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What is an aromatic white wine grape variety?

Not all grape varieties were born equal and certain types can yield wines with more intense aromas, from floral to herbal and citrus notes.

Classic examples of aromatic white wine grape varieties include:

  • Gewürztraminer

  • Riesling

  • Muscat

  • Torrontés

  • Viognier

  • Sauvignon Blanc

Every wine smells and tastes of something, so why do some – and especially white wines – carry the ‘aromatic’ moniker in tasting circles?

This is about intensity, to some degree. How pungent are those primary flavours on the nose, whether you’re smelling citrus, rose petal or herbaceous notes?

Aromatic white wines are produced from varieties that tend to give off higher amounts of these natural aromas.

But there is no legal definition and some scientific analysis suggests more of a sliding scale rather than two distinct ‘aromatic’ and ‘non-aromatic’ camps.

Science of aromatic wines

Some scientific studies have shown that several aromatic wine grape varieties have higher levels of organic compounds called terpenes.

For example, monoterpenes are known to contribute to fruity and floral aromas and were found to be particularly prominent in Torrontes and Muscat in a study published in the peer-reviewed Foods journal in 2018.

‘The total concentration of monoterpenes in Muscat and Torrontes wines were about four times greater than in Gewürztraminer wines, six times greater than in Riesling and Viognier wines, and over 30 times greater than in Chardonnay and Pinot Gris wines,’ said the researchers.

However, this remains an emerging area of science.

Winemaking choices

The sheer abundance of choices faced by winemakers, plus the influence of climate, means that there is plenty of scope for stylistic nuance.

Generally speaking, producers will likely make greater effort to emphasise primary fruit flavours of aromatic white wines during the winemaking process.

Classically, they might ferment at cooler temperatures, actively prevent malolactic fermentation or use stainless steel to preserve the aromas.

A broad shift in winemaking philosophy towards minimal intervention in the cellar, to more precisely express purity of fruit and a sense of place, means that there is perhaps no longer such a stark contrast between treatment of aromatic and so-called non-aromatic varieties, however.

Plus, there are always exceptions to such general rules.

Sauvignon Blanc is broadly regarded as an aromatic white wine, but its signature flavours, including citrus, grassy and gooseberry notes, can be overlaid with barrel fermentation, malolactic and oak ageing in Bordeaux and parts of California.

Some aromatic wines can also come in varying degrees of sweetness, with Riesling one of the best examples.

See also: Why is Touriga Nacional a rising star? 

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