Apple blossoms, honeysuckle, jasmine, and lavender: These blooms are often called out when describing the floral notes in wine. But how do you recognize them in your glass?
Flowers From the Beginning
For starters, it's helpful to remember a little middle school biology: Grapes are actually flowers before they become grapes, so it's part of their makeup to produce aromas.
The source of specific aromas are chemical compounds that are found in a variety of plants. For instance, that flowery, lavender aroma you detect in whites like chardonnay and riesling comes from a chemical called linalool. It is found in more than 200 other species of plants, including mint, cinnamon, and citrus. And that subtle white-flower aroma comes from phenethyl alcohol, a compound also found in roses, carnations, and some pines.
When learning to identify wine aromas, it's best to focus on one family of smells—and starting with the flowery ones is easiest.
Florals by Varietal
If you are looking for a wine that delivers pure floral aromas, try a riesling or a gewürztraminer. Sauvignon blanc and chardonnay possess floral aromas too, but they can have bold fruit aromas as well, making it more challenging to enjoy their floral sides. Red wines, such as pinot noir or merlot, also produce flowery notes but they usually include the earthier aromas of mushroom, cedar, and dark fruits like raspberries and raisins.
Recognize the Aromas
Knowing that there are floral aromas in wine is one thing. Learning how to recognize them? That takes practice and patience. Start with a wine glass with a wide bowl so you can inhale the scents. Fill until it's slightly less than half full. Then, swirl the wine to help those aroma compounds rise, and give it a sniff.
Common Floral Notes You'll Find in Wine
Iris: A flowery flavor that's very similar to raspberries, iris aromas can be found in wines such as sauvignon blanc.
Peony: The complex flavor of sweet, rosy peonies can be found in pink wines such as rosé.
Elderflower: Often found in sparkling wines, elderflower's creamy blossoms give a not-too-sweet floral taste that's perfect for summer months.
Acacia: This fresh flavor and sweet aroma is usually found in sparkling wines after they've just been opened.
Lilac: Wine blends with pepper flavors, such as Rhône wines with viognier, will often feature a lilac profile.
Jasmine: Potent white wines, such as Torrontés, have a distinct jasmine flavoring that's often accompanied by honeysuckle, apricots, sage, and thyme flavors.
Honeysuckle: The late harvest, sweet nectar flavor of honeysuckle is found in floral rieslings and ice wines.
Violet: This mild, sweet aroma is a staple in all of the classic reds, such as merlot, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon.
Lavender: Found mostly in reds and some dry Australian rieslings, this bloom has a unique floral-pine scent.
Rose: Roses can bring out several flavors in wine, from bell pepper and orange blossom to cherry, strawberry, and peach. Look for it in a pinot noir or gewürztraminer.
Potpourri (a mix of floral notes): A bouquet of aromas just like the name suggests, this mix of herbs, fruits, and flowers can be found in wines such as pinot noir and bordeaux blends.
Hibiscus: With a cranberry-like flavor, hibiscus has a high acid content that makes it taste more like a fruit than a flower. It can be found in a sweet moscato.
Sniff and Share
Describe what you smell by comparing it to other scents you know, such as cedar, lilac, or cherry. Sip the wine with friends and compare notes on the aromas you find. Your notes might differ, but that's okay—that just means one of you is more sensitive to certain chemical compounds than another. Two people rarely have the same impression of a wine, which is what makes tasting so much fun.
Successful Food Pairing
When it comes to pairing floral wines with food, worry not. These graceful, subtle aromas never clash with food. When paired with simple food like grilled chicken or fish, they support and enhance the flavors. When served with bolder fare they act as palate refreshers, getting your taste buds ready for your next delicious bite.
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