kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

703.203.9463

No natural or artificial flavors added...

Strawberries. Leather. Grass. Lemon. Wine flavors and aromas can run the gamut from fruity, to savory, from earthy, to herby.

Clients at my wine tastings sometimes ask me if the reason they taste all these flavors is due to winemakers ADDING natural or artificial flavors. (They apologize in advance of asking this question, thinking that it's a "stupid" question, but I think it's only natural of the curious wine-lover to wonder this).

The answer is that, fortified wines and wines actually labeled "fruit-flavored wines" aside, the flavors from wine come do not come from anything added to the wine. So where do they come from? LOTS of different places, including:

1. The grapes: Different grapes have different phenolic, inherent properties that make them taste, well, different. (Sauvignon Blanc grapes are known for having flavors of gooseberries, grass and lemons; while Cabernet Sauvignon grapes can have flavors of mint, eucalyptus and blackberry.)

2. The soil and the environment: The French are big on the notion of "terroir"--the belief that so many factors are involved in the characteristics of the final product, including the environment. (Chablis has flinty, mineral-y soil, which finds its way into the wine, adding a mineral quality to the already lean, crisp wine made from the Chardonnay grape. Vineyards in other areas or countries made be near lavender fields, and since the bees will pollinate both the grapes and the lavender, wines can have a faint smell or flavor of the aromatic herb.)

3. The oak: If wines are fermented and/or aged using oak barrels, oak chips or oak staves, this can add a lot of flavor to the wine. American oak tends to add more coconut and sweet vanilla flavor, while French oak tends to impart a more subtle, toasty flavor.

Of course, the best way to find different characteristics is to keep tasting.