Aromas and Flavors

There are obviously thousands of different identifiable aromas and flavors in wine, but here is a list of some of those most commonly detected. Certain flavours (such as blackcurrant) speak for themselves, whereas others, such as “mineral“ or “vegetal“, require a little explanation. Entries include examples of grape varieties or wines where the flavour is usually encountered.

Often found in cooler-climate, dry white wines.

Common in riper styles of white wine such as Viognier and oak-fermented Chardonnay.

Widely associated with Cabernet Sauvignon and some other red grape varieties such as Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, and Cabernet Franc. Occasionally a certain underripe blackcurrant flavour can be detected in Sauvignon Blanc.

A creamy texture reminiscent of butter (rather than a specific flavour) is commonly found in oak-fermented Chardonnay and other white wines. This is caused by malolactic fermentation in the barrel, particularly where lees stirring is used

Widely found in red wines, especially in cool-climate Pinot Noir.

A character widely found in white wines, particularly fresh, aromatic styles. Can be further narrowed down to lemon, lime, orange etc.

A flavor commonly associated with both whites and reds when they have been fermented or matured in new American oak barrels. In excess it can indicate a fault.

Used to indicate a smooth, quite full-bodied texture in a wine, or a smell of cream.

Widely found in mature bottles of Riesling.

A soil-like aroma commonly identified in older bottles of red Bordeaux.

A slightly dirty, earthy, manure-type aroma. In a young wine it may indicate poor (unclean) winemaking practices. In an older bottle of red Burgundy it can be a desirable, developed character.

A number of cool-climate whites display aromas vaguely reminiscent of flowers. Some are easy to identify, such as elderflower (aromatic whites), violets (mature Bordeaux or Californian Cabernet Sauvignon), and roses (Gewürztraminer).

A decaying, fleshy aroma commonly associated with older bottles of Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, and other mature red wines.

A classic flavour of Sauvignon Blanc. Also found in other aromatic, zesty white wines.

A term meaning smelling of grapes a vaguely “sweet“ fruity aroma. The only variety for which this is true is Muscat (and all its various names and clones).

Widely found in fresh, aromatic wines from cooler climates from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Chenin Blanc.

Normally found in sweeter, late-harvest styles of whine wine made from Riesling or Muscat grapes. The flavour is especially strong when the grapes have been affected by botrytis.

A slightly derogatory term for a red wine bursting with up-front flavours of blackcurrant, raspberry, and other fruits, but lacking in structure. It normally implies the wine lacks finesse.

Widely found in white wines, particularly those from cooler climates.

Commonly associated with full-bodied reds made from Syrah/Shiraz.

An aroma widely found in wines made from Gewürztraminer.

It is difficult to taste mineral but the term is usually used to describe a sharp, earthy character in cool-climate wines made from grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc.

Particularly associated with Cabernet Sauvignon grown in warm-climate countries.

An aroma displayed by Pinot Noir as it matures.

pepper (black)
Commonly associated especially those made of the Syrah/Shiraz and Grenache grape varieties.

Apparent in many red wines but particularly those made from Merlot.

Found in Gewürztraminer and wines made from the Nebbiolo grape variety.

Can indicate a wine fault caused by excessive sulphur, or is widely (and positively) associated with the Syrah/Shiraz grape variety.

Found in wines fermented and matured in new oak barrels. Also apparent in certain red grape varieties, such as Grenache (which often has a peppery flavour).

summer fruits
Aromas such as strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. Especially associated with young Pinot Noir

Similar to zesty, but perhaps with more orange fruits. Mostly applies to whites but can also be used to describe reds such as fruity, crisp Cabernet Franc

A mature, developed aroma found in older bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly red Bordeaux.

The word “toasty“ is most frequently used to describe the aroma imparted by oak barrels, but “toastiness“ is also a quality of mature Champagne, especially blanc de blancs. It may also be displayed by the best sparkling wines made by the “traditional method“ in California’s Napa Valley.

tropical fruits
Ripe flavours such as banana, pineapple, and mango, often used to describe New World Chardonnay.

Derived directly from new oak barrels. The wood contains vanillin, the chemical compound that gives vanilla pods their distinctive aroma.

Rotting vegetable-type aromas found in older bottles of red and white wines, especially Burgundy (of both colours). It might sound unpleasant, but it is a desirable attribute in these styles of wine.

Bread-type aroma widely associated with champagne (and the secondary fermentation process used to create it.

Aromas of lemon, lime and, sometimes, orange. Normally found in crisp, refreshing dry white wines.

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