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How to Read a Wine Description

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Cold Country Wines

This is another question that comes up many times. Does the wine description describe what actually goes into the wine? The answer is no. The wine description describes what the different flavors in the wine taste similar to. So when descriptions say “black cherry”, “raspberry”, “with notes of chocolate and leather”, that means that that particular person senses resemblances of those flavors in the wine. Almost all wine is made of grapes and only grapes. Granted, your local boutique winery will have what are called fruit wines, usually made from locally grown fruits of every kind, but these are really a novelty. On the other hand there are a few fruits, such as blackberry and cranberry, that break out of that mold and occasionally produce an acceptable wine.
Our own winery produces a grape cherry blend, which of course, is another exception to what I said in the first few sentences. We take a cherry wine which is extremely one dimensional and blend it with the very strong flavors of the Frontenac grape and what results is a quite complex wine we call Northern Lights. So in this case, the cherry flavors actually come from cherry wine.
The next part of the question is the divisions of the tasting experience. The description usually stops at the front end after the first flavors you experience when you take that sip of wine. There is also the middle mouth, mouth feel, and finish to describe the experience. The middle mouth is somewhat debatable but my version is, that part of the tasting after the initial impression that will include the sides of your tongue and further back. The mouth feel is really the texture of the wine often described as thick or thin. Ice wines usually have a thick mouth feel whereas Rhone style wines are almost always thin.
And then there is the finish. The finish is the final impression you get when you swallow. Low alcohol wines score lower in this category because you don’t get the warmth or burn when you swallow. Tannins affect both the middle mouth and the finish based on both its’ dry feeling and the varying degree of bitterness it imparts. I always thought this would make wine judging difficult to define in this area, (because they don’t swallow), but talking to several wine judges I am convinced that it is possible.
So where does that leave us. People who spend a lot of time evaluating wine clearly can dissect the experience and divide it into even more parts than I’ve described here. What should that mean to you? It can mean that you start studying wine to get up to speed on all the descriptors and evaluations, but what you should really be aiming at is enjoying wine. Yes, the real point is to enjoy it.
Until next time,
Jay Stoeger

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