It's quite interesting to think where the wine flavours (and aromas, for that matter!) actually come from. When the wine we consume is made from grape juice, how come tasting notes never mention the grape flavour? How can a wine smell of a fruit (like black cherries and strawberries in the above example!) that was never added to it? Tasting notes often mention maturation in American or French oak – but what difference does it make? This blog post will answer all such questions as we finally decode what causes distinct wine flavours and aromas.
How to begin
In order to truly understand the flavour profile of a wine, one needs to go back to the fermentation stage of the winemaking process. Yeast consumes sugar during fermentation and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. An understated fact over here is that fermentation also results in the formation of compounds, also known as esters.
Essentially, each grape variety has a distinct physiological makeup. (Have you ever noticed that Shiraz wines are often described to have pepper aromas, while Chardonnay wines very often contain apple characters?) Under a grape’s skin cells lie the aromatic compounds in very minute amounts. (No wonder we can’t make out the pepper, apple or grapefruit while chomping them down!) It is not until when the juice is fermented into wine that we can detect these esters, because fermentation magnifies them. But how do esters remind us of aromas and wine flavours like specific fruits, flowers or anything else? Well, these esters have molecular arrangements similar to those of scents that our brain is used to.
The vast world of wine flavours
Remember, this blog post just touches the very tip of the iceberg that this topic is. The same can be said for oak maturation. Though, in a nutshell, aging in oak also results in the formation of various compounds. Remember, the wood used for oak barrels is toasted and seasoned. Not just the source of the oak wood (whether it is American or European) but the degree to which the wood is toasted or seasoned, also changes the way the oak would impart flavour to the wine.
All in all, with over 200 different esters being produced during fermentation, this is a huge topic to take up in one go. Feeling overwhelmed? Have some wine!