Ask Tom – fruit-driven wines and other considerations

Dear Tom

What are fruit-driven wines – is it a good thing ? What else should I look for in a wine ?

Many, perhaps most, wines these days are fruit driven – that is to say, they have lots of fruit aromas on the nose and palate.

However, there is more to life than mere primary fruit aromas.

With time and exposure to air, the overt primary fruit fades revealing (in a good wine) more interesting and complex, but less immediately-obvious, secondary aromas.

Some wines, of course, are not made to be aged and have only up-front fruit to show.

Then, there re are wines that are not at all fruit driven; the most notable of these is sherry which has neither primary nor secondary aromas and merely tertiary or evolved aromas from fermentation and aging. As a result, sherry will seem quite “neutral”, but have a bracing tang and crisp acidity.

As well as fruit flavours, a well-made wine will have good acidity (fresh and juicy, linear or complex rounded and mouthfilling but not harsh) and texture (good, smooth tannins in red wines, they can either be soft or prominent).

A well-made wine will also have a good finish and length (how long the aromas last after swallowing).

Some wines will be aged in oak which can act as the “seasoning”; Chardonnay is the top white wine for oak aging and new oak will give toasty, buttery, nutty, oatmealy aromas.

Aging a red wine in new oak will give more vanilla aromas and more mouth-drying tannins.

Oak barrels are also re-used for several years and aging in old oak will not give any additional flavours but will result in a more-rounded feeling wine.

White wines can take flavours from other areas including the soil and the skins; more minerally soils (such as granite) can result in a more minerally flavour on the palate and, especially, finish for certain grape varieties. Austrian Grüner Veltliner is particularly responsive to soil type.

In addition, botrytis, a grape-skin fungus which helps produces the world’s greatest dessert wines, has its own pungent aromas and even if botrytis does not develop, long slow ripening results in thicker skins which can noticeable as a phenolic ripeness in the finished wine.

With so much going on – fruit, oak, acidity, tannins, some sweetness – a good wine will need to show a balance between all these elements – very sweet wines, for example, also need high levels of acidity to keep them fresh and not cloying whilst very tannic wines will be overly coarse and chewy if they do not have the rounded acidity and fruit to match.

In our celebrity-driven culture, elegance is not much in fashion these days; however, once a wine has achieved balance, the next step is finesse, elegance, subtlety and restraint – think of a graceful Fred Astaire rather than an in-yer-face Lady Gaga.

A wine that impresses straight out of the bottle may lose its appeal after a few glasses. By contrast, some wines reveal their charms more slowly and seduce us over time in the same way that we still listen to the symphonies of Mozart but not the ubiquitous catchy pop-hit of last summer.

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About Tom Lewis

Tom Lewis is a wine writer and educator from Cambridge with a particular interest in Austria and France. His comments have been published on JancisRobinson.com, Local Wine Events, as well as in the local press in his hometown of Cambridge, UK. When it comes to buying wine, Tom’s philosophy is to buy as close as possible to where it comes from. He writes a regular blog, the Cambridge Wine Blogger which launched in 2009 and is a presenter for the Cambridge Food and Wine Society. To read more of Tom’s work, please check out cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.com

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