Some wine words are simply confusing. Similar terms can mean very different things that taste very different too.
Semillon is a thin skinned peachy white grape variety that makes sweet white wines. Together with Sauvignon Blanc, it delivers one of the world’s longest-living honeyed dessert wine Monbazillac and Sauternes, and also dry Bordeaux such as Graves and, more specifically, Pessac-Léognan.
St-Emilion, on the other hand, is the name of a pretty town in the Bordeaux region, and the deep-coloured, plummy red wines made around it. At worst dull, earthy and fruitless, at best, sublime Merlot dominated claret.
Claret is the English word for red Bordeaux. Clarete, though, is a term one comes across in Spain for light red wines, frowned on by the EU. Clairette indicates a dull white grape of southern France, while Clairette de Die stands for a curious French sparkling wine produced mainly from Muscat.
Muscat, then, is the name of a particularly fruity grape variety vinified into very sweet, strong wines, also sold under the Italian name Moscato and Moscatel. Moscato d’Asti is a fizzy low alcohol wine far more flavoursome (and cheaper) than designer alcoholic lemonade. All these wines have little to do with Muscadet, which is a bone dry, somewhat neutral wine from the mouth of the Loire.
In the Loire Valley one finds Pouilly-Fumé, a light, tart and potentially ultra-elegant dry white wine with classic gooseberry fruit and ‘smoky’ overtones typical for the Sauvignon Blanc grape.
Fumé Blanc is a more glamorous name for Sauvignon Blanc coined by Robert Mondavi of California in the 1970’s, now commonly used to describe an oak-aged style of Sauvignon.
Pouilly-Fuissé, however, is the most concentrated dry white wine from the Mâconnais in Burgundy made from the Chardonnay grape. Together with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, Chardonnay is potentially the source for the greatest of sparkling wines: champagne.
Le champagne is the heavenly elixir itself, but la Champagne is that cool corner of France where le champagne is produced. Brut, particularly of champagne, is bone dry, Sec is dry, while Extra-Sec is perversely applied to (slightly) sweeter sparkling wine.
Sekt refers to very basic German sparkling wine best won in carnival games, and sex, well… you know that!