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Identifying Wine Flavors like a Pro

wine tasting

You’ve seen it a million times – a wine connoisseur takes a sip of their wine and then shares all the wonderful flavor characteristics of the wine to any and all within earshot. Then you take a sip of the same wine and think, I don’t taste tobacco, chocolate, or blueberries!

But the truth is, almost all wine varieties exhibit a wide range of flavors because of all the beverages in the world, wine is the most complex. You’re not tasting the individual flavor profiles because you simply haven’t learned how to – yet.

The good thing is learning how to discern wine flavors isn’t as difficult as you might think it is. And it all starts by learning how a wine gets its distinct flavor. 

How Does Wine Get Its Fruit Flavor?

Every wine has a unique blend of flavors that come from aroma compounds found in the grapes that are used to make the wine. These compounds, which are known as stereoisomers, get released during the wine’s fermentation and they are largely what make up the wine’s flavor. When you take into consideration that a single vintage can contain hundreds of different aroma compounds, it’s easy to see how every wine can smell and taste different.

The interesting thing about stereoisomers is that the human brain will usually have multiple responses to a single stereoisomer. This is the reason why certain aromas might trigger someone to smell something entirely different, like flowers, fruits, or other things, like tobacco or chocolate.

Most of a wine’s aroma compounds are subtle because some compounds can also come from the barrels they are fermented and stored in, whereas the primary flavor profile is derived of the fruit that the wine was made from.

Fruit Flavors in Red Wine

Red wines can be either fruity, savory, or sweet, but of these three fruity and savory red wines present the drinker with the widest range of flavor notes. And when you consider that each type is further separated by spicy, juicy, high tannin, and round categories, you can see how diverse their profiles can be. The following represents the different flavors found in fruity and savory red wines.

Flavors of Fruity Red Wines

  • Cherry/Strawberry
    • Round: Pinot Noir (from California, New Zealand, and Chile), Garnacha
    • Spicy: Zinfandel, Grenache, Primivito, Berbera, Carmenere, Counoise
  • Tart Cherry/Cranberry
    • Round: Pinot Noir (from Oregon), St, Laurent, Spatburgunder
    • Spicy/Juicy: Gamay, Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch
  • Black Cherry/Raspberry
    • Round: Merlot, Amarone, Valpolicella, Chateauneuf du Pape
    • Spicy: Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese
    • High Tannin: Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Super Tuscan, Priorat
  • Blueberry/Blackberry
    • Round: Malbec, Syrah, Mencia, Nerobuono, Shiraz/Viognier, Nero d’Avola, Meritage, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba
    • Spicy: Shiraz, Monastrell
    • High Tannin: Petit Verdot, Lirac, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Touriga Nacional

Flavors of Savory Red Wines

  • Tobacco/Smoke/Leather
    • Round: Graves, Cornas, Cannonau di Sardegna, Ribera del Duero, Pessac-Leognan, Rioja Reserva, Gran Reserva
    • High Tannin: Cahors, Taurasi, Rioja, Aglianico
  • Black Pepper/Gravel
    • Round: Hermitage, Rhone, St. Joseph, Fronsac, Bandol, Pomerol, St. Emilion
    • Spicy/Juicy: Chinon, Bardolino, Bourgueil, Barbera d’Alba, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
    • High Tannin: Medoc, Haut Medoc, Cahors, Pauillac, St. Julien, St. Estephe
  • Cured Meats/Clay
    • Round: Carignan, Gigondas, Brunello di Montalcino, Vacqueyras
    • High Tannin: Chianti, Barolo, Barbaresco, Montefalco Rosso
  • Truffle/Forest
    • Round: Bourgogne, Cote Chalonnaise, Dolcetto
    • Spicy/Juicy: Pinotage, Beaujolais, Lagrein

Fruit Flavors in White Wine 

White wine flavors are typically derived from either tree-fruits or citrus fruits, and they can vary widely based on whether the white wine is dry or sweet. The following represents the different flavors found in dry and sweet white wines.

Flavors of Dry White Wines

  • Grapefruit/Floral
    • Gavi
    • Pinot Blanc
    • Orvieto
    • Vermenito
    • Moscholfilero
    • Verdicchio
    • Greco di Tufo
  • Citrus/Lemon
    • Pinot Grigio
    • Chablis
    • Grenache Blanc
    • Chardonnay (unoaked)
    • Vinho Verde
    • Muscadet
    • Assyrtiko
    • Silvaner
    • Picpoul
    • Albarino
    • Gruner Veltliner
  • Herbal/Grassy
    • Sauvignon Blanc
    • Ugni Blanc
    • Touraine
    • Cheverny
    • Verdejo
    • White Bordeaux
    • Sancerre
    • Pouilly fume
    • Entre-Deux-Mers
  • Creamy/Nutty
    • Chardonnay
    • Viognier
    • Montrachet
    • Soave
    • Macconais
    • Meursalt
    • Savennieres
    • Cote de Beaune
  • Perfume/Floral
    • Chenin Blanc
    • Viognier
    • Fiano
    • Marsanne
    • Semillon
    • Torrontes
    • Roussanne
    • Condrieu
    • Malvasia
    • Vouvray
    • Tokaji

Flavors of Dry White Wines

  • Tropical/Honey
    • Moscato
    • Orvieto
    • Barsac
    • Riesling (Auslese)
    • Malvasia
    • Chenin Blanc
    • Tokaji
    • Sauternes
    • Eiswein (Ice Wine)
  • Apricots/Peaches
    • Riesling (Spatlese)
    • Riesling (Kabinett)
    • Chenin Blanc
    • Vouvray
    • Cour-Cheverny
    • Muller-Thurgau
    • Gewurtztraminer

With white wine, it is not uncommon for the same type of wine to exhibit wildly different flavor characteristics because the flavor of the fruit used can vary depending on where it’s grown and how ripe the fruit is when it the wine is made. For instance, a glass of South African Chenin Blanc will carry notes of peaches and apricots, whereas a Chenin Blanc from France is more likely to feature hints of tropical flavors. This is also why some glasses of Chardonnay can have lemon notes when less ripe fruit used and others can taste sweeter, more like pineapple when riper fruit used.

Now that you know the basics behind the flavors of wine, the next time you take a sip of your favorite vintage, think about the tastes you’re experiencing and then return here to see if you picked out the right flavors.

perfect for friends
and family

1 barrel makes 240 bottles!

perfect for friends and family

1 barrel makes 240 bottles!