A di-wine aroma

Aroma, perfume and bouquet seem synonymous, but in reality there are subtle but substantial differences. Let us learn to classify the origin of odours in wine.

Barbara Fassio
Barbara Fassio

Perfume is a rather generic term that defines a set of odorous essences (natural or artificial), appropriately dosed to obtain a pleasant and characteristic aroma. It has boundless power, it penetrates and remains imprinted in the memory, to be recalled to our senses whenever it recurs, even in different contexts or products. 

With delicate and sometimes morbid phrases, Süskind describes this power in a fascinating novel and reminds us that ‘the persuasive power of scent cannot be refused, it penetrates us like the air we breathe penetrates our lungs, it fills us, it totally dominates us and there is no way to oppose it’. Therefore, for tasting enthusiasts, letting oneself be guided by this power, experimenting, perceiving and remembering is the best exercise to improve one’s tasting skills. For some more tips on tasting, don’t miss our article.

To the term perfume, which, as we said, is rather generic, terms such as aroma and bouquet are often associated when exploring the world of wine. They are often used as synonyms, but the differences between the two allow us to better identify the origin of odours in wine. 

The aroma of a wine derives from the variety of grape (e.g. Malvasia or Brachetto) while bouquet describes all the olfactory perceptions that originate in a wine through vinification, fermentation and ageing. The most classic example of bouquet is the smell of vanilla, produced by the ageing of wine in new oak barrels.


Would you think that the nose is the only organ involved in the hard work of perceiving aromas and smells? Not at all, quite the contrary! The differences allow us to better distinguish between the two terms; odours are in fact perceived by the direct nasal route (known as the orthonasal route), when we bring our nose close to the wine in the glass, while aromas are perceived by the indirect nasal route (retronasal), when we taste the wine. Following swallowing, the aromatic component rises from the retro nasopharynx towards the olfactory mucosa, in a nutshell? The aroma passes from the back of the mouth to the nose, allowing a much more complex and complete perception; it is in fact the sensory characteristic of a drink that derives from the combination of smell and taste.

gruppo degustazione

So, to sum up: odours are perceived on an olfactory examination of a wine, while aromas require a gustatory examination. Bouquet, in this classification, falls somewhere between the two: one can certainly pick up scents simply by smelling them, but tasting makes the perception complete.


To better understand the two types of wine odours (aromas and bouquet), it is easy to recall a few examples to distinguish and perceive them correctly.

Aromas are derived from all those volatile substances of chemical origin that are released from food and drink and can therefore be perceived. Wine aromas are called primary aromas: each grape variety offers a unique and distinctive set of these. These aromas typically fall within the range of fruit, herb and flower aromas and come naturally only from the grapes. On a molecular level, and therefore chemically speaking, these aromatic compounds are identical to the smells of the actual fruit. Thus, for example, the chemical compound that produces the smell of blackcurrants in a jam is identical to the chemical compound that produces the smell of blackcurrants in a glass of Merlot.

The odours come from aromatic compounds that are found in different quantities in the various varietal wines. For example, Sangiovese is commonly known for its aromas of black cherry, violet, blackberry and plum.

In general, some of the aromas commonly associated with varietals are fruit aromas (e.g. peach, blackberry, pear), herbal aromas (e.g. tomato leaf, mint, sage) or flower aromas (e.g. rose, chamomile, lavender). These primary aromas persist in the wine, even after the grapes have undergone all the oenological processes.

Then there are the secondary and tertiary aromas, which make up the so-called bouquet, derived from fermentation or ageing.

The fermentation process creates a group of aromas that are commonly called secondary aromas. No doubt you are familiar with these, a typical example being the aroma of freshly baked sourdough bread.

Secondary aromas are produced by enzymes that can act either when the grapes are crushed or later, during alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. They are characterised by very varied notes, including:

  • Vegetable cream/yoghurt
  • butter 
  • Fruit such as banana, apple, pineapple, etc.  
  • Beer – yeast
  • Mature cheese 
  • Mushrooms
  • Wine cellar 
  • Horse sweat 
  • Game 
  • Bacon 
  • Plaster

Secondary aromas are basically responsible for the aromatic base of wines, but not only that, of any beverage produced by a fermentation process.

As we said, the bouquet of a wine is an aromatic complex resulting from the synergy of several aromatic molecules. If these are generated with ageing, we speak of tertiary aromas. Ageing over time, in fact, adds and makes even more complex the composition of scents that define a wine: the element that most influences ageing is the exposure of the wine to oxygen. In small quantities, this produces positive aromas, including hazelnut and toasted almond aromas. Combined with the use of barrels, the action of oxygen is perfected: oak barrels slowly introduce oxygen and add aromatic compounds present in the wood. 


Ageing can thus give aromas of fine wood, cloves, allspice or cinnamon, or even dried tobacco or smoke.

A final way of ageing a wine is by cooking or heating it: activating the Maillard reaction creates a caramelisation of the sugars (known, for wines, as ‘madeirisation’, in honour of the most famous wine for which it is used): hints of caramel, cane sugar and vanilla are thus added. 

Let us not forget that the perfect control of the agents acting during ageing is what determines whether a bottle is successful or turns into a defective product, as we tell you more about in this article.

Now, are we still convinced that a bouquet can only be a beautiful accessory for a bride? Or have we finally clarified how to display this term appropriately, without confusing it with its peers? 

With a glass of wine in hand, for each perfume we have the right terminology.