Flower aromas of red wine

Last week we looked at flower aromas in white wines and now we're going to look at flower aromas in red wines. As previously stated, when trying to decipher what floral aromas you sense in a wine's bouquet you can use a first rule of thumb which seems to apply in many cases: generally speaking, you can find white and yellow flowers in white wines and red and purple flowers in red wines. But if you want to go further with your olfactory analysis, you need to be able to identify some basic flowers.

Red wines always surprise us with the breadth of their bouquet and the intensity of their aromas. Unlike white wines, which have a bouquet often characterized by hints of citrus, white and tropical fruit, red wines immediately strike the nose with hints of red or black berry fruit. However, the olfactory categories of aromas present in these wines are numerous: aromas of berries, vegetal, balsamic, woody, earthy, spicy, animalic and floral.

The flower aromas category in red wines is varied. In most cases, we can detect notes of violet and rose, and to a lesser extent lavender, iris, hyacinth and lilac. Flower notes are usually delicate in nature, but give an unmistakable character to the wine's bouquet. They are aromas due to fermentation, but become more evident with the wine's passing of the years in the bottle.

The characteristic scent of violet is given by the alpha and beta ionone aromatic molecules: found in many red wines with concentrations far above the threshold of human perception. It is therefore a fundamental component of the bouquets of many red wines, even if it is sometimes difficult to recognize among other aromas. The rose scent, on the other hand, is reproduced by molecules such as geraniol, phenylethyl alcohol, linalool.

If we "schematize" the aromas of flower aromas in red wine, and therefore simplify their recognition, we can say that we go from flowers with the highest beta ionone content (violet) to flowers with a higher linalool content (rose and lavender) The  sequence would be: violet -> iris -> hyacinth -> lilac -> rose -> lavender. (see L. Moio, “The Breath of Wine”).

Rose is an aroma very well known and loved by most, but which few can blindly recognize. It is confused with other flowers and for this reason it is helpful to smell it near the violet aroma or those of other flowers. 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, as we have said, are linalool, geraniol and phenylethyl alcohol. The note of rose therefore, in addition to being a specific and highly recognizable "marker" of some wines obtained from white grapes such as Moscato and Gewürztraminer, delicately enriches the bouquet of many other wines. Among the red wines that best express this scent are Barolo (Nebbiolo grape), Merlot, Valpolicella (Corvina grape and others) and Aglianico.

"Small, delicate, colorful and fragrant, violet was, together with rose and jasmine, among the first floral essences to be studied by chemists. At the end of the 19th century, the natural essence, called absolute, was much appreciated by women. However, it had a very low yield and was therefore very expensive for it was necessary for the chemists to understand the secret of its smell. The chemists Haarmann & Reimer managed to identify the molecule responsible for the violet aroma, but despite their efforts, the compounds they synthesized were not odorous enough. One day, the glassware used by the researchers was collected by a laboratory technician who washed them using a diluted sulfuric acid: suddenly throughout the laboratory there was a powerful smell of violet: the researchers had identified the Ionones. 

These ionones are 3 isomeric molecules, alpha, beta and gamma ionone (based on the position of the double bond in the aromatic ring): the alpha ionone is intensely floral, powerful and direct, the beta ionone is the closest to the delicate smell of violet; the gamma isomer tends to have more amber and woody shades. The first perfume to use ionones was Vera Violetta (1894) by Roger & Gallet: they are also found in Chanel 19 and Nina Ricci's Air du Temps, S. Lutens' Iris Silver Mist and Malle's Iris Poudrè. " (Roberto Dario, Perfumer).

Aside from being an essential component of many fragrances, violet is a scent that characterizes the bouquets of many wines. In fact, ionones are present in all red wines and are easily perceptible as they have a low olfactory threshold. The list of wines that present this scent is therefore very long, but we can mention some Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco, as well as some wines made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese grapes.

Not everyone knows that the precious scent of iris does not come from the petals of its flower but from the rhizome, that is, from the collection of the precious tubers. In Italy, on the outskirts of Florence (between San Polo in Chianti and Poggio alla Croce), irises have been cultivated for over a century,  with vineyards and olive groves. It is precisely in the month of May that you can witness the wonderful flowering of the irises, imagining that you are inside the famous Van Gogh painting and immersing yourself in the delicate scent of this light and elegant flower, yet so articulated and complex. This beautiful flower has not only a decorative function, but has been used in pharmacology and cosmetics since ancient times. Its dried rhizome boasts expectorant, diuretic, healing properties, has a very strong whitening power (it is still used today in toothpastes) and is an excellent fixative. The rhizomes of iris contain molecules called "irons" which possess an intense and penetrating odor. The processing period requires a very long time (from about two to three years) to allow the formation of the irons and maximize the olfactory performance; afterwards, its distillation process begins. With 1,000 kilos of fresh rhizome you get 250 kilos of dried product ("butter") and from here you will get only 2 liters of essential oil. This explains why iris is considered one of the noble substances on the olfactory palette and its cost is very high. The iris aroma, in very delicate form, can be found above all in wines made from Sangiovese grapes, in some Sicilian wines or in some crus of French Beaujolais.

The lavender aroma is found in Tempranillo, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedrè wines as well as in the whites Kerner, Muller Thurgau, Silvaner. The notes of lavender are also associated with the varietal aromas present in some aromatic grape varieties, such as Riesling and Moscati. They are more evident in sparkling or semi-sparkling wines, such as Asti spumante, but also in the Portuguese green Vinho.

Another floral note present in red wines is the lilac flower. This aroma is detected in the wine produced from Petit Verdot grapes.

Being able to recognize aromas makes tasting more pleasant and allows you to choose your wine with more awareness. By training yourself to recognize aromas blindly, it will be easier to identify them, in their more subtle form, in the wines you taste. Try TasterPlace aromas collections!

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