The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

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The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Gary Barlettano » Thu Aug 17, 2006 6:46 pm

I was wandering around Lodi today (California, not New Jersey) and stopped by the Visitor's Center where they have a little instructional vineyard. Therein were planted rows of Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. Well, nobody was lookin', so I started a little taste test. The Sauvignon Blanc tasted like I would have expected Sauvignon Blanc to taste, i.e. it had a very distinguishable citrus character and a certain "grapefruitiness." The Cabernet Sauvignon tasted green, underripe, very vegetal and was reminiscent of many a cab I've had. The remaining varieties tasted like, well, grapes with nothing distinguishing them from one another. Perhaps if this were two or three weeks later the grapes would have been riper and perhaps would have developed more of their characteristic traits? I don't know.

Are the different varieties clearly or even somewhat distinguishable by taste from one another before they are fermented? What's been your experience?
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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Howie Hart » Thu Aug 17, 2006 7:59 pm

I've never tasted fresh grapes from any of the varieties you listed. The reason for this is because in my area vinefera is hard to find, so I have to purchase it as fresh pressed juice/must, which I do taste whites. So, I've only tasted labrusca and hybrid varieties as grapes. I always taste the grapes before crushing and again after pressing the juice - one of the most enjoyable aspects of home winemaking. One thing is that grapes are made of 4 elements: skin, seeds, juice and pulp. The other thing is that the different varieties ripen at different times and will display different tasting characteristics at different stages of ripeness. I would guess that they would all taste similar if they aren't ripe, but the flavors would diverge, the riper they get. As far as pressed white juice is concerned, I would have difficulty distinguishing Chardonnay, Riesling or Seyval, none of which seem to have distinct tasting qualities as fresh juice and are quite bland. Late harvest Vidal has a honey-like flavor, while my favorite is Cayuga, with a distinct grapey character to it. Another fresh pressed juice I enjoy is Steuben, which also make a great table grape, and has that labrusca grapiness to it. The black hybrid grapes I've tasted seem to taste different more because of their make-up than disctinct flavor profiles - Foch and Leon Millot taste very similar becasue they are cousins and they have small berries and big seeds, whereas DeChaunac and Chelois have larger berries and small seeds.
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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Thomas » Thu Aug 17, 2006 11:43 pm

Gary,

The answer to your question is yes, but the different tastes are more pronounced after each variety reaches its particular level of maturity, something they don't all do at the same time. Until they reach that point, they generally taste similar to one another.

One of the ways winemakers decide on harvest dates is to taste the grapes from the vine for that inidividual maturity of character. In fact, in September I am attending a seminar in NY about this very subject for an article I'll be writing.
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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Paul B. » Thu Aug 17, 2006 11:53 pm

Gary, I've tasted Pinot Noir grapes in the Niagara Peninsula some years back and they never really had any flavour at all; just tangy/sweet and juicy. The seeds, when crushed, were a bit bitter, though.

I've also eaten Baco Noir and Foch, and similarly, they were just tangy/sweet with no real "grape taste" to speak of.

I've also munched on Gewürztraminer and was shocked to find absolutely no varietal taste in the grapes at all - not what I was expecting from such an aromatic variety. Then again, in Ontario, Gewürz never really does develop its full Alsatian perfume.

Labrusca, on the other hand, is so flavourful that it's no surprise that the grapes were used from the earliest days for making juice and jelly. Concord, though, tastes like "Concord" when ripe, but as wine, it kind of smells and tastes different; more strawberry/musky. Niagara, in my experience, smells exactly the same as wine as it does when eaten as raw fruit.
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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Victorwine » Fri Aug 18, 2006 12:34 am

Just to add what Howie stated in his post. One should ask- why in nature does a grape vine produce beautiful, luscious sweet tasting grape clusters? Simply answer- spread its seed and survive. Basically in the fruits early development the main goal is to produce a viable seed, in doing this the fruit is green and bitter tasting. This is mainly to discouraging foraging by animals. Once a viable seed is produced the goal now is to get the fruit to taste and look as luscious and good as possible. But when it comes to the aroma and flavor profile of wine from such fruit, things could get a little complicated because it involves fermentation. A complex step-wise, inter-related series of chemical reactions which takes place when the juice of such fruit is exposed and yeast is present. Some grape varieties at “optimum ripeness levels” (for a particular vineyard site) posses precursor aroma and flavor elements that do not fully develop or fully come together until after fermentation or even some maturing or aging. The genetics of the grape variety, how it is grown, where it is grown and at what ripeness level it is harvested will determine what precursor aroma and flavor elements exist in the grape. One might not be able to detect these in the grape themselves (heck I can’t tell the difference between the Zin, Barbera, or Alicante grapes if I taste them blind. But by examining the size of the berries, color, thickness or texture of the skin, color of the juice, cluster shape and size, or a vine leaf (if I should find one in a lug) than I most likely can identify which grape I’m dealing with. Besides all of this, these grapes have to be fermented in such a way, matured and aged in such a way, so that the precursors can develop into the aroma and flavor profile we are familiar with in a finished wine.

