Flavor Profiles of Wine – Back to Basics

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In the first in a series, we examine what makes up the flavors and aromas that make wine such a magical beverage.

Sometimes we make things so much more difficult than they have to be. Wine is definitely one of those things. Those of us who work with wine and wine people on a daily basis need to find all sorts of descriptors for our favorite drink. The average wine drinker does not need to as much, although sometimes guys like me accidentally make them think that they do.

The truth of the matter is that a white wine has only two major characteristics, and red has three. White wine is sweet and tart. Red is both of those plus tannic. Everything else are merely secondary characteristics. Much of what we perceive about wine comes from those three things, and many of the flavor profiles of different wines comes from how varying levels of each interact.

Many of the other flavors we taste in wine comes from manipulation by the winemaker. While these other flavors are important, breaking the flavor of various wines down to sweet, tart (acidic), and tannic is the first step in both learning about the flavor profiles of wine and pairing it with food.

When the acidity and sweetness, and tannin in reds, are nearly equal in a wine we say that it is balanced. The term is also used when each element is in the right proportion for a particular style of wine. An overly tart Chardonnay or a sweet Muscadet would be out of balance even though their acidity and sweetness were exactly equal.

As the above statement illustrates, the flavor profiles of various wines are to a large degree created by how the two or three main characteristics balance or how any of the components move away from being in balance. Learning these flavor profiles allows us to recognize the characteristics of various wines. In turn, it allows us to know if what is in our glass is a good representative of that particular varietal or style. And finally, it allows us to order or serve a wine that goes with the food on our plate, without having to learn a bunch of silly rules that don’t really work anyway.