Friday, April 20, 2012

Odor as an indicator of wine quality: Mapping the sources

Most of the stock photographs of wine notables that you encounter show them holding a glass of wine to their noses.  This is no accident as wine odor is one of the key markers of wine quality and they want to be shown either assessing the quality of the wine or wallowing in the enjoyment that accrues to a person who is fortunate enough to be sniffing a high-quality wine.  According to Vincent Ferreira (Laboratory for Flavor Analysis and Enology, University of Zaragoza), "The most relevant notes of great wines are caused by complex associations of aroma compounds playing different notes ..."  And it is these compounds and their notes that will be the focus of a series of posts (beginning with this one on the sources) on odor as an indicator of wine quality.  The arrow on the figure below shows our current position on the Wine Quality Assessment Framework.

We begin with some baseline definitions.  An odor is a volatile compound, or combination of volatile compounds, that stimulates the olfactory organ to register a smell.  The odor threshold of a compound is the lowest concentration at which its smell can be detected.  The perception threshold is the minimum detectable concentration for 50% of a group of tasters while the recognition threshold is the minimum concentration of that compound necessary for identification of the odor.

If we relate the foregoing to wine, quality wine can be characterized as having complex associations of aroma compounds that exceed the odor threshold; and, for a subset of tasters, exceed the recognition threshold.  But what are the sources of these odor?  The figure below shows the sources of wine odors.

As the figure shows, wine odors are a sum of the odors from the grape, maceration, yeasts, alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation, and aging.  The Wine Institute characterizes these odors as shown in the table below.

Over the course of the next few posts I will detail the elements that ensure the production of quality wine grapes, characterize the sources of wine odor, and, finally, show how the interaction of these odor compounds aid in the perception of a quality wine.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando


  1. Excellent article, like all the previous ones.

    Javier López Lorenzo.

    1. Thank you very much Javier. Especially appreciative that you have read previous posts.