What do we mean when we talk about flavor in wine?
Flavor refers to the taste of a wine in your mouth. As well as reflecting the aromas absorbed retro-nasally, the overall flavor of a wine is also influenced by the wine's acidity, sweetness, alcohol level, tannins, astringency, body and in sparkling wines by its fizziness, as these components can accentuate or neutralize the flavors.
All grapes contain flavor compounds, some more than others. Grapes also contain flavorless compounds, which are activated through different chemical reactions that occur during winemaking and wine maturation, thereby releasing additional flavors into the wine. This is why the flavor of a wine is more complex than the flavor of grape juice, and also helps explain why the flavors of a mature wine are more complex than those of a young wine.
As with aromas, wine flavors can be categorized as fruity, floral, spicy, mineral, vegetal or oaky. Fruit flavors can be fresh and lively or jammy, baked or even raisined. Apart from identifying types of flavors we also consider the intensity of these flavors. More intense, concentrated flavors are typically a sign of a better wine, due perhaps to riper grapes, smaller-berries, a stricter selection of only the best grapes or longer maceration and/or extraction time during vinification.
Flavors also contribute to an overall taste sensation. Wine flavors can be bold and forward or subtle and restrained. They can be quite precise and focused or somewhat muddled and vague. They can be generous or lean, tight-knit or loose-knit. In short, they flavors be well defined or poorly defined.
As with aromas, wine flavors change as a wine matures. In a young wine, the youthful primary fruit flavors prevail. With age, these are replaced by more developed flavors of leather, earth, spice, truffle and game in red wines, or honey, nutty, fusel and toasty brioche flavors in whites.
Effect of Acidity, Alcohol, Tannin and Fizz on Flavor
Acidity brightens a wine's flavors and makes them stand out. Alcohol creates a feeling of warmth. When in balance it adds to the overall taste sensation. When high, it can give a perception of sweetness to a wine, and when too high it gives a burning sensation, and cut short wine flavor.
Depending on the amount, ripeness and texture, tannin can add unctuousness and plump out a wine's flavors, or it can make a wine taste astringent and bitter. The flavors of young very tannic wines, particularly top Bordeaux or Barolo wines can be hard to appreciate until the tannins start to resolve and integrate.
Finally, bubbles accentuate flavors in a wine. Tiny persistent bubbles enhance flavor and add elegance, whilst, larger coarser bubbles mask flavor with froth.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
(Image: Underlying image by Sadovnikova Olga via Shutterstock)