Wine descriptions often refer to floral notes or a floral bouquet and with spring in the air and the beautiful blossoms and early blooms everywhere, I thought it might be interesting to look at where these floral descriptors for wine come from. Does the wine really smell like flowers? And if it does, is it because of the variety, the terroir or the viniculture?
Some of our Sauvignon Blanc vineyards grow in-between fynbos, the indigenous shrubby vegetation, and the distinct herbiness of these plants are definitely reflected in the wine.
“As the grapes grow in a vineyard surrounded by plants such as wild herbs, flowers and grasses, the bees fly around the vineyard distributing pollen, and as the grapes ripen they absorb the subtle flavour characteristics from these plants.” (vinepair.com)
So nearby vegetation might have an influence but there has to be more to it.
We also know that terroir influences flavours. Sweeter flavours in grapes from warmer areas, greener notes in the cool climate grapes.
But some varieties have an intrinsic floral quality. Think of Viognier, Gewürztraminer – so aromatic!
But sometimes we also pick up rose petals in Pinot Noir, violet in Petit Verdot…
Other than terroir and varietal character, the main reason for floral flavours in wine lies in the wine-making process: skin contact and fermentation.
Enzymes aid skin contact extraction – especially in red grapes. “Enzymes are a natural and fundamental element of the winemaking process. Nowadays, they are also a commercial product found in many wineries, another utility in a winemaker’s toolkit. They have the potential to make more extracted and more aromatic wines and to accelerate the winemaking process.” (Read more)
For white grapes, the majority of flavour components are in the pulp and most of the flavour will be released during fermentation. (Read more) During fermentation the precursor flavours in the grapes are released in chemical compounds, such as esters (white fruit and floral flavours), terpenes (oily notes) and thiols (tropical flavours such as granadilla and guava). (Read more here and here)
So while the floral aromas in wine are not all romantic, they can still be very alluring and what better time than Spring to do some wine tasting research yourself!
A complex flower aroma in wine, rose can be found in a variety of red and white wines. Examples: Gewürztraminer, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo. cis-rose oxide, β-damascenone, geraniol, nerol
Considered a fault when present in high amounts because the chemical compound geraniol doesn’t occur naturally in grape must (mashed grapes before fermentation). Examples: Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Torrontes, Malbec, Petit Verdot
A perfumed smell that is very complex and desirable in white wines. Examples: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay. nerol, linalool, citronelle
A subtle flowery smell that accompanies fruit flavours in white wines. Examples: Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Torrontes, Pinot Blanc, Muscadet, Semillon, Fiano. α-terpineol, anisic acid, phenethyl alcohol
A flower aroma found in mostly red wines, similar to rose. Examples: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese. cis-rose oxide, linalool, nerol, geraniol
The floral aroma found in fine red wines. Examples: Merlot, Mourvedre, Touriga Nacional, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon. α-ionone