Are There Cherries in My Pinot?

Ever wonder how those smells and tastes get in your glass of wine? Wine is basically fermented grape juice, and yet don’t we consistently sense cassis in quality Cabernet? So, how did those cherries get in my Pinot, grass in my Sauvignon Blanc, eucalyptus on my Shiraz, salt in my Muscadet, blueberries in my Merlot and butter in my Chardonnay?

There are several ways these aroma and taste molecules get into the bottle to rise up and enhance our wine enjoyment.

Let’s look at what’s in the grape itself. Each variety has specific typical characteristics. For example, grape growing and climate can affect what is emphasized in a wine from a specific grape. Factors such as vine training, crop load and climate can bring out certain characteristics in the final product.

There are several ways these aroma and taste molecules get into the bottle to rise up and enhance our wine enjoyment.

Try a Merlot from California’s Central Coast and one from Northern Italy side by side and you’ll see what I mean. The herby, spicy characteristics will be greatly featured in the Italian and the California will be dripping with blueberry pie.

Clonal selection is another farming tool because an early ripening, French clone of Chardonnay may be just right for cool areas of Oregon, but will make a sticky mess if grown in California.

Blue Rock Wine

Another factor is the environment because molecules from nearby plants float into vineyards and attach themselves to the grapes. Eucalyptus trees in Australia are a perfect example. It doesn’t take much of this sappy aromatic to add perfume to a Shiraz.

Saline is another piggy-back molecule that effects flavors. The Atlantic breezes into the Loire Valley bring an undeniable salty note to Muscadet.

On a more immediate note, the Northern California fires of 2017 have stimulated research on how to dissolve the effects of smoke taint before the juice hits the bottle. In the last significant fire year of 2008, many wineries did not release their high-end wines. Interestingly, many consumers didn’t notice or actually enjoyed the added complexity light smoke exposure created. This shouldn’t be a big surprise because we know winemakers will try to bring smoky components to bold reds such as Syrah or Petit Sirah with oak influences.

Winemaking is another tool to encourage or discourage characteristics in wine. There is the aforementioned use of oak. Also, specific yeast strains that bring out certain notes — whether malolactic fermentation (hello, butter) is used or not — and the temperature of alcohol fermentation or carbonic maceration (banana/bubble-gum to Nouveau Beaujolais) are part of the winemaker’s spice box.

Now for the fun part. Choose a theme, such the Merlot example above or Muscadets from the Loire Valley, Aussie Shiraz or anything that strikes your fancy, and see if you see feel and taste those spinning atoms in the bottle.