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 🙂



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