Chapter 5: Tasting Oregon Wines

What are the primary wine flavor factors?

There are many different wine flavor factors and aromas that complete the tasting experience. We believe these characteristics can be simplified down to eight primary factors:

1. Sweetness – the amount of residual sugar in a wine, ranging from low (bone dry) to high (sweet).

2. Acidity – the amount of citric, malic, and tartaric acids in a wine, ranging from low (flat) to high (biting).

3. Tannins – the amount of phenolic compounds, drawn from skins and pips of grapes, which impart a sharp, bitter flavor to the wine.

4. Oak – the influence of compounds from the oak barrels used to age the wine.

5. Finish – the length and quality of a wine’s aftertaste, ranging from brief to endless.

6. Complexity – how the wine’s sweetness, acidity, tannins, and oak affect the wine’s overall flavor, ranging from simple to complex.

7. Body – how the wine’s components affect the intensity and richness of the wine’s overall flavor, ranging from weak to potent.

8. Balance – how all of the seven preceding factors balance out, ranging from unbalanced to well-balanced.

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What is a flabby wine?

The term “flabby wine” usually describes a wine that lacks acidity.

Though “flabby” is often used for white wines, as overall, they contain higher levels of acids, it can also be used to describe red wines as well.

The opposite of a “flabby” wine is a “biting” or “sharp” wine, and refers to one whose acid content is too high to make it very palatable.

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Would I like wine with a “forward flavor”, or one with a “softer flavor”?

Wines with a forward flavor have brighter, fruitier flavors.

Softer wines have a mellower range of flavors and aromas.

The best way to find out is simply sample many different varietals and kinds of wine: red, white, sweet, dry, dessert, and so forth.

You should consider asking a tasting room employee at a local winery, as they are well versed in helping locate specific ranges of wines for their clients, and will be sure to help find a wine that appeals to you. Not only that, they are friendly, and will gladly share their knowledge with you, something not always possible in other settings.

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What are the characteristics of a great white wine?

White wines are a lighter and fruitier counterpart to red wines. Containing few tannins, and rarely aged in oak barrels, white wines impart a much less imposing flavor and characteristic on the palette than do red wines.

Specific flavors and aromas vary from wine to wine, depending on the varietal and production method employed. Overall, white wines should exhibit bright, fruity aromas, such as apple, pear, peach, apricot, tropical fruit, melon and citrus fruits. In addition, sweeter, candy-like aromas of butterscotch, vanilla, almond, and honey may be present.

The fruity, sweet qualities of white wines have much to do with how they are produced: typically, the grapes are pressed, skins and stems removed, and then the juices collected and fermented. This allows the natural fruitiness of the grape juices to show through in the wines.

White wines should exhibit softer flavors and aromas than red wines. Look for “shy” and subtle qualities in white wines, which can make tasting whites a challenge, while at the same time explain why their non-intrusive characteristics allow them to accompany lighter, aperitif dishes so well.

Depending on the type of white, the finish and aftertaste should be lighter and less instense than a red wine. Tasting a white should end with a mellow finish, not something that bites at the back of your throat.

All in all, look for wines that have a light presence, flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, and finish. Any pronounced characteristics should be agreeable, and not overpowering.

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What are the characteristics of a great red wine?

Red wines are a fuller-bodied and more robust counterpart to white wines. Higher in tannins and often aged in oak barrels, red wines have a much stronger array of flavors and characteristics than do white wines.

Specific flavors and aromas vary from wine to wine, depending on the varietal and production method employed. Overall, red wines should exhibit darker fruit, such, such as cherry, currant, blueberry, and blackberry. Also, earthy, smoky, spicy aromas, such as smoke, leather, tobacco, coffee, anise, clove, and chocolate may be present.

These fuller-developed qualities of red wines are closely tied into how they are produced: red wine grapes are pressed, and then fermented along with the skins and stems, allowing tannins, colorings, and phenolyc compounds to work their way into the fermented juices. Additionally, the aging red wines undergo in oak barrels will also impart qualities directly from the wood of the barrels. Aromas, flavors, and woody/earthy qualities, such as vanilla, smoke, toast, and tar, can be linked with the specific type of oak and barrel toast used in barrel-aged red wines.

In terms of overall presence, red wines may be robust, boisterous, and full of life. Look for pronounced and “forward” qualities in good red wines, which can explain how a red wine can be described as “chewy” or even “meaty”, and which also explains how their qualities makes them such a good match for heavier fare, such as red meats and spicy seafood dishes.

Depending on the type of red wine and its age, the finish and aftertaste should be long and elegant, sticking around in the back of the palette for a while before diminishing. Tasting a red wine should end with a balanced finish, hinting at the initial aromas you tasted prior to sampling, and which leaves you salivating for another sip!

All in all, look for wines that have a full, fruity flavor and aroma, chewy mouthfeel, and lingering finish.

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What are the primary aromas and flavors of Oregon wine?

The following are descriptions of the primary aromas and flavors associated with some of Oregon’s different wines. These differences are due to the nature of each kind of grape, as well as how the resulting wine is fermented, blended, and aged.

White Wine Aromas and Flavors

Chardonnay: Apple, apricot, banana, butterscotch, grapefruit, honey,
lemon, melon, mint, peach, pear, pineapple, smoke, tropical fruit, vanilla, and

Chenin Blanc: Apple blossom, chamomile, chalk, cream, guava, lemon, melon, peach,
pineapple, red apple, and vanilla.

