Grape has the particular advantage to possess by nature substances that are found both in fruits and flowers, without one substance prevailing over the other. All these aromas are involved and this mixing gives the final characteristic aroma of a wine. During the fermentation process some are altered and some others take their place; these are the alcohols and the esters of specialists. Thus isoamyl acetate gives the characteristic aroma of bananas, while ethanol and methanol give aromas of fresh apples. The rotten apple aroma is given by acetaldehyde due to the effect of oxygen in the wine. The aroma of cinnamon (characteristic of aged wines) is due to cinnamaldehyde and the aroma of roses due to phenyl ethanol. The characteristic smell of vanilla is due to the tannins of the wood of the oak barrel in which the wine will remain, making the choice of a barrel a very important parameter for the final aroma that the wine will have.
But that’s not all. The type of the vine, the soil of the vineyard, the flowers that grow in the vineyard will also play their role in the final fragrance that a wine will have.
The first that we recognize are the aromas of the grape, the most typical is the aroma of muscat, which are classified as primary. The aromas that are created in the process of the alcoholic fermentation are called secondary, typical of fresh varietal red, white and rosé wines. They are highly sensitive and are affected by temperature, which should remain low to avoid cleavage. The maturing of the wine in the barrel, with the effect of oxygen in the compounds of the new wine, will give us the substances that cause the “aromatic bouquet” of the wine. The fragrance reveals the smell of the wine, while the “bouquet” is the complex flavours that it will acquire in the wine cask and by aging in the bottle. These scents are called tertiary. Not all wines stay in barrels and so gain this feature. Only certain varieties qualify and can undergo the process of maturation and aging to acquire eventually this featured bouquet.
Fresh flowers and fruit aromas certainly refer to a young wine; vanilla aromas to a wine that has remained in the barrel for certain time, while aromas of nuts, chocolate, coffee and many others lead us to an aged wine.
All the above play an important role in creating the final bouquet in Commandaria, which with time becomes more complex and more intense, as it is generated by the oxidative reactions and high temperatures. The most important aromatic compounds identified in Commandaria using chromatography are the follow: Acetaldehyde, Propionaldehyde, Aceton, Isopropylformylate, Diacetal acetate, Ethyl acetate, n-butyraldehyde, Methanol, Ethylisobutyrate, 2-butanol, n-propylalcohol, Isobutylalcohol, n-butylalcohol , d-amylalcohol, Isoamylalcohol, Isoamyl-n-butyrate (Commandaria, the legendary wine).
When it comes to the intensity of the perfume of Commandaria, there is no wine to the match it. I quote below an excerpt from the book “Commandaria, the legendary wine” to realize the intensity of its flavour that has gained mythical proportions:
“I once heard that someone had opened an old Commandaria barrel, the age of which was over one hundred years. The wine was so fragrant that it was spread everywhere and you could smell it all over the place, in every corner of the house, in the upper floors and in the cellars, behind the curtains and in them, even in the people’s hair, in the air and on the walls. It lingered there and did not want to leave, like a stubborn fairy. It is even said that the wine was so thick that one could ‘cut it with a knife and that it had healing properties …”
This mythical description of the flavour intensity of Commandaria I had lived a few years later, when I had the good fortune to be invited to judge a hundred year old Commandaria, discovered in an old cellar in Kornos village. It was found in a pithari (jar) and because most of the water and alcohol were evaporated, all that had remained was a mass attached to its walls and its bottom. Indeed, this was a Commandaria gel and it could be cut with a knife like a kefteri (type of grape juice sweet in Cyprus). The aroma was intense and shrill, while it could hardly be washed out of hands. One could feel its aroma for hours after they had touched it. This quality of Commandaria is not only true for the very old ones but it also applies to the young ones. The pleasant, intense, penetrating and long lasting aroma is the characteristic of this unique wine.
Regarding the complexity of the aroma of Commandaria, it is mainly due to the varieties, the production technology and the aging in oak barrels. Oxidative reactions have good basic material that provide intense and complex aromas, and the presence of many amino acids and sugars help with the realization of Maillard oxidative reactions, which lead to the creation of additional aromas and colorants, giving Commandaria formalism in aroma and in colour.
The development of the bouquet of Commandaria is a matter of time. Many of the aromas found in a young Commandaria are lost with time and are replaced by others. For example in a fresh Commandaria, one could easily distinguish a pleasant aroma reminiscent to the scent of Mosfilo (White Hawthorn), a wild tree that grows in the hilly areas of our country, that is a jewel for the countryside and the fruits of which one of the best local jams is made. We find it regularly among the vineyards and in particular on their edges where the strong and characteristic aroma of the flowers attracts a large number of bees. So this aroma found in a new Commandaria, is gone and later replaced by honey aroma, which is one of the most typical of its aromas.
The aromatic richness of Commandaria is very impressive; so impressive that it reaches the limit of mystification, as does the wine itself. I list below all the aromas that an experienced taster could discern therein:
- Mosphylia Flower Aroma (White Hawthorn)
- Honey Aroma
- Raisin Aroma
- Dried fig Aroma
- Dried plum aroma
- Coconut Aroma
- Cinnamon Aroma
- Clove Aroma
- Carob Aroma
- Coffee Aroma
- Caramel Aroma
- Barrel Aroma
- Vanilla Aroma
There is no Commandaria that can simultaneously show all these aromas because some appear during the first years and then are lost. Others reappear during aging in new oak barrels, always depending on the ratio of the two varieties etc. The largest number of aromas found in a Commandaria is eight.
The bouquet is an important element of the overall organoleptic evaluation of a wine. This organoleptic evaluation examines the colour and the appearance of a wine, its flavours and aromas. For Commandaria it would take a very long description. I tried to condense below a typical organoleptic examination that would fit to any well mature Commandaria:
Colour: Dark gold to brown with red highlights, bright and clean, intense.
Aroma: Complex bouquet, consisting of pleasant fruit aromas. Predominant raisin and honey aromas. Impressive also is the aroma of oak, while in the background someone can distinguish dried fig and carob aromas.
Taste: Sweet and sultry, full body that fills the mouth. Perfect balance of sweetness and acidity with alcohol being gentle yet powerfully sensual-passionate and fully harmonized with aromatic substances present in the aftertaste, which has magnitude and endurance!
Kyriakos D. Papadopoulos
Oenologist and writer of technical and historical books.