We've all rolled our eyes at the wine snob who sniffs leather and chocolate from a glass of wine. But the truth is, those aromas and flavors really do exist. To uncover them, it helps to understand the basic elements of a wine:

  • Residual sugar, left over from the grapes after fermentation, creates the sweet factor in a wine. Sweetness is the first impression that hits your senses, and residual sugar is the arbiter of a wine's sweet-to-dry spectrum.
  • Bitterness arises from tannins, which come from a grape's seeds, stems and skins, as well as the oak barrels used to age a wine. Tannins create a drying sensation in your mouth, but have nothing to do with the actual dryness or sweetness of a wine. (That job belongs to the residual sugar.)
  • Acidity is what makes your mouth water. In wine, acidity creates a refreshing, palate-cleansing sensation. A wine with good acidity makes for a great food pairing partner.

Understanding the interplay of these three elements opens the door to the wide world of flavor characteristics, from cherry to humidor. The blackberry fruit you taste? That comes from the grapes on the vine—the climate and the topography. That hint of mocha or vanilla? That comes from the cellar—the fermentation temperature and the oak barrels.


The best way to train yourself to detect these flavors is to try a variety of foods and teach your taste buds what to expect.

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