One question we get a lot is why wines taste and smell like so many different things and not just grapes. The more you drink wine, the more you start to notice subtle flavors like vanilla, spice, tobacco, tropical fruits or even ocean air. We know a winemaker doesn’t actually add spices or seawater into a wine, so how does the wine end up inheriting these flavors?
Grapes are an incredibly impressionable and delicate fruit. Each decision the winemaker makes throughout the process, from how and where the grapes are grown, to what occurs to them after they are juiced, impact how the wine tastes and smells at the end.
We know a winemaker doesn’t actually add spices or seawater into a wine, so how does the wine end up inheriting these flavors?
There is a saying among winemakers that the best wine starts in the vineyard. Good farming equals great wine, and it is at this stage where the grapes also first come in contact with elements that can impact the wine’s ultimate characteristics. Many insects are important to the health of grapes, but probably none are more important than bees. As the grapes grow in a vineyard surrounded by plants such as wild herbs, flowers and grasses, the bees fly around the vineyard distributing pollen, and as the grapes ripen they absorb the subtle flavor characteristics from these plants.
Elements such as the air can also have an impact on the flavor of the grapes as they grow. In many regions of the world, such as Spain and Greece, much of the white wine is grown on cliffs that overlook the sea. As the waves crash into the rocks and spray salt water into the air, the saline air becomes absorbed by the grapes as they ripen, adding a delicious minerality to the grapes that can taste and smell like a fresh sea breeze.
After the grapes transition from the vineyard to the cellar, each decision the winemaker makes has an influence on the overall flavor. How the winemaker chooses to press the grapes, whether the winemaker wishes to age the fermented juice in steel or oak, and how long the winemaker lets the wine sit in these vessels all aid in imparting unique flavors and smells into a wine.
With all of these factors having an influence on the overall taste and smell of the wine, it’s no wonder that so many of us pick up different characteristics when tasting and smelling the same wine. It’s one of the things that makes drinking wine so much fun.