
There is a myth that the older the vintage, the better the wine, and this could not further from the truth! In reality, there are only so many wines (usually red or traditional method sparkling) that, with careful production and selection of grape types, will age beautifully in the bottle for many years after release. But even these will have a peak, before a decline that eventually takes them to an 'off' taste. This is why it's important when looking at an older vintage wine to check our description, which will often mention longevity of the wine.
Some wines will be classed as Non-Vintage (NV). This is more common in sparkling, dessert and fortified wines where grapes can be used from differing harvest years. Some may already have been aged for a time prior to being bottled with newer harvests.
Old World or New World. Old World indicates countries that have the longest history of winemaking in the continents of Europe, Central Asia, North Africa. New World indicates countries that have delved into winemaking over the past century in the continents of North and South America, East and South East Asia, South Africa and Australasia.
Old World countries may be more known for traditional wine styles, but show a wealth of modernity. Likewise, New World countries are known for refreshingly new takes on wine, but can also be on par, if not better, than some of the traditional best. This is why looking at the description is always a must!
This can be Cork, Screwcap or Glass Cork. There is another myth that only cork-closed wines are of decent quality, but this is not the case. Many wines that are meant for drinking in their youth, within 3 years of release for example, may choose screw caps for ease of bottling and opening, where the risk of aeration of broken corks is minimised. This is the case whether the wine is red, white or rose. Of course many white and rose wines are more palatable to youthful consumption, but there are many easy-drinking reds that suit this too.
Of course this is self explanatory, but it is worth noting! Wines will usually come in 75cl bottles which hold the equivalent of 5 small (125ml) glasses of wine. You can occasionally get smaller 50cl or half-size bottles that are 37.5cl, especially if the wine is fortified or dessert. It is also common to have single serving 20cl size bottles of sparkling wine, as a full bottle that has been opened will lose its sparkle after a few days. Larger 1 litre bottles also exist but are not common to find. The next you will most likely come across is 1.5 litre, known as a Magnum. They can be a great choice for a sharing gift or to crack open at dinner parties for all.
It has been a long time coming, but an increasing number of producers are listening to consumer demand and thinking about their wine production and farming in a more sustainable, ethical manner. There are many wines that have been Vegan or Organic for long time, but have only begun to detail and include this information on the bottle in recent years.
Although the vast majority of wines will automatically be vegetarian and use sustainable vineyard methods, we only class these as certain when Vegan and Organic certification is proven. Find out more about Vegan wine here, and about Organic (including Biodynamic) wine here.
As well as the above, we will also note all wines that have low sulphur. Higher levels of sulphites in wine are thought to be one of the possible reasons for hangovers and ill-health the morning after. Of course, too much alcohol will always be the main culprit, but some who find they suffer after only a small amount of wine have found that opting for low-sulphur wines can ease this problem. It is usually a safe bet to opt for organic and vegan for less sulphites, but more producers are purposefully creating and labelling low-sulphur wines.
Our recommendations are the perfect accompaniment based on the wine, but food pairing can be a complex game! We hope these suggestions help give you a good starting point for your food pairing, and you can read some helpful food pairing tips in more detail here.