How to recognize the aromas in wine: 10 single grape varieties to know

Come riconoscere i profumi nel vino: 10 monovitigni da conoscere

Green apple, violet, bread crust... recognizing the aromas in the glass is one of the joys of wine, also because it helps to remember it over time. Recognizing them is not easy but there are rules that help to recognize the classic aromas of single-variety wines. Let's see 10 of them. For the rest, long live practice!

Let's see how to recognize the aromas of the 10 most important single grape varieties in the world. While for a guide to olfactory tasting, we have written a complete guide .

What determines the aroma of wine?

In nature, 250,000 molecules have been identified capable of giving as many odorous notes, while those responsible for the aroma of wine are over 220 volatile substances, which are able to free themselves from this liquid already at room temperature. Humans cannot perceive all odor molecules.

What influences the perception of wine aromas?

Various factors: the temperature at which the wine is tasted, the evaporation surface and the volatility coefficient of the substances, their solubility in the mucus present in the nasal passages (the more soluble a substance is in this liquid, the more it reveals its perfume).

How are the aromas of wine divided?

Wine aromas are divided into:

  • Primary aromas : these are those that derive directly from the vine . Their nature depends above all on the substances present in the skin of the grape. From a chemical point of view they mainly belong to the terpene group: around a hundred molecules (including linalool, geraniol and nerol). Hints of musk, sage, rose, peach and other flowers and fruits are often linked to terpenes. Gewürztraminer, Brachetti, Malvasie and Moscati are the main aromatic vines, which produce wines in which the aroma and flavor immediately bring to mind the memory of the grape, characterized by its marked aromaticity. A test? By chewing a few grapes you can smell the same aromas that you recognize when tasting a sip of wine.
  • Secondary aromas : some substances that form during the fermentation processes determine the secondary aromas of the wine, partly during the phases preceding fermentation (pre-fermentative), partly during the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations (post-fermentative). Among the former we can mention those that form during pressing, when the molecules detach themselves thanks to the intervention of specific enzymes, become volatile and are responsible for new aromas, which enrich the wine.
  • Tertiary aromas : they are formed with the slow passage of time, during the maturation (1) and refinement (2) of the wine.
  1. Alcohols, tannins, acids and other components are involved in many oxidoreductive processes, but even more important chemical reactions for the formation of the bouquet of wine are those of acetalization, which occur between an alcohol and an aldehyde.
  2. The permanence of the wine in the barrel plays a decisive role in the formation of tertiary aromas. Among the most important factors: the length of time spent in the wood, the type and origin of the wood essence , which allows a slow passage of oxygen and at the same time releases some aromatic substances. Equally important is the size of the barrel: the barrique affects the character of the wine more quickly than the large barrel, because the ratio between its surface area and the volume of the wine is greater.

To start orienting yourself: the aromas of the 10 most important single-variety wines in the world

In the wine world, there are many wines from a single grape variety, which release numerous different aromas. Getting to know them is a great way to start orienting yourself in the world of perfumes.

Here is what aromas the 10 most important vines in the world give when they are vinified in purity.

