For a young wine the aromas are actually the smell of the grapes, intensified by the fermentation process. Older wines develop more complexities (and therefore aromas and tastes) than do young wines. Smelling the aromas of wine will enhance the flavors soon to come with the first sip. Once in the mouth, the tastebuds can detect a variety of flavors and textures, such as fruitiness, acidity, bitterness and tannins. Wine should be held in the mouth for a few seconds, and even swirled about, to release its flavors. After swallowing the wine, take note of the remaining flavor, which is often referred to as the “finish.” Good wines will have a lingering, pleasant finish, whereas lesser wines may have none at all or even leave an objectionable flavor in one’s mouth.
The different aromas and flavors emitted by wine run the gamut from fruit to vegetables to tobacco and leather. Elements that create the various flavors and aromas of wine include: the varietal of the grape(s) used, the region and vineyard in which the grapes were grown, the fermentation process including type of barrel used, the aging process, and the various additives and methods used in the creation of the wine.
Fruitiness is an important characteristic when tasting wine. Some of the more typical fruit flavors found in white wines include apples, pears, citrus, peaches, melons, pineapples and mangos. Red wines feature fruit flavors such as red currants, red cherries, black cherries, black currants, blueberries, blackberries, plums, figs, raisins and prunes.
Cool region wines generally have more acidity than wines grown in warmer regions. Heat produces a higher sugar level, decreasing the acidity level. Higher acidity wines taste crisper, and often work very well accompanying many dishes. White grapes generally have a higher acidity than do red. A good example of a varietal high in acidity in Sauvignon Blanc.
Many wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, are made through the process of barrel fermentation and/or barrel aging. The time that the wine is exposed to the oak barrels determines the degree of oak flavor in the final product. Oak barrels may be made of American oak, or French oak, each of which imparts a particular flavor in the wine. Also of importance is the size of the barrel, with the smaller barrels resulting in a greater amount of oak flavoring of the wine. During the production of oak barrels, the wood is heated by fire and the interior becomes toasted. The more charring of the wood, the stronger the presence of oak flavor will be in the finished wine. Wines aged in oak for a good length of time will darken a wine, produce a stronger aroma, result in a richer taste of vanilla, and cause a fuller body texture.
Most wines can generally be classified as “dry,” meaning without sweetness (or low residual sugar). Those wines that are sweet include dessert wines such as Sauternes and Port, and wines labeled as “late harvest.”