Wine Tasting Chart To Identify Familiar Aromas And Flavors In Wine
The wine taste chart presented here is a useful tool for your memory to identify aromas and flavours that are not always apparent at first sip of a glass of wine. These are almost always everyday aromas that we all know well, but cannot put a name to when tasting a wine, simply because we have thousands of them stored in our minds and it's not easy to instantly recognize them.
Have you ever experienced that a something familiar instantly leaped out of the glass as you lifted it to your nose? It was hauntingly familiar, yet you couldn't for the life of you tell what it was. This wine taste chart is useful in two ways.
Firstly, if you already have an idea of what sort of wine you would want to purchase in terms of aromas and flavours, if you know the category of flowers, fruits, spices, etc. that you prefer in a wine, you can easily look up the appropriate section in the list where you can find wine recommendations for your preference. Let's say you want a wine with a pithy apricot character, you look up apricot and see that what you're looking for is actually something out of the Loire Valley or maybe a German wine.
Secondly, if you have already purchased the wine just take the glass in one hand, swirl the wine, and take a sniff. If it is a flavour you are looking for, take a sip, and methodically run a finger down through the list of entries to find the flavour that jogs your memory.
Naturally, no wines actually contain fruits other than grapes, but interestingly enough it is quite reasonable to use the aromas and flavours of fruits, flowers, vegetables, herbs, spices etc. to describe a wine. The average Joe might rightly say it sounds fanciful to him to call a wine buttery, but actually diacetyl, an artificial flavouring used to make margarine smell and taste buttery, is produced in a natural way in wine as a by-product of the malolactic process. In full knowledge of this, Joe might change his mind and accept that his wine tastes rather buttery. There are, of course, a lot of other chemical compounds that wines contain in varying amounts creating a vast array of peculiar aromas or flavours.
To fully appreciate a wine, it is best, however, not to get carried away in the search for complex aromas and flavours. What makes a wine tasking experience far more enjoyable is if you concentrate on just one or two descriptors of the wine rather than recording a fruit cocktail of aromas and flavours. Elaborate descriptions of wine giving the impression of vile, complicated concoctions are no good, because they get lost in the details and take away the fun. And the fun is what we are after.
Floral aromas in wine
Floral aromas are mainly found in young white wines. They may be the major aromatic thrust of a modest wine or merely a component of finesse in a complex wine. Violet is the most significant floral aroma in red wine.
The flowery autolytic aroma on a recently disgorged sparkling wine, but it can also be found in other white wines (paratolylmethyl ketone).
In wines made from aromatic grape varieties, elderflower is good only if it is a clean and fresh aroma, and the fruit is ripe. With grapes unacceptably unripe grapes, this floral anomaly is horrible to taste.
A sweet wine fault (2-ethoxyhexa-3, 5-diene), but can also be the sign of a too old Asti (geraniol degradation). Always distinctive (glycyrrhizin or hexanedienol).
Commonly found with lime on Australian wines, Riesling, Muscat, or sparkling wines in particular. Occasionally found in German Riesling and even Vinho Verde.
Rose petals are be found in lots of wines, delicate Muscats and understated Gewürztraminers in particular (damascanone, diacetyl, geraniol, irone, nerol, or phenylethylic acid).
Often found as part of the finesse on the finish of Cabernet-based red wines, such as Bordeaux, especially from Graves. Possibly more tactile-based than a volatile aroma.
Fruity flavours and aromas in wine
Fruitiness suggests riper grapes and more bottle-age than floral aromas, which themselves often evolve into fruity characters. Fruitiness is enhanced by sweetness and acidity.
Gooseberry is classic in a truly ripe, yet wonderfully fresh, crisp, and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, it is most common in whites from New Zealand, especially the Marlborough region.
likely to have gooseberry flavors
Tomato, which is not a vegetable, but actually a fruit, is not very common in wines. It is sometomes found in bottle-aged Sylvaner and, with blood-orange, in Ruby Cabernet.
may have tomato flavors
Found in very ripe Chardonnay, Sémillon and Chenin Blanc, especially in the New World, and almost any botrytized wine. It signifies good acidity for the ripeness (ethyl caprylate).
likely to have pineapple flavors
Apple is a white-wine aroma that ranges from green apple (malic acid) in under-ripe wines to soft, red apple flavours in riper wines.
