Wine Word: Fruit

published Nov 25, 2013
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(Image credit: Sadovnikova Olga)

Fruit might seem an odd word to choose as a Wine Word. “Aren’t grapes fruit?” you might ask. Of course they are, but the term ‘fruit’ when it comes to describing a wine means more than a simple acknowledgement of its botanical birthright.

When describing a wine the word fruit takes on many dimensions. While wine is made from grapes the fruit words we use to describe wine aromas and flavors covers the whole gamut.

On one dimension wine aromas and flavors can be described simply according to the fruit they invoke, such as:

  • Citrus (lemon, lime, orange)
  • Orchard fruit (apple, pear, quince, cherry)
  • Stone fruit (peach, apricot, nectarine)
  • Berry fruit (blackberry, strawberry, cassis, raspberry)
  • Tropical fruit (pineapple, banana, mango)

Note: Apart from obvious ‘fruit’ terms the fruit profile of a wine might also be described as floral, herbaceous, grassy, leafy etc.

Fruit – Beyond the obvious: However, these words alone do not tell the full story of how a wine will taste. On their own these ‘fruit’ words are flat and one-dimensional. Thankfully, there is a whole other set of words to add context and help better describe the fruit profile of a wine.

Such words include references to fruit ripeness, quality and quantity, as well as to the wine’s state of maturity and it level of simplicity or complexity.

Fruit Ripeness: Wines from warmer climates might need descriptors such as jammy, baked, honeyed, or dried to accurately describe the fruit component, compared to adjectives such as fresh, bright and vibrant to describe a wine from a cooler climate.

Fruit Quality and Quantity: For good quality wines with lots of flavor the fruit might be described as clean, lush, opulent, or generous. On the other hand a not so good wine might warrant the fruit described as lean, green (as in unripe), murky or dilute. Top quality wines should have fruit that is focused, tight-knit and well defined. Lesser wines may have fruit that is more muddled or loose-knit.

Forward or Subtle Fruit: Fruit-forward or fruit-driven are terms we use to describe wines that are all about the fruit profile. The fruit aromas and flavors are overt and upfront. In contrast more mineral-driven wines with the same fruit profile would need descriptors such as subtle or gentle to accurately describe the style and fruit amplification.

Maturity: In young wines the fruit aromas and flavors will be very primary and dominant. As wines age, the prominence of the primary fruit takes more of a back seat, and other secondary and/or tertiary aromas and flavors emerge.

Secondary aromas are non-primary fruit aromas that come from winemaking. Oak or lees notes would be examples. Tertiary aromas and flavors are those that develop over time (usually in the bottle), as the various compounds in the wine integrate and change to create new aroma and flavor compounds. Leather, petrol, iodine, a forest floor earthiness are some such examples.

Wines that can age well develop these tertiary aromas while still retaining fruit. Wines not destined for aging will lose their fruit more quickly and become tired and past optimum drinking.

Simple or Complex Fruit: Finally, the fruit in one wine might be described as simple, straightforward and one-dimensional. In contrast, in another better wine, the fruit might be considered layered, multi-dimensional, an intriguing mix, or complex.

While the fruit profile in a wine is very important, and how it is described can tell you a lot about the ripeness, quality and maturity of a wine, it is not the only thing that determines whether you will like a wine or not.

The structural components of the wine such as acidity, tannin, alcohol and sweetness are essential in a wine description. These are the bones or the frame upon which sits the fruit – the wallpaper or paint so to speak.