Did you ever stop to think about the complex aromas and flavors in your glass of wine? How did the aroma of ripe strawberries get in there? Was essence of strawberry added during the winemaking process? Hint: it wasn’t. Learning to taste wine takes some effort, but once you fine tune your abilities, the better you become at identifying and understanding the nuances in wine.
Why bother learning the nuances? Well, for one thing, the more you know, the more you can appreciate what’s in your glass—and the more you appreciate, the more you enjoy. Understanding how the wine in your glass became a wine is a good place to start. While the presence of flint, mineral, grapefruit, and cherry can seem mysterious, there is science behind the magic. Winemakers call their craft the perfect mix of art and science, because there are elements of both that combine to create something truly unique.
How it All Begins: The Process of Winemaking
Wine grapes flourish in specific growing regions around the world. Once vines generate grapes, and they ripen, the juice inside has natural sugars, flavors, and aromas. The winegrowers determine the right time (based on when the sugars in the grapes are developed enough) and the grapes are harvested and crushed into juice. Next, the juice is removed from the grape seeds, stems, and skins before it is fermented, turning the sugars into alcohol: soon, the wine is born.
Why is Wine Aged?
This new wine, called “young” by winemakers, could be harsh to drink at this stage, so it’s put in a tank or barrel spend some time—to “age.” This softens and matures the wine prior to bottling. The bottles may age further before being released and opened at your table. Let’s take a closer look at each phase.
The Cycle of The Vine
Each vineyard goes through a similar annual cycle. Each year harvest begins when the grapes reach optimal ripeness. After a harvest is complete, the vineyards rest. This period of dormancy allows for vineyard managers to prune, cut back, and train the vines, leading to a new growing cycle. In the Northern hemisphere harvest occurs over several weeks or more in August to October. In the Southern hemisphere this happens between February and May. Winemakers will tell you they generally try to reach the same point of sugars in the grapes annually, but it takes unique pathways every year.
The Art of Winemaking Comes Down to Decisions
There are many factors a winemaker controls in contributing to flavors and aromas in wine including:
- Root stock—type of grape variety, and the place of origin. Pinot Noir is known for cherry and earthy flavors and aromas. Cabernet Sauvignon is known for ripe and dark fruit flavors, and tobacco, smoky, and leather aromas.
- Yeast— some yeast types have significant impact on flavors and aromas in the end product, and can accentuate floral aromas and citrus fruit flavors in white wines.
- Vessels— winemakers make decisions about the material in which wine sits for fermentation and aging that also contribute. Barrels that are used to age wine can range from very toasted (the inside of barrels are toasted or burned to varying degrees) to neutral. Characteristics including smoke, leather, and tobacco can come from using heavy toasted oak barrels.
The Perfect Combination of Art and Science
The presence of complex aromas and flavors in wine seems otherworldly; finding pineapple in your Chardonnay can be hard to explain. The truth is there is magic in this, but now you understand the science behind it too! Cheers!