Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny

Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Please tell me how wines acquire the different flavors and tastes like black currant, spice, chocolate, cinnamon, herbs, etc.? Surely they're not blended in with the grapes?

—Romy, Manila, Philippines

Dear Romy,

While there have been wines made with infusions of fruits, spices and other flavorings, modern wines are made solely from grapes, and their flavors come solely from the grapes themselves and from the winemaking process.

So why do tasting notes refer to flavors such as chocolate, cinnamon, etc.? There are two explanations for the use of wine descriptors.

The first is a scientific explanation with a chemical foundation. During fermentation, hundreds of aromatic compounds called esters are released. Some of these esters contain the same molecules that are found in things like vanilla, cherries, and roses. So, if someone smells roses in a wine, they might actually be identifying a chemical compound present both in that wine and in roses.

On the other hand, the taster might just have a good imagination. When someone describes, say, "cinnamon" in a wine, they might not be actually experiencing the cinnamon chemical compound, they might just taste something that reminds them of cinnamon. The way we describe wine is limited to the available vocabulary and to experiences we've already had. So, flavors, textures and even the personalities of wine are sometimes described in language that might seem a bit opaque and flowery. In fact, "opaque and flowery" might also describe a dessert wine. See what I mean?

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.