Wine is among most complex liquids we enjoy, competing with coffee.
By conservative estimates, there are more than 800 chemical substances or compounds in wine; by other estimates—depending how deep you wade into weeds—tens of thousands.
Scientist probe this with, well, scientific exactitude.
Riesling’s lemony aspect is partly caused by linalool, while its “petrol” whiff is 1,6 trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphalene. Sauvignon blanc’s peppery, capsicum-like element comes from 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine; its “cat urine” aroma is p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one. The exotic flower scent in chardonnay is partly result of damascanone, a diversifyer.
If your eyes crossed while reading above, that’s why wine writers grasp for descriptors appreciated by folks who did not earn advanced degrees in organic chemistry.
Different varietals generate different tastes and smells (taste and smell are so intimately intertwined this column usually does not differentiate). Examples:
Cabernet sauvignon: cherry, blackberry, plum, prune, tobacco, mint.
Merlot: strawberry, raspberry, cherry, mulberry, black olive, spice.
Pinot noir: Cranberry, strawberry, cherry, barnyard, forest floor, cola, spice, violet.
Zinfandel: Pepper, raspberry, cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant (tangy), raisin, tomato.
Sangiovese: Sour cherry, raspberry, plum, rhubarb, tobacco, spice.
Chardonnay: Mineral, green apple, apple, grapefruit, citrus, lime, white peach, pineapple, melon.
Sauvignon blanc: Cut grass, green apple, citrus, passionfruit, mango, lantana, cat urine, gunpowder.
Riesling: Flint, green apple, lemon, lime, orange peel, rose, honeysuckle, pear, quince, petrol.
Muscat (moscato): Orange peel, fruit salad, dried fruits, perfumed.
Notice red descriptors often include “cherry” and white descriptors variants of “apple.” When smug wine snob corners you, rely on those descriptors with confidence. If snob disagrees, shrug and comment: “well, you have your own palate.”
- Stemmari Pinot Noir 2012: Solid from Sicily; cherry, strawberry, blackberry; dry, mild tannin, nice acidity; not complex, superb for price. $10
- Chateau de Manissy Tavel Rosé Cuvée des Lys 2012: Lovely rose color; stone fruit, strawberry, minerals; nice acidity, refreshing warm-day sipper. $15
- Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012: Big, juicy Lodi syrah with pinch of petite sirah; plum, blackberry; good acidity, delicious value. $16
- Au Contraire Pinot Noir 2012: Superb violet nose; strawberry, raspberry; elegant tannin, long finish; bright, light, silky, spice, nice. $27
Last round: “Trust me—you really dance well. And you are a talented singer, too.”—Wine