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The taste of wine

Countless articles and books have been written about the flavours of wine and where they come from. Our wine expert Jan Schwarzenbach has put together some answers to frequently asked questions on common topics.

Eucalyptus in red wine? How typically Australian!

Australian red wine can smell strongly of eucalyptus. The aroma compound responsible is 1,8-cineole which is found in great concentrations in eucalyptus oil.
Australia is the natural home of eucalyptus trees. But how does the aroma get from the trees into the wine? The Australian Wine Research Institute took up this question and investigated why only red wines and not white wines smell of eucalyptus. It found that the aroma became more pronounced the closer a row of vines was planted to eucalyptus trees. One source are the leaves of eucalyptus trees that can find their way into the fermentation vessels even if the grapes are hand-picked. The study also revealed that the aroma given off by the leaves of the eucalyptus trees is transmitted through the air onto the grape skins. As only red wine is fermented together with the skins, the note of eucalyptus is only found in red wines.

Sweet red wine – a sought-after flavour

Recent decades have generally seen a trend towards drier wines. Thanks to improved cellar techniques, fermentation is now better controlled and most wines are fermented to leave almost no residual sugar in the wine.
The tastes of oenophiles followed this trend, and in the eyes of wine critics and most aficionados, red wine in particular should be dry. However, new studies in Europe and America have shown that a considerable number of wine drinkers positively welcome some residual sugar in red wine. A few grams of sugar per litre give wine a certain suppleness and drive off any bitterness. So some sweetness in red wine is not necessarily a flaw, it's simply a matter of personal taste.

Acidity tastes good – or maybe not

Acidity acts as a counterbalance to the other substances in wine such as alcohol, sugar and tannins. The right level of acidity is therefore an essential element of a harmonious wine.
Depending on variety, ripeness and growing region, grapes contain around 5-9 g/litre tartaric acid when they are picked. This acidity can be perceived by some as positive and refreshing or as negative and sour by others. This is where the tastes of industry professionals and casual wine enthusiasts often diverge. Many pros are looking for fresh, crisp wines and consider a high level of well integrated acidity to be an important part of a good wine. However, the same level of acidity is seen as a negative trait by a majority of wine drinkers. This is one of the reasons why relatively sweet wines like Ripasso and Amarone have been in vogue for years.

What is tannin?

Tannin in wine comes from the grape skins, stalks, seeds and, if a wine is wood-aged, also from the wooden barrel.
More or less tannin finds its way into the wine depending on how long and intensively the skins, stems and seeds are macerated and pressed.
Tannin has the property of binding saliva. It therefore dries out the mouth and leaves a sensation of roughness on the palate. Try biting into a green banana skin sometime (seriously!) as this also contains a lot of tannin. You'll then know what unripe/unpleasant tannin feels like. Naturally, the tannins in wine should be much more ripe and pleasant.

How do fermentation vessels affect the taste of wine?

Wine is fermented and aged in a variety of vessels such as steel tanks, terracotta amphorae and wooden barrels of all sizes. Steel tanks can be cooled and are easy to keep clean.
Since a cool fermentation temperature produces aromatic, fruity wines, most white wines and many red wines intended to be drunk young are fermented in steel tanks. Terracotta amphorae are very traditional fermentation vessels that are currently undergoing something of a renaissance. Biodynamic winemakers often use amphorae and credit them with improving the flavours in the wine. Small wooden casks are used to impart spicy and toasty aromas to wine. White wines can be fermented in a barrel, whereas red wines are usually first fermented in a tank and then aged in wooden barrels.

How can a wine smell and taste mineral?

Mineral is a tasting term used to describe a wine that exhibits aromas of chalk, graphite, wet stone or slate, iodine, or similar.
Mineral compounds are generally odourless and the detectable amount of minerals in wine is well below the human perception threshold. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that many Moselle Rieslings taste of slate and Priorat wines of wet stone, while good Burgundy reds often have hints of graphite and the best Swiss Chasselas wines frequently exhibit notes of flint or chalk.
After all, a vine whose roots reach deep down into stony soils such as granite or slate will naturally also take up many minerals from the subsoil. These minerals can then be tasted in the wine to some extent.

Who dares wins: wine should be enjoyable!

Wine has a problem. It's too complicated. Many people are intimidated by the sheer number of different grape varieties, growing regions and wine styles.
As Switzerland's biggest wine retailer, Coop is aware of this problem. Ratings and awards, detailed information on back labels and advice at wine festivals and fairs provide helpful starting points for navigating the sea of diverse wines. But you yourself as a wine drinker can also make enjoying wine less complicated too. Try to embrace the enormous variety, don't allow yourself to be intimidated by it. The best way of dealing with fear of the new is to become familiar with this new. So just buy an unknown wine simply to try sometimes. Those who keep daring will ultimately win and over time you'll build up a great memory bank of tasting experiences.

How can you discover new wine flavours?

On the one hand this huge choice of wines is exciting, but on the other hand it can also be somewhat intimidating. Especially when it comes to trying something new, like a new grape variety or an unknown winegrowing region.
A good way of widening your wine horizons is to buy a lesser known alternative to a popular wine that tastes similar. For example, if you like to drink Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, you will probably also like wines made from the grape variety Aglianico. Aglianico is also known as the Nebbiolo of the south because, like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, it also has a high acidity and firm tannins. Or if you like Ripasso and Primitivo then you will probably like wines from the south of France and southern Spain too. These wines likewise exhibit very ripe fruity aromas and a sweet concentrated fruit. Coop's wine festivals are also a good opportunity for discovering new wines.

Does unfiltered wine taste better?

The aim of filtration is to remove solid particles such as pulp, yeast or tartrate crystals. If a wine has been kept long enough in a tank or wooden barrel, over time most cloudy particles settle out by themselves.
A red wine that has been barrel-aged for several years will therefore require hardly any filtration. However, many wines are not aged, or only for a very short time. In this case filtering shortens the vinification process. At the same time, microfilters can filter out any potentially harmful yeasts and bacteria from the wine. This lowers the risk of any secondary fermentation. But opinions are divided. Many winemakers believe that wines lose complexity, longevity and colour every time they are filtered. Consequently, many premium wines are bottled unfiltered and are marketed as such. However, it has not been shown that the same wine would not taste as good if it had been filtered.

Filtration – taste v. risk?

The aim of filtration is to remove solid particles such as pulp, yeast or tartrate crystals.
If a wine has been kept long enough in a tank or wooden barrel, over time most cloudy particles settle out by themselves. A red wine that has been barrel-aged for several years will therefore require hardly any filtration. However, many wines are not aged, or only for a very short time. In this case filtering shortens the vinification process. At the same time, microfilters can filter out any potentially harmful yeasts and bacteria from the wine. This lowers the risk of any secondary fermentation. But opinions are divided. Many winemakers believe that wines lose complexity, longevity and colour every time they are filtered. Consequently, many premium wines are bottled unfiltered and are marketed as such.

Why does the same wine not always taste as good?

If you have ever had the impression that every bottle from the same case of wine has tasted different, then you're right.
But this has little to do with the wine itself. Sometimes there are actually differences in flavour from bottle to bottle. However, these are usually not as important as the differences that our palate and brain cause us to perceive. If we have a cold, we can smell very little, if anything at all. The palate is more sensitive when we're hungry, so wine then tastes better. Even background music, lighting, the general mood, and of course food if we're drinking with a meal, influence our sense of taste. So it would actually be astonishing if two bottles of the same wine ever did taste exactly the same.