A pithy apricot character is less ripe and more bottle-aged than peachiness, which is a finer, juicier, more succulent fruitiness. Apricot is often found in Loire or German whites (4-decanolide).
Banana is found in cool-fermented white wines and red wines made by carbonic maceration (amyl acetate or isoamyl acetate, also known as “banana oil” and “pear oil”, which can lead to a nail-varnish aroma).
Common in classic Cabernet, blackcurrant is also found in grapes such as Syrah, in particul when bottle-aged (ethyl acetate, ethyl formate, various acids and esters).
Tart, red cherries are common in cool-climate Pinot Noir, while black cherries are classic in great Cabernet or Syrah (cyanhydrin benzaldehyde).
The aroma of sultanas or currants can be found in Italian Recioto or Amarone wines, while raisins is usually found in fortified Muscat.
Aromas similar to those of a fig are usually a characteristic of potential complexity in a youthful Chardonnay and can also be found in combination with apple or melon aromas.
Grapey wines, like young German Gewürztraminer, Muscat or Muscat-like wines, are quite rare and most likely cheap. (ethyl caprylate, ethyl heptanoate, and ethyl perargonate).
Grapefruit can be found in the Jurançon Sec and Alsace Gewürztraminer, German or English Scheurebe and Huxelrebe, and Swiss Arvine wines (a combination of terpenes, such as linalool or citronellal).
Plenty of young whites have simple, almost mild lemony fruit or acidity (limonene or citronellal).
Found in good-quality Australian Sémillon and Riesling, lime is a truly distinctive aroma and flavour. In Riesling it often turns into lavender in the bottle (limonene, citronellal, or linalool).
Tinned lychee is commonly found in whites from off-vintages, but fresh lychee is not widely encountered. This latter is classic in Gewürztraminer.
Melon is common in young, cool-fermented, New World Chardonnay, it is often found in combination with apple or fig (limonene, citronellal, or linalool).
Sometimes found in some fortified wines and Ruby Cabernet (limonene, citronellal, or linalool). For wine tasters, good blind-tasting tip is that orange can be found in Muscat, but not in Gewürztraminer.
True Viognier, ripe Riesling and Muscat, very ripe Sauvignon Blanc, Sézannais Champagne, New World Chardonnay, and botrytized wines are all peachy flavours (piperonal or undecalactone).
Found in cool-fermented white wines and red wines made by carbonic maceration (amyl acetate or isoamyl acetate, also known as “banana oil” or “pear oil”, in excess, can lead to a nail-varnish aroma).
Raspberry can be found in Grenache, Loire Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. It will evolve into blackcurrant in bottle. (ethyl acetate, ethyl formate, various acids and esters).
Succulent strawberry fruit is often found in classic Pinot Noir from a warm climate or top vintage. Also found in Loire Cabernet (ethyl acetate, ethyl formate, various acids and esters).
Vegetative, Herbaceous aromas in wine
In smaller doses vegetative and herbaceous anomalies can enhance a wine’s complexity, but by themselves few are pleasant; most are, in truth, considered faults.
An excessively extreme form of farmyardiness,
considered to be characteristic of great Pinot Noir by some, but not
many winemakers and wine lovers.
sign of Pinot Meunier in a fine old Champagne, mushroom aroma, if
beautifully clean, is believed to be a great enhancing quality. Yet, if
the aroma is musty, it is a contamination fault in infected staves or a
Onion or garlic
The reaction of ethyl
alcohol with hydrogen sulphide creates this serious wine fault to form a
foul-smelling compound such as one created by the presence of
Found in most Sauvignon
Blancs from too ripe grapes or ones that had been kept in bottle too
long. Only crazy people like this. It may also be a consequence of
undesireable developments out of an asparagus aroma (isobutyl or
In a wide range of reds, potato peelings is more earthy and less fruity than beetroot. It most likely a sign of infected staves or corkiness (geosmin).
Asparagus is usually found in Sauvignon Blanc from very ripe grapes or ones that had been kept in bottle too long. Most people can't stand this style, but some adore it. It can evolve into canned peas aroma (isobutyl or segbutyl).
