Witnessing Taste Components: Flavor and Finish
I started this saga on Sparkling wine but I realized early on that before one can fully appreciate the subtleties of sparkling wine I had to first cover the basics of appreciating regular wine be it still, sparkling or even fortified.
The word “appreciate” is a bit loaded in the sense that to appreciate something you first have to be able to describe exactly in words. What it is that you are appreciating? The second step is then to evaluate or to judge those properties that we have observed.
So to achieve the first task namely that of being able to describe or witness what it is we experience as we smell and taste all the glories of wine.
Remember that when it comes to describing the taste of wine in words we are limited by the fact that we have no specific vocabulary to describe smell and taste, also there is a lot more to wine than just smell and taste.
The approach that we have taken is to systematically use the same framework of the basic properties that all wines possess namely,
The finale this week is for us to discuss the assessment of flavors and the finish of the wine.
As you may well remember, smell and taste acting simultaneously create flavor, each one inter-dependent on the other and forgive me if at times I use “aroma” almost synonymously with “taste”.
When we smell and taste think of two questions –
How much do I smell/taste? (quantitative assessment)
What is it that I smell/ taste ? (qualitative assessment).
Quantity is relatively easy to describe. Almost any property of anything can be quantified on a numerical scale from lowest to highest and typically the terms used are:
We can use this scale to assess not only smell and tastes but also the other properties we have described in our framework including sweetness, acid, tannins and even body.
And when it comes to describing smells, tastes and flavors, a convenient way to organize one’s thoughts is to think of the smells, tastes and flavors as they are formed according to the life history of the wine as three distinct phases. Each stage produces characteristic aromas that tell you about the growing up (the French use the term “elevage”) of the wine. Some wines have only primary flavors, say a Pinot Grigio is a simple non-complex wine. Then you might taste butter and oak in addition to primary flavors in a wine like a medium level chardonnay. Then you might taste a wine that has primary flowers and fruit, secondary butter and oak flavors and in addition flavors like caramel, honey, or butterscotch that tell you the wine has been aged for a considerable time, therefore a complex and high quality wine
Primary Flavors from grape skins.
Secondary from the wine making process.
Tertiary from the process of aging.
The primary descriptors are those that relate to flowers and fruits.
Floral aromas are best appreciated from white wines, though they certainly occur in red wines. You can use generic terms like perfume, floral, even talcum powder but as is always the case in describing aromas and flavors the more specific you can be the better; so compare the aromas to specific flowers, acacia, hawthorn, linden edelweiss, orange blossom, rose petal or lavender.
Some red wines may have floral aromas specifically violets as in a Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot but floral aromas are best appreciated in white wines. The fruit descriptors similarly will depend on white versus red.
Black Grapes, red fruits, raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry versus black fruits such as black currant, black berry, black cherry.
Secondary aromas and tastes are derived from the winemaking process from things like yeasts, butter and toast.
Secondary flavors are much less prevalent than primary ones but when they are present they give you important information about the quality of the wine. We are talking now mostly about white wines. The most obvious is the flavor related to the process of fermentation are the flavors of butter, cream and even yoghurt.
These aromas and flavors result from the conversion of malic to lactic acid by malo-lactic bacteria that tell you the wine was aged in a barrel. In addition to butter the oak gives flavors of toast, coconut, cedar and vanilla flavors that tell you the wine was either fermented or aged in a barrel and therefore of higher quality than a wine without those flavors. For example a Pinot Grigio is not likely to come into contact with a barrel nor would a pinot Grigio be likely to be aged. We never talk about malo-lactic features in red wines probably because of the presence of tannins in red wines.
Tertiary aromas and tastes are the reason why wine is aged.
These are the aromas and flavors that add to both primary and secondary notes and are not flavors that come primarily from the grape itself, they are derivatives that evolve during the last stages of the wine’s existence. Oxygen is the thought to be the major driving force in this process, but in tiny amounts over long periods of time. If you want to pursue understanding of the complexities of aging look up the Maillard action. It is particularly relevant to how sparkling wine ages producing those deep and alluring notes of hazelnut, roasted almonds, caramel and coffee.
In red wines there is a greater tendency to develop aromas and tastes of leafy, forest floor, leather, truffle, mushroom and cedar. Opening a 1990 Chateau Latour if you had one would allow you to experience the whole gamut of tertiary flavors in all their glory.
A good idea when tasting is to think not only of primary, secondary and tertiary flavors but to also think about the time sequence of tasting. After carefully looking at all aspects of the wine in your glass, then after carefully smelling the wine we finally taste it. As you taste there is a beginning, what some people call the attack, then there are the flavors and textures of the mid palate and finally the finish.
All good things must come to an end and the end is “the finish”.
The finish is how long the aromas, flavors and textures persist in consciousness after the last sip.
All good wines have a long and complex finish almost a sine qua non – literally without which not- meaning if the wine does not have a long finish it will, by definition be a good wine but it will never be an outstanding wine.
So, there we are folks the last episode of the Sparkling Wine Saga. We have gone all over the place covering all wines in the last few posts but everything we have discussed is applicable to sparkling wine.
BTW if anyone wants to contribute please free to make comments or ask question.
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Next week -having witnessed the wine how do we go about deciding whether it is good or just outstanding.