How to Determine a Wine's Bouquet

How to Determine a Wine's Bouquet

You've been to enough wine tastings to follow the steps of swirling, smelling and tasting.  You're not 100% sure what the smell of wine does for the taste, but you've listened to people talk about the nose of a wine.  So, what can you learn about a wine from its smell?

If you've ever had a severe cold, you know how blah food tastes.  That's because the sense of smell has a lot to do with how we perceive taste.  Our taste buds can only distinguish five tastes; however, the nose is not as limited.  Smelling a wine before tasting provides a more complete experience, but it can also tell you if something about the wine is off.

Wine's Nose

The nose of a wine is the smell of the wine.  A wine's scent combines the scents of the grape, the wine-making process, and the way the wine is aged.  Each of these aromas adds a component to the overall taste of wine. These three aspects of a wine's nose explain where words like blackberry, citrus, mushroom, or vanilla come from.

Fruity Aromas

The primary aroma comes from the grape before it is turned into wine or has been aged.  These aromas are fruitier since they are derived from the fruit itself.  Typically, these scents are grouped as fruity, herbal, or floral.

  • Fruit flavors are noted with such words as peach, blackberry, strawberry or similar fruits.

  • Herbal flavors are plant flavors and can include bell pepper, mint oregano, or cucumbers.

  • Floral flavors are identified by terms such as roses, pansies, lavender or iris.

Dark fruit flavors tend to appear in red wines; lighter flavors such as apple or peach appear in white.

Fermentation Aromas

Smells associated with the process of turning sugar into alcohol are fermentation aromas.  Some include these secondary aromas as part of the wine's bouquet, while others only include the tertiary aromas when using the term bouquet.  These are the same aromas you smell in baked bread, buttermilk, or beer. They have smells associated with yeast.

Aging Aromas

Tertiary aromas are scents that are introduced during the aging process.  These aged aromas are the result of exposing the wine to oxygen.  Wines aged in oak barrels produce aromas associated with oxygenation and oak.  Oxygen gives the wine its nutty aroma while oak adds a flavor similar to tea leaves.  Terms related to aging include vanilla, dried tobacco, or butterscotch.

The Scent of Wine

You've heard or read many of the favorable terms for a wine's bouquet, but here are a few scents you never want to smell in your wine. 

  • Sweetish vinegar. The wine has oxidized after bottling. 

  • Wet dog or wet newspaper. A contaminant has made its way through the cork into the wine and produces a corked wine.

  • Rotten egg or cooked garlic. Sulfur compounds, which are used in making wine, can produce these smells even after decanting.

  • Wet wool sweater. A wine that has been exposed to the sun's ultraviolet rays can smell like wet wool.

Now, pour one of our wines into the right wine glass and give it a swirl.  Put your nose into the glass, close your eyes and inhale.  Don't worry if you don't smell exactly what someone else does.  Everyone's sense of smell is different.