Epicures and gourmets have known for centuries that fruits and vegetables taste different according to the environment in which they grow. Through trial and error, framers determined what type of soil and climatic conditions are best for certain vegetables and fruits. Asparagus from Lauris or Argenteuil (France), Schwetzingen (Germany), artichokes from Castroville (California), onions from Vidalia or Wala Wala (Georgia and Washington State respectively), tomatoes from San Marzano (Italy) are only a few examples.
There are over 8000 grape varieties and many more hybrids, and each possesses different plant and taste characteristics.
Uninitiated wine consumers always wonder how wine professionals; tasters, writers and wine judges guess the grape variety (varieties) simply by smelling a glass of wine. The secret of such expertise is first, a good smell and taste memory bank, added to experience, opportunity to taste a lot of wine constantly, and sharp eyes to judge hues intensity and depth of colour.
Pale wines originate in cool climates, and dark wines from hot climes exceptions not withstanding, as is the case in sweet German and Canadian wines.
Texture also depends much on region of origin. Grapes grown in Malta or Sicily are much sweeter than those and contain more acids in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer much farther north in Germany or Ontario.
The French employ the term terroir (combination of soil and climate, and prove it by making wines with a completely different texture and smell from the same grape variety, but originating on soils of different composition. Therein lies subtlety and refinement of wines which epicures enjoy and seek to satisfy their unending quest for new and exciting taste sensations.
New World wine producers have for long maintained that terroir does not matter but now seem to be convinced that it is indeed a very important factor. Several Napa Valley wineries make and market Cabernet Sauvignon from single-vineyards within their properties, and /or buy fruit from well-noted sub regions.
Colour, aromatic, and textural differences can be readily observed by anyone with a little experience and interest in such matters.
Ontario’s Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir show distinct aromas, as do those from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
Here are some aromatic and flavour characteristics of popular grape varieties and wines:
Riesling: apple, pear, peach, honey, flowers and petrol.
May be vinted dry, off dry, sweet or very sweet.
Goes well with mildly spicy foods, oysters, oriental foods, pan-fried white-fleshed fish and ripe fruits of the wine is of late harvest or above sweetness.
Sauvignon Blanc: freshly cut grass, gooseberries, tart apples, grapefruit, lime or lemon.
Goes well with grilled or baked seafood, grilled veal cutlets, or roast turkey, vegetable stews and raw vegetables.
Chardonnay: melons, apples, pears, vanilla, toast, oak, hazelnut and/or butter. Most are dry, a few sweet, may be unoaked, in which case toast and/or vanilla flavours will be absent.
In general Chardonnay is considered to be a wine made in the cellar, and can be fashioned much by the winemaker, except in Burgundy where mineral rich soils impart unique flavours no other region seems to be able to duplicate.
Goes well with grilled pork tenderloin, boiled fresh crab or shrimp, baked or boiled lobster with drawn butter or lobster Thermidor or a l’Armoricain. Unoaked versions can be paired with pizza, pastas containing seafood and cream.
Pinot Gris (a k a Pinot Grigio, Grauburgunder) apples, pears.
Goes well light foods (poached chicken breast, club sandwich, chicken salad, angel hair pasta with a light sauce, pizza, breaded and deep fried filet of sole, Chinese seafood egg rolls pastas with seafood.
Gewurztraminer: floral, tropical fruits, lyches, gently spicy
Goes well with oriental dishes, fattened goose liver pates or flash fried slices of fattened goose liver.
Merlot: blueberry, black cherry, plum, mint, tobacco, and chocolate, toast.
Goes well with: grilled or roasted roast loin of pork, fruit-stuffed loin of pork, cold cuts, roast prime rib of beef, roast leg of lamb, beef stews, pastas with meat and tomato sauce, pastas with sun-dried tomatoes or pesto.
Cabernet Sauvignon black currant, raspberry, black cherry, smoke, mint, tobacco, cigar box, chocolate, cedar, and vanilla. Occasionally pencil shavings pending of barrel toast level and length of aging.
Goes well with roast leg of lamb or – rack of lamb, grilled steak, marinated and grilled root vegetables, roasted root vegetables, semi-soft cheeses.
Syrah pepper, blueberry, black cherry, raspberry, plum, chocolate, oak, smoke.
Goes well with braised veal or lamb shanks, roasted game, goat cheeses, caramelized onion, beef stews, hard cheeses.
Cabernet Franc spices, raspberries, plums.
Goes well with roasted root vegetables, pastas with meat and tomato sauce, pizzas, medium cheeses, cold cuts, meat balls, meat turnovers.
Pinot Noir cherries, strawberries, damp forest floor aromas, barnyard, raspberries, succulent, light, smooth velvety texture.
Goes well with veal stews in light sauces, roast turkey, semi-hard cheeses, lamb meatballs, pastas with ragu, and game pates.
Sangiovese cherries, berries, light, medium- or full-bodied pending on ripeness of fruit and winemaking technique employed.
Goes well with grilled steaks, roasted vegetables, semi-hard cheeses, cold cuts, roast loin of pork, roast turkey, pizzas, pastas with meat sauce
Vintages play a role in the aromas and flavours of wines. Under ripe Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines smell of vegetables.
Above descriptions reflect only ripe fruit characteristics.