Discover the heart and soul of Rioja
What's that fruit in my wine?
Here's a bit of common scents: Smell is important to the wine taster. Much of what we think is taste really comes through our noses. If you don't believe this, try to enjoy a wine - or a meal - the next time you have a bad head cold.
When it comes to smelling, humans take a distant second place to our dogs and cats. Still, we can train our sense of smell, and you don't have to be an expert wine taster to learn to sniff out the differences among wines.
When new wine enthusiasts read wine-tasting notes, they're often puzzled by references to a fruit bowl full of aroma descriptions: Apples, pears, blackberries and melons, oh my, not to mention such un-fruity characteristics as chocolate, coffee, vanilla and warm spice.
I frequently field questions from readers wondering whether wineries actually add fruit flavors to wine to provide this complex and tasty mix. Answer: No, never, no way ... at least not in the realm of fine wines, although a few "pop" wine-like beverages such as Wild Vines and Arbor Mist do offer low-alcohol beverages that mix fruit juices and wine.
The real stuff, though, is made from 100 percent wine grapes, and that's what makes wine such an intriguing beverage: Fine grapes, fermented and aged in oak barrels or stainless vats, influenced by the taste of the land and the skill of the wine maker's hand, pour from the bottle with complex, intriguing aromas and flavors that you just don't find in Coca-Cola, iced tea or fruit juice.
With the understanding that these are generalizations with many exceptions, let's look at a few specific examples of aromas commonly associated with popular wine-grape varieties.
The aroma of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is classically associated with "cassis," or black currant liqueur, sometimes with back notes of cedar (in Bordeaux) or eucalyptus (in Northern California). Some add hints of green olives, green peppers, tobacco leaves or grass. Extended bottle aging may lend a toasty quality and impart earthy scents as variable as mushrooms, old leather, roses and wildflowers.
Merlot, often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, typically presents an aroma of black cherries on its own. West Coast Merlots aged in new oak barrels may add hints of chocolate and vanilla, creating a wine that almost gives the impression of a sundae in a wine glass.
Zinfandel's trademark scent is raspberry and blackberry. Pinot Noir at its best can be so complex as to defy definition, but the list starts with cherries and subtle, pleasant hints of earth, roses and spice, with a texture that invites comparison to velvet.
A fragrant floral scent of freshly ground black pepper signals Syrah, the No. 1 grape of the Northern Rhone valley in France.
Chardonnay in its natural state recalls crisp, ripe apples, figs, pineapple and tropical fruits. It may add rich notes of butter or coconut if it's aged in oak.
Riesling, the king of German grapes, starts with apples, too, adding elements of mango, pine and even citrus fruit.
Sauvignon Blanc may be grassy and herbal or citric and grapefruity, depending on the amount of sunlight it receives in the vineyard.
Chenin Blanc evokes melons, sometimes with a touch of orange blossom. A sultry smell of peaches identifies Muscat; the hard-to-prounounce Gewurztraminer shows aromas of grapefruit and Chinese litchee nuts.
This month's tasting (see below) features a California Sauvignon Blanc so consciously made to heighten citrus flavors that it's named "Pomelo," and features a bright drawing of three of the oversize Southeast Asian citrus on the label. Tangy and fresh, it's a very good bargain wine at just under $10.
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Today's Tasting Report
Mason Cellars 2008 "Pomelo" California Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99)
A distinct white-grapefruit aroma distinguishes this pale, brass-color wine. Its mouth-filling flavor offers a mouth-watering blend of grapefruit, lemon-lime and bitter-orange. Crisp acidity cloaks a hint of sweetness, and it finishes tart, citric and dry.
FOOD MATCH: It made an excellent match with a turkey and fruit salad with a whiff of curry. Its food-friendly citrus flavors and fruit-acid balance should make it versatile at the table with roast poultry, shellfish or pork.
WEB LINK: Pomelo is made by Mason Cellars in Yountville, Calif., with its tasting room in the village of Napa. Here's a link to the winery's Pomelo fact sheet:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and find vendors for Mason Cellars' Pomelo on Wine-Searcher.com:
The winery Website offers a list of U.S. distributors by state at this link:
There's also an online store offering Pomelo direct from the winery for $10 plus shipping where the law allows:
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