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The Power of Wine Aromas

Smell is the sense with the strongest memory and, because of this, it also the sense which is most closely linked to emotions. Learning how to recognise the aromas in different wines can help us know them better, discover their origins and even associate them to different emotions. Ultimately, it can make you enjoy wine even more.

In order to start to recognise the different scents in wine, it is essential to recognise the difference between aroma and odour. Aroma is used to describe all the positive impressions received during wine tasting, whereas odour would be used when these expressions have negative connotations. For example, cinnamon or thyme would be aromas, but cork or musty smells would be odours.

Just by knowing or recognising the wine’s aromas, we can recognise the grape strain used to elaborate it, the procedures and techniques used in its production, its age and even intuit the type of soil where the grapes were grown in.

Let’s explain how to classify the different wine aromas. In first place, we can find the primary or varietal aromas, then, we identify the secondary fermentation smells, and, finally, we discern the tertiary or bouquet scents.

The primary or varietal aromas are those stemming directly from the grape. This type of aroma is the result of the grape variety and the terrain where it was grown, and it is obtained nasally.

Some examples of primary aromas which you can discover in white wines include white flowers and peach in chardonnay varieties; tropical fruits and hay in sauvignon blanc; grapefruit and apple in Macabeo (Viura); and cassis, red berry jam and green pepper in the merlot variety.

On the other side, slightly different aromas can be identified when we taste red wines. In cabernet sauvignon wines we can single out smells of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrant, green pepper and eucalyptus; while in garnacha varieties we can discern plum, cassis and green pepper scents. In syrah wines, wild berries, cassis, pepper and bay leaves are the most significant aromas; in tempranillo we highlight red berries, raspberries, blackcurrant and plums; and finally, merlot wines show cassis, red berry jam and green pepper smells.

In terms of secondary or fermentation aromas, these are originated in the alcoholic fermentation processes. They are detected retro-nasally, as they are only given off when the wine makes contact with the palate.

In this fermentation series of aromas, we can find smells like yeast, breadcrumbs, cookies, bakeries and pastries. In the milky series, we highlight smells such as yoghurt, fresh butter, soft cheese and fresh and dry yeast. And lastly, in the amyl series, we discern those of banana, acid caramel, nail polish or varnish.

Finally, the tertiary or bouquet aromas are developed in the ageing and crianza phases that the wine goes through inside the barrels. Similarly to secondary aromas, these scents are distinguished retro-nasally.

In addition, these aromas can be split into two different types. In one side we find oxidation aromas, identifiable in wines that have been aged in contact with the air, which are characterised by aldehyde substances and their aromas are stable to air or reduced. On the other side, we find wines that have been aged sheltered from air, whose aromas can be destroyed if the bottle is opened too violently. This bouquet reaches its perfection inside the bottle.

The tertiary or crianza aromas in white wines are classified according to different series. The floral series includes dry flowers, chamomile and heather smells; the fruity series comprises nuts and dry apricot scents; the confectionary series encompasses honey, praline, almond paste, plum cake, grated coconut and dried peaches; and the wood and balsamic series embodies aromas like cedar, oak, white wood, soft wood, vanilla, smoke, pine, resin, eucalyptus, grated coconut or tobacco.


Finally, when considering tertiary or crianza aromas in red wines, we usually also divide them into similar series. The floral series encompasses underwood, truffle, mushroom and heather smells; the fruity series includes ripe fruit, compote, jam and fig scents; the spiced series embodies oak, pine, liquorice, smoked wood, vanilla, cinnamon and tobacco aromas; and lastly the empyreumatic animal series, characterised by smoked notes, comprises smells like toasted break, toasted almonds and hazelnuts, coffee, tobacco, leather, game birds and animal skin or blood.

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