Wine 101: Acquired Tastes

Experts say the more you drink wine, the more you start to notice scents and flavors; vanilla, herbs, or even salt air. While wine makers don’t actually flavor their product with spices, etc., the locations they choose to plant have a great effect on the flavor of their final product. 

Planting grapes in an area surrounded by a variety of wild flowers and herbs encourages bees to distribute their pollen in the vineyard. As the grapes ripen, they absorb some of those flavor characteristics. 

The soil also plays a role in a particular vintage. Conventional wisdom indicates a more alkaline soil has fewer nutrients and provides a more rounded flavor from the grapes that grow in it. In this way, grapes are a little like olives; the less water and nutrients they get from the soil, the more they “hoard” and keep to themselves during the growing season. As a result, often, the best harvests come after very dry seasons, so if you like wine from a certain region, you can research rainfall for a good idea of which years might be optimum. 

Once picked, the wine maker then makes a series of decisions; how to press the grapes, which type of container to use for aging, and how long the aging process will take. Each of these steps has its own influence on the final subtleties of each bottle. 

Loose Tannins

We can easily see the difference between red and white wine, but did you know you can get a white wine from a red grape? It seems, in the wine world, it’s all about the skin. 

All the color and most of the flavor of a particular wine comes from the tannins (tannic acid compounds) in the skin. Tannins are a naturally occurring substance in grape skins and seeds. The taste is bitter and causes a dry and puckery feeling in the mouth. If you’ve ever chewed on a grape for a while, until only the skin was left, or accidentally crunched a seed, you already know.

Those tannins are loosed in the wine when the vintner leaves the skins in the juice as it ferments, which is also how the wine gets its color. Wines that have little or no skin contact have fewer tannins and end up pink or white. Wines that ferment with the skins for a long period end up red, have a strong presence of tannin, and rest on a spectrum from “firm” to “hard” (too many tannins).  

Conversely, white wine tannins put them on a spectrum of acidity. They are more likely to be labeled “crisp” or “tart.” Or, if there isn’t enough acidity, they are “flat.” 

Aroma

Experts agree, since wine is made from grapes, it should smell like fresh fruit, unless it is very old, very sweet, or very cold. If you smell toast, smoke, vanilla, chocolate, espresso, roasted nuts, or even caramel, those are likely due to the wine being aged in new oak barrels.

Floral aromas are particularly common in cool climate white wines, which may also carry herbal or grassy scents. 

On The Rocks?

There’s no law against drinking your red wine chilled or even cold, but those pesky tannins tend to become more bitter at lower temperatures. Chilled red wine isn’t ruined, but it is not at its best unless at room temperature. Conversely, white and rosé wines have a low tannin content, and have optimum flavor when chilled—but not too cold. 

Still, experts say it is all a matter of taste; plenty of people around the world eat cold pizza and drink warm beer. Cheers! 

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