This fruity-vegetal earthiness is sometimes experienced in reds, notably Pinot Noir, grown in less suitable areas or aged in bottle for too long to create an aftificially enhanced taste, or also in Cabernet Franc (geosmin).
Bell pepper or capsicum
This may be encountered in a grassy-herbaceous-like Sauvignon, a Loire Cabernet Franc, or a Cabernet Sauvignon from high-vigour vines. In New Zealand, winemakers are all too familiar with this as a possible ruiner of the wine (isobutyl or segbutyl).
Cabbage or cauliflower
Cabbage or cauliflower is common in Chardonnay wine or one from the Pinot family. According to some winemakers, mature unfiltered Burgundy should possess this aroma, or even one that is farmyardy or evocative of manure (methylmercaptan).
Deliberately early-picked Sauvignon Blanc or Sémillon grapes can produce this aroma fresh, light, and pleasant, but it can be positively too aggressive, which make a wine unpleasant to drink (methoxy-pyrazine or hexanedienol).
Found in sparkling wines that underwent a slight oxidation prior to their second fermentation. Hay appears as a sort of dull, flat, or oxidized grassiness in wine. (linalool oxides).
Spicey, herbal, resinous aromas in wine
These aromas are usually a natural part of the varietal character of a grape or a component of the wine’s complexity. Dryness brings them out, and sweetness takes them away.
Liquorice may be part of the complexity of reds, whites, and fortified wines of great concentration, especially ones made from late-harvested or sun-dried grapes (geraniol or glycyrrhizin).
Redolent in full-bodied New World reds, Californian Cabernet (especially Napa) in particular, Coonawarra Shiraz. Also found in Bordeaux on occasion.
Plenty of young red wines possess a basic peppery aroma, with Syrah evoking the distinctive fragrance of crushed black peppercorns, while top-quality Grüner Veltliner riminecsent of ground white pepper.
Many wines boast a ting of spiciness, making them more exotic than peppery wines. After a few years of bottle-age, the spiciness of Gewürztraminer is likely to burn the palate though.
A tarry aroma in some full-bodied red wines, notably Barolo and northern Rhône, is likely to signify a wine not racked, fined, or filtered.
Cinnamon is part of the aged complexity of fine reds, for instance Rhône. It is found in oak-aged whites too, especially ones made from botrytized grapes (cinnamic aldehyde).
Clove is characteristic of wines matured or aged in new oak barriques, gaining this aroma during the process of being toasted. Moreover, clove is usually found in Gewürztraminer from certain terroirs, such as Soultzmatt and Bergbieten in Alsace (eugenol or eugenic acid).
Primarily associated with Sauvignon Blanc, currant leaf may be present in any wine made from under-ripe grapes or grapes from high-vigour vines. Sometimes, green and mean on the finish.
Eucalyptus is experienced in Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wines, and is thought to originate from leaves falling off eucalyptus trees into grape-pickers’ baskets.
In mature, highest-quality Gewürztraminer, when the natural spiciness of this variety is mellowed by bottle-age.
More aromas and flavours in wine
Including creamy, roasted, oaky, smoky, nutty, biscuity, baked, and woody features, these aromas are always produced by the wine’s ageing. There are some aromas and flavours that defy classification.
Fine whites become honeyed with age, particularly great Burgundy, classic German Riesling, and botrytized wines (phenylethylic acid).
Reds can become jammy, but Grenache has a particular tendency towards raspberry jam, while Pinot Noir has a distinct tendency to evoke strawberry jam. Not typical of a really fine wine, but common in a wine that is upfront and lip-smacking.
A complex element of many high-quality wines, however, the sweaty-saddle aroma of old-fashioned Hunter Valley Shiraz is a methylmercaptan fault.
An almondy-coconutty taste of macaroons is common in a great old Champagne, similar to a coconutty taste, but a bit sweeter and more complex (undecalactone or capric acid).
This pungent, peardrop aroma is produced by intensive carbonic maceration. Usually found on the worst Beaujolais Nouveau (amyl acetate or isoamyl acetate, known as banana oil or pear oil).
Ranging from generic nuttiness, as in mature Burgundy, and walnuts or hazelnuts, as in Champagne blanc de blancs, to almondy fruit, as in young Italian reds (acetoin, diacetyl, or undecalactone).
