May 5, 2012

What Does Modern Wine Taste Like? Descriptor Statistics

We have mentioned British Columbia's governmental branch of liquor distribution before. One of their excellent products is their quarterly Taste magazine. Loaded with articles, reviews, recipes and information, it is a very well designed magazine that covers a lot of ground in 160-odd pages. And it is free.

They include a huge amount of product reviews in every issue, most of them squeezed into 1/12th of a page and reined in at a succinct 40-50 words. In the Spring 2012 issue, we counted 137 separate wine reviews (red, white, rose, sparkling, and sweet), not including beer and spirits.

Why did we count them? Because we read them all, and the concentrated blast of adjectives describing taste and aroma sometimes makes our heads swim. After a few pages, our minds swirl with images of black cherries, herbs, chocolate, mineral, honeysuckle and spices (Christmas, baking and Asian) and it can be a bit overwhelming.

We realized that knowing the frequency of the descriptors packed into each issue of Taste would give us an indication as to what wine styles dominate the market. So we counted every adjective in the latest issue to find out what BC is currently drinking.

We started with the aroma descriptors for red wines (click to enlarge):

Vanilla comes from oak exposure, so its strong showing is no surprise in the red section. Spice looks like the front runner, but notice how some entries were broken up, like cherry and cherry (black). They combine for a total of 19 mentions. Fruit (dried), fruit (black) and fruit (red) combine for 16.

Let's take a look at the descriptors used for red wine flavours:

Fruit flavours have a very strong showing. When combined, they outrank even oak and spice.

White aromas show a similar breakdown: vanilla, toast, oak, caramel and browned butter could all indicate barrel influence, but the fruit descriptors dominate.
White wine flavours also show fruit of all kinds leading the descriptor list.

So what does this tell us? Mostly it confirms what should be obvious: most wines on the market these days are made in a modern, fruit-forward style, often with some oak influence, and are intended to be consumed within a year or two of release.

And why not? Fruit-forward wines are generally inexpensive, popular and are easy to drink on their own or paired with simple meals.

These numbers could also suggest that some winemakers are following specific trends, creating products that meet existing expectations rather than reflecting regional or varietal flavour profiles.

These statistics certainly reveal the bell in the curve: red wines overwhelmingly taste like cherry, plum and spice, whites like apple, citrus and mineral.

Knowing this, we can start to hunt around the edges of the data for wines whose flavour profile is out of the ordinary, maybe even surprising, rather than aiming for familiar territory.


  1. interesting. love your graphics. i have a glass of Domaine Octavie sauvignon in my hand, and your post made me curious to google it up and see how it has been described. the answer is minerals and gooseberries - probably not a big BC flavo(u)r, wonder how that would translate in your neck o' the woods?

  2. These descriptors are for wines from all over the world that are carried by BC Liquor Stores.

    Your Touraine Sauvignon Blanc sounds as though it would be a great example of the old world style, with high acid and strong minerality from the calcareous soils. Interestingly, this winemaker seems to be taking influence from new world styles and increasing the fruit in the profile. Sounds absolutely delicious!


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