Ep 409: Wine Aromas Explained

Photo: Pixabay

Note: I recorded this right before I got sick so I sound a little 'throaty' but I hope you'll enjoy the show nonetheless!

For the first show of 2022, we start out with a dorky one and answer the question:

Where does aroma come from and are the things people describe in wine like roses, smoke, and pepper real or total BS?


We take the questions head on and give some answers that may surprise you! Enjoy and thanks for your continued support of the show and all we do!


Here are the show notes: 

We start with the basic, defining aroma, as I do in the Wine for Normal People book: The smells unique to the grape variety, demonstrated in a varietal wine in its youth.


We discuss perception, wine tasting, and then I review some very cool findings from this article, “Aroma Compounds in Wine” By Fengmei Zhu, Bin Du and Jun Li, Published: October 19th 2016


"File:Head Olfactory Nerve Labeled.png" by Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator is licensed under CC BY 2.5

At a high level we talk about aromas from the grape, from yeast and enzymes, from amino acids, and those from malolactic fermentation. We talk about the effects of weather and soil briefly as well.


Then we go through the laundry list of compounds in wine, and what each brings to the aroma, bouquet, and flavor:


Terpenes: In grape skins also in fruits, flowers, leaves of some plants. Big component of aromatic whites – Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Riesling. Includes:

  • Linalool: When in contact with other things in the wine, makes lavender, orange blossom, lily, bay leaf notes
  • Geraniol: Rose petal smell
  • Nerol and citronellol:Floral, citrus notes, also in flowers and fruit
  • Limonene and citral: Found in citrus peel
  • Hotrienol: Elderflower, gooseberry
  • 1,8-cineole and alpha-pinene:Eucalyptus, garrigue (airborne and can cling to the skin of grapes)


Rotundone: In skins, aroma of peppercorns, particularly white pepper

Photo: Pixabay


  • Hexanal and hexenal: Fresh cut grass, tomato leaf
  • Vanillin:Vanilla beans, vanilla
  • Benzaldehyde:Bitter almond or marzipan in Italian white wines
  • Furfural: Dried wood, caramel, oak



Pyrazines/ Methoxypyrazines: 

  • Green bell pepper, herbaceous notes


Esters: Created by reactions between alcohols and acids

  • Primary fruit aromas like apple, orange, citrus, banana, pear


Photo: Pixabay

Ketones and diketones:

  • Beta-ionone: Violets, dark flowers
  • Diacetyl: Butter, creaminess in wine - byproduct of malolactic fermentation. When combined with new American oak with its vanilla- nut notes - like buttered popcorn



Thiols/Mercaptans: Volatile sulfur compounds in grapes, released by fermentation (when bad – like garlic or onion!)

  • 3MH (3-mercaptohexan-1-ol):Passion fruit
  • 3MHA (3-mercaptohexyl acetate):Guava and gooseberry
  • 4MMP (4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one): Blackcurrant (Cab)



  • Sotolon:Sauternes, Madeira  -- either Botrytis or age has an effect here - spice, nuts, maple syrup
  • Octalactone:  Coconut notes


Phenols are derived from oak aging: 

  • Guaiacol: Smoke, roasted, toasty notes
  • Eugenol: Clove


Other common wine aroma compounds

  • TDN (1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene): Petrol or kerosene in Riesling
  • Noriosoprenoids: Spice, raspberry, rose, vanilla

Photo: Pixabay


What's the point of this show? Forget all the technical terms and just know: what you are tasting and smelling is based on something REAL -- not some nonsense made up by wine snobs. There is a legitimate reason for why wine smells the way it does! 



If you think our podcast is worth the price of a bottle or two of wine a year, please become a member of Patreon... you'll get even more great content, live interactions and classes! 




To register for an AWESOME, LIVE WFNP class with Elizabeth go to: www.winefornormalpeople.com/classes




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