Every bottle of wine tells a story. Regardless of the price point, we look in every glass for something we enjoy, something familiar, and possibly even something we might avoid in the future. Although many aromas and flavors in wine are liken to fruit or grapes, we love wine because it is so much more than that. The oak, the yeast, and the fermentation tanks all impart complex flavors and aromas that truly make each glass of wine an adventure.
So let’s break down a couple of the more “funky flavors” in wine. Understanding these compounds and their characteristics might help you better distinguish what it is you enjoy in your wine and may help you become a more savvy wine shopper.
Acetic Acid and Ethyl Acetate
Smells like: vinegar, sharp, under ripe fruits (think raspberries and cherries), acetone
Tastes like: sharp and spicy, often at the end of the finish
Volatile Acidity (VA) refer to the acetic acid build up in wine that can happen when there is too much exposure to oxygen during production. Considered a fault at high levels, the same chemical can impart fruity aromas and flavors at lower levels. Wines fermented for longer periods of time (1 month as opposed to 7-10 days) will generally accumulate higher levels of VA.
Try a glass of our Alpha Dog Zin to see a perfect example of volatile acidity in big, tasty, extracted wine.
4-Ethyl Phenol (4-EP) and 4-Ethyl Guaiacol (4-EG)
Smells like: clove, cardamom, medicinal, leather saddles
Possibly the funkiest of all the compounds, Brettanomyces (Brett) is a wild yeast that naturally occurs on many grape varietals. Before the sanitation processes and technology we now use to clean most wine making equipment, Brett-like flavors were much more common in wine. In lower levels, Brett may remind you of leather, spice and other woodsy aromas. Higher levels are generally considered a flaw, making the wine something you might not consume. Though Brett can occur in white wines it is most commonly found in reds.
Smells like: candied green apple, apple sauce, grass, nuts
Tastes like: tangy and somewhat sharp on the finish
Acetaldehyde is present in most wines and is formed by yeast and certain bacterias. It can be found at higher concentrations in older aged wines (such as Sherry), which might remind you more of apple sauce, almonds and stone fruit. In lower concentrations, Acetaldehyde gives off an aroma of candied green apples, grass, or nuts.
One last note: there is no wrong way to enjoy wine. Everyone’s threshold and perception of these compounds vary. The important thing is to have fun and understand what you enjoy the most.
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