Can a white wine smell like licorice?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is it possible that a white wine such as Siegerrebe can have the aroma of licorice?

—Ingrid, Langley, B.C., Canada

Dear Ingrid,

Wow, that’s a name you don’t see every day. Siegerrebe is the name of a German hybrid grape, a winter-hardy white wine grape that I’ve heard resembles the spicy, floral notes similar to Muscat.

I’m not surprised at all that you’d pick up on a licorice note. I sometimes get versions of licorice in white wines—sometimes it’s subtle, like dried anise or fennel seed, but it can be more exotic like star anise or have a fresh green note like fennel fronds. I’ve also used the term Pastis—the anise-flavored spirit—to describe a note in wine, and fenugreek is kind of a honeyed licorice note to me. In the same family are sarsaparilla, caraway and horehound, each with their own subtlety. Sometimes licorice seems distinctly red licorice or black licorice to me.

Taking a step back, I should say that there is no right or wrong flavor or smell in a wine. Sure, your licorice might be my allspice or five-spice blend, but we might have a different vocabulary to express that, based on our own background and experiences. If you’ll excuse me, I’m suddenly craving black jellybeans.

—Dr. Vinny

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