As Grapes Ripen, Their Flavours Change

Mathews & Anderson in the Journal of Enology & Viticulture 1988 tracked the changes of components in the berry. In the space of three to four months, as the berry diameter expands and the grapes ripen,

  • Acid concentration in the berry drops
  • Sugar concentration increases
  • pH rises gradually and then steeply
  • Anthocyanins develop

Depending on when grapes are harvested, the wine takes various fruit aromas.

The effect of ripening on the varietal flavours of grapes

Grape Variety Unripe stage of fully formed grape Early ripening stage Ripe grapes
Riesling Floral Citrus Tropical fruit
Sauvignon Blanc Grapefruit, grass Green apple, herbal Tropical fruit
Semillon Hay, straw Melon, Lime Passion fruit
Gewurtztraminer Green Citrus and spice Spicy (Aromatic)
Chardonnay Cucumber, melon Peach Tropical fruit, Pineapple
Pinot Noir Cherry Violets Raspberry, Plum
Grenache Flowers White pepper and red fruit Prune
Merlot Grass Violet, Red Stone fruit Plum
Cabernet Sauvignon Herbal Mint, leafy Blackcurrant
Shiraz/Syrah Spicy and herbal Black pepper, raspberry Plum and Jam

Making wine is as much an art as it is a science

It is no wonder that viticulturists and winemakers not only analyse the fruit for ripeness but they also taste the grapes to determine when they should be harvested. The above also throws light on the different styles of wine that are made in various parts of the world.

Ignoring the effects of ‘terroir’, in New World countries where grapes are often harvested very ripe, most white wine have a tropical fruit aroma whilst the same white wine varieties in Europe, have citrus-like aromas because of the relatively fewer hours of sun received.

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