  1. Chardonnay : it is the most cultivated white grape variety in the world due to its adaptability and versatility. It unravels intense and complex aromas such as citrus fruits (especially lemon leaf), fresh or ripe yellow fruit (banana, mango, apple and peach), yellow flowers such as broom. Chardonnay-based wines are aged in barriques especially in Burgundy where this grape originates and can therefore also acquire tertiary scents, such as wood, vanilla, bread crust, hazelnut, honey and caramel. Compared to other white wines, the mineral and buttery hints alongside those of fruit give a unique and distinctive character to the bouquet.
  2. Merlot : originally from Pomerol, in Bordeaux , it is one of the most widespread international vines. It is a full-bodied vine, with good longevity and suitable for aging in wood. It releases intense and complex aromas of ripe red fruit such as cherry, morello cherry and black cherry, but also raspberries and other berries. Another important olfactory element is the spiciness, with notes of pepper and cloves, while the tertiary notes are expressed with leather, coffee and liquorice and are perceived in the versions aged in wood.
  3. Cabernet Sauvignon : it is a vine born in Bordeaux in the 17th century from the crossing of Cabernet Franc with Sauvignon Blanc and, together with Merlot, is the basis of Bordeaux wines (the famous Bordeaux blends ). It stands out for hints of red fruit such as cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant. Secondary aromas are those of violet, spices and light mineral notes, while tertiary ones are leather and vanilla, if the Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in large barrels.
  4. Sauvignon Blanc : internationally important grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc is now widespread in the Old and New World; its wines stand out for their acidity and aroma. The aroma of Sauvignon Blanc is very variable and depends on the area in which it is grown. However, it tends to exude intense and complex aromas of peach, quince, lime and grapefruit. In the Sancerre or Poully Fumè we also find flint and gunpowder. It also releases herbaceous aromas of tomato leaf, moss and nettle. The cliché of Sauvignon smelling of cat pee, or in any case of a wine with only vegetal aromas, is practically outdated and must be attributed to inadequate winemaking, due to excessive yields or imperfect maturation, due to the climate or unfavorable soil and climate conditions.
  5. Syrah : red grape variety that produces intense and complex aromas such as spicy hints of black pepper, but also fruity notes such as plum, black cherry, currant, blueberry and blackberry. In some cases you can also perceive a delicate scent of violet. Depending on the origin of the wines, the fruity and floral aromas go from the less "ripe" and more vegetal tones of the wines produced in France to decidedly sweeter and rounder notes of the Sicilian Syrah. If it comes from hot areas it presents even more evident spicy notes. If aged in wood it produces interesting tertiary aromas, including vanilla, licorice, tobacco, chocolate, cocoa and leather, as well as balsamic notes of eucalyptus and menthol.
  6. Sangiovese : it is the most cultivated red grape variety in Italy, where it occupies approximately 11% of the vineyard area. Used to produce some of the most important wines in the world, such as Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, it is a fairly complex grape variety to identify, such is the difference in expression that it manages to give to the wines. If vinified in steel it gives rise to a wine of notable freshness, young, in which fruity notes of cherry and floral notes of violet emerge; if aged in oak it releases toasted and spicy tertiary aromas.
  7. Nebbiolo : grape variety of the highest quality, Nebbiolo has demonstrated a rare quality of loyalty to its land of origin. It exudes very delicate aromas, with elegant floral notes of violet and dried rose, in perfect harmony with fresh balsamic hints of pine needles and aromatic herbs. If the grapes are harvested when fully ripe, the fruity component of the wine is more evident, with the classic, very precise aromas of red fruits.
  8. Airen : Spanish white grape variety, where it represents a quarter of all cultivated grapes. It mostly gives fresh and light wines, without a marked olfactory variety. The most important olfactory note of Airen is undoubtedly its fruity note (banana, pineapple and grapefruit). As secondary notes, it can release floral, saline and mineral scents.
  9. Riesling : grape variety grown in Italy, France ( Alsace in particular) and Germany . Its aromas are intense and aromatic. Young Rieslings produce fruity, citrusy aromas such as lemon, lime, cedar and green apple. There are also floral notes of hawthorn, jasmine, wisteria and chamomile. The wines produced in particular areas (such as the Moselle) also present a typical minerality (which is expressed in particular with hints of hydrocarbons) together with varietal aromatic notes. Rieslings from areas with a warmer climate express themselves on soft fruity notes such as peach, pear, grapefruit, apricot, apple and exotic fruit.
  10. Malbec : cultivated mainly in Bordeaux and Argentina, it is an elegant, powerful and structured vine, but at the same time fine and velvety. Its aromas are intense, warm, dominated by fruit, which depending on aging can be ripe and in alcohol. Cherries, berries and plums are the most dominant fruity notes to which are added hints of sweet spices, a hint of herbaceous, hints of citrus and blueberries to finish. In the less elegant versions you can also smell ethereal and animal scents.
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