Chapter 5: Tasting Oregon Wines

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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