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The aromas of grapes

Have you ever wondered from where all the aromas that you can find in your wine glass come from?

Join us for a small journey and let's discover together from where all these amazing aromas come from!

First, imagine yourself in a vineyard. You are walking through its rows and every now and then you pick up some berries, you smell them and then you taste them. If you are lucky enough, you will be surprised by their aromas: intense, full of fruit, sweet, aromatic.

But most of the times, this will not happen. Most of the times you can not perceive anything.

In fact, the majority of grape varieties that are used for the production of our beloved wines, are completely odorless.

So how come do the wines smell so intensively as soon as we bring our noses close to our wine glasses?

Let's pour ourselves a glass of wine and discover the fascinating world of aromas!

Image from Google

The majority of wines produced in the world are somehow aromatic due to what is called alcoholic fermentation. This is the basic process which transforms grapes into wine and it's a quite complex biochemical process which we shall not investigate deeper for now.

Independently from this alcoholic fermentation, we can basically say that there are 2 types of grape varieties in the world: aromatic and non aromatic.

The aromatic varieties, such as Moscato and Gewürztraminer are rich in chemical compounds, we call them volatile compounds, which are able to be diffused freely in the air. When these compounds reach our noses, they generate aromas which are very clear and easy to be recognized and the most curious aspect of these compounds is that they are passed from the grapes through the must until the final wines, in a way that we can perceive the variety by the smell of the wine.

Non aromatic varieties on the other hand, are a little bit more tricky. If you happen to be in a vineyard of Sauvignon Blanc for example, try the following experiment: take a ripe grape bunch, smell it and then bite one of its berries. Take your time and chew it for a long time. Try to find its taste. You will be surprised by what happens. First, the berry of Sauvignon Blanc is completely odourless and tasteless, but then after chewing its berries for some time, you will start to recognize some very clear aromas. This amazing experiment shows that some varieties have their aromas in a silent way, which after some type of treatment, become free and aromatic.

If you are a bit confused, see what happens in the image below.

Image by Luigi Moio ("Il Respiro del Vino")

In non aromatic varieties, like the Sauvignon Blanc, aromas (represented by a balloon in the image) are tight (A) and can't be recognized by us. Here, they form what we generally call as an “aroma precursor” - an odourless form of an aroma, which becomes odorous when the rope is cut (B). Now the balloon can be released and we can smell it (C).

But how can this rope be cut? Well, the alcoholic fermentation does it for us!

Now you might be wondering: “What about all these specific aromas that I can smell when I'm tasting a wine? Sometimes I smell something which reminds me of lemons or orange peel. From where do these specific aromas come from? Has someone put lemons during this alcoholic fermentation in the wine?”. Obviously no.

The lemon-like aroma that you smell in your wine is represented by a chemical molecule which, after coming in contact with your nose, starts a series of reactions which are led to your brain. Here, this chemical molecule is then associated to the smell of lemons. The process that takes to the production of this specific chemical molecule is extensive, and depends on many factors such as grape variety, harvest date and obviously, fermentation protocols. The important thing to remember is that all these aromas that we can smell in our wines have a background and are generated from somewhere. Even the stinky aromas that we might unfortunately smell some time and which we will analyse later on, come from somewhere or have been produced for some reason.

Finally, how can we distinguish by smelling a wine, if it has been made with aromatic grapes or non aromatic ones? Generally, very aromatic wines with very specific aromas, do come from aromatic grapes, and wines which are not very aromatic, do come from non aromatic grapes.

Now that you know a bit more about the origin of the aromas, take any wine you have at home, prepare yourself a nice meal and try to understand if the grapes used are aromatic or not! Maybe you could place a bet with whoever is next to you! Remember though, always drink wine in moderation, especially during these times that we are at home!

In the case you want to learn more about this subject, don't hesitate and comment our post. We would be happy to discuss this and many other topics with you!

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