What are Jammy, Buttery & Earthy Wines?

Ever wonder how terms like 'Jammy,' 'Buttery,' and 'Earthy' can be associated with wine? A product that made with grapes?

Previously we looked at "How do all those flavors get into wine?" There we learned that taste and smell come from the combination of senses from your tongue and your nose that your brain puts together to form flavor. We also learned that aging a wine, especially in oak barrels, can impart flavors that go beyond the fruit flavors from the grape.

So, let's briefly explore the terms 'jammy,' 'buttery,' and 'earthy' with respect to wines.

The first, jammy, is probably the easiest to understand. Just like a jar of fruit jam that you may spread on toast, jammy wines have very concentrated fruit flavors. And because jammy wines are made from very ripe fruit (i.e., high in sugar content) they can end up with just a slight hint of sweetness to go along with the concentrated fruit flavors. Hence, a jammy wine.  Zinfandel is best known for having jammy characteristics.

Next is buttery. Seemly an odd term to be associated with wine. But buttery flavor can be created in wine in one of two ways. First, putting the wine through the process of malolactic conversion (often referred to a malolactic fermentation) turns the naturally formed malic acid that you might associated with tart green apples into lactic acid that is most commonly associated with cream or butter.  The second process that can add buttery flavor to a wine is oak aging.  While most red wines go through malolactic conversion and oak aging, it's Chardonnay that's best known for showing buttery flavors.

Finally, earthy wines are those that have subtle aromas of damp earth, forest floor, mushrooms or a bit of a dusty aroma. Earthy wines include Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah. These should not be pungent aromas, you should just get a hint. If these aromas are strong it usually indicates that the wine has become tainted.

While these descriptors may sound a bit odd when associated with wine, they really can be wonderful enhancements to your wine drinking experience. So, remember to swirl and smell your wines in the glass, then sip. And then see if you can pick out these interesting nuances. Cheers!


Some More Thoughts on Medium and Full Bodied White Wines

Having just examined light bodied white wines and spent a bit of time on Chardonnay, it's time to look into some other white wines that are in the medium body and full body category. These are going to have bigger, fuller flavors than those of the light bodied whites, contain a bit more alcohol and may be aged in oak.

Here are some of the white wines that are considered medium bodied:

Gewürztraminer (go-veertz-tram-ee-ner) - This is a big fruit wine. It's also a very aromatic wine with the fragrance of roses petals, lychee and perfume. Flavors include pink grapefruit, tangerine, peach, mango, apricot and guava. This crisp and fresh flavored wine will typically have sweet undertones while still being dry (low residual sugar). These wines are most famously produced in the Alsace region of France where they can also take on a rich and silky texture with subtle salinity.

Grüner Veltliner (GREW-ner FELT-lee-ner) - Nearly three quarters of all Grüner Veltliner is produced in Austria. This too is a big fruit wine with moderately high acidity. You may find flavors of peach, pear and yellow apple in this wine. The light and zesty versions of this wine are most common and affordable, having crisp acidity and hints of melon and lime. The Austrian Reserve versions can be rich with fruity flavors such as apple, mango and honey along with hints of white pepper.

Sémillon (sem-ee-yawn) - Approximately half of the Sémillon in the world is produced in France with another 25% coming from Australia, and is gaining popularity in California. This is truly a medium bodied wine in all aspects of fruit, acidity and alcohol. Common flavors include lemon, peach, with a waxy mouthfeel and a bit of salinity. Bordeaux blends will include Sémillon along with Sauvignon Blanc. Sémillon is sometimes barrel aged in oak to give it additional richness and flavor.

Marsanne (mar-sohn) - This is a medium-low bodied wine with medium fruit, medium-low acidity but a medium-high alcohol level. Flavors may include Mandarin orange, apricot, and acacia with a slight waxy mouthfeel.

Viognier (vee-own-yay) - This is a big fruit wine with the fragrance of roses, and flavors of peach, mango, and tangerine. Without Malolactic fermentation this wine can also have flavors of lime along with fragrances of flowers and some flavors of mineralality when grown in cool climates. Warmer climate versions of this wine may have flavors of apricot, rose and vanilla. Malolactic fermentation will give this wine richer smoother flavors and reduced acidity.

As previously stated, an oaked Chardonnay is a classic example of either a medium or full bodied white wine, depending on the strength of flavor the oak imparts and if the wine maker takes the additional step of putting the wine through Malolactic Fermentation. And when it comes to full bodied white wines, this is one that everybody knows.

Chardonnay (shar-doe-NAY) - An oaked Chardonnay is a classic example of either a medium or full bodied white wine, depending on the strength of flavor the oak imparts and if the wine maker takes the additional step of putting the wine through Malolactic Fermentation. California Chardonnays of recent past were typically being put through Malolactic Fermentation and aged in new oak to make them a full bodied wine.  These were the Chardonnay's that were referred to as "buttery" due to their big and bold oak flavor and the creamy mouth feel from the conversion of the sharper malic acid (found in green apples) into softer, smoother, creamy lactic acid (found in milk). This process reduces the total acidity such that the wines become softer, rounder and more complex. This trend has largely been reversed such that today most California Chardonnays are either being made un-oaked (often noted on the label), or treated to a lighter dose of oak to allow the fruit flavors to shine through. You can still find a full bodied "buttery" Chardonnay, but they are in the minority.

So there you go with a run through of the various body styles of white wine. Next time we'll start exploring the body of red wines . Tannin is the big difference there. So, until next time, explore some medium and full bodied white wines. Serve them cool, not cold, and enjoy! Cheers!