Flavor of Wine – Where does it come from?

If you find yourself asking, where do the flavors in wine come from? There isn’t a simple answer. But, here is a Pro-Tip, if you taste or smell certain things in a wine, such as cherries or chocolate, it doesn’t mean that those were added to the wine. There are so many ways wine flavor is influenced it would take many volumes to explain everything in detail.  So, for the moment, I am going to introduce you to 3 of the main factors that influence where wine flavors come from.

It all starts in the vineyard. In essence, viticulture is responsible for how the grapes are grown. It uses the influences of watering, canopy management and other farming techniques to provide nutrients to the vines and protection from the elements. These practices affect the acid level, development of polyphenols (those compounds responsible for the smells and flavors of wine) and the rate of grape maturity. Once the decision has been made to pick the grapes, it is now up to the winemaker to decide how that wine will be fermented and aged.

Yeast + Grapes = Wine

After the harvest the grapes transition from the vineyard to the cellar. Here each decision the winemaker makes has an influence on the overall flavor. The longer a wine is on its skins can impart color and tannic structure in the wine. Then, once the science of fermentation begins, it releases more chemical compounds that have shared flavors by other fruits and foods.

Wine can contain dozens if not hundreds of organic compounds. And when you start mixing and matching them together you get more and more aromas and flavors. When we taste wine, those compounds are responsible for the flavors and aromas we’re identifying.

Aging Like A Fine Wine

Once the wine has finished fermentation, it is transferred into a vessel for aging. The more common ways to age wine, are in oak barrels and/or stainless steel.

Oak barrels add flavors like spice, caramel, vanilla, toast or cedar. The longer the wine stays in barrel the more it takes on the characteristics of the oak.

While stainless steel preserves bright fruit flavors and crisp acidity in wine and has little influence on its flavor. When the wine is bottled is will continue to age in the bottle and new, more complex flavors will develop.

Savor The Flavor

When you consider all of the factors influencing the flavor and aroma in wine, it makes sense that so many of us individually find different characteristics when tasting and smelling the same wines. Keep tasting, smelling, and talking about wine with your friends. It’s the only way to learn all the delicious aromas wine has to offer. Cheers!

Chardonnay Flavor Profile

While it is hard to imagine now, until the modern wine revolution of the 1950s and 1960s Chardonnay was virtually unheard of outside of France. Today, Chardonnay is one of the most well known and most consumed wines in the world. It is incredibly flexible and while the styles can vary, it produce great wine in both warm and cool climates. Though, most of the best wines are grown in temperate to cool climates. Chardonnay is the most popular white grape sold in the US. It is also one of the highest produced grapes in California.

Its true home is Burgundy, France where the term white Burgundy is synonymous with Chardonnay. It accounts for almost all of the white wine produced in the region; the exception is Aligote a minor grape with very little acreage planted. In fact, there is an entire subregion of Burgundy, Chablis, famous for the only grape it produces: Chardonnay.

Oak Is Your Friend

Chardonnay is grown and produced all over the world including Argentina, Australia, California, Chile, France, Italy, New Zealand, Oregon and South Africa. In many of these regions Chardonnay is both fermented and at least partially aged in oak barrels. Barrel fermentation and aging can transform Chardonnay, which left on its own can be a rather bland grape. In oak it takes on rich notes can develop a creamy texture, and potentially gain more complexity. However, if left too long in the barrel it can go overboard very easily, producing a flabby wine that more or less tastes like chewing on a piece of wood.

But when done right, this oak aging can produce a wide range of flavors in what could have been an otherwise dull wine. From flavors like vanilla, butterscotch, toast, and custard to crisp fruit like green apple, lemon, pineapple and other tropical fruits. These flavors are matched by a creamy texture, a lush finish, and a big full body.

