Wine Words – An Introduction

The world of wine is full of words that, when used correctly and within the appropriate context, can make you look like a proper wine expert or even a sublime wine snob.

Words like “Aroma”, “Bouquet”, “Palate”, “Nose”, “Finish” would seem self explanatory, but in the world of wine, these terms all have a rather specific meaning. Not having the precise knowledge of these meanings and therefore utilizing them at the wrong time or the incorrect context can make you look like a fool faster than a fine bottle of exuberantly opened Prosecco can expel it’s lovely contents and certainly, you will not get any brownie points from any wine snobs within earshot of your diatribe.

I’m going to introduce you to all of these terms over the next few weeks, so pay attention.

Let us begin with the three simple words “Smell”, “Aroma” and “Bouquet”.

“Smell” is a word that is not often used by wine experts to describe any aspect of a wine. Still, you simply cannot discern the “Aroma” or “Bouquet” of a wine without smelling it; it’s a fundamental fact. Therefore, we learn immediately that “smell”, “aroma” and “bouquet” are intertwined, i.e. these words are related.

“Smell” (*), if used at all in describing a wine and not used as a verb [to smell], is usually associated with the primary (***) smells or aromas of a wine and can often also have a negative connotation [it smells bad] related to a wine fault (**) of some sort. However, when used as a descriptor of a grape variety (varietal), we tend to refer to the “smell” as an “aroma”.

This wine smells of strawberries = This wine has aromas of fresh strawberries (black berries, cassis, fresh cut grass, cat’s pee).

The smell of this wine is that of vinegar (rotten eggs, wet cardboard, mould etc.)

“Aroma” can be applied to any of the three kinds of smells, however, a true wine expert will only apply this term to the first two, possibly even restrict the use of “aroma” to the second kind of “smell”, namely that resulting from the wine making (vinification, production) process but especially that of the fermentation. These smells, also referred to as “secondary” (***) aromas include such descriptors as toast, honey, cream, yeast, nut, biscuit, smoke, cedar, vanilla, oak

“Bouquet” is what a wine develops with ageing, both in barrels as well as in bottles. Young wines usually don’t have a ‘bouquet’, they display “aromas”. To develop a true bouquet, a wine needs to be aged for a few years, a number of which should be spent in barrels. This allows the wine to mature and develop a variety of “tertiary” (***) aromas resulting from such chemical processes as oxidation and polymerization of aromatic compounds. These aromas typically include descriptors such as leather, fur and game etc.

So there you have it!

Next time we’ll talk about complexity, balance and finish.

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* The sense of “smell” is ancient and primal, one of the earliest senses evolved, for locating food, warning of danger, and regulating sexual behavior. Unique among the senses, the scent message passes directly through the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, on its way to conscious identification in the cortex. Reaction to certain smells may be instinctive; identification of those smells requires a certain amount of experience and training.

** Wine fault(s) – any one of a number of thing that can go wrong with a wine, during production or ageing, resulting in a spoiled bottle and some very nasty smells. More on this in a separate article.

*** Wines are known to have 3 different kinds of “smells”:

  • primary smells, those specific to a varietal (grape variety), e.g. strawberry, peach, citrus, grapefruit, herbaceous, fig
  • secondary smells, these related to the wine making process, e.g. toast, honey, cream, yeast, nut, biscuit, smoke, cedar, vanilla, oak
  • tertiary smells, those related to the wine ageing process, e.g. leather, fur, game, chocolate, vanilla, toasted coffee, tar, resin, moss, undergrowth, sandalwood or truffles
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