Taste the aromas in wine

December 19th, 2014

Flavor and aroma in wine are closely linked. In fact, Dr. Marion Baldy who teaches a University-Level course in the evaluation of wine, jokingly refers to her class as the “Winesmelling Course”. What you taste in a given wine depends most heavily on cooperation from your sense of smell. The rich, complex odors and flavors of wines are for the most part sensed by the olfactory epithelium­ a specialized patch of millions of nerve endings at the top and rear of the nasal cavity, above and behind the nose. Sometimes wine tasters suck a stream of air through a portion of wine they have taken into their mouth, bubbling it through the wine in the process. This volatilizes the aromatic components in the wine so that they are carried into the epithelium and amplified.

But once a wine has been tasted, how do we describe what we’ve perceived?

We all describe odors differently probably because of our differing life experiences and our varying abilities to perceive scents. In particular, it becomes challenging for most of us to place a name on a particular odor once we’ve encountered it again. This brings up a issue in the tasting and evaluation of wines­ How do we communicate consistently with one another
the flavors aromas found in wines?

To address this issue, Professor Ann Noble of the University of California, Davis developed the wine aroma wheel in the 1980s. Similar tools existed in the beer and scotch whisky industries, I am told. Professor Noble used the approach of grouping similar aromas into descriptive categories, which were then organized into groups by origin and/or similarity of smell and displayed in the circular format shown in Figure 1. This provided a common “catalog” of descriptive and commonly perceived wine aromas­ a lingua franca which allows our epitheliums to relate to one another.

Figure 1: The Wine Aroma Wheel

There are 12 fundamental groupings of aromas in the “catalog”, each of which has two or three sub-categories related to the fundamental. These sub-categories, in-turn, have multiple specific descriptors which pin-point an aroma. Often, the specific descriptors have reference-standards; pure essence of that aroma that can be brewed, extracted, or otherwise reproduced.

Recipes for making aroma standards can be found in article by NobLE, A.C.et al, in the American Society for Enology and Viticulture 38:143-146( 1987). Additionally, colored, plastic laminated copies of the wine aroma wheel (copyright ACNOBLE 1990) may be obtained from A.C.Noble, Dept. Vit and Enology, Univ. California, Davis, CA 95616; FAX 916 752 0382; email acnoble@ucdavis.edu; phone 916 752 0387.

On an editorial note­ aromas in wines can be pleasing to one person and offensive to another. Some folks enjoy an “earthy” wine or a “microbiological” wine (something I might call funky). A little bit of one component can be complex and interesting, whereas a lot can be a flaw. Its all a matter of taste, after all, isn’t it? Also­ these terms are just an attempt by academics to standardize perceived aromas so that they can be accurately discussed. Too often, this sort of tool risks usage in a snobbish or intimidating way­ in all cases I feel one should first concentrate on what’s tasted and smelled and enjoyed in the wine. Keep these “standard” terms as a backdrop to your tasting experience, not a facade.

So where in wine grapes do these aromas come from? Certainly human intervention in the wine growing process, or the introduction of human-made elements can effect the flavors and aromas in wines. But surprisingly mother nature can imbue in her fruit many surprising aromas­ some of which may seem man-made but they are entirely natural. I thought it would be instructive to list the twelve fundamental categories of the aroma wheel and relate some of my thoughts and experiences on just what happens in the vineyard or the winery that can produce each effect.

Fruity Can be caused by cooler fermentation temperature, strain of yeast used, or by carbonic-maceration fermentation (Beaujolais style)
Nutty Sur Lie againg of wines (storing wine on its spent yeast cells after primary fermentation) can introduce a nuttiness or yeastiness to the wine
Vegetative Can be caused by underipe fruit, or by herbaceousness introduced in whole-cluster fermentation
Caramelized Sometimes extracted from barrel aging in newer, toasted French oak barrels. Toasting of oak creates a non-fermentable sugar which can be perceived as caramel.
Woody Can be caused by aging in oak barrels, particularly barrels that have seen several seasons of use. The non-fermentable sugars and other new oak aromas are leached out of the barrel after about 3 seasons of use, leaving only “neutral” wood components behind to effect the wine.
Earthy Can be caused by naturally occurring or “wild-yeast” fermentation
Chemical Can be caused by over use of sulfur dioxide or by over exposure of wine to air (as occurs when head-space in barrels are not keep topped up with fresh wine).
Pungent Sometimes can be caused by high-alcohol content in wine (derived from high-sugar content of grapes when harvested).
Oxidized Caused by over exposure of wine to air, as occurs when head-space in barrels are not kept topped up with fresh wine, or through cavitation of a pump when moving a delicate wine from tank to bottling line.
Microbiological Can be caused by lack of proper cleaning procedures in winery operations and by little or no use of Sulfur-Dioxide, the anti-microbial / anti-oxidative compound used in winemaking.
Floral Most often floral wine components are produced in the grape skins and pulp by mother nature. Floral aromas can also arise when alcohols & acids combine during fermentation to produce esters. Cooler fermentation temperatures retain these volatile esters, whereas hot fermentation temperatures cause them to “blow off”. Floral aromas also can occur during bottle aging of wine, developing a so-called “bottle bouquet.”
Spicy Can be picked up from soil constituents by a particular clone of grape. Sometimes spiciness is derived from prolonged skin contact during pre-fermentation maceration. Too long of a soak on the skins produces astringency

