In life, we are constantly surrounded by flowers and their scents, both directly and indirectly. However, it is very difficult to distinguish one flower from another, blindly, only on the basis of its scent. It's even more difficult to distinguish the scents of specific flowers within a wine's aromatic bouquet.
"What floral note can you smell in this wine?" Here we can apply the first rule of thumb that is often the case with wine bouquets: generally speaking, we can find white and yellow flowers in white wines and red and purple flowers in red wines. But if we want to go further with our olfactory analysis, we need to be able to identify some basic flowers.
First of all, floral scents are due to the presence of chemical molecules well known in perfumery: alpha and beta ionone, phenylethyl alcohol, geraniol, iron, linalool, and many others. Each flower has a characteristic and complex scent generated by a "composition" of several odorous "notes". For example, a simple formula for creating the scent of wisteria is as follows: linalool 10%, phenylethyl alcohol 10%, acetophenone 5%, p-methyl acetophenone 30%, beta ionone 10%, benzyl acetate 10%, vanillin 10%, benzoin 15%. (source: instagram @robertopdario).
In white wines the panorama of the aromas of yellow and white flowers is varied: jasmine, acacia, lime, orange blossom, rose and many others. The molecules responsible for the characteristic perfumes are very diverse, but it is possible to simplify and schematize the scents by putting them in order, from those with more intense honeyed notes (e.g., broom) to those with notes reminiscent of rose (linalool) : broom -> chamomile -> acacia -> linden -> honeysuckle -> magnolia -> orange blossom -> rose. (see L. Moio, “The Breath of Wine”).
In young wines the aromas are reminiscent of the flower that has just blossomed, while in wines subjected to long maturation, we will more easily find aromas of dried or withered flowers.
The rose aroma is a specific and highly recognizable “marker” of some wines obtained from Moscato and Gewürztraminer grapes. The rose is a flower that is widespread in all parts of the world, but which is native to the Mediterranean basin and Asia. As described earlier, the scent of the rose is given by a mixture of aromatic molecules whose composition can change according to the type of rose and its "freshness". The molecules that most contribute to its characteristic scent are linalool, geraniol and phenylethyl alcohol. This flower is a very commonly used descriptor in tastings because it is very marked. It can be found in both red and white wines and is considered one of the most classic examples of primary varietal aroma. It is “varietal” because linalool and geraniol molecules are present in high concentrations in some specific grape varieties: for example in Moscato and Gewürztraminer. It is "primary" because, unlike some varietal aromas that appear after fermentation, this aroma is already well perceptible in the grapes mentioned and in the must. Linalool and geraniol are molecules that develop a lot in grapes exposed to the sun, while they struggle to develop in grapes grown in climates that are too hot. Temperate but sunny cultivation areas are therefore the most suitable for developing the rose aroma. The hint of rose enriches the bouquet of many other grape varieties as well: Riesling, Garganega, Muller Thurgau, Aglianico, Nebbiolo, Nerello Mascalese, Cinsault, Garnacha and many others.
Jasmine, sensual and very fragrant, is a native flower of the Middle East. Its aroma is flowery, fruity, waxy, herbaceous, indolic and animalic. Depending on the species of Jasmine used and its origin, it is possible to have bouquets with different intensities and nuances. Despite the abundance of this flower, its very low yield makes it a precious raw material in perfumery. Suffice it to say that 10,000 flowers, weighing just over a kilogram, are needed to extract only a few grams of essential oil in all. The essence is obtained by solvent extraction from the flowers collected early in the morning: from about 700 kg of flowers, 0.5 kg of absolute is obtained, the name with which the essence in perfumery is identified. The "king of flowers" is harvested and processed from July until the beginning of November. In tasting, Jasmine is used above all to describe the bouquet of some white wines. It can be found as a characteristic note of the bouquet of some Vermentinos, in Riesling, Fiano, Gewürztraminer, Malvasia, and white wines from Catarratto grapes.
The linden tree (lime tree) is in full bloom in early summer. Its blossoms' sweet aroma, which recalls honey, is especially perceptible in the evening. The flowers are vanilla yellow in color, small and very numerous. The olfactory notes of linden blossom are present in many wines, almost exclusively white, especially in the younger and fresher styles. They may be of fermentative origin, but are sometimes linked to characteristic markers of some grape varieties. The linden aroma gives warmth and complexity to the wine. It is found in: Prosecco, Fiano d'Avellino, white Moscato, Moscato Bianco, Arneis, Pinot Bianco, Verdicchio (Jesi and Matelica), Ribolla Gialla and Rhine Riesling.
The floral notes of chamomile are present in many wines, almost exclusively white. They may be of fermentative origin, but are sometimes linked to characteristic markers of certain grape varieties. The chamomile aroma may vaguely recall dry grass or wildflowers, but it has an unmistakable note that gives a unique character to the bouquet. It is easily recognizable by most people because it is associated with the commonly used tea. Chamomile is a delicately sweet aromatic scent, present in wines made from very ripe grapes or from poor and lean soils: Chenin Blanc, Prosecco, Fiano di Avellino, Passerina, Prosecco, Trebbiano d'Abruzzo and Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi.
Also the floral notes of acacia are present in many wines, almost exclusively white. They are mainly due to the autolysis of certain odorous molecules, which occurs above all in sparkling white wines of the classic method, recently disgorged. This scent is found in wines produced with the grapes: Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Garganega, Picolit, Moscato, Chenin Blanc, Aligoté, Fiano d'Avellino, Roero Arneis, Viognier and Albana.
We should also mention the heath flowers, such as broom and heather, with heavier and more powerful aromas. These aromas can be found in grape varieties such as Trebbiano, Chardonnay or Falanghina.
Orange blossom is not a dominant aroma in general, except in the Moscato grape, but it can participate in aromatic complexes by acting as a catalyst to underline a different scent. A note of orange blossom gives the wine's bouquet volume and contributes to the aromas being longer-lasting in the mouth.
Lily and elderflower are also present in the range of very aromatic grape varieties, in particular they can be found in the terpenic grape varieties, such as Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Istrian Malvasia and Moscato.
Honeysuckle, an intensely honied/floral aroma, is found in wines produced from the grapes: Chablis, Greco di Tufo, Gewürztraminer, Alsatian Riesling, Champagne, Chenin blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Late Spring is the best time to smell many varieties of flowers in person and to enrich your collection of olfactory memories. This practice is necessary in order to then be able to recognize the aromatic notes of flowers in wine. Don't miss the opportunity!