Wine Flavor is Completely Independent and Unique

Over the last few articles, I’ve been focusing on explaining how to analyze a wine’s components.  Today, we move on to one of the easiest and hardest components to determine which is flavor. 

I say it’s the easiest because as a society, we have been indoctrinated with flavor through advertising.  I did a quick Google search on flavor and what came up was numerous ads for different products all promoting the different flavors available.  I was nearly dumbfounded at the number of flavors that are promoted.  You see it in beverages all the time.  How many flavors of vodka can you find?  It seems like every day, the list grows.  We are now used to making decisions based on flavor for what we wish to eat and drink.

I still believe that its one of the hardest components to understand for two reasons:

  • What is flavor defined?
  • How do you explain flavor to others related to beverages?

Flavor Defined.

The dictionary defines flavor as:

  • the blend of taste and smell sensations evoked by a substance in the mouth.

Using this definition, we can look at flavor as a combination of these components:

  • Mouthfeel
  • Acid
  • Sweetness
  • Body, and
  • Aroma.

This is key point to understand.  We have discussed all of the above components individually as they all play a part in understanding wine.  Each one is important to assist with both your decision on what you like in a wine and food pairings.  However, this adds to the difficulty as it can be confusing.

The Difficulty of Flavor

I’m going to give you a scenario. 

  • Define the flavor of heavy whipping cream?

For most of us, when we define what heavy cream tastes like, we normally associate the flavor with a creamy mouthfeel.  That’s only a small part of the flavor.  If you really think about it, when you taste heavy cream, does it have a distinctive flavor?  Some say it’s a touch sweet and slightly acidic.  All of that is true but when I ask about its flavor, we tend to draw a bit of a blank. 

We have multiple terms to describe wine flavors.  What is the flavor of wood, toast or even leather and earth or soil?  Heck as a kid, I probably consumed some dirt eating something not washed but could I describe it now?

Here lies the difficulty of understanding and describing flavor.  As individuals, we bring to the table different memories, experiences etc. which have shaped our flavor profile.  Please note that there is nothing wrong with this.  I find it fascinating learning from others how they created and experienced their own flavor profile.  The issue is getting everyone on the same page to describe something.  A great deal of this comes from just talking and discussing.

Key Points to Remember.

In order to fully embrace and understand flavor, we need to make sure we understand the following five points.

Avoid Confusion

The example above with heavy cream is a great one.  When we discuss flavor, we need to make sure that we indicate a ‘flavor’ and separate this from the components.  The components (such as mouthfeel), we still address but separately.

For example, if I say this wine has an orange taste, I think we can all imagine what that is.  Therefore, try to use flavors that everyone can understand to explain what’s there.  Keep it simple.  If I tell you that this wine tastes like Florida Kumquats just picked in 75F early morning weather….what the heck does that mean??

Describe flavor in common terms.  I will avoid describing something related to flavor that is hard to grasp.  For example, I would not say that this tastes like heavy cream.  I would say that this has the same mouthfeel as heavy cream.  This makes it easier to understand.

Aroma is different than Flavor?

I have always stated this when I teach beverage classes.  Just because a beverage (in this case, wine) has a particular set of aromas does not mean that the flavors will be the same.

For example, I can smell cat pee aromas in a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  This never means that I will taste cat pee in the wine.  For the record, I’ve never tasted cat pee, I do not plan on it ever and I highly suggest that you do not either.  Therefore, I’m never going to suggest that the wine tastes like that. 

A better example is sun dried tomatoes in Sangiovese.  You have smelled and tasted these before, so you have a reference for both components.  In this case, your wine may have this aroma you may not be able to taste it (and vice versa).  You have to separate flavor and aroma into individual components.  I spend a lot of time making sure that I focus on each as individual components.

Use Memories

In a previous article, I taught you to use memories to help you determine aromas.  Well use the same technique for flavors.  Kumquats are distinctive in flavor to me because I refer back to the memory of trying them the first time at Austin’s Central Market.  I was deciding if I should use them for a salad, so I cut one in half and tried it.  That flavor profile is still locked in my memory today.  As a trained chef and culinary educator, I’ve been lucky that I’ve been exposed to different ingredients and flavor profiles throughout my career.  This has helped immensely for understanding wine flavors.  My suggestion to you would be to have an open mind and taste everything you can.

Ask the Questions.

I’ve also referred to using questions to determine aromas.  This technique applies to flavors as well.  If you look at the flavor categories below, you can see they are grouped into certain classes.  When I ask myself what I am tasting, I ask the same questions as before with aroma. 

Clear the Mechanism.

You need to clear your mind in order to be able to focus on flavors and what you are tasting.  Never assume something is there.  Confirm it.  One other aspect that’s important.  If you truly believe it’s there after confirmation, then trust your palate and go with it.  We do not like to appear wrong, so we start to second guess ourselves.  Trust yourself.

Sauvignon Blanc Flavor.

I’ve been analyzing an Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc over the last few articles to show you my breakdown for this wine.  Today’ we get to talk about its flavor.  If you look at the tasting sheet, you can observe what I noted for aroma and flavor. 

Some of the aromas and flavors are the same.  However, you can see that I found the wine had some different flavors such as grass and hay/straw.  How do I know what straw tastes like?  I straw bale garden and this last weekend, I had a new batch of straw bales delivered that I had to move into place.  That stuff gets everywhere, including in my mouth!!

Some may say that this wine does not have a lot of flavors or could be lacking.  If you have not tried it yet, please do and you will see that it’s full of flavor.

Final Thoughts

Flavor is one of the hardest components to discuss let alone trying to explain by writing.  However, I hope that I was able to explain what to look for.  More importantly, I wanted to address what not to get confused with.

Remember, while I’m diving deep into wine, I want to make sure that you understand why.  Understanding the components will help you with pairing (future articles and upcoming book).  Plus, I’m teaching you the technique for blind pairing as well.  When I start to write about individual grapes, I will show you how each grape has a particular profile based on its components.  With this knowledge, that’s how I can help determine what type of wine I’m tasting and where it comes from. 😊

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