Bend But Will Not Break

Chardonnay can be one of the least flexible wines when it comes to pairing with food. Especially California Chardonnays, which often have a lot of toasted oak and a high alcohol content. When trying to match this wine with food you can utilize certain bridge ingredients to help marry the flavors. However, more successful pairings come when you match the texture of the wine and food. The full, round, and often silky character of the wine is best matched with foods like pasta, risotto, and other starches that can provide a textural backdrop to the wine. Various shellfish, including lobster, scallops, prawns and shrimp are classic pairings, especially when accompanied with a rich sauce.

Oak aged Chardonnays are great with lightly smoked or grilled dishes while less oaky wines show better with simple clean flavors like roasted chicken or sautéed fish with lemon. Bottom line, because there is such a wide range of style in Chardonnay you really need to know the region and style of the wine you are drinking before you can decide what pairs best with it.

Sangiovese Flavor Profile

Sangiovese means the blood of Jupiter and it is one of Italy’s influential grapes. In Tuscany, it is the base for some of Italy’s most famous wines. These include Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino. It’s also often a component in Super Tuscans. Super Tuscans are a now-infamous group of wines that operate outside of Italy’s wine laws. More often than not, Super Tuscans are blends of the famous Sangiovese grape with the non-Italian varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Sangiovese is also grown outside of Italy in numerous places including a still relatively new foothold in California.

Natural Versatility

Sangiovese is a rather difficult grape to work with, like Pinot Noir it is prone to mutation, which means that there are a number of different clones of Sangiovese all with unique flavor profiles. That said, there are some common flavor characteristics associated with Sangiovese across all of its clones. The most important of which is acidity. In its native home of Tuscany, while the days may be warm, the nights cool down significantly. This helps the grapes retain their natural acidity as they ripen. Most Sangiovese wines tend to be medium-bodied with notes of bright red fruit like cherry and raspberry. They also have notes of earth, truffle, and spice and older wines can take on nuances of coffee and leather. All of which complement the core of acidity that is synonymous with the varietal.

Many wines are 100% Sangiovese, or close to it. But it is also often blended with other, typically heavier, varietals like in the case of the Super Tuscans. Part of the magic of this grape is how well it blends with many different varietals. The key, of course, is to make sure that the blend is enhancing the flavors of the Sangiovese. Instead of overwhelming it.

Sangio Pairs Best

It is these characteristics that make Sangiovese such a natural match for food and especially Italian cooking. Sangiovese is medium-bodied so you don’t have to worry about it overwhelming your meal. It tends to have pretty balanced levels of tannins. This keeps the options of what you can serve with it much broader. And it has that powerful backbone of acidity. That is what makes your mouth water and demands another bite of food.

Sangiovese and tomatoes are a classic wine pairing, the tomatoes’ natural acidity can stand up to that of the wine. Acidity is a great match for food, but you also need to match acidity with acidity. Pairing is all about balance. If you have a “Super” blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon it will change the flavor profile of the wine and your food pairing will have to change with it. With these wines, you want to lean towards heavier dishes that are more traditional matches for heartier reds. But you can still pick heavier dishes that have a bit of a kick. Sangiovese is extremely well suited to accommodate a wide array of herbs and spices that would otherwise be at odds with a straight Cabernet Sauvignon. In other words, play around.

Italians love food and wine but their mealtime is not serious. It’s about friends and family and laughter, and Sangiovese is the perfect compliment for that. Cin Cin!

Sauvignon Blanc Flavor Profile

Sauvignon Blanc is another one of those confusing grapes that goes by more than 6 different names. Mostly you can blame those persnickety French who don’t label their wines by the grapes. Instead they label by the regions that they come from, and as such those regions names soon become synonymous with the wine. But, the French aren’t the only ones that confuse the matter, California got into that game too. So grab a glass of Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Fume Blanc, or whatever it is that you want to call it. And lets learn about Sauvignon Blanc.

To Blend or Not to Blend that is the Question

Both Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France claim to be there birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc. While it is an important grape in both regions, the Loire Valley is really where it shines. No blending is permitted there so all wines must be 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This is the area where some of the most famous Sauvignon Blanc in the world come from and two of its aliases, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. Sauvignon Blanc there is light, clean, bright, and intensely herbal. Sauvignon Blanc also plays a role in Bordeaux, but it is almost always blended with Sémillon. Sémillon has more richness and body than Sauvignon Blanc and the blend of the two helps to balance out some of the tart acidity of the later.

