It’s so simple.
So what exactly are you supposed to describe when smelling wines? Here’s a very brief, and very basic guide to what you might expect from different kinds of wine.
The most widely known and loved red grape, this one typically has black currants as the predominant aroma on the bouquet (which means it smells like black currants), as well as cedar wood. Anything more than that usually depends where it’s from. Cabernet Sauvignon, commonly referred to simply as "Cab," is the staple of much of the world’s red wine industry and features prominently in Bordeaux, where the wine typically consists of varying degrees of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and sometimes some Petit Verdot for a little extra kick. Cab is medium to full bodied, which means that there’s a high level of tannin-which makes your cheeks feel dry-and concentrated flavours.
Next in line in the Bordeaux blend is a most recognizable red, Merlot. This grape yields smoother tannin than Cab as well as an assertive fruitiness lending itself to blending. It is medium bodied and grown in many regions with varied success.
Pinot Noir is by far one of the most finicky varietals out there. This is the grape that makes Burgundy famous and seems to like staying there. Unlike Cab, Pinot Noir doesn’t travel well, and often we find Pinots made outside of Burgundy have forgotten what good Pinot Noir tastes like. This wine is characterised by a slight sweetness and hence a higher alcohol level. As for common aromas, a slight hint of barnyard musk is typical of Pinot Noir.
Ah, what would the world be without semantics? Though many grape varieties have varying names depending on where you are, this dual personality is definitely one of the more interesting. When the wine is labelled Syrah, this means that the producer has tried to mimic the French style, or is in fact French. Typically this means aromas of flowers, cream, mulberries and black pepper with a light to medium body.
Syrah is primarily found in the Rhone valley; by itself in the northern Rhone, and blended with the sweeter Grenache and more earthy Mourvedre in the southern end.
If, however, you see a wine labelled Shiraz, you can expect a full bodied wine, with tar, saltiness, chocolate, caramel and occasionally vanilla, depending on how it was aged. Often you’ll see a pair of wines from the same producer, one labelled Shiraz, one Syrah. This is simply an attempt to indicate the style the winemaker was aiming for during production.
You’ll note at this point that these are all French grapes. The reason is the New World produces predominantly French grapes with few exceptions. However, this does not mean amazing wines from other grapes don’t exist-we simply don’t have room to go into greater detail.
Yes, chardonnay is white. This means if you ever ask for red chardonnay people will point and laugh and you’ll be loser and no one will talk to you again and you’ll die a lonely life starved of human contact. We wouldn’t want that would we?
Chardonnay is easily the best known white grape variety and heralds from the Burgundy region were you can find some of the best examples of what this grape can do. If you find white Burgundy, expect butter, toasty creams and certain lighter meadow flowers.
Odds are you’ll sooner find your Chardonnay from somewhere else however, likely Australia or California. The constant through these regions tends to be a creamier style of white, with soft fruit.
If you don’t like Chardonnay-and you wouldn’t be alone-then odds are you’d prefer this variety. Standard flavours include gooseberries, grass and hints of lime. This is the white grape from Bordeaux and is typically blended with another grape called Semillon. There’s a serious effort being put out by New Zealand wineries to produce some amazing Sauvignon Blanc, which is typically fruitier and less chalky than its French counterparts.
Ha, a German grape! It is also grown in France in the Alsace region, but there has been some historical contention about Alsace anyway. Riesling is called the most under appreciated white wine out there, and for good reason. It is an aromatic grape, and typically has honey, minerals, soft flowers, and with a bit of age, petrol, which is not a fault in the wine. If you find Australian Riesling you’re in for a whole other wine. Due to the warmer climate, Australian Riesling tends to have more mango and citric notes.