Recently I have been listening to some rather heavy wine-talk. As I am still more of a hobbyist than a professional, I sometimes fall of the wagon during discussions. One specific area of confusion has been around primary and secondary aromas as well as aroma versus bouquet. When do you use these and how do you distinguish between them? So I decided to take a few hours to research the subject. The next time someone starts describing a wine with big words, I will be ready for it.
The first thing I noticed was that there is a pretty clear system behind it. So all those “snobby” descriptions of a wine were perhaps not so complicated after all. It was just a language that I did not (do not yet) master. So if you have been cursing that “pretentious” friend or colleague supposedly showing off with their wine knowledge, read on. Perhaps they were just doing their best to share their experience. If you are a true professional, have some patience with me. I am still young and learning.
Aromas can be divided into three groups: primary (varietal) aromas, secondary (vinous) aromas and tertiary aromas. The first group, primary aromas, refers to aromas native to the grape. These are often fruity aromas most apparent in young wines. Secondary aromas are those arising from fermentation (aromas produced by yeast) and from aging in oak barrels. This is where most of the aromas in wine are said to come from, this supports my confidence in a good process. Tertiary aromas refer to aromas developed during aging in bottles. I have noticed that different wine guides and experts categorize aging in oak barrels into either secondary or tertiary aromas. To me, oak aging, when used to mature the wine rather than add a touch of flavor, fits better in as a tertiary aroma. However it is, it is not for me to make a definition here, this distinction really takes form in the next paragraph.
And now to the topic of the day, what is the difference between an aroma and a bouquet? Generally wine guides define bouquet as the tertiary aromas in wine, derived from the process of chemical reactions in the wine during aging. Aromas on the other hand are those arising from varietal characteristics; Some created in the raw grape (and surviving the winemaking process) and others enticed out during the fermerntation process.
So how to tell the difference when tasting wine? Practice! It depends on the grape variety and type of fermentation on whether, for example blackcurrant, is classified as a primary or secondary aroma. However one can make some general assumptions (at least an amateur like me can) like red berries and citrus fruit (lemon, grapefruit etc) often being primary aromas; honey, yellow fruits (melon, apricot, pear and yellow apple) as well as wine lees being secondary aromas. Tertiary aromas (bouquet) are heavier and can have musky or smoky characteristics, like baked fruits (prune), roasted nuts, caramel, coffee, leather ad chocolate. Not exactly easy peasy, but there is a logic that I can relate to.
That was it for my aroma studies for now. The only way to really improve my nose is to practice. An aroma set, like Le Nez du Vin is a good way to get into speed. I will continue to find it completely fine to just describe a wine as good or bad, no need for more specifics. However, after making this effort, I will most likely find those detailed discussions on wine at least slightly more interesting than before. Have a great week you all!