How Wine Gets Its Flavor

OK, so I’m no Chemistry major, but how can something made soley from grapes smell and taste like Vanilla, Coconut, Mocha, Green Candy Canes, Sugar Plumbs and Leather?

Are winemakers adding fruits, herbs, spices and left over Christmas candy to their wines to impart these amazing, sometimes unexpected, yet distinctly non-grape aromas and flavors?

NO!? Then, where on earth are these aromas and flavors in wine coming from?

Drum roll please….

Take a bow Fermentation, Oak Aging and Lees Contact.


Wine is essentially grape juice without the process of fermentation.

In winemaking, there are 4 basic types of fermentation: Traditional, Bottle, Carbonic Maceration and thanks to the movie Sideways, crowd favorite: Malolactic Fermentation (A secondary fermentation)

During fermentation, the yeast involved (added/cultured or natural/wild) eats the grape sugars, converting them to alcohol (Oh yes!).

As a result, literally thousands of complex chemical compounds are formed.

It is these chemical compounds that our nose and brain pick up, translate and categorize as familiar aromas and flavors. Different yeast strains are responsible for different types of flavors. For instance, with Chardonnays, certain cultured yeast strains may be responsible for imparting tropical aromas and flavors, whilst others more citrusy notes.


Also known as Malolactic Fermentation (ML), tends to impart flavors of butter, and/or butterscotch.

To initiate ML, lactic bacteria is added to the wine, which essentially converts the malic acid (tart tasting) to lactic acid, leaving a smooth, soft and creamier final product.


Oak barrels, depending on their origin, age, oak-type and toast level, may also contribute certain aromas and flavors to wine while adding richer, fuller impressions and complexity. Typically, Oak will impart flavors of Vanilla, Toast, Caramel and the various Spice notes detected such as Clove, Nutmeg, Allspice and Cinnamon.


Lees is the yeast sediment found after the fermentation process is completed. The French term ‘Sur lie’ literally translates to ‘on lees’. Sur lie wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking. Leaving white Wines on their yeast sediment (Lees) can produce pleasantly tangy, yeasty, pastry like flavors. Some premium wineries, particularly in Burgundy, opt to stir the lees (a tradition called batonnage), imparting further flavors and creamy taste to their wines.

Published by Sean Lee

Dad, runner, swimmer, cyclist, wine-lover, entrepreneur, digital enthusiast, vlogger, founder of Oakmonkey

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