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April WOTM: Who Put Forest Floor In My Glass?

By: Mackenzie Brisbois
Where do all those tastes and aromas come from?
Who put forest floor in my glass?
In Jamie Goode’s book Wine Science, he poses the questions, “Do we need to be able to put a chemical name to all the nuances of fine wine, in order to be able to appreciate it?”
    The answer is NO, we don’t need to, but it really is so fascinating to do it. I absolutely love all the different flavours we can pull out of wine, the way it allows us to talk about a wine and the deep dive into science that flavours can take!
It’s so cool and it’s ok to be a wine geek
As a wine drinker it helps to appreciate the wine even more! As a winemaker, an understanding of how flavours come about can help us craft our tasty wines. My choices throughout the entire process, from grape growing to finished bottle ageing are influenced by knowledge of how flavours come about in wine.
    I recently had a debate with my mother in-law concerning the flavour strawberry in red wine. Her point of view was that she wants to drink a wine for all that it is, not for the strawberry. Why would she want strawberry in her wine? The discussion is always so much more exciting after a couple glasses of wine!
To start, we need to differentiate between how we feel with wine drinking versus the actual chemical composition of wine flavours. A wine doesn’t have strawberry in it, but rather has the flavour compound of strawberry. Maybe you had a negative experience with strawberries in your childhood, which has tainted the image of a strawberry forever. So having a descriptor of strawberry on a Cabernet Sauvignon might get you a little antsy. It doesn’t mean that the wine has strawberries in it, but rather has the  flavour compounds furaneol and methoxyfuraneol. Furaneol is also found in pineapple, raspberry, lychee
and even soy sauce.  
    Let’s get back to grapes. A grape has flavours depending on its variety, these flavours are chemical compounds, such as furaneol, mentioned above. Once fermentation begins, we also get yeast derived flavours. These are called Esters. So we have flavours that come from the grapes (depending on variety and growing condition) and flavours that come from our yeast. And then we have flavours that come from yeast breaking down and barrel ageing. Furthermore, we have flavours that develop in bottle over time, changing the aforementioned flavours!
    It would be remiss to discuss flavours without discussing the other components that can affect flavour. The acid level of the wine, the tannic structure, the sweetness, the alcohol level and the temperature at drinking all change how we taste. Not to mention the choices I make along the way making the wine.
Examples of Wine Flavours
Methoxypyrazine — gives the aroma of fresh cut grass to a Sauvignon Blanc or the bell pepper aroma in Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. In cooler years or if fruit is underripe, the wine can smell like green peppers.
Monoterpenes — flowery and very aromatic compounds that smell like roses, citrus peel, fruit loops, sweet spices or even coriander. You can taste these flavours in Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Riesling or Muscat (Little Fluffy Clouds). Some of the monoterpenes are called Geraniol, Nerol and Linalool
Sotolon — this is a strong one, smelling like curry or caramel, maple syrup or burnt sugar. You would find this in purposely oxidized wine like Vin Jaune. 
TDN (1,1,6,-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronapthalene) — Aromas like kerosene, petroleum, plastic or diesel and is common in older Riesling. TDN can be higher in concentration from a hotter vintage.
Rotundone — this smells like black pepper, cocoa powder or spice and is found in bigger reds like Syrah. 
Diacetyl — butter, cream aromas and a creamy texture. Diacetyl is created during MLF (malolactic fermentation). At thigh concentrations is can even smell like rancid butter. At lower concentrations, like in our Chardonnay, it creates a buttery aromatic.
    Even Further, Our Brains Change How We Taste.
Depending on where we are, how we are feeling, what colour the wine is and what else we have eaten, we taste wines differently. If I say something like STRAWBERRY before you taste a wine, that will change how you perceive the wine. Flavours are so complex. There are the actual components that are in a wine and there is us.
We change how wine tastes!
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