Top 100 wine voices in 2014

October 30th, 2014

Traffic data shows which wine websites are most popular this year. (Here is the method.) Below is an analysis of this ranking of wine sites.

Apps and magazines

And the winner is…Having an off-line reputation clearly helps. This is easiest for the paper media — as illustrated by the presence in the Top 10 of the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter and Robert Parker.

Most incumbents are not going away but web apps now also dominate the Top 10.

In the last few years the wine web offer has immensely diversified. There now are many quality wine critics who blog on line. The Traveling Wine Chick and the Wine Predator have just entered the Top 100 wine voices. The Top 100 attempts to highlight writers that you should discover. Only the “better” 20% of the websites are shown. Well, “better” here is not an opinion but an evaluation of which sites are most popular.

How to participate

Websites are automatically included in the contest as soon as I learn of their existence. To be eligible to the next issue of the Cellarer wine directory, the below conditions must be met:

  1. The main topic should be wine.
  2. Producing estates and wine sellers are excluded. Some of them run wonderful websites but the type of information is different.

If you disagree with the directory criteria, please comment below or e-mail me.

Here are the metrics I use for rating the wine sites. You can follow the directory evolution by subscribing to the feed on websites blog RSS.

Best wine websites as of July 2014

July 30th, 2014

Here is the quarterly ranking of websites. Webmasters need not apply as the contest includes all sites. The table shows only the 250 ‘best’ — ‘best’ is evaluated with public website metrics. These permit to include all sites — not just blogs.

Holiday contestSo lie back, relax, and enjoy comments on the results.

Yearly trends

It’s confirmed: people use wine apps much more than wine forums now.

How to participate

Websites are automatically included in the contest as soon as I learn of their existence. To be eligible to the next issue of the Cellarer wine directory, the below conditions must be met:

  1. The main topic should be wine.
  2. Producing estates and wine sellers are excluded. Some of them run wonderful websites but the type of information is different.

If you disagree with the directory criteria, please comment below or e-mail me.

You can follow the directory evolution by subscribing to the feed on websites blog RSS.

Elsewhere

There is a complementary contest: the Wine Blog Awards. It has a focus on US blogs and uses some subjective judgment by peers. The purpose is entirely different to that of the Cellarer ranking, which automatically includes all sites and is limited only by publicly available data (which mostly is not directly influenced by peers).

Top 500 cooking blogs in 2014

June 13th, 2014

Here is Cellarer’s guide to the most popular cooking blogs. The contest includes all personal sites but the table shows only the 500 ‘best’ — ‘best’ is evaluated with public website metrics.

A comprehensive pool of candidates

I retrieve the metrics of about a thousand websites.

The multitude against the big

I chose to exclude magazines, that is sites that are written by many contributors. Press and firms have their means of getting known. I’d rather promote unique voices (blogs). So the top food blogs is a convenient tool for getting to know prominent culinary authors. Please tell me if you spot an item in the list that would have more than 2 contributors.

How to participate

Websites are automatically included in the contest as soon as I learn of their existence. To be eligible to the next issue of the best recipe blogs, the below conditions must be met:

  1. The main topic should be cooking.
  2. The articles must be written by no more than two persons (not a team) — so as to screen firms.

You can follow the ranking evolution by subscribing to the feed on websites blog RSS.

How to discover cooking blog posts

There are ways to discover food-related sites. Here is the list of the best French food blogs. Selected blog posts are listed in the Cellarer planet.