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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Dan Smothergill » Fri Aug 18, 2006 5:25 am

Gary,
It probably was in the next to last incarnation of WLDG that something like this came up before. We, my wife Nancy and I, mentioned then that the taste of Labrusca grapes has a much closer resemblance for us to the taste of the particular wine than is the case for Viniferas. This seems close to what Paul is saying too, if I understand him. There was more, but I forget.
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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Mark Willstatter » Sat Aug 19, 2006 6:53 pm

Gary, I think you got close to another aspect when you mentioned changes in fermentation, although I think skin contact rather than strictly fermentation is the important factor. Particularly when it comes to red varietals, much, if not most, of the character - both color and flavor - that we associate with a particular grape, from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel, is extracted from the skins during fermentation, particularly a warm fermentation. After all, without much skin contact, for example, most people would say White Zin doesn't taste much like Zin, even though it's been fermented. Rosés in general only hint at the character you get in red wines made from the same grape. When you taste a wine grape, even when it's ripe, the juice is all you get to taste - whatever the skin has to offer is unavailable at that point.

Another factor: regardless of variety, a ripe wine grape is going to be in the vicinity of one quarter sugar. Couple that with much of a variety's characteristic flavor being locked up in the skin and it's perhaps understandable if the overall impression is of sweet, generic grape juice.
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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Howie Hart » Sat Aug 19, 2006 8:11 pm

Interesting Mark. Skins and seeds are important in the flavor development in reds. And obviously, there are differences in the juice as well, as the white varietals are all different, but have no skin contact. As a matter of speculation, I wonder what would a wine taste like if it was, say Pinot Noir juice, fermented with, say Zin skins and vice versa?

Now for a digression. I made an interesting observation several years ago. I was making some Foch, an early ripening, deeply colored hybrid that were very ripe (25.5 brix). A few weeks later, I gently pressed out Vidal, a white hybrid at normal ripening of about 21 Brix. I added the hard pressed Vidal juice, pulp and skins to about half of the Foch - the other half I kept as a complete 100% varietal. After the wines completed fermentation, I was surprised to find that the one that had the Vidal pressings added actually had a deeper, more purple color. In addition, the 100% varietal actually declined quite quickly, whereas the blend kept for a longer time. I posed this dilemma to forumites here (the old WLDG - they provided links to studies) and learned that the pH has an effect on the color and hue of a wine and its stability. By adding the higher acid Vidal, I lowered the pH, which affected the overall quality of the wine.
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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Victorwine » Sun Aug 20, 2006 10:03 pm

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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Victorwine » Sun Aug 20, 2006 10:21 pm

Howie wrote:
Now for a digression. I made an interesting observation several years ago. I was making some Foch, an early ripening, deeply colored hybrid that were very ripe (25.5 brix). A few weeks later, I gently pressed out Vidal, a white hybrid at normal ripening of about 21 Brix. I added the hard pressed Vidal juice, pulp and skins to about half of the Foch - the other half I kept as a complete 100% varietal. After the wines completed fermentation, I was surprised to find that the one that had the Vidal pressings added actually had a deeper, more purple color. In addition, the 100% varietal actually declined quite quickly, whereas the blend kept for a longer time. I posed this dilemma to forumites here (the old WLDG - they provided links to studies) and learned that the pH has an effect on the color and hue of a wine and its stability. By adding the higher acid Vidal, I lowered the pH, which affected the overall quality of the wine.


Hi Howie,
Why not post this reply on the “Blending Basics” topic, clearly illustrates the timing strategy of blending. (Co-fermentation of red grapes with white grapes vs. blending red wine with white wine much later on in the winemaking process).

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Re: The Taste Of Grapes: Is There A Difference Between The Varieties?

Postby Howie Hart » Sun Aug 20, 2006 10:39 pm

Victorwine wrote:Hi Howie,
Why not post this reply on the “Blending Basics” topic, clearly illustrates the timing strategy of blending. (Co-fermentation of red grapes with white grapes vs. blending red wine with white wine much later on in the winemaking process).

Salute

Good catch! Done! :wink:
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