A wine tour and tasting can be as simple or complex as you make it. Most people’s first evaluation is a simple but important one, the determination of whether or not you like it. Casual wine tasting usually ends there, but we want to take your appreciation a step further. What do you enjoy more about big bold Cabernets more than delicate Pinot Noirs? The answers become more clear with basic knowledge of what certain wines taste like and why.
Grapes and Flavors
Wine grapes are naturally complex and filled with the molecules that make up the broad spectrum of wine aroma. Every condition the grape is subjected to, from springtime budding to bottle aging, affect the complexion of these molecules. Common wine flavors are a combination of these tiny pieces of chemistry, and can be combined in many ways to make for subtle differences in our perception of them. As Wine Folly points out, they can be broken down into three main categories, earthy, spicy and a combination of fruity and floral herbaceousness. While the Wine Folly article goes in depth with chemistry, one very popular guide to wine flavor dominates the wine scene, Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel. This wine tasting keystone was developed at UC Davis by Ann, and has become a commonplace piece of wine tasting equipment. Towards the center of the wheel, you find general descriptors like floral or spicy. They sort themselves out and move outwards towards more specific fruity or spicy aromas like violets and roses, or black pepper and clove. Once we have become familiar with the nearly 100 flavor descriptors on the aroma wheel, we can start to apply them to the wines we enjoy everyday.
Varietal Character Elements
Hundreds of grape varieties are grown and enjoyed in endless interpretations around the world. In the Napa Valley, familiar wines from grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc can be found in most tasting rooms. Generally, and with exceptions to these generalizations, Cabernet Sauvignon shows black fruits including, but not limited to, currants, cherries and plums. Cabernet is often aged in oak, contributing aromas of vanilla and spice. Merlot, generally, displays more red and fleshy fruit. Merlot also has a softer and less tannic side. This symbiotic balance leads to these two grapes being blended more often than not. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are more divergent than the reds, but still come together during certain iterations. They both show a wide range of fruit flavor, but Chardonnay commonly has rich fruit like baked apple while a Sauvignon Blanc shows more a focused green apple and other distinct green notes as in lime or fresh cut grass. Chardonnay is also more likely to see oak aging and subsequent spice rack aromas of vanilla, clove, nutmeg and caramel. Some oak is used on Sauvignon Blanc, but more to soften the strong citrusy acids rather than add robust oak flavors. One technique often applied to Chardonnay but almost never to Sauvignon Blanc is malolactic fermentation. This is a secondary fermentation that converts the more harsh and bitter malic acids into the soft and creamy lactic acids we associate with milk, or buttery Chardonnays. There are some fun and hands on approaches to learning about all of this we can help connect you to in the Napa Valley!
Maisonry is a wonderful place to really sort out what you like in wine and why. The tasting room features a myriad of wines from multiple wine producers. Cheese is another pivot point to hinge your wine education on, and
Girard Winery can teach your palate about the flavors and textures that are at play when you combine cheese and wine. A direct approach to attaching flavors to wines is a sensory analysis wine tour and tasting.
At Rutherford Ranch Winery, glasses of wine are served side by side with glasses full of lemon, thyme, blackberry and many others as you sniff and taste individual aromas in their natural state before you seek them out in the wines.
We love wine here at Beau Wine Tours. We have had years to sort out why certain experiences are our go to’s for a wine tour and tasting. Let us show you to the enjoyable and practical wine education that can help you love the wines you already like!
Enjoy Anne Noble below as she explains her Wine Wheel aka Show & Smell!