Why wine is not grape flavoured! 

Published on August 22, 2019

Why do wines smell and taste like nearly every fruit you can think of except for grapes?  How can a wine taste like lemons and honey on toast?

To answer these questions, we must be more precise with our definitions.  Most of us use the terms “taste” and “flavour” interchangeably, but physiologists define these as two different things. Our overall impression of a food or beverage is considered to be “flavour.” But every flavour impression is based on stimulus from two main senses: smell and taste.

Our sense of taste comes from the tongue. The five well recognised tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (the savoury, brothy taste you get in miso soup). It is the taste buds that detect the body/texture/alcohol level of the wine (and this is the main driver for the Winecroft Taste Test).

Beyond these basic tastes, the sensations we think of as being “flavour” – things like lemons, honey and toast – are driven by smell, a result from stimulation of our olfactory nerves in our nasal passages.  We smell by breathing in through our nose. But we also smell the food or drink in our mouth while we are eating or drinking by breathing through our nose. As the air passes the back of your mouth on its way to the nose, it picks up aroma molecules (known scientifically as stereoisomers).

So where do all the flavours in a glass of wine come from? The answer is from a wonderful side-effect of the fermentation of grape juice.  As the yeast consumes the sugar in the grape juice and converts it into alcohol, thousands of aroma molecules are also created.  Many of these have similar molecular arrangements to familiar aromas that our nose and brain can recognise from previous life encounters – e.g. real lemons, peaches, butter, blackberries, etc.  This is how we associate wine flavours with all these other wonderful things we know from our own worlds.

With white wines, the most common flavours that you can expect to encounter include apple, pear, lemon, lime, tropical fruits, peach, apricot, melon, kiwi, banana, mango, pineapple, warm florals and butter.  Taste the lemons, peaches and honey in the 2016 David Moret Rully on the Winecroft club list.

The most common flavours for red wines include cherry, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, plum, raisin, fig and spices. Try the 2016 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba on the Winecroft club list and taste the black plums, black cherries and tobacco.


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