Tag Archives: wine descriptors

The Wine Smells Like Cloves


photo courtesy of Taekwonweirdo on Flickr

 Question from Chris: I can’t usually pick out flavors like strawberry or chocolate in wine but the other day I had a glass of Pinot Noir that smelled just like cloves. It was so strong I couldn’t notice anything else about the wine. Is that common? Maybe I could pick it out because I like to bake? 

Reply: Hi, Chris. Thanks for writing! Clove is, indeed, a very common descriptor for oak-aged wine. Evidently, there’s a compound known as eugenol found in oak and it’s the main aroma compound found in cloves. Don’t you just love that? Stuff like this a one of the many reasons why wine is endlessly interesting! 

Very occasionally I get a question about whether things like strawberry or licorice are actually added to the wine. If they were, the bottle would have to say “strawberry flavored wine.” It couldn’t simply say “wine” – it would have to be qualified in that way. So, all those descriptors you see in the wine ratings are derived from the grapes, the barrels, fermentation, environment (like exposure to air) and/or time. Except, of course, for the obscure descriptors used by wine writers who simply want to impress – oh, brother…  Continue reading

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The Wine Just Smells Like Wine To Me…

Question from Jim: How do you learn to pick out the different aromas in wine? My friends describe things like strawberry or vanilla, but it just smell like wine to me. 

Reply: You know, Jim, you have a lot of company! I’ve done countless tasting seminars in my career and when I start asking for descriptors folks tend to clam up. They’re afraid their perceptions are “wrong” (which is impossible – your perception is your perception). Or, the brave members of the group will look me straight in the eye and say “It smells like wine.” 

Bravo for them! That takes some courage. It seems we all think we’re supposed to shoot out of the womb as wine experts.

People like me get so caught up in fruity, floral and barrel-derived characteristics that we forget how overwhelming fermentation aromas are. And, fermentation is what makes wine smell like wine. How to get past them? Practice. 

Becoming a perceptive taster is just like developing a good golf swing. It comes with practice and gives you pleasure. Without the second half of that sentence, the first is pointless. Since wine’s only purpose is to give us pleasure, if it’s not fun for you, don’t bother.  Continue reading

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