Wine Aromas

A rose is a rose is a – geraniol? An olfactory guide to wine.
 
As a wine lover, you’ve probably come across your fair share of wine descriptions. Most are a simple ‘colour, nose, palate’ outline. Others are a little more esoteric: ‘a winsome white reminiscent of an afternoon on the beach’ for example. Some are evocative, some are provocative and others are just plain flowery, ‘like a stroll in a springtime garden’.

But no matter what style the description is, you’ll find that there’s rarely a wine that’s actually described as smelling or tasting like wine. Your average wine note features a veritable pantry. A Sauvignon Blanc can sound like a three-course gourmet meal. Chardonnay – with its peaches, melons, bacon, toast, coffee, oatmeal, almonds and cream – sounds like a hotel breakfast.

The most common descriptors pressed into service however, tend to be fruit. So much so, that new wine drinkers are often confused. Honeydew melon Chardonnay, fruit-salad Verdelho, lime zest Riesling – what’s the story there? Are peaches and melons standard issue with every Chardonnay? Has a whole bunch of tropical fruit been press-ganged into masquerading as an alcoholic beverage? Are there citrus orchards out there dreaming of a glorious future? ("I’m a lime now, but when I grow up I’m going to be a Riesling.")
 
In actual fact the answer lies in good old-fashioned chemistry. Put simply, different grape varieties share many of the same chemical compounds as certain fruits and vegetables. The intensely herbal capsicum character found so often in both Sauvignon Blanc (especially New Zealand and cool-climate Australian regions), Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, is actually a chemical compound from the methoxypyrazine family. This compound is also found in – you guessed it – capsicum. It’s also found in asparagus, green beans, spinach and bok choy. Those heady, spicy floral fragrances in many aromatic wines can spirit you off to a springtime garden in seconds – a chemist thinks of the flavour compound linalool. That bowl of limes you can smell in a Clare or Eden Valley Riesling? Limonene. The heady aromas of roses wafting up from that glass of Gewurtztraminer? Plain old geraniol.
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