Home is Where the Taste Is

France may be the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc, but there is another region that rivals France’s fame, New Zealand. Though planted in New Zealand for significantly less time than France, it has quickly become the countries claim to fame. Today it is the most widely planted grape varietal in the country, accounting for about 1/3 of the acreage planted. Here the grape shines, most notably tasting of grass, green pepper, jalapeño and passion fruit.

Then there is California which brings with it yet another alias, Fumé Blanc. Fumé Blanc was named by Robert Mondavi to avoid the negative stigma of Sauvignon Blanc once endured in America in the 1960’s. Today, most of the winemakers seem to go out of their way to play down the herbal quality of the grape. It is also not uncommon to see a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon much like in Bordeaux. Another technique often used is to age or partially age Sauvignon Blanc in oak. This is a practice rarely used in both France and New Zealand. Making California’s version as unique as the state itself, expressing tropical, citrus, and bright acidity in addition to rich complex styles.

A Wild Sauvignon Blanc Can’t Be Broken

So no matter what you call it, what does it taste like? The name, the original name Sauvignon Blanc, comes from the French word sauvage, which means wild. And wild sums up the flavors of this wine pretty well. Sauvignon Blanc is essentially the exact opposite of Chardonnay, it is tart and bright and herbal with a big streak of acidity. There are no tame flavors here, straw, hay, grass, meadow, smoke, green tea green herbs, and gunflint. Perhaps one of the best descriptors of Sauvignon Blanc is cat pee. Something which doesn’t sound appealing but that wild, tangy smell is actually considered a good quality unless it is extreme.

It is exactly these wild flavors and the central core of acidity that make Sauvignon Blanc a good match for food. Because of those untamed flavors Sauvignon Blanc is a good match for spicy or assertive dishes. Not something very many wines can claim. It predictably goes really well with anything that focuses on herbs or bright greens. This includes a multitude of salads and even soups ((another notoriously difficult dish to pair with). So no matter what you want to call it don’t overlook it when looking for a crisp, wild wine to pair with something equally unruly that you cooked up.

Riesling Flavor Profile

This German grape is considered by many to be one of the most unique white varietals in the world, though it has yet to reach the same popularity in America as it has in Europe. Riesling can range anywhere from a light bone-dry white with an alcohol level somewhere around 8 percent to a beautifully thick sweet dessert wine. It is a wine with a huge richness of flavor and fruit that is complemented by an intense acidity. Riesling is a beautifully balanced wine but it is also extremely temperamental. It needs to be planted in optimum conditions to produce such a flavorful yet delicate wine.

Germany’s Finest

German by origin, Riesling thrives in cool climates. In fact some of the best Rieslings in Germany come from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany. This area that is one of the northernmost wine growing regions in Germany and the world. The cold weather and steep vineyards of the region mean that the Riesling grapes get precious little hours of sunlight everyday. The grapes here almost never get totally ripe and as a result produce a wine with low alcohol and high acidity. On any other grape this would be a disaster and combine to create a thin, tart wine. But with Riesling the opposite is true. The rich fruit flavors of peach, apricot and melon are balanced by this bright acidity. The Rieslings from Germany are made in a multitude of styles and can be either completely dry or have varying levels of residual sugar.

France And Germany Can Be Friends

France’s Alsace region is another prominent area for Riesling. Located in the northern part of France the region has at times even fallen under German control. The Rieslings here however tend to be thicker and higher in alcohol than their German counterparts. They showcase similar fruit profiles as the German wines but tend to have riper fruit. They can therefore come off seeming sweeter than the German Rieslings even though they are almost always bone dry. Riesling is also grown in other cool climate regions like Northern Austria and upstate New York.

