Winemaking 101 part 3 looking for flavor
In the last couple pieces we were spending more time in the vineyard as the harvest approaches. Our logistics have been considered and the focus is how the change in plant (fruit) chemistry begins to indicate what kind of wine we are going to make.
It is at this point the “influence” of the winemaker will begin to show because it is at this time each winemaker, as the fruit is tasted, begins to envision the finished wine as the interpretation of all the things that have influenced their view of what THAT wine “should be”.
Of course, it also will be a function of the “type” of wine made. Is it to be what I call a “picnic wine”, fresh, fruity, lively acidity, best served icy cold on a hot day, refreshing and not “complicated”? Perhaps it is to become a “traditional” dry wine, Burgundian, Bordeaux, or Rhone, or maybe a later harvest dessert style.
Whatever the type, the winemaker will have in mind how the fruit should be showing to produce what they believe are the “optimal” characteristics for that type of wine. The winemaker already knows how the fruit will be handled, fermented and aged (if any), so the holy grail now is to get the flavors and textures at just the right place so after all the processing it will be what was envisioned. So in walking the vineyards, tasting the fruit, sampling and getting the chemistry, it is the hope to get the “ flavors and texture “ right.
Last time I mentioned “the acids”, particularly malic acid. Malic acid is the “acid of green apples”. That is, the flavor of a green apple is because of the malic acid. So, I often ask people, what does a grape taste like? Of course, the short answer might be of course “like a grape”. But generally, most people experience with eating grapes are those of the “table” variety, like red globe and so on. But really, WHAT does that taste like? The answer is it really doesn’t TASTE like much, it’s mostly SWEET, and crunchy and maybe has a little acidity (fresh).
Wine grapes are different. Generally speaking they taste like anything BUT a table grape. Yes, they can be sweet, but generally they have one and often many flavors, and the flavors change in perception and intensity with “maturity”. The flavors will also be a function of where and how they are grown, and certainly influenced by the soils and climate of their locale (terroir).
As the sugar levels climb and the berries mature, the grapes flavors and aromas change. Most grapes ( red and white ) all have some “ green “ characteristics early on, that can often be “green apple”, but can also be other “ green “ things, like bell pepper, green beans and the like. Usually one of the first “berry” flavors in red grapes will be “raspberry”, it will be slightly faint, but clearly raspberry. As days go by this will morph into all kinds of things again, depending on the variety and where grown, to things like “sour cherry “, black cherry, plum, cassis, currants, and often spices, an array of spice from cloves to black pepper, white pepper, coriander, tar, eucalyptus, and so forth. White varieties frequently can show things like quince, banana, coconut, kiwi, various citric fruit and tropical fruits like banana. In some varieties things like pear, pineapple, and peach are quite obvious.
So one of the magical things about WINEGRAPES is the array of beautiful characteristics they show as they mature. These attributes should be both aromatic and tactile. What you smell, you should be able to taste. Along with the aromatic and flavor characteristics is the change in the “mouth-feel” of the grapes as they mature. The acids are coming down, sugars are going up and the inherent flavors are moving from unripe, to under-ripe, to ripe and beyond. Each of these stages will produce a different wine. It is during this period the winemaker is deciding when the fruit is at the stage they feel represents the highest form of the wine they are trying to make.
It is general that acidity will help a wine “age”. For example one winemaker may desire to make an age worthy wine and pick the fruit a bit earlier than another winemaker who may be looking to create the wine so “ it is drinkable NOW “ . A “lot” of acidity can cause some aging issues as some acids in wine can be “unstable” (we will get to at a later article). Generally, the winemaker will want the wine to “express” what they feel, “what this varietal should express” based on their experience and view of what constitutes a “great expression”. This is usually based on experience and understanding of “what is the expression of a varietal” in the current or traditional sense.
For example, it could be noted that often, in say a pinot noir, one would “expect” to perceive some black tea and raspberry. In a classical “cabernet” (“Bordeaux”) cassis and currant, in a zinfandel “spice” such as pepper and black cherry / plum. So, there are “characteristics” that help identify grape varietals (at maturity), but in addition, there will always be the influence of the locale (soils / climate / terroir) which can be seen as “dust” or “mineral” and things of that nature. Aromatic / flavor characteristics will tend to be more variable in the “new world” wines as opposed to old world where the characteristics have been well known for generations. In addition, the changes in maturity will necessarily create a change in the “tactile” consideration. Picking earlier (more acidity) will create wines that are a bit more “lean” and waiting for more maturity will likely result in a wine that is “more robust”, heavier in the mouth.
Finally it needs to be noted that of course once picked, the winemakers maximum influence will come from how the fruit is processed in to wine. That discussion will follow.