Wood scents: sophisticated, complex and warm

Wood has always been present in human life as it was one of the very first building materials used to construct utensils and various types of structures. Various types of wood with odorous properties were used in religious ceremonies, as a basis in the preparation of incense, and also for sculpting statues dedicated to the gods. The scents of wood have often been associated with magical properties or with having a strong impact on the mind. For example, Cedar, a millennial tree, symbol of longevity and power, is the basis of an essential oil with a characteristic perfume with antidepressant properties. An incense fragrance created from Sandalwood, originally from India, is used to facilitate relaxation and meditation. Patchouli, a small shrub originally from Asia, became famous due to the Hippie movements of the 1960s and 1970s for its alleged narcotic and aphrodisiac properties.

A wood's scent is due to the essential oils and resins generated during the growth of the tree: produced naturally, these substances impregnate the woody fibers making them fragrant. The main technique for obtaining wood essences is steam distillation: the wood reduced to sawdust is mixed with water and, after a short maceration period, the mixture is heated and brought to a boil. The essence-rich steam is then cooled and collected where the lighter essential oil is separated and then bottled.

Wood essences are widely used in perfumery, so much so that one of the 7 recognized classes of perfumes is wood. The most important and well-known wood essences used are those of Sandalwood, Patchouli, Vetiver, and Cedar. The chemical molecules that make up and characterize these essences are mostly sequiterpene alcohols of various structures whose names are linked to the particular essence of origin: Santalolo, Vetiverolo, Patchoulolo, and Cedrolo. Classic woody perfumes are Guerlain's Vetiver, S. Lutens's Feminitè du Bois, Cartier's Must, and Chanel's Egoiste.

In the world of wine, wood essences are connected by a double thread: in the olfactory examination, the woody aromas are identified as tertiary aromas and their presence depends precisely on the refinement and aging phase to which the wine is subjected in the barrels, which are made of wood. In this case the wood used is mainly oak. The heat treatment (toasting) to which the barrel wood is subjected in its construction therefore directly determines the final olfactory characteristics of the tertiary aromas of the wine.

The control of the toasting of the barrels is important because it produces changes in the chemical composition of the wood used, leading to the formation of many volatile chemical compounds such as aldehydes, ketones, phenols, lactones, and others. These compounds are responsible for the characteristic aromas which will then be present in the wine, with hints of vanilla (vanillin), coffee and cocoa (pirazine), smoked (guaiacolo), spicy (eugenol), almond (benzaldehyde), coconut (octalactone), and caramel (furanone).

All or some of these molecules are then solubilized by the wine during its stay in the barrel; therefore from the knowledge of the quality of the wine and the type of barrel used, the winemaker will be able to predict the final sensory characteristics of the product which will come out after the established aging period.


TasterPlace Solo Aromas - Wine Tertiaries include the essences of oak wood, lemon wood, smoked wood, and toasted wood. Click here to discover the full list of aromas.

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