The bouquet of a wine is one of the most fascinating and complex things to describe. But what satisfaction when we can recognize a wine or a varietal blindly! Especially if we are novice tasters and we don't have hundreds (or thousands) of tasting evenings behind us.
In reality, recognizing a wine or a varietal during a blind tasting is not at all easy even for the most expert tasters since the bouquet is the result of many variables (e.g. grape variety, terrior, winemaking, aging, etc.).
However, some varietals come to our aid because they present recognizable characteristic aromas in a wine which distinguish the bouquet. These aromas are often primary, therefore present immediately, even before fermentation, but not always: in some cases they emerge after fermentation (e.g. the cat pee aroma in Sauvignon Blanc) or after barrel-aging (e.g. the flint aroma in Riesling).
Varietals with a strong characteristic aroma are therefore easier to recognize even in blind tastings. One of the most fascinating cases is that of the "cat pee" aroma of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal. Cat pee (or rather the smell of black currant sprouts) is an immediately recognizable smell, unpleasant for sure if smelled alone, but which gives personality to the bouquet of the wine and makes the French and Italian Sauvignon Blanc immediately recognizable to the nose. Why the French and Italian varieties? The Sauvignon wines from the warmer climates of the New World (California, South Africa, Australia, ...) are also rich in aromas of ripe fruit that often cover the "cat pee" smell, making the wine varietal less recognizable.
Another aroma that has always intrigued is that of green pepper. At first it seems strange to associate it with the bouquet of a good wine, but it is an important characteristic of the bouquet of such appreciated red wine varietals as Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux which have this marked hint of green pepper (reminiscent of green, herbaceous notes) that enriches the the overall perfume and makes the wine recognizable. In this case the aroma tends to decrease with the aging and refinement of the wine.
But be careful: in many cases the same aromas always present in a specific grape variety can be present to varying degrees also in other grape varieties as well. This is the case, for example, of the violet aroma generated by the alpha and beta ionone molecules. These molecules are present in high concentrations in Nebbiolo grapes, but are found in lower concentrations in many different red varietals.
Varietal aromas are the easiest and most fun way to approach wine tasting. They are often immediately recognizable, making tasting more satisfying.
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