Gewürztraminer: Apple, apricot, cinnamon, grapefruit, honeysuckle, lime, melon,
mint, nutmeg, orange, peach, pear, pepper, and pine.

Muscat: Almond, apricot, earthiness, grape, lemon, orange blossom, pepper,
petrol, spice, and toffee.

Riesling: Apricot, asphalt, cream, earthiness, geranium, green apple,
honeysuckle, licorice, nectarine, peach, petrol, rose, and smoke.

Sauvignon Blanc: Apple, apricot, hay, honey, grapefruit, grass, lemon, lime,
melon, pear, smoke, and straw.

Sémillon: Apricot, beeswax, cinnamon, cream, fig, floral, honey, melon,
peach, pear, lanolin, and vanilla.

Viognier: Floral, lemon, honeysuckle, and nectarine.

Red Wine Aromas and Flavors

Cabernet Sauvignon: Black currant, blackberry, cherry, chocolate, coffee, green
olive, licorice, mint, molasses, nuts, plum, raspberry, smoke, and tobacco.

Gamay: Cinnamon, cloves, cranberry, jasmine, raspberry, rose petal,
strawberry, and violets.

Grenache: Berry jam, cinnamon, pepper, prune, rose petal, soy, tea,
and violets.

Merlot: Cherry, black currant, blackberry, mint, nuts, orange, plum, raspberry,
smoke, and tobacco.

Pinot Noir: Cherry, citrus, cranberry, ginger, raspberry, strawberry, plum,
rose, spice, and smoke.

Sangiovese: Blackberry, cherry, cinnamon, coffee, dried flowers, pepper, plum,
raspberry, smoke, tar, and vanilla.

Syrah: Anise, black currant, blackberry, chocolate, cinnamon, earthiness,
oak, pepper, plum, prune, raspberry, smoke, and toast.

Zinfandel: Black currant, black pepper, blackberry, cherry, chocolate, cloves,
earthiness, lavender, plum, raspberry, and spice.

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What is the palate?

The palate refers to your mouth, specifically, your tongue. The experience of tasting a wine and noting its flavors, mouthfeel, viscosity, aromas, and finish, are all made possible with your palate.

Tasting multiple wines in a short period of time can overload your senses, in which case your palate may become fatigued, making it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between the subtler differences of similar wines.

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What is more important to note when tasting wines: aromas or flavors?

It is important to note both aromas and flavors — as the two are closely linked — though the nose is far more acute than the tongue at detecting what it is you are consuming when you taste wines.

The tongue detects four primary flavors: sweet, salt, bitter, and sour. Every flavor you experience can be derived down to a combination of those four components.

The nose, on the other hand, is capable of detecting several thousand separate types of scents, so it is able to identify much finer variations in aromas.

After tasting multiple wines in one setting, your tongue may become fatigued. This can make it extremely difficult to identify the flavors of a wine. The nose, on the other hand, seems capable of lasting much longer than the tongue. Therefore, when tasting wines, not only is the nose relied upon more for its acuteness, but also its endurance.

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How can I learn to identify aromas and flavors of wines?

Wine Aroma wheel Copyright A C NOBLE 1990,2002

You may have read tasting notes describing a wine using an incredible array of complex or unfamiliar terms: “ripe cherries”; “crisp apple”; “oak undertones”; and so forth.

This kind of terminology serves a good purpose, in that it allows a wine’s flavors and aromas to be described in writing, and stored for later reference. It can also be very helpful for matching wines with specific foods.

But to the casual wine drinker, tasting vocabulary can seem a daunting proposition. Thankfully, most everyone can train their nose to detect specific aromas in a wine. With a little practice, you can learn to distinguish between aromas, in the same way your eyes can tell the difference between the colors red and orange.

In 1990, after extensive research, Professor Ann C. Noble of the University of California at Davis devised the Tasting Wheel. It divides various aromas associated with wines into 12 separate categories. Beginning in the center of a wheel, wine drinkers can identify general flavors and, moving outwards from the wheel’s center, identify more and more precise aromas in the wine. Ultimately, the taster arrives at a specific set of terms that best describe what they experienced in tasting the wine.

At the permission of Professor Noble, we have reproduced a low-resolution version of the wheel here. We would encourage anyone interested in owning a copy of the tasting wheel to visit Professor Noble’s Web site, and purchase a laminated, detailed wheel from her. Her Web site may be found at:

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How do I learn how to taste wines?

Start right here! Wine 101 was developed to help wine enthusiasts such as yourself get a foothold on tasting. This section has been organized to guide you from general concepts of a wine’s appearance, aroma, and flavor, on to more complicated concepts that can affect a particular wine’s dynamics.

Begin by asking yourself: what do you like about wine? Envision your favorite experiences drinking wine, what foods you may have especially enjoyed with it, and overall why you prefer wine to other alcoholic drinks. At the same time, think about negative experiences you have had. These can be just as helpful in identifying what you do and don’t like in a wine.

Other tips…

  • Read through Wine 101.
  • Try your hand at our tasting notes service.
  • Read some books on tasting wine.
  • Visit wineries.
  • Talk with the winemakers.
  • Talk with your friends – use what resources you have to make this a learning process for you and others you interact with.
  • Start small, build on these ideas, and soon you’ll be off in no time, writing world-class notes!
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