Is there anything more fascinating than listening to an expert taster talk about the aromas you perceive in a glass of wine?
To properly interpret that olfactory sensation around wine, it is necessary to understand its magic and its creation process, from the harvest of a healthy and ripe grape to fermentation and aging in the bottle.
In wine jargon , ‘aroma’ is used to refer to the positive aspects that adorn a wine (aroma of thyme or cinnamon), while the term ‘smell’ is used for negative sensations (smell of humidity, cork, etc. ).
What types of aromas are there in wine?
A wine offers different aromas in each of the stages of production, but in general we can distinguish three types of aromas : primary or varietal, secondary and tertiary.
Primary or varietal
They come from the same strain, from the grape during its metabolism and maturation process and are characteristic of a variety or family. They give the wine its typical character , depending on other fundamental elements, such as the composition of the terroir and the climate of the area.
We can distinguish 4 primary aromatic series:
- Minerals (refers to the soil): slate, granite, tar, iodine, oil, etc.
- Vegetables: laurel, eucalyptus, pepper, truffle, hay, thyme, mushrooms.
- Fruit trees: apple, passion fruit, currant, pear, plum, peach, strawberry, citrus
- Floral: violet, jasmine, hawthorn, rose, rosemary, lilac, orange blossom, acacia flower.
There are some winemakers who incorporate a fifth series, that of spicy aromas , which correspond to nutmeg, pepper or cardamom, among others.
These aromas can be present in the grape in a fragrant state and then contribute to the aromatic palette of the wine without prior processing.
They can also be present as so-called “flavor precursors”, in such a way that the aromatic power of these precursors will be revealed during wine production.
Secondary aromas are produced during the alcoholic or malolactic fermentation process .
That moment when grape juice turns into wine is caused by a much more complex reaction than it seems. This is when aromatic molecules evolve.
Of course, the choice of yeasts is essential for the development of certain specific flavors.
At this point in the process we speak, above all, of sweet aromas . We can divide it into three different types:
- Amylics: banana, caramel, nail polish, varnish.
- Fermentation: yeast, bread crumbs, biscuit, sponge cake.
- Lactics: fresh cheese, milk, yogurt.
As is to be expected, the development of the wine’s aromas does not stop once the fermentation has finished.
Both during aging (in oak barrels for example) and later during bottle aging, new aromas will appear. They are called tertiary or ‘bouquet’.
These are usually ephemeral aromas , they disappear within a few minutes of opening the bottle, and they are produced as a result of the collision between the primary and secondary ones. Here we can interpret five different series:
- Floral-Vegetables: chamomile, mushrooms, truffle, heather, undergrowth, etc.
- Confectionery : beeswax, honey, almond paste, coconut.
- Fruit trees: figs, apricots, red fruits, dried apricots, prune, cherry.
- Balsamic and woody: cinnamon, pine, wood, licorice, eucalyptus, incense, ash, vanilla, etc.
- Empyreumatic animals: leather, ink, blood, musk.
The smells of wine
Very fine wines can improve with age and develop a very complex range of aromas. But be careful, each wine has a shelf life and the vast majority are drunk within five years of harvest.
If the aging process has taken a toll, we could well be talking about a wine that gives off ‘smell’, a term as we said that is used in this area to highlight its defects.
There are 5 types of characteristic odors of problem wines:
- Rotten egg smell: a symptom of what is known as a reduced wine, it is due to a bad action of the yeasts on the sulfates that the vineyard has absorbed.
- Smell of broth, chard or curry: a true reflection of oxidized wine (it has received more oxygen than normal) and has lost its fruit properties.
- Fungus or humidity: this smell is typical of trichloroanisole, an evil originating from cork.
- Just lit match: produced by an excess of sulfur.
- Vinegar or acetone : obvious signs of high volatile acidity resulting in chopped wine.
As you have seen, it is not necessary to study chemistry to distinguish the aromas of a wine.
However, having the ability to identify primary, secondary or tertiary aromas by the nose requires practice and experience.
The eye, the nose, the mouth form a complementary trio in a tasting, but the sense of smell plays the most important role.