QUESTION: How do all the different flavors and aromas get into a wine?

There are literally over 100,000 flavors/aromas in a wine. A dog would be able to smell more than a human. The human can’t even smell 10% of them. The smells that can be detected by the human nose vary from person to person. This makes discussion about flavors enlightening because one person can, by reference, trigger your brain into identifying more complexity in a wine.

Most aromas are naturally derived from, or resulting in, the weather, soil, sunlight [yes, I said sunlight], ripeness levels, the grape variety, wine making methods, geography, geology, changes that result from ageing, oak barrels and various local influences [proximity to the sea, trees that shed flavors, such as eucalyptus, etc]. Unfortunately, in America, there are also over 50 additives that wineries are permitted to use, some natural, some artificial. These too can impart flavors. I am in favor of ingredient labeling for wine. It would enable those who complain of headaches from wine to avoid headache inducing wines.

All flavors are picked up in the olfactory passages, therefore they are, technically, aromas, not flavors. The exception to this are four flavors that do get detected in the mouth by the tongue. Those are: salt, sour, sweet and bitter. Some have added a spurious fifth that they call “umami” which is a difficult to define spiciness that some foods have and some don’t. Lettuce does not. Cayen pepper does. Bartholomew Broadbent, CEO of Broadbent Selections

One of the things that makes wine appreciation so interesting and fun is that wine has so many attributes of other goods.  I don’t believe that we really know how all these flavors enter a wine.  Certainly the grapes add a good deal of the flavors although it is ironic that wines rarely smell, and even less often, taste of grapes.  Different grapes have different fruit profiles.  Pinot Noir and Sangiovese have cherry flavors while Syrah may have a black raspberry quality.  Many of the non-fruit flavors are from the oak barrels used to store the wine.  Sometimes oak chips or sawdust are used to flavor more inexpensive wines.  Oak flavors include vanilla, cocoa, charcoal and others.  There is considerable debate on whether the minerals in the soil that the grapes are grown in can be present in a wine.  There is no debate, however, that the same grapes, grown under the same conditions, but in different soils can and do taste differently.  Finally, the choice of yeast has an effect on flavors that is still not completely understood. 

So why does a Riesling remind you of a grapefruit or a Merlot of a chocolate covered cherry?  The chemical qualities that those scents have will have some similar chemical compounds that make up the wine.  In the case of a Riesling, the grapes themselves have similar attributes to the attributes that make up the scent of a grapefruit.  In the case of Merlot, the combination of the grapes and oak barrels will likewise have similar chemical compounds which make up the individual compounds of chocolate and cherries.  What fine wines do not have are added flavors to impart these qualities. Loren Sonkin is an Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars

To provide diverse, unbiased, and independent advice, Bartholomew and Loren answer all user submitted questions without consulting one another. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don't. Always interesting though. Have a wine question for them? Submit it via our Contact Us form