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Your Questions

Jane Skilton MW answers your questions, every issue. Here, she gives some guidance on wine and spirit education, the difference between amber wine and rosé and notes on descriptors.


What’s the difference between amber wine and rosé wine? As both relate to skin contact, I’m curious how they differ. Also why is amber wine rare yet rosé is so well known and popular?

Lisa Tepes, Oakville, NSW

Rosé is made by crushing red grapes then fermenting the skins together with the juice just long enough to take on some colour. Once the winemaker believes the right shade has been reached, the juice is run off the skins and fermentation continues. This method gives easy-to-enjoy fresh pink wines. The perfect summer drink, the popularity of rosé has soared in recent years.

Amber wine is made just like red wine with the skins of white grapes and the juice fermented together. This extracts tannins and flavours out of the skins and once fermentation is complete, the wine may stay for an extended time in contact with the skins to gain even more texture and flavour. Winemakers tend to use little or no sulphur so the wines take on an orange or amber hue. These wines have a good degree of tannin (the grainy texture that gives red wine its characteristic dry taste). Although there are some excellent wines being made, they are much more of an acquired taste than rosé wines.


Can you recommend some good wine education courses for a keen amateur? 

Christine Milton, South Yarra, Vic

I started my wine education through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses and continued them through to Level 4 Diploma. They provided a good foundation of knowledge as I studied right across the world of wine from table wines, through sparkling and fortified. WSET offer both custom courses and online delivery for those wanting flexibility in their study. There are a number of providers in Australia and NZ; you can find your nearest one here: (Jane Skilton MW is a WSET course provider.)


Since wine is made from grapes, where do all the colourful descriptors in tasting notes come from? I can sometimes detect aromas of apples and stone fruits in white wines and red and black berries in reds, but more unusual descriptions such as graphite, sous bois and even charcuterie I find harder to understand.

Chris Williams, Brisbane, Qld

Yeasts produce aroma compounds during fermentation and these youthful esters can smell like fruits or flowers, however the aromas you describe are known as ‘tertiary’ – ones that have developed through ageing in bottle. Reviewers learn to recognise wine-relevant odours, and use them to communicate the character of the wine through recognisable descriptors. When we drink a bottle of aged pinot noir, sometimes it brings to mind that gentle, slightly sweet, decaying aroma, often described as sous bois. We might smell graphite or charcuterie. Though with so many wines being assessed, reviewers often resort to more bizarre descriptors. Though I can’t say I have ever smelled a leather tetherball, it was a key aroma for one U.S. critic describing a pinot noir/gamay blend from Cheverny. 

Got a wine-related question?
Those whose letters are published will receive a bottle of wine (18+ years old only).

Photography by Ben Dearnley.