Cracking the wine-tasting code

17 October, 2008

Q During wine tastings I've often overheard the pros describe what they're drinking as "estery". What exactly does this mean?

A An ester is the name given to the compound formed when alcohol and acid collide, as you would expect to happen during wine fermentation. But esters occur naturally all over the place - they create the aromas of plants and flowers, for example, and are by no means exclusive to wine.

In winemaking, there are microscopic flavour compounds contained in grapes which become highly concentrated as esters. There may be as many as 200

created, resulting in a complex bouquet of aromas which makes wine such a captivating product - and so difficult

to describe.

Resorting to terms like "estery" suggests that the critic in question understands a little about the chemical processes that take place during fermentation. But because esters are so varied in aroma, the term "estery" is not a particularly useful one. Perhaps "estuary" would be more evocative - though not very flattering.

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