If all wine is made from grapes, then why do all the different varieties, and even different vintages of the same variety, taste so different? Everyone talks about wine as if it was made from everything except grapes! Vanilla, cherries, tobacco, oak, mushrooms and even coffee are all adjectives that come up when someone’s trying to describe a wine. How does this happen? We all know that no-one pours a slug of espresso into the barrels, or drops in cigarettes…

Grapes are very delicate beings and so anything that happens to them before and after they’re picked leaves an impression. The soil they grow in, how they’re picked, how they’re pressed, everything leaves a mark, so to speak.

The process starts in the ground

Many winemakers say that a good wine starts in the vineyard itself – great wine comes from great farming. It’s in the vineyard that the grapes first come into contact with the air, the pollinating insects, the competitor plants, the rain, dryness…you name it, all these environmental conditions have an impact on the grapes.

Then there’s the air

The air itself has a definite effect on the grapes as they grow and ripen. If the grapes are grown near the sea, they may well pick up salt water spray and this in turn leads to them absorbing some of the sea salt minerals. This can actually impart a coastal taste, as if you’re drinking a sea breeze.

Once the grapes have been picked, everything they go through, every decision taken by the winemaker, influences the end result and flavour. How the grapes are crushed, whether the juice ages in steel or oak barrels and how long it’s allowed to ferment all makes a difference.

Thinking about all the variables at play, it’s hardly surprising that wines taste and smell so different. It’s learning to discern what you can taste and why it’s there that’s part of the fun of drinking wine.