Kerosene or petrol
The classic petrolly aroma of mature Riesling has nothing in common with the smell of real petrol. For those, however, who enjoy the honeyed richness of a great Riesling, petrolly is the most evocative word in the wine-tasting dictionary (various terpenes).
The lactic smell of a wine that had undergone excessive malolactic. It is much less acceptable in wine than the totally unacceptable sour milk or sour cream aromas (diacetyl or lactic acid).
An indication of excessive acetaldehyde. It turns a wine into vinegar, but not sherry or other fortified wine, as these will be protected by their high alcohol content.
Might be varietal, as in Syrah, but might also be induced by stirring less during barrel fermentation, meaning the wine has not been racked, fined, or filtered.
Sour milk, sour cream
The lactic smell of a wine that underwent excessive malolactic. Likely to develop into an even more pronounced sauerkraut aroma over time (diacetyl or lactic acid).
Associated with Chardonnay and mature Champagne, blanc de blancs in particular. It may also be found in many other wines. Toastiness is a slow-developing bottle-aroma or an instant gift of new oak (furanic aldehydes). According to research chemists the toastiness in Chardonnay wines is technically a fixed-sulphur fault enjoyed by many wine lovers.
Vanillin, a substance that gives vanilla pods their aroma, found in oak, is often responsible for a vanilla taste in wine(also lactones or capric acid).
Fine-quality, well-matured Champagnes have this. Biscuitiness is the post-disgorgement bottle-aroma tipicly in Pinot Noir, although pure Chardonnay Champagnes may also develop a creamy-biscuitiness (acetal, acetoin, diacetyl, benzoic aldehyde, and undecalactone).
As the flowery acacia aromas take on more substance and creaminess the wine evolves into the second stage of autolysis and develops a bready aroma. (diacetyl, undecalactone, or paratolylmethyl ketone).
Produced by carbonic maceration in cool-fermented white wines and red wines (amyl acetate or isoamyl acetate, known as banana oil or pear oil that can lead to a nail-varnish aroma).
Produced by free sulphur, a clean, choking whiff that is not a fault in a young or recently bottled wine. It can be easily disposed of by swirling the wine in the glass (sulphur dioxide).
A serious wine fault brought about by the reaction of ethyl alcohol with hydrogen sulphide producing a foul-smelling compound called ethylmercaptan.
Commonly found in Chardonnay, caused by diacetyl, an artificial flavouring used by the food industry. Also produced in a natural way during the malolactic process. Inappropriate for classic sparkling wine, so champenois use special low-diacetyl-forming bacteria.
Produced during the aging of overripe, exotically fruity whites in well-toasted new oak barriques. Commonly found in New World wines (cyclotene, diacetyl, maltol, or undecalactone).
Either a mid-palate flavor in young wines aged in new barriques or an aftertaste achieved through excessive ageing in used barrels as in tawny port (cyclotene or maltol).
An accurate descriptor for Sémillon wines, more so than lanolin, as lanolin is without smell, even if it has a connotation of one (aprylate, caproate, or ethyl capryate).
Produced by storing glasses in a cardboard box. May also be caused by heavy-handed filtration or by maturing a wine for too long in old wood.
Wine can sometimes possess a clean cheese aroma (Emmental or blue-veined most common), however, a strong cheesy smell is always the result of a bacterial infection (ethyl butryrate or S-ethythioacetate).
Typical of young-ish Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir with rich and soft high alcohol content and low acidity level. It can also be part of the complexity of mature wines.
Characteristic of a great old Champagne, more than 20 or 50-year-old. Coffee also tends to be found on the finish of inexpensive reds made with American oak chips.
Another characteristic found in great old Champagne. Coconutty aromas are also produced by various wood lactones most commonly found in American oak.
Earthiness on the palate is sometimes incorrectly attributed to the terroir, but this actually is an undesirable taste(geosmin).
Sulphur added to wine to prevent oxidation usually fixes itself to oxygen present in the wine but, if it fixes with hydrogen, it creates hydrogen sulphide making the wine smell of hard-boiled or rotten eggs.
Flinty or wet pebbles
Subjective connotation for the finest Sauvignon Blanc. Hard to comprehend.
Describes the very distinctive, cloyingly sweet, and perfumed character of certain indigenous American grape varieties (methyl anthranilate or ethyl anthranilate).
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