In the case of red wines, aromas and flavors are usually broken down into two categories—red fruits and black fruits. What’s key to pinpointing whether you have a red or black fruit wine is trying actually to identify a particular fruit type. For example, it’s not enough just to think that the wine smells like a red fruit. What red fruit aromas are there—cherries, strawberries, etc? This type of identification not only helps confirm that the wine is indeed a red fruit wine, but also will help hone your sense of smell. If you can’t identify a particular type of red fruit, maybe your initial reaction was wrong and it’s actually a black fruit wine. Can you identify a particular black fruit, maybe black cherries or plums?
Identifying whether you smell red fruits or black fruits can help determine the wine type, or at least the types of grapes that dominate a blend. Without boring you with a list of every red grape variety and stating whether it generally has red fruit or black fruit characteristics, I’m going to make a few recommendations and observations. I find red fruits easier to identify than black fruits. With that in mind, if you want to try fruit identification in a red wine, I recommend starting with a Pinot Noir or a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is a Grenache-dominated blend. Both types of wine are good try for identifying red fruits because of their fruit-forward characteristics. If you want to try the identification, but rather start with a black fruit wine, I recommend a Shiraz/Syrah, particularly an Australian Shiraz, as they’re also often very fruit-forward wines.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to practice with wine that has already prepared tasting notes. It’s the perfect way for the novice wine-drinker to get help guiding his/her senses through a tasting, as well as for the veteran taster to test him/herself to see if s/he can smell and taste the same things.
Common Red Fruit Aromas/Flavors in Wine
Common Black Fruit Aromas/Flavors in Wine
The Wine Whore says
I really like how you break this down into simple terms. Very helpful and handy!
Good advice Alleigh-Your advice to start first with an Australian Shiraz was especially good.
Thanks, Randy and Mark! It's always good to hear what is a helpful tip and what isn't.
Mihnea Mironescu says
Just a few thoughts: some wines will just not be able to show a distinctive, recognizable aroma/flavour. They will have to be labeled simply as fruity or resembling red fruit or black fruit or tree fruit or exotic fruits. There's no issue with that, it's just that some wines lack this "distinctiveness" if you will.
Secondly, I would not trust blindly the tasting note from the back lable, simply because the wine is a living thing which evolves in the bottle – that's what we like about it, don't we? – so the way wine tasted at bottleing time (if not months before) will just not be the same years after that. Not to mention the storage conditions of wine, which most certainly will affect the wine and its flavours.
You're 100% right that not all wines show a recognizable aroma/flavor. My TTT&T posts are without a doubt broad generalizations on what to look for in a wine, which is why I mentioned that with red wines it's usually good to look for red fruits and black fruits. There are definitely times where there may be no fruit aromas/flavors or even very neutral, nondescript aroma/flavors, so I appreciate your reinforcing that idea.
As for the tasting notes, I definitely agree about not solely relying on the wine bottle's label. I should have been clearer in my post. I was really referring to going through either other blogs, magazines, etc and looking at a range of tasting notes about a particular wine. Sure, the wine bottle is a worthwhile place to start, but as you mentioned, they're not only very limited in description, bu also as the wine ages, they become quickly outdated.