How Do All Those Flavors Get Into Wine?

Last time we took a quick run through how wine is made. And you may have noticed that there are only two ingredients in wine: grapes and yeast.  Yet, white wines can be described as having flavors that include lemon, lime, grapefruit, apple, peach, pear and orange.  And red wines can be described as having flavors of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, plum and fig.  And then there are descriptions of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, chocolate, tobacco, leather, and even tar, just to name a few.  But, if wine is only made from grapes and yeast, how do wines get all those other flavors? 

To answer this, we need to review taste, smell and flavor. First, let's start with taste.  If you recall, the taste buds on your tongue are able to distinguish sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. You also have nerves in your mouth that give you additional senses such as temperature and texture or feel.  These nerves can yield sensations of smooth, creamy, or dry, for example.  So these are the senses inside your mouth.  

Then secondly, and most importantly, is smell or aroma. Aroma is what is detected in your nose and nasal passages.  As you eat or drink, aromas pass up through your nasal passages where you get additional information about what you are consuming.

And finally flavor is how the brain puts together the senses of taste and smell.

So then back to wine. When you sip a wine you are getting information from your tongue, nose and nasal passages. And while there are only the four tastes being detected by your tongue there are a multitude of aromas being detected by your nose and nasal passages. The aromas get released by the wine through the alcohol, which is lighter than air, and evaporates easily from your glass.  Your brain then puts together the information on the tastes and smells of the wine and equates them with tastes and smells that you already know. Thus, those amazing little grapes are able to cause your brain to sense additional fruit flavors without even a trace of the fruits actually being in the wine.

Aging wine in oak barrels also adds many other dimensions to the flavors in wines. And we'll discuss those next time.

But for now, remember the four S's of wine tasting (1) Swirl your wine in the glass to release all the aromas, (2) Smell the wine's bouquet, (3) Sip the wine and leave it in your mouth briefly, and then (4) Swallow (or Spit) and experience the wine's lingering 'finish.'  Then try to name all the wonderful fruit flavors that you experience. All just from grapes! Cheers!