Saturday, March 28, 2009

Vinous, as in wine

This word describes the wine-like flavor of some apples.

Vinous apples don't actually taste much like a glass of wine, but they do share a quality of flavor that has wine-like depth and complexity. Think of Homer's wine-dark sea.

At least "vinous" has a definite meaning, unlike some of the descriptive terms still kicking around from the old days. I'd tried to write a post about the term "aromatic flavor," which has described apples for hundreds of years, but its practical meaning is even more elusive than that of "sub-acid," which was also a bit of a stumper.

Vinous, on the other hand, pegs a recognizable slice of flavor shared by many members of the McIntosh family (and some other varieties). It's not a single flavor but rather a kind of clean and distictive balanced range of taste within which individual flavors play in interesting and pleasing ways.

This vinous quality is lighter and more delicate than the hearty richness of Ribston Pippin or Cox's, for all the nuanced flavors that those varieties present. It's not especially grapey, vines notwithstanding. Berry notes are often present.

Orange Pippin describes the vinous quality as "quite a noticeable non-apple flavour" and characterizes it in terms of individual flavors as follows:

Perhaps the best way to describe it is like a hint of melon or pineapple or elderflower.

I think of vinous less as a collection of specific flavors and more of a quality or effect that some apples achieve if they have the right tension of sweet and tart. Honeycrisp might (who knows) be vinous were it not so saccharine.

Go get a McIntosh or a Macoun (or, this time of year, an Empire) and you can taste this quality for yourself.

The wine-glass photo is generously available from the photographer, André Karwath, through wikimedia.


  1. Since I started visiting your blog more or less regularly, I began thinking again about an apple I ate years ago when visiting a German friend in Munich. She and I drove out to some other village early one morning, to a market, where we bought various fresh fruits and vegetables including some type of apple she liked. I'd emailed her recently to ask if she remembered the name of the apple. I remember that she'd told me that the translation of the name had included something about wine, or at least that's how I remember her telling it. And that when I ate that apple it was the most distinctive flavor in an apple I'd ever experienced. It had a decidedly wine-like flavor, and was like no other apple ever. She told me it was something grown locally and maybe that it was only available there around Munich. I finally got a reply from her today and since you've posted about vinous qualities in apples it seems appropriate to share this here. She wasn't sure which apple it was but said that it might have been "Gold-Parmänen, an old local sort, or Cox Orange". She said she gets these whenever she can. I wish I could have one again, whatever it was that she bought. It was outstanding. I remember it wasn't a very large apple, but it sure was packed with flavor.


  2. So, Nina, your German friend says you had a Cox's or "Gold-Parmänen" (which a quick internet search suggests might be the "highly flavored" Winter Rambo).

    These apples and others have a rich flavor that might reasonably be described as wine-like. I compared Ribston Pippin to an Amontillado sherry. However--and I may be digging a hole for myself--as I understand it these varieties are not "vinous" in the sense that the word is applied to apples.

    Saying one wine-like attribute is vinous and not another is arbitrary, but for apples the vinous quality is lighter, higher-pitched, and narrower (to stray into even more metaphorical territory) than the broader, deeper flavors of a Cox's.

    Were I a knowledgeable oenophile I would make some statement like, It's more like a Gewürztraminer or dry Alsatian Riesling than an oaked California Chardonnay. But happily for everyone I'm not!

    Cox's Orange Pippin, if that's what you had, is an exceptional apple.


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