Sip:  What fruits or other flavors am I reminded of when I sip a wine

  • Fruits – the DOMSOM Principles of Wine Tasting:  Red Wine table lists all the different types of fruit flavors found in red wines.  Unlike white wine, red wine fruits come from red, blue and black fruits in the berry and stone fruit families.  The condition of the fruits will also drive dramatic differences in the resulting wines just as a tart, just ripe red plum tastes quite different from a juicy plum you would find in a baked tart.  The same descriptors of fruit – ripe, over-ripe, baked, stewed, jammy, bruised – can be used for red wines as well as white wine.
  • Other – red wines also can have flavors not derived from fruit.  Herbal flavors like eucalyptus to vegetal flavors like green pepper can add complexity and interest to a red wine.  The more you explore red wines, you will be able to detect these flavors in certain varieties versus others.

Primary Smells / Tastes:  As you already know, these are directly linked to the grape variety itself.  Each variety has a set of basic characteristics making it unique and identifiable.  With white wines, we explored how different granny smith and golden delicious apples taste and how they make your mouth feel.  Red wines take on flavors of red, blue and black fruits.  The riper the grapes when harvested, the riper the fruit flavor taste in the wine.  Cherry flavors can come across as just ripe and tart if grapes are picked early, or baked cherry pie if picked later or the vineyard is in a very warm climate.  Throughout the winemaking process, the flavors and smells of the primary grape will remain dominant.

Secondary Smells / Tastes: Red wines, like whites, may be influenced during the storage and maturation stages depending on the winemaker’s choices.  Interestingly, nearly all red wine goes through malolactic fermentation (MLF) but with different results than the buttery, creamy flavors imparted in white wine.  In addition to softening a red wine’s flavors, MLF can result in undertones of nuts or chocolate. Yeast used in fermentation may also leave lingering flavors of mushrooms, meat or peppery spices in red wine whereas we have learned white wines gain bread-like flavors with extended yeast exposure.  Oak barrels build complex cedar, smoke and toast influences where new barrels will provide more intense aromas and flavors than older barrels which have been used for several years. 

Tertiary Smells / Tastes:  Red wines also can age in oak barrels, but most of its time will be spent aging in bottles.  The longer the red wine ages in the bottle, the more mellow and smooth its flavors will balance with tannins.  Just as the wine’s color will change gradually over the time, so will its aromas and flavors.  Storing red wine in bottles can make a red wine more complex, softer and more interesting. Resulting flavors of leather, tobacco and even compost and wet earth layer with fruit flavors which can lean more toward dried fruits than in young, just bottled red wines.