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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I am familiar with all the interesting smells and flavors of wine, but cassis is one that I need a little help with. Can you describe this often-used wine adjective?


Dear Andy,

Cassis refers to an intense black currant character, and most often it is used to refer to crème de cassis, a darkly colored, sweet black currant flavored liqueur. This beverage dates back to the 16th century, when French monks produced it as a cure for snake bites, jaundice and wretchedness (seriously). We don't drink much crème de cassis here in the United States, but it's all the rage in the Dijon region of France, where it's added to white wine to make a Kir, or sparkling wine to make a Kir Royale.

When used to describe wine, cassis means the taster is picking up a ripe, concentrated black currant note with a slightly different connotation than fresh currants or currant jam or jelly. If you're not familiar with black currants, they're kind of like a tangy blackberry— think of a dark berry crossed with pomegranate. For about 10 bucks you can buy a bottle of the cheapest crème de cassis, but there are better and more sophisticated versions out there too. Next time you're out, ask your friendly bartender for a sip, just to taste it and register the memory.

—Dr. Vinny

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