Where do the smells in wine come from?

I enjoy reading the back of wine bottles to see what “flavours” are in the wine, but often I can’t usually pick out the same smells in the glass.

These explanations like “oaked vanilla with a hint of cherry…” on the back of the bottle don’t actually mean that cherry and vanilla are in the wine.

These smells come from aroma compounds. The scents are released by alcohol and fermentation, and each wine has different aroma compounds.

To add to the confusion, our noses smell aroma compounds differently. It depends on the environment you are in. It’s like when you are in a room that has a weird smell, but you have been in the room for a long time so you don’t smell it anymore.

One person may smell a lemon, another my smell an orange. Usually, people smell similar fruits — like citrus fruits or tree fruits.

Wine aromas enter wine in different ways. They are categorized by: primary, secondary and tertiary aromas.

Primary aromas come from the characteristics of the grape of the wine. Most of the smells in the wine you can find in the actual grape, but more flavour comes out in fermentation and the wine making process.

Secondary aromas come from aging in oak or steel barrels. Oak barrels are porous, so the wine gets more oxygen exposure in oak barrels, which changes the flavour. These barrels can also absorb flavours in the wine making them less intense. There are other factors like the species of oak, where the oak was grown, if the barrels have fungus or the age of the barrels that contribute to the flavour and scent of the wine.

Tertiary aromas come from aging. Once wine is in the bottle it continues to change. That is where yeast and chemical changes happen. This is called the “bottled bouquet.”

Your brain can only pick out smells that are in your memory. That’s why you could have a group of friends sitting around the table tasting wine and they all smell different things.

Give it a try with your friends next time 🙂



Dirty water? Add wine.

There was a time when people drank wine ALL THE TIME.

People living in places like ancient Athens and ancient Babylon had almost undrinkable water, so they came up with a way to sanitize it.

People drank diluted wine from morning to night. Like, everyone. Even babies.

Here is a full article from the National Institutes of Health website: Wine as a digestive aid: comparative antimicrobial effects of bismuth salicylate and red and white wine.

Basically, it explains that using white wine at a 1:1 dilution rate, reduced the bacterial rate much faster than red wine. It took red wine 24 hours to dilute the bacteria to make the water drinkable, and it took white wine only 2 hours to get the same effect.

It wasn’t the alcohol content that made a difference. Tequila was also tested using this method and didn’t create any change in the bacteria. It has something to do with the alcohol and the pH balance in wine, and some other science that I don’t really understand.

Obviously, there are much better methods for purifying water like boiling it or using a filter, but this method was used for generations, so it still does work.

So, if you are travelling in an area where you don’t trust the water, try mixing one part wine with one part water and let it sit for an hour. #survivaltip

Vintages Part 2 – Champagne!

Champagne is from a region in France, which is known for its vintage variations, yet Champagne usually tastes the same from year to year. Usually Champagne doesn’t even have a vintage on it.

Why is that?

And what the heck is ‘Brut’?

People generally spend big bucks on Champagne. We know that for Champagne to be considered Champagne it must be from Champagne, France, and the rest is sparkling wine. So, when you are spending a pretty penny on bubbly, then you expect some consistency.

The only way that is possible is to blend vintages. ‘Brut’ means that your Champagne has at least two years’ harvests in that bottle. Then it doesn’t have a vintage so it is classified as NV.

Since France has a unpredictable, cool and rainy climate they have to blend riper wines with ‘greener’ wines to remain consistent.

I Google’d “Champagne” just to check out some of the bottles, and none of the bottles I looked at had a vintage on them.

That doesn’t say they don’t exist. You will just pay a lot of money for it. 80% – 90% of Champagne is NV.

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Why are vintages different?

When I buy anything else, I expect it to be the same as the last time I bought it. I want milk to taste the same every time. I want juice to taste the same each time I buy, and I expect my fruit to taste the same.

So why do different vintages of wines taste different each year?

FYI: Vintage refers to the year the grapes were harvested

These people grow the same grapes on the same land and use the same process to make the wine, so it makes no sense.

Well here is why:

The harvesting process is unpredictable, because of the weather. Imagine being a gardener and you want your grapes to grow, but its way too hot, and then you get a heat blast and no rain, and then it’s too much rain. This created a fungus that killed half your grapes. Then your grapes finally get to a decent size and ripeness, but the wind is uncontrollable and a bunch of them fall off the vine. Also any frost = bad news.

Some places that harvest grapes are prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, and then all your grapes die. 😦

I really wanted to take up gardening next summer, but it seems like a lot of work and disappointment. I grew three jalapeños last year and eating them was fulfilling and sad at the same time. Maybe terrariums are more my thing.

If it’s too hot, the grapes ripen too quickly. This means a high sugar content and a possibility of the tannins not being ready yet.

A couple of weeks of rain and cold weather could cause dilution, or rotting grapes.

But, what is bad for some grapes can be great for another! A cooler summer, which is bad for red wine grapes can create crisp acidity in white wines.

Wines that come from these places often have the most vintage variations:

  • France
  • New Zealand
  • Oregon
  • Northern Italy
  • Chile

Bad vintages aren’t always a write-off. Aging wines can sometimes make your wine mature and ready for drinking. The winemaker plays a huge part in this.

Places like California, where the weather is consistently good have very little vintage variations. Try a couple different vintages from a place like France and see if you can taste the difference!