Stopping to Smell the Flowers in Wine

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  • By Brett Chappell
Stopping to Smell the Flowers in Wine

Wine descriptions usually read like an overturned bowl of fruit: apples, lemons, cherries, blackberries, yet no mention of grapes. Some throw in the spice rack, pencil shavings, smoke, wet stones, etc. Some wines even show notes of flowers. These floral laced wines are exceptional with spring cuisine. Just what happens to make these non-grape flavors in wine?

Fermentation is the catalyst that creates these non-grape aromas. The interplay of yeasts, acids, alcohols, heat and oxygen transform compounds in the skins of grapes into other chemical compound. These changed compounds, or stereoisomers, bring aromas and flavors to wines. Many of these new compounds have distinctive organoleptic, or aroma and taste, markers. Human noses and brains recognize and catalog these markers. Humans have named these chemical compound for what they smell like.

The compound geraniol gives geraniums their pungent green, vegetal, waxy, rose-like aromas. Like cologne or perfume, a little geraniol goes a long way. A bit can be interesting in a wine, while at greater levels, the aroma becomes a fault. Look for notes of geranium in Gewürztraminer, Muscat, and Malbec. Try Mader Alsace Gewürztraminer to see how geraniums can be pleasant aroma in wine.

Another aroma that comes from a single compound is violet. These little flowers get their perfume from a compound called a-ionone. Many people have never given such a low growing flower much of a sniff. They can smell, but not name, the odor. Violet notes may show up in Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, and Petit Verdot. Decero Malbec Remolinos Vineyard Agrelo smells like a just-picked bouquet of the little blossoms.

Most floral notes in wine come from not from a single, but from a combination, of prevalent compounds. Lavender aromas which are composed of linalöol and geraniol shows up in Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. These grapes grown in the dry heat of the Mediterranean alongside low growing lavender, thyme, and rosemary. The term for these resinous plants is garrigue, and wine tasters use the term as a note for flavors also. Try a Chateau Saint-Nabor Cotes du Rhone Villages Prestige for an example.

Often professional tasters will find simply “notes of white flowers” on a wine. These aromas result from a combination of nerol and a-terpineol. Sometimes these are faint and hint at floral aromas without enough intensity to be identifiable. With more concentration, the perfumes of lily, citrus blossom, or linden may become discernible. Look for these aromas in Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Moscato, or Semillon. Chateau Graville-Lacoste Bordeaux Blanc exhibits a delicate bouquet of white flowers.

One of the most universally recognizable flower aromas is rose. It may be present in Gewürztraminer, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo. Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo grape, are described as smelling of tar and roses. This is description, while odd-sounding, is spot on. Terzetto Barolo proves the point.

 Stop and smell the flowers! Pick a tree blossom or a flower. Inhale deeply a few times. Remember its singular aroma, and bring the memory to your next wine tasting/drinking. Your wine enjoyment will deepen, and you'll begin to notice the world around you for the garden it is.