Have you ever heard the terms "Fruit driven?" Did you know when you hear a wine is 'fruity', it is exhibiting what we call, Primary Notes. Have you heard someone say a wine is "nutty" or "biscuity?" Well, that wine is exhibiting what we call Secondary aromas. Then there are people that speak of wines that are "leathery", "oaky", "vegetal". What does that mean? Well, that is Tertiary Notes.
When a wine exhibits a high level of Primary fruit characters, it is youthful. If those characters are starting to disappear, usually it suggests a wine is in the developing stage and may only have a couple more years left in it. Once the wine has no primary characters and is dominated by secondary or tertiary notes, it is suggested it is fully developed and should be drunk now.
Of course, other factors such as tannin structure and finish will give you an indication of how long a wine can be aged but in my experience, identifying these notes are a fantastic indication.
So what are you looking for?
- fruity and floral aromas from the grapes
- Includes but isn't limited to green,citrus, stone, tropical, red and black fruit characters (green apple, grapefruit, peach, banana, cranberry, blackcurrent)
- characteristics that arise due to production process
- Oaky characters (vanilla, coconut etc)
- Malolactic fermentation characters (nutty, buttery)
- Characteristics from Lees contact (creamy, biscuity)
- Characteristics from the aging process
- Coffee, Toffee, Caramel, chocolate
- Secondary oak characters (Vanilla, Toast, Wood polish)
- Savoury vegetal flavours & aromas (mushroom, vegetables, earth, leather)
It must be noted that not all wines age evenly. Many whites go from being youthful to past their best quite quickly whereas some (like some Vintage champagnes/Reislings/Chardonnays) benefit from further aging. There are also some reds that have been aged in barrels BEFORE even being released so these wines will display more developing characters upon release than other reds.
So, to wrap up. The more fruit you can smell and taste in a wine, the more youthful it is (Quick side note: it is sooo disappointing when you think you have aged a wine for so long, only to discover it still had another 5 years to lay down before you should've opened it...this is the reason I always buy 2 bottles of anything) The more it starts smelling more rustic, the more developed it will be!
The only way to get used to it guys? DRINK MORE WINE!!
Cheers to your wine education