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Do You Actually Put Cherry Flavoring in the Wine?

on April 30, 2013

Posted in: blog, Tasting Wine

When reading wine descriptions, a number of thoughts may run through your head. “How do you get blackberry and cherry flavors?”, “Do you actually put those flavorings in the wine?”, “Pfff…”, “Graphite? Is that supposed to be a good thing?”, “Chocolate…I don’t get chocolate.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, those are all fair responses after reading how some wines are described, but when I host tastings, this is the point that I like to get across—wine is personal. Everybody has different ways of sensing and experiencing their surroundings and what they put up to their noses or mouths, and people are going to make unique connections, if any at all. Just because our 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon smells like liquorice to me, doesn’t mean that it’s going to smell like that to you. That’s just the connection that I made with the wine, so that’s what I wrote in the tasting notes. If you don’t pick up hints of liquorice, it doesn’t make you any less experienced at tasting wine. It simply means that we taste and perceive things differently, and that’s ok.

I, personally, like to have fun describing wines. Let me give you an example. I grew up in a small house in Mill Valley, California surrounded by fruit trees. We had a couple of plum trees that produced extremely ripe plums in the summertime. Sometimes we could not eat as many plums as our trees produced, so the plums would eventually fall to the ground and begin to decompose into the dusty earth beneath our feet. Laird’s 2008 Suscol Ranch Merlot smells, to me, like an overly ripe plum, covered in dirt, that has been sun-scorched during its decomposition phase, and I love it! That smell brings forth fond memories of my childhood. It puts a smile on my face and gives me warm, cozy feelings inside. That’s what I mean when I say wine is personal. Smelling our Merlot triggers happy memories that I have stored in my brain, and it is due to these connections that I am sometimes able to make between memories and the wines that I am tasting, that I have such an enormous passion for wine. For me, wine tasting is not just merrymaking, it’s an experience.

After reading that, you probably picture me with a big cheesy grin on my face, every time I take a sip of wine, gazing into nothing as I fanaticize about sunshine and fruit, while twirling in my backyard as a child, but that’s not the case. I’m not a walking Yoplait commercial, I’m just someone who gets really excited about wine and the experiences that come with it.

So, that’s my long, drawn-out, whimsical version about how I like to describe wine. Here’s a simpler explanation: describing wine by using terms like strawberry, tobacco, leather, and earth are meant to convey what the wine is reminiscent of and how each is different from one another, other than just saying “it tastes like white wine,” or “it tastes like red wine.” Perhaps the Pinot Grigio you are tasting has high acidity like citrus fruit, then one might describe the wine tasting like lemonade or tangerine. Maybe the young Cabernet Sauvignon you are tasting has grippy tannins and it feels as though you are chewing on leather boot straps or a mouthful of walnuts (whatever floats your boat). The components in the wine that you are sensing on your palate might remind you of something else that you’ve experienced that left you with the same impression; or, maybe not. Nonetheless, that’s essentially why wine descriptions are written the way they are.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you picked up on the cherry or strawberry notes, if it reminded you of a wonderful childhood experience or not, what matter is, do you like it? Or is it not your style?

–          Madeleine Rose

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