We’ve spoken previously about the importance of mastering wine tasting skills in order to truly appreciate every glass of wine. One of the core basics of wine tasting is identifying the nose of a wine – its condition, intensity, and aroma characteristics. 

As you may already know, determining a wine’s aromatic profile is just as important as being able to decipher whether a wine is bitter, salty, or sweet. After all, our first initial impression of a wine is based on the scents that we can identify – and the memories that they evoke. 

Below, we discuss the importance of understanding aromas in wine and detail the core aroma compounds that can be found in a wine. If you’re looking to improve your next wine tasting, the insights noted below will help you achieve that. 

Wine Basics: Why You Need to Understand A Wine’s Aromas

There will always be those who roll their eyes when you use descriptors for wine aroma. Can you really denote hints of rose petal, grapefruit, and clay pot just by sniffing a wine? The answer is yes and it is cemented in scientific reasoning. 

Our olfactory system allows us to discern between millions of aromas at any given moment. In fact, our sense of smell affects how our brain processes flavour. When evaluating and tasting a wine, the primary method by which this is done is by detecting the aromas. Therefore, having a mental library of scents that you can rely on is beneficial and will noticeably improve your wine tasting skills. 

It is important to note that in wine tasting there is generally a distinction between a wine’s “aroma” and its “bouquet”. Aromas refer to the scents that are unique to different grape varieties. A wine’s bouquet, on the other hand, will note those scents that have been created due to chemical reactions during the winemaking process or exposure to oak. 

The Core Aroma Compounds Found in Wine

Aromas are a result of organic chemical compounds that are found in various grape varietals. Others known as esters are created during the fermentation process. Depending on how sensitive our nose is and how concentrated the compounds are, our brains can naturally decipher many of these core aroma compounds. 

Below, we note the core compounds that every wine enthusiast should familiarize themselves with: 

  • Terpenes – Terpenes are compounds that naturally reside in the skin of a grape. They are also commonly found elsewhere in nature such as flowers and plants. These compounds are responsible for scents such as rose petals, desert sage, lavender, white pepper and floral citrus aromas. 
  • Thiols – The thiol compound is responsible for those bittersweet fruit aromas. Oftentimes in small amounts, they appear quite fruity. However, in large quantities, they can appear more earthy or smoky. Three classic examples of thiols are grapefruit in a Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Merlot and chocolate in an Argentine Malbec.
  • Pyrazines – Pyrazines are an organic compound that are common in various grape varietals. They are known for displaying herbaceousness, vegetable-like notes. These aroma compounds are often found in Cabernet Sauvignon and can smell similar to green bell peppers. 
  • Esters – Esters form as a result of reactions between alcohols and acids during the fermentation process. These compounds provide the building blocks for fruity flavours, especially in young wines. When deciphering esters expect notes of pear, citrus fruits, red apples, and raspberry. 
  • Diketones – Similar to esters, diketones are a byproduct of malolactic fermentation. They are famous for providing those distinctive melted butter and creamy aromas which are often observed in Chardonnays. 
  • Lactones – Lactones are another example of an ester that is most notably found in sweet, creamy-smelling foods. When sniffing a wine, such as an aged sparkling white, you may notice hints of roasted hazelnut, honey wheat bread or coconut. 

Familiarizing yourself with each of these compounds that are responsible for wine aromas will take dedication and practice. A helpful tip is observing the smells of different fruits, vegetables, flowers and other produce while grocery shopping. The more scents that you are comfortably familiar with, the easier it will be for you to detect them during your next wine tasting. 

Here’s to Your Next Wine Tasting

Learning core wine basics such as the correct way to assess specific elements in wine will go a long way in improving your wine knowledge and tasting experience. As with all wine tasting skills, practice makes perfect. Here’s to your next great glass.



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