Coffee Talk: Wine Flavors that Trick the Senses

While there are quite a few coffee-infused spirits and a growing number of coffee wines on the market, the aroma and flavor of coffee can appear in wine even when there’s not a single bean anywhere near the vineyard. In honor of International Coffee Day, we’re taking a closer look at how that happens. 

The short answer is chemistry. 

Plants, and particularly grapes, naturally contain thousands of chemical compounds, such as pyrazines, esters, terpenes, lactones, and others that act on the senses, mimicking the smells and flavors of other things. Add other physical processes, such as fermentation or heat, and the compounds transform, releasing still more compounds that are shared by fruits, vegetables, and even meat. This is why Syrah can smell like charcuterie, while Sauvignon Blanc can smell more like grapefruit and wet grass. 

Now, let’s talk coffee. The same organoleptic compounds that are found in our favorite wines are also found in oak. Furfurylthiol (say that three times fast) is one of these compounds. When oak is heated, or more specifically toasted, during cooperage--the process of barrel making--it releases an aroma of smoke and--you guessed it--smoky, roasted coffee beans. Other compounds mimic the smell of toast, coconut, vanilla, chocolate, and cloves. 

When grape must is added to barrels for fermentation, or wine is added for barrel aging, these coffee aromas bind with aromas present in the wine itself, and voila! You’ve got a glass filled with scents like blackberries and cocoa-dusted espresso beans. Pretty neat, huh? 

Ready to explore? Here are some wines with rich coffee and espresso flavors. Take a whiff, then take a sip -- decaf never tasted so good. Cheers! 

Esporao Reserva 2016

The grapes for this blend of Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon are sustainably grown and hand-picked, and aged in American and French oak for 12 months. On the nose, aromas of dark plum preservatives, fresh minty and spicy notes with hints of clove, coffee grounds, and cocoa. The wine is balanced on the palate, with velvety tannins full of character, in harmony with the fruit that is the protagonist in an intense and elegant finish.

Bodega DiamAndes "Perlita" Malbec 2017

An original blend of Malbec and Syrah, the wine is full bodied and rich, with ripe red, black and blue berries, silky tannins, espresso, and an intense, powerful finish. This wine sings alongside chicken, duck, and grilled meats.

Usoa de Bagordi Rioja Riserva 2008

This blend of Tempranillo and Graciano, estate-produced from organically groen grapes is full and flavorful, with notes of dark berries and plums, ground coffee, leather, powder, and smooth tannins. It's a fantastic partner for small game, burgers, or chili, Manchego cheese, paella, and grilled fish.

Lammershoek LAM Pinotage 2017

This Pinotage is made from organically grown grapes pressed early to give it a Beaujolais-like freshness and lightness. Aged for 10 month in concrete tanks, the wine is plush and soft with aromas of cherries, plums, and blueberries with warm spice and coffee undertones.