When people new to wine or with limited wine experience first read tasting notes and hear wine descriptions, they are often confused by references to flavors described in different wines. Some sound like a fresh fruit salad, while other descriptions are even more perplexing.
I was conducting a wine tasting and had just explained the flavors in the first white, when one of the participants approached me, explaining she couldn’t possibly taste the wine. When I asked her “why,” she explained she was highly allergic to melon. She couldn’t taste it for fear of an allergic reaction…and she needed a fresh glass to replace the now tainted one.
Was melon actually added to that wine? What about the other fruit flavors mentioned on the tasting sheet for the same wine? (apple and pear) And what about other wines? People who are new-to-wine are even more surprised when flavors like coffee, chocolate and spice (e.g. clove, anise, vanilla) are mentioned. Why would “those” be added?
Do winemakers actually add these items to wine? The answer is that wine is made from grapes…and only grapes. However, all the different flavors is what makes wine so fascinating!
What accounts for all these other flavors? They come from the varietal itself, where the grapes are grown (the soil), how much sun and precipitation the vines receive, what is in or around the vineyard (e.g. lavender, eucalyptus), whether the wine is aged in stainless steel or oak barrels (and is it American or French oak? New or Neutral oak?). And, a significant factor is the expertise and individual style of the winemaker.
The wine described above (with flavors of apple, apple and pear) was a Pinot Gris.
So let’s look at a couple of other wines for varietal characteristics:
1. Sauvignon Blanc can be very “citrus-y” (grapefruit)…or, it can be grassy and herbal (the latter is prevalent in Australian Sauvignon Blanc).
2. Zinfandel classically displays smells and flavors of berries (raspberry or blackberry). Depending on where it’s grown, it can also have more complex flavors.
3. Syrah has a “peppery” quality, usually combined with black cherry flavors.
4. Pinot Noir is a challenging one to “narrow-cast,” since it’s such a complex varietal. Its flavors depend on where the grapes are grown (e.g. Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Willamette Valley)…however; you will always note cherries, spice and an earthiness.
So, we established there was no actual melon added to the wine in question. As the woman with the severe allergy said: “I might not be able to eat melon, but I can enjoy a hint of it in this Pinot Gris!” It’s always a worthwhile endeavor to take the time to appreciate the aroma and flavor in a wine…and to try to identify them to fully appreciate the tasting experience!