Wine Flavors & Aromas

As Tasting Room Educators, one of the many questions we are asked on a regular basis is how the flavors and aromas that tasters experience “get into” each wine.  “How can a wine taste like leather or wet rocks?”  And “why would someone want those flavors to be in the wine in the first place???”  There are plenty of factors that affect the unique flavors and aromas that ultimately add so much to each wine, even when the descriptors don’t sound that appetizing (wet rocks, pencil shavings, etc.). ; )  So here’s a list of these factors to help us understand the science behind it all.

Fermentation

During fermentation, yeast is added to the grapes after they are crushed/pressed.  The yeast feeds on the natural sugars of the grapes creating heat, alcohol, carbon dioxide, and releasing aroma compounds.  The flavors of the grapes themselves are changed during this process!  When you taste a wine and get those fruity or spicy notes that you wouldn’t normally pick up by just tasting the grape itself is the result of fermentation. 

And what flavors exactly are created through fermentation?  Each grape variety brings out a whole range of flavors.  Red wines typically bring out red and black fruit characteristics, while white wines bring out notes of stone fruits and citrus.  We could go on for days about each different grape and its flavor profile possibilities, but to save you from information overload, here is a list of characteristics of some of the Rhone grapes that Epoch grows:

Wine Folly’s Article: Identifying Flavors in Wine

Grenache:  

Has notes of red fruits such as strawberry and raspberry.  Also may have spicy notes such as pepper and licorice.  The strawberry notes in Grenache make it a popular grape choice for making Rosé

Syrah:  

Black fruit notes such as blackberry.  This fruit can also have notes of dark chocolate, smoked meats, and black pepper.  Hot regions produce sweeter spice notes such as licorice and even blueberry pie!  Cooler climate Syrahs may even display notes of raspberry and black plum. 

Mourvèdre:  

Notes of blackberry, clove, tobacco, meats, spice, and leather.  Mourvèdre is often described as a very  gamy or even ”farmy” grape, which doesn’t sound too appetizing, but trust us on this one, Mourvèdre is amazing! 

 

Wine Folly’s Article: Identifying Flavors in Wine

Grenache Blanc:  

Lots of floral, fruit, and citrus notes such as green plum, pear, honeysuckle, and citrus zest.  When the wine ages notes of baked apple, brioche, and lemon curd may appear. 

Viognier:  

Viognier is an amazing choice for those who like a white wine with floral notes!  Rose and honeysuckle are commonly picked up in this wine as are fruity notes such as tangerine, peach, pear, mango, and apricot.

Roussanne:  

This variety also yields floral aromas such as chamomile as well as notes of melon, lemon, pears, and herbs.

Blending grapes together creates an even more complex flavor profile for the resulting wines!  Epoch’s Veracity is an amazing example of this.  Each vintage contains three different grapes (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) that are all blended together, creating an intense flavor profile with each grape complementing the other so beautifully.   

Age

As a wine ages, the flavors and aromas change and mature right along with it.  The fresh, fruity flavors that you get out of a younger red may evolve into baked fruit as the wine ages.  In Syrah, the wine might develop different characteristics such as leather, wet leaves, and earth.  As Roussanne ages, it can develop aromas of honey, coffee, flowers, and almonds. 

We love when our guests have the opportunity to experience how Epoch wines change with age.  Before COVID-19, we were offering an amazing Retrospective Tasting experience in the barrel room of our beautiful Tasting Room that highlighted wines from earlier vintages.  While we currently cannot host these tastings in person, these library wines are still available for purchase!  Give our Tasting room a call at (805)237-7575 for more information, or check out these awesome 2009 3-Packs available on our Online Store.  

Oak

This is the part where some of those funky flavors like leather and tobacco come in to play.   Oak is used by winemakers all over to increase the complexity and intensity of wine.  In white wines, oak can add notes of vanilla, butterscotch, and caramel.  In reds, it can add smoke, tobacco, leather, and chocolate.   

During the process of creating an oak barrel, the “cooper,” the person who makes the barrels, can choose to “toast” the barrel for a certain period of time by heating the wood by flame.  The level of toast enhances the flavors that are naturally in the oak and affects the end result of the wine flavors!  Barrels exposed to the flame for about 20 minutes have a lighter toast.  This level of toast adds notes of vanilla, coconut, caramel, cinnamon, and cloves to the wine.  Medium exposure can add vanilla, honey, cedar, roasted nuts, and coffee.  A heavy toast is up to an hour of exposure and can bring out notes of coffee beans, charcoal, ginger, nutmeg, creme brûlée, molasses, and toasted bread. 

The age of the barrel itself also has a huge affect on the outcome of the wine!  New oak barrels impart lots of flavors into the wines.  In 100% new oak barrels, the wines will be more bold, rich, spicy, and oaky.  The wine inside the barrel pulls off so much of these flavors, in fact, that even after one vintage, the barrel loses its ability to impart as much flavor.  Barrels that have been used over two to three years are considered neutral, imparting no toast and giving the wines less oaky flavors.

Epoch Estate Wines’ Barrels

Minerality

The concept of minerality isnt the easiest to grasp or to describe to someone who isn’t familiar.  Minerality can both appear in a wine’s aromas and mouthfeel.  When you see wines with descriptors like wet rock, chalky, crushed rocks, and earthiness, these are referring to the minerality characteristics of the wine.  A wine’s minerality has a lot to do with its terroir, or sense of place.  We take a lot of pride in the fact that Epoch’s wines really display a sense of where they are grown, and each vineyards’ fruit and minerality is so unique from one another. 

Another factor that affects minerality is which vessels are used for fermenting and aging the wine.  We use several concrete vessels at Epoch such as concrete eggs and tulips as well as our concrete fermentation tanks, and all of these add a sense of minerality into the resulting wines.  Tasting wines that boast a high minerality content, such as Epoch’s 2019 White, is a great way to explore what minerality in a wine smells, tastes, and feels like!

Jordan Fiorentini with Epoch’s Concrete Tulips

Practice Makes Perfect!

What’s the best way to learn how to identify and describe the different flavors and aromas you experience as you’re tasting???  Drink more wine, of course!  Well, besides that, there are other ways to practice and improve your skills at identifying wine aromas.  For starters, go to your local farmers market or grocery and buy different fruits and spices.  The more you taste and smell, the easier it will be to pick out which aromas you are picking up when tasting wines!  A good tool for navigating descriptor words and identifying what you think you might be tasting is the Wine Aroma Wheel.  It can also be beneficial to learn how to distinguish the difference between fresh fruit, such as blueberries you might find in a younger red wine, and baked fruits, such as blueberries baked in a pie you would find in a red wine that’s been aging in your cellar for 10 years.  Tasting wine and eating pie…What could be better homework than that!?

Cheers & happy drinking!

Anna Hatfield, Tasting Room Educator