Spring is a special season. Even for those who love the romance of winter, spring brings the promise of new life and new beginnings. In the Winelands where we live, spring means the freshest of greens in the vineyards and on the oak trees. It is also the flowering season for fynbos – the indigenous vegetation of the Cape.
For those who do not know fynbos or understand why it is of such importance to us: “Of the world’s six floral kingdoms, this is the smallest and richest per unit of area. The diversity of fynbos plants is extremely high, with over 9000 species of plants occurring in the area, around 6200 of which are endemic, i.e. growing nowhere else in the world. South Africa’s Western Cape has a level of botanic diversity that exceeds that of the richest tropical rainforest in South America, including the Amazon. Of the Ericas, over 600 occur in the fynbos kingdom, while only two or three dozen have been described in the rest of the world. This is in an area of 46,000 km2 – by comparison, the Netherlands, with an area of 33,000 km2, has 1400 species, none of them endemic. Table Mountain in Cape Town supports 2200 species, more than the entire United Kingdom. Thus, although the fynbos covers only 6% of the area of southern Africa, it has half the species on the subcontinent – and in fact has almost 1 in 5 of all African plant species so far described.” (Wikipedia)
Fynbos blooms with a wide variety of beautiful flowers. It is versatile as an ingredient in the kitchen and famed for its medicinal properties. In celebration of this exceptional flora and the splendour of spring in Franschhoek, La Motte invited guests to a fynbos-inspired meal where the complete menu of modern Cape Winelands Cuisine subtly incorporated various types of fynbos. Guests were also treated to a pre-release tasting of the estate’s 2017 Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc.
And it is tasting this wine with its very interesting undertones of fynbos that made me think of a blog on floral wine descriptors I wrote some time ago. Where does the floral notes come from? Surrounding vegetation, pollen, terroir?
““As the grapes grow in a vineyard surrounded by plants such as wild herbs, flowers and grasses, the bees fly around the vineyard distributing pollen, and as the grapes ripen they absorb the subtle flavour characteristics from these plants.” (vinepair.com)
So nearby vegetation have an influence but there is more to it. We also know that terroir influences flavours: sweeter flavours in grapes from warmer areas, greener notes in the cool climate grapes.
Some varieties also have an intrinsic floral quality. Think of Viognier, Gewürztraminer – so aromatic! And sometimes we pick up rose petals in Pinot Noir, violet in Petit Verdot…
Other than terroir and varietal character, the main reason for floral flavours in wine lies in the wine-making process: skin contact and fermentation.
Enzymes aid skin contact extraction – especially in red grapes. “Enzymes are a natural and fundamental element of the winemaking process. Nowadays, they are also a commercial product found in many wineries, another utility in a winemaker’s toolkit. They have the potential to make more extracted and more aromatic wines and to accelerate the winemaking process.” (Read more)
For white grapes, the majority of flavour components are in the pulp and most of the flavour will be released during fermentation. (Read more) During fermentation the precursor flavours in the grapes are released in chemical compounds, such as esters (white fruit and floral flavours), terpenes (oily notes) and thiols (tropical flavours such as granadilla and guava). (Read more here and here)
So while the floral aromas in wine are not all romantic, they can still be very alluring and what better time than Spring to do some wine tasting research yourself!
A complex flower aroma in wine, rose can be found in a variety of red and white wines. Examples: Gewürztraminer, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo. cis-rose oxide, β-damascenone, geraniol, nerol
Considered a fault when present in high amounts because the chemical compound geraniol doesn’t occur naturally in grape must (mashed grapes before fermentation). Examples: Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Torrontes, Malbec, Petit Verdot
A perfumed smell that is very complex and desirable in white wines. Examples: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay. nerol, linalool, citronelle
A subtle flowery smell that accompanies fruit flavours in white wines. Examples: Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes, Pinot Blanc, Muscadet, Semillon, Fiano. α-terpineol, anisic acid, phenethyl alcohol
A flower aroma found in mostly red wines, similar to rose. Examples: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese. cis-rose oxide, linalool, nerol, geraniol
The floral aroma found in fine red wines. Examples: Merlot, Mourvedre, Touriga Nacional, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon. α-ionone