Wine Flavors Explained

You may not be an expert in wine, but learning to discern smells in your wine glass can help you in more ways than one. Not only can you learn about wine flavors but also, understand your personal taste. This will allow you to have an easier time finding the wines you love. Use this guide to explore the different wine flavors between many popular varieties.

What Are You Smelling?

Wine flavors are created by chemical reactions that occur during the fermentation process. This is why wine doesn’t taste the same as juice. The process creates hundreds of flavor compounds. These molecules lift from the surface of the liquid. This is what we smell when we sniff a glass of wine.

Red Wines

Red wines smell like a variety of red, pink, or dark violet fruits, such as cranberry, pomegranate, cherry, strawberry, plumb, blackberries and more.  They may also contain notes of spice, like cinnamon or star anise. The smells can be influenced by the barrels the wine was fermented in, as well as the compounds of the fruit. That’s why sometimes you get a taste with a note of leather, oak, and even tobacco!

White Wine

Chardonnay can be made from fruits like apple, pear, peach, mango, apricot, and other citrus fruits. Because white wines are more likely to be fermented in stainless steel barrels, they don’t usually contain the cedar or oak smells of red wins. Instead, they may contain the smells of starfruit, yellow apple, pineapple, and grapefruit. They may also contain floral scents, grass, or herbs, from the stems processed during fermentation.

What Causes The Smells?

Wine carries properties of the area where it is grown and the fermentation process. That’s why a Pinot noir from Burgundy smells and tastes different from a Californian one. It’s also why wines from different years carry different tastes and smells. And of course, there’s no accounting for taste! Stereochemistry is the chemistry that allows the same molecules to change based on their distance from each other. Everyone’s noses are different. Taste and smell use different chemical processes. For example, chocolate bars taste a lot stronger than they smell. That’s why it’s important to smell the wine in the glass, to really make the most of it.

Smells of Popular Wines

Next time you’re confronted with a glass of wine, take a moment and sniff. Really familiarize yourself with what you’re smelling. See how many of these flavors within popular wine varieties you can smell in your glass!


Depending on where it’s fermented, and the grape varieties used, a Chardonnay may carry the scents of citrus, pineapple, or green apple. Take another whiff and pick out the baking spices, like cinnamon. You may even find hints of caramel in there!


Sometimes, a wine with no cherry in it can have strong hints of cherry or plum. You may also catch a whiff of raspberry and mint. Finally, Merlot may contain notes of tobacco, or oak, like the barrel it is fermented in.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a dry red wine with a rich fruity profile like cherries, raspberries, or blackberries. You may also catch notes of rose petals, cloves, or, depending on the fermentation process, more earthy smells, like mushrooms.


Riesling tends to start with intense aromas. They’re light and fruity, with the smell of orchard fruits like nectarine, apple, pear, or citrus. Depending on the barrels, you may find hints of sweet honey or strong ginger flavors.

Wine Flavors

Crafting the perfect wine is a complex process. Everything from the grapes you choose, to the weather in their growing conditions, to the fermentation process can impact the eventual taste and scent of the wine. Your personal taste is also a factor in the wine you drink. Your sensitivity to the bitter tannins in the wine you’re drinking, to the sensitivity of your nose can both impact the smell and flavor of the wine. If you’re interested in getting more out of your wine, follow this guide. Remember to smell the wine before you taste it, and always while it’s in the glass!

Leave a comment

Minimum 4 characters