Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
When a wine tasting note mentions cherries or chocolate, does that mean there are actual cherries and chocolate in the wine?
—Chi Chi, Tampa, Fla.
Dear Chi Chi,
This is a common question, and I’m always so happy to answer it. It’s a good reminder that the language we can take for granted when talking about wine can be confusing and might not feel welcoming to new wine lovers.
If a wine is described as tasting like chocolate or cherries, that does not mean that those are ingredients in the wine; it means that the taste and aroma of the wine are reminiscent of chocolate or cherries. It’s part of the colorful language enophiles have developed to talk about wine.
And it’s not just wine lovers who use such a broad vocabulary. Beer geeks, Scotch drinkers and coffee devotees use similar language. That’s why I can say I like floral pale ales, single-malt Scotches with a strong vanilla note, and coffees graham cracker and toffee notes. But no one is putting flowers in my beer, vanilla beans in my Scotch or graham crackers in my coffee.
Beyond a vivid imagination and colorful language, there’s something magical about wine. But there’s also a scientific explanation for where we get all those descriptors. Wine grapes contain hundreds of chemical compounds that are shared with other foods, and the fermentation process unlocks even more. A wine lover might actually be identifying a chemical compound shared with cherries or chocolate, compounds like esters, pyrazines, terpenes, thiols, lactones and more. The influence of specific fermentation yeasts and oak barrels can introduce even more flavors and aromas. But no matter how complex someone might describe a wine, it’s made entirely from grapes.