Bouquet, and why it has nothing to do with flowers

Perhaps you have been to a wine tasting, or perhaps you have been drinking wine with some people when some apparent wine geek comes out with a description about the bouquet of the wine. Maybe you are thinking what I was thinking when I first heard this, “people who say things like this are either a prat or he is referring to the flowers he just bought for his wife.”

But in actual fact, the bouquet is a proper wine term and is different on paper from the aroma and surprisingly has nothing to do with flowers! The Primary aromas typically come from the grapes, while the bouquet (also aromas) come from the winemaking process: fermentation and aging. AKA secondary and tertiary aromas. These are usually the yeasty, spicy, nutty and earthy notes that you can pick up. For example, vanilla is typically associated with wines that have been aged in oak barrels.

FYI: Aromas (or primary aromas) are the fruity, herbal and floral profiles given off by the grapes themselves. Most everything else belongs in the bouquet.

You can pretty much divide the bouquet into 2 categories; Secondary and Tertiary aromas. Each is associated with a different part of the winemaking process, I have separated them below.

Fermentation (secondary aromas):

We all know that during fermentation the wine basically turns from grape juice to alcohol, as the yeasts munch their way through the sugars. nom nom.

Yeast having a munch!
  • Sourdough
  • Yeast
  • yoghurt/buttermilk
  • Butter (a result of malolactic fermentation)
  • Mushroom
  • Celler funk
  • Parmesan / aged cheese
  • Game (brett*)
  • Bacon (brett)

Aging (tertiary aromas):

Aging or maturing is an important step in making wine and can be done in different ways. Oxygen exposure can be an aroma changer and is an important element in aging wine adding roasted hazelnut and peanut smells. Aging in oak is common across the winemaking board, producing Chardonnay with buttery notes, or deep reds with smokey profiles.

Maderisation also produces tertiary aromas, though as a practice it is not used very often in winemaking except in Madeira. Wine is gently heated, causing the amino acids and sugar to react and caramelize giving off toasted marshmallow.

  • Vanilla
  • Brown Sugar
  • Caramel / butterscotch
  • Almond
  • Toasted marshmallow
  • Baking Spices
  • Tobacco / Cigars
  • Smoke

So, the bouquet is less about flowers and more about those aromas introduced to the wine by fermentation and aging. Those flowers are more likely to be found in primary aromas, or in a vase in your kitchen.

*we will talk about brett later