Made To Order

When it comes to pairing with food diversity of flavor in a wine plays a strong role. For most wines this diversity comes from different production and winemaking choices. However, with Riesling this diversity comes from its range of sweetness. Riesling pairs well with anything from shellfish to white meat, charcuterie to vegetables. Riesling is a great counterbalance to rich salty meat or any dish with aromatic spices. It is even one of the few wines that can hold its own with eggs. Light, dry Rieslings are bright and refreshing and are lovely with lighter fishes and any dish where their acidity can liven up its flavors the same way a squeeze of lemon or lime would. Off dry Rieslings are excellent for spicy dishes as a foil to the heat or with anything smoked.

And finally sweet Riesling is great all on its own so you can enjoy the lavish honeyed flavors that are kept in check by the wines signature acidity.

Tempranillo Flavor Profile

Looking for an interesting new red wine? Tempranillo is an extremely versatile grape with a flavor profile that is something like a cross between Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo showcases a wide range of flavors based on the aging method and region it’s grown in. This makes it a great wine when it comes to food pairing. Best of all, it makes a killer rosé. Here’s everything you need to know.

Tempranillo is Spanish for Tempranillo

Tempranillo and Spain are virtually synonymous. It is the number one grape in the country and the 4th most planted varietal in the world. Tempranillo is a relatively old varietal. It is believed to have been brought to the Iberian peninsula over 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians. The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word Temprano, meaning early because it ripens earlier than most other red grapes native to Spain.

Perhaps most famous in Rioja, the first Spanish region to become a household name worldwide. Tempranillo is typically the dominant grape in the blend that makes up the eponymous Rioja wines. In Rioja, Tempranillo plays the role of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux. It adds aroma, flavor, and aging potential to the wines.

Tempranillo isn’t just important in Rioja; it plays a big role in wines produced all across Spain and throughout the world. In Rioja, it produces refined and elegant wine. In the warmer, central regions of Spain, it produces wines that are concentrated and rich. These are regions like Ribera Del Duoro and Torro. Tempranillo is also an important grape in Spain’s western neighbor of Portugal. There the grape goes by the name of Tinta Roriz and is an important component of Port wines, as well as being increasingly produced as a spicy and rustic dry table wine.

Outside of Europe, it has found a foothold in the new world as well. In Mendoza Argentina, it makes a tasty alternative to their famous Malbec. And, though still relatively new on the scene, it has taken extremely well to California’s Mediterranean climate.

Tempranillo Has Many Faces

Tempranillo wines are always a delicate balance of earth and fruit. The dominant flavors are typically cherry, dried fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. Regional differences also play a role in the flavor profile. New world examples of Tempranillo tend to offer more fruit-forward flavors. While old world examples tend to have more earthy notes.

But aging is the real deciding factor in the style and flavor profile of Tempranillo. A strict set of laws govern the aging of Tempranillo in Spain.

  • Vin Joven: Rarely aged in oak, released young and meant to be consumed right away. Wine with this designation is rarely seen outside of Spain.
  • Crianza: Required 2 years of age with at least 6 months in oak (traditionally American Oak)
  • Reserva: Required 3 year of aging with 1 year in oak
  • Gran Reserva: Produced only in great vintages. Requires a minimum of 5 years of age with 18 months in oak. Though most producers age for 20-30 months in oak.

Young Tempranillos are full of bright, fresh fruit and older, oak-aged wines develop flavors of dust, tobacco, and leather.

Pliable in Style

This wide range of styles, from both regionality and aging techniques, make Tempranillo an incredibly versatile food wine. Most styles of Tempranillo pair well with red meat. Especially lamb and pork, foods that are not shockingly a big part of Spanish cuisine. Lighter, less oaked styles can also go really well with chicken or less hearty pasta. Interestingly, it is also great with vegetarian entrées or more herbal focused preparations of meat. Because it has such a strong earthy and herbal component it shines next to mint, fennel, or grilled vegetables. Just make sure you avoid highly bitter vegetables as these will make the wine taste harsh and bitter as well.

Tempranillo is also a great pairing with a lot of Mexican dishes, as long as they aren’t too spicy. Its flavors and fruit are rich enough to not get overpowered by the food. And the notes of earth are a great compliment to the cuisine


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