ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I know wine changes in a bottle over the years, but can red fruit characteristics change to black fruit characteristics? I purchased a bottle of Portuguese wine made from old vines in Castelo. The wine tasting note states that the wine has a mature red fruit character, although I have experienced very mature black fruits as predominant.

—Leva, United Kingdom

Dear Leva,

As a wine evolves, its fruit flavors will evolve, and how we describe them will reflect that. In my experience, fruit flavors fade over time or take on dried or baked characteristics (notes of fresh cherries might become more like cherry cobbler, compote or even kirsch, for example). Or they just sink into the background as other characteristics step forward, like spice or earth.

But it sounds like the red fruit and black fruit notes in this case aren’t just a matter of a wine evolving, but also of two different people describing the same wine. We each use our own vocabulary and reference points to describe wine, so my “red fruits” might be your “black fruits,” and neither of us is wrong. If you taste regularly with someone (or read their reviews regularly), you might find a way to triangulate your vocabulary.

Here’s an example. I grew up with a sassafras tree in my backyard, so I have a strong memory associated with that note. One of my wine tasting buddies knows what I mean by sassafras, but it’s not a note that he’s as emotionally connected with, and he doesn’t think of it as often as I do. So my “sassafras” might be his “root beer” or “cola” descriptor. We’re both describing the same detail, just in our own words.

—Dr. Vinny


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