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Wiens on Wine - Understanding Aromas and Flavours in Wine

Posted on May 8, 2023

This post originally appeared in our Wine Line email newsletter. Stan was kind enough to let us post it on our blog as well. Thanks, Stan!

Learn alongside Stan as he completes WSET Level 4.

Days to Final Exam: 391

This week’s focus: Understanding Aromas and Flavours in Wine

It can be confusing trying to understand where the aromas in your wine come from. It’s made from grapes, so how come people talk about the aromas of cherry, plum, blackberry, cinnamon, chocolate, smoke, clove, flowers, dried herbs and on and on? Think of it like a great Jazz Trio - great music yet three great and distinctly different musicians!

Wine has aromas and flavours that come from the grape itself (Primary), from the process of how the wine was made (Secondary) and from the maturing process of time after the wine is in the bottle (Tertiary). Almost all wines have primary aromas. Good wines have at least two of the three categories. Outstanding wines often have all three in symphonic harmony (primary, secondary and tertiary). Let’s look at each area:


These are the main aromas and flavours that come from the grape itself. Grape skins and pulp contain compounds (and precursors) which release during the fermentation process. For example, Sauvignon Blanc contains a compound that can give off grassy aromas (Thiols). Syrah is often associated with a peppery taste (Rotundune). Other compounds are more fruity, which can change depending on the ripeness of the grapes at harvest. This is where the cherry, plum, blackberry, floral and herbal aromas originate. Thanks to the presence of so many compounds, we experience an array of sensations.


These give a wine more depth, complexity and enjoyment and come from the fermentation process before maturing or bottling. Three key sources of these unique flavours are yeast; a process known as malolactic conversion; and bottle maturing the wine in oak barrels.

Yeast - as the wine ferments and spends time on the dead (and dying) yeast, compounds are released into the wine that can give your wine hints of toasted bread, pastry, dough, cheese and sometimes a nutty flavour.

Malolactic Conversion – is a fancy term for a process that alters harsh Lactic acid into a smoother Malo acid. This process, which can be blocked or encouraged by the winemaker's choice, brings buttery aromas and flavours (think Chardonnay). This softening process imparts hints of butter, cream and cheese.

Oak - as wine ferments (or matures) in an oak barrel, the wood imparts many flavours, giving your wine hints of vanilla, cloves, coconut, cedar, charred wood, chocolate or coffee. Yum.


These refer to the complex characteristics that develop during the aging process of wine in the bottle. With time, these can include earthy and savoury notes, such as leather, tobacco, and mushroom, as well as more delicate aromas like dried fruit, nuttiness, and spice. Tertiary aromas and flavours are the result of the interaction between the wine and oxygen over time and are typically found in more mature wines that have been aged for several years or even decades. They add depth and complexity to the wine and can provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of the vintage and the winemaking process.

Stan Wiens can be found working at our shop sporadically in between lengthy bouts of drinking wine ("studying") in order to complete Level 4 of the WSET program.

You can also find Stan on Instagram: @wiensonwine

This entry was posted in Wine



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