What makes a wine’s bouquet?

A guest article by Ali Mason.

What makes a wine’s bouquet?

Scientists have estimated that between 75% and 95%of what you taste is actually derived from the smell sense. While this fact is important for almost any food or beverage you consume, it is paramount in how you experience a wine. When participating in a wine tasting, many people forget to properly sniff the wine before consuming it. Skipping this essential step can result in compromising the many complexities of a red or white varietal. In a tasting setting, you will commonly hear class leaders refer to this aspect of the wine as the bouquet. Learn more about how a wine bouquet is defined, what factors comprise a wine's bouquet, and how to properly identify this element in a wine.

What is the definition of a bouquet?

When one thinks of a bouquet, the first thought is likely that of a collection of various flowers with unique fragrances that blend together harmoniously. This concept is a rather accurate way of thinking of a wine’s bouquet. Rather than describing just one particular aroma, the bouquet refers to the many distinct scents detected in a wine. Although its use has decreased in certain circles, many in the wine world still use this accurate term when referring to the many fragrances and odors that both white and red wines can present.

What creates the distinct aromas in a wine?

Natural compounds are the cause of many of the odors that one can detect when sniffing a glass of wine. When some think of well-known types of organic compounds, they may think of harmful substances or chemicals. However, none of the harsh compounds that are discussed in the news have anything to do with the flavors imparted in wine varietals. Instead, harmless organic compounds from the soil are absorbed by the grapes, and ultimately some of them show in the wine. For example, when one can detect a bouquet that includes a vegetal quality, the compound known as pyrazine is likely present. Other common substances include sulphur, terpenes, brettanomyces, and esters. The presence of some of these compounds has to do with where a vineyard is located, which allows wine experts (such as master sommeliers) to identify where a wine was grown simply by its bouquet and taste. In addition to these compounds, other factors that contribute to a wine’s aromas include the grape varieties used, the wine aging method (typically oak), and the fermentation process.

There are no proper descriptors for a bouquet

There are many ways in which you can describe the bouquet of a wine. For example, experts have compiled a list of the top 100 aromas in wine. Outside of this extensive list, there are still additional descriptors for a wine’s bouquet. Often, while some scents in a bouquet will be picked up by most individuals, the description of a bouquet can be somewhat subjective. Some of the top terms that can be used to describe the aromas in a bouquet include the following: banana, eucalyptus, vegetal, pear, coffee, chocolate, clove, blueberry, vanilla, caramel, blackberry, strawberry, baking spices, earthy, and floral. While it may sound simple to identify the many complex facets of a wine bouquet, this skill often takes years to develop.

How would you sniff wine for its bouquet?

As mentioned earlier, it is important to never skip right to drinking your wine. Even though it may be tempting, taste alone will not provide an accurate representation of the fullness of a bottle of wine. Whether you are enjoying wine at home or at a formal tasting, there is a specific technique that you can use to experience the bouquet.

  1. First, only pour your wine in a tasting size pour (1oz or less), or up no further than the widest point of the glass.
  2. Next, swirl your wine multiple times to impart oxygen. This step also helps bring out more of the scents in the glass.
  3. Next, stick your nose down into the glass and take a sniff. Think about what you are smelling, and write down your observations.

You should repeat this process until you’ve identified as many aromas as you can. To see how your observations compare with others, check the wine bottle label, or an online profile of the wine to see how the bouquet has been described.

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