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The Science of Tasting Wine

With so much history and lore, it’s easy to forget that there is a lot of science behind why a wine tastes the way it does. Science is at play in the vineyard, in the cellar, and even in your sensory experience of the wine in your glass.


St Helena wineries are making wine that allows you to taste the science for yourself—whether it be the terroir of the vineyard, the sustainable viticultural practices employed, or the distinctive flavor profiles that come from the winemaking process.


Understanding how your senses interact with wine can give you a new appreciation for what’s in your glass.


The role of sensory perception


Wine tasting is a multi-sensory experience that involves sight, smell, taste, and even touch. When you look at wine, the color that you perceive informs how you smell and taste it. The texture of the wine, too, can impact how you perceive different flavors. For example, a wine with high acidity might taste tart, like kiwi or lemon.


The influence of terroir


Great wine is made in the vineyard and is an expression of the place it was made. This concept is known by the French term: terroir. Terroir refers to the unique effect of climate, soil, aspect, geography, and even bacteria, that shapes the wine grown and made in a particular region.


For example, St Helena wineries enjoy plenty of sunshine in the Napa Valley. This abundance of sunshine makes grapes with pronounced flavors and ripe fruit, whereas more cloud cover during the summer might make a more lean wine with herbaceous flavors.


Chemical components and aromas


The chemistry behind winemaking is fascinating. A glass of wine contains a wide range of chemical compounds that contribute to its flavor profile. During fermentation, the yeast scavenges for sugars to convert to alcohol. In the process, it releases aromatic compounds that influence the end result of the wine.


These aromas can be understood in three different categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

  • Primary aromas are aromas that are found in the grape.

  • Secondary aromas are a byproduct of the winemaking process called fermentation.

  • Tertiary aromas develop from oak aging, bottle aging, or other aging methods.

Other components like acid, tannins, residual sugar, and alcohol levels also contribute to the flavor and texture of the wine.


The art of wine descriptors


Wine enthusiasts often use a specific vocabulary to describe the taste and aromas of wines. Understanding common wine descriptors like fruity, oaky, earthy, herbaceous, and floral, can help you articulate your sensory experience and communicate with others.


Red wines might express red fruit, dark fruit, dried fruit, or fresh fruit. White wines may taste of citrus, stone fruit, or tropical fruit.


The science behind Beckstoffer wines


For example, we describe the 2018 Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper Vineyard flavor profile as showing blackberry, black cherry, violets, pencil lead, mocha, and herbs de Provence, framed by French oak. The wine is full-bodied with fresh acidity and firm tannins.


This wine is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that is famously good at expressing different terroirs throughout the world. The science behind our Beckstoffer wines helps us to understand how sustainable vineyard management combined with the unique terroir of the site impacts the wine’s flavor.

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