5 factors in defining wine flavours and aromas
Ever wondered how wine gets all that flavour and aroma from a simple grape? Sure, grapes come in different varieties, but strawberries and pepper, peaches and elderflower? How is it that these masterful winemakers can pack so much into one type of drink?
We’ve taken a closer look at wine flavours and found the top five factors that determine how and why our favourite drink tastes and smells. And to answer that burning question — no, the flavours are not simply added in, it’s all natural.
1. GRAPE VARIETY
From the crispy fruit flavours of a Chardonnay to the cherry, roses and liquorice of Nebbiolo, and everything in between, the grape variety is the first factor in determining how a wine tastes.
Certain varieties are sweeter, more acidic or lighter, they may grow better in certain climates, and some are better suited to specific fermentation processes.
Aromas and flavours are developed mainly in the fermentation process. Here, microbial activities work together to create molecular arrangements that we can assign familiar scents and flavours to. Hence sometimes a coffee or spicy finish.
It’s often said, great wine starts in the vineyard, and environmental factors are critical. Climate, altitude, soil and even air quality can be a factor in determining the quality and flavour of a wine.
Weather patterns in any given season will determine the quality and flavour of that year’s vintage. To find out more on how temperature and climate determine grape growth and quality, check out our article on climate change and its impact on wine here.
Linked to weather, vineyards at higher elevation have cooler nights and warmer days, which is often linked to higher acidity. Depending on the direction of the vineyards, more access to direct sunlight will also create full-bodied flavours and higher tannins.
Soil determines the availability of what is required for vines to grow well. Between access to water, nutrients, water retention and even the overall temperature of the plant, soil quality is critical in defining the character of almost each and every grape.
Now, this is a controversial one, but we’re throwing it in anyway! Some evidence suggests that wines may take on the flavour of the environment around them. For example, in 2008, Californian wines were smoke affected after their disastrous fire season. There have also been cases of wine with higher eucalyptus or menthol flavours when grown close to eucalyptus trees.
Pressing is where the juice is separated from all the other bits of the grape. The timing of this step decides how long the juice and pulp is in contact with the skin of the grape. In turn, this affects a wines flavour, especially in terms of its acidity and tannins. This stage differs the most between white and red wine.
Where and how long wine is aged before bottling is also a factor. Oak contains its own organic compounds and will give a wine an earthy flavour as well as increase tannins and leave a more complex structure. Ageing in steel, on the other hand, adds no flavour but protects the wine from oxygen and ensures wine consistency.
With a wide variety of flavours, textures and finishes, wine can be really fun to drink. Pair it with food, do a wine tasting, or simply enjoy it with friends, it’s almost boggling to browse the wine options available these days — and now, hopefully you understand a little better why!
If you’re curious about wine flavours, pick six varieties and host your very own wine tasting to put your knowledge to the test. Kiss of Wine also has a spring taster pack available here. You can check out our information on tasting notes and find which one you like best!