By Elspeth Brown
This has been a hard year for children, parents, small business owners, the elderly—and everyone in between. Right before the holiday season began, a local radio station was doing a special segment. They knew my son and asked if I would have him listen. The message was from Santa’s representative telling children that it had been a hard year, but that Santa was still going to be here for Christmas. Christmas was still on, and the magic was still very real.
This made my heart so happy because no matter what your holiday season looks like this year, we still have traditions to celebrate and memories to embrace. Some of my fondest, most magical memories flood back when I smell certain scents. Sweet potatoes remind me of holiday meals with my grandmother, candied nuts in the oven remind me of the port wine my mom and I drink on Christmas night, and yeast and ripe apples bring me back to the optimism I always have for the New Year.
Smells are processed by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to other areas of the body. Odors take a direct route to the limbic system, which relates to emotion and memory. Therefore, certain scents can make us feel warm and fuzzy or angry and sad. Most aromas in wine are very pleasing and remind us of great times. The grape varietal has a huge impact on scents that can be found in wine, but there are other factors that can influence aroma.
Some aromas in wine come from the grape, but others naturally occur from chemical compounds in nature. Examples of compounds found in wine are terpenes, pyrazines, esters and lactones. Terpenes reside primarily in grape skins. When you smell rose petals in a pinot noir or citrus fruit in a sauvignon blanc, you are smelling the terpenes. The floral and fragrant aromas in a Gewürztraminer or a riesling are a result of terpenes. Pyrazine, or methoxypyrazine, is a chemical found in the grape that attributes to green bell pepper or herbaceous notes, which can be offensive to some, but to others, including myself, are very pleasing. It can also be a sign of underripeness in a grape. Cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc have high levels of methoxypyrazine. Esters are created by the reaction between alcohol and acids. Incredibly young wines with a lot of bright fruit aromas such as banana, pear and ripe apples have a high number of esters. Lactone is created when wines have been aged, especially in oak. Rich dessert wines like sauterne and
Madeira will create aromas of toasted nuts, maple syrup, caramel and coconut.
Fermentation and oak aging will also affect the aromas in wine. Some of the yeast and alcohol during fermentation can release odor components such as baked bread and minerality. Wines are primarily aged in either American oak, which will impart more vanilla and cacao aromas, or French oak, which will pass on smoky, toasted aromas.
This year when the big man drops down your chimney on Christmas Eve, rather than milk and cookies, consider leaving him something new to enjoy like an aromatic viognier paired with aged Gouda or a toasty tawny port with a strong blue cheese. He might just leave you something extra special under the tree. Happy Holidays!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.