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We celebrate curiosity at Sociovino - and there are few wine styles that throw up quite as much confusion - and curiosity - as floral wines. We're here to make sense of bottles that burst with bouquets of blooms, and to pique some intrigue to encourage you to enter into a little floral flirtation. With the wines we've recommended as a first step, we don't think you'll regret it.
A couple of questions that come up time and time again when we're tasting wines with groups of people are:
The latter is normally prefaced with a phrase we hear all too often when talking to friends about wine (a famously confusing and sometimes seemingly unapproachable area of culture) is: “This is probably a stupid question, but…”
Floral wines are the perfect area to zoom in on to offer concrete proof that, in wine, there are no stupid questions – at least, there certainly aren’t within the metaphorical walls of Sociovino HQ. We celebrate curiosity, and floral characteristics in wine are certainly curious to behold.
So, let’s answer the second question first: Do they put the flowers in the wine?
No. When it comes to good quality wine, all of the flavours and aromas you experience when you lift a glass to your face stem almost entirely from the key ingredient in wine: the grapes. These grapes, of which we know there are hundreds of different varieties, from Sauvignon Blanc to Riesling to Syrah, Schiopettino, Sangiovese and beyond, contain a plethora of elements – or aroma molecules – bound to the sugar in their flesh and skins. The binding of these chemical compounds to a grape’s sugar molecules ensures any of their potential aromas and flavours are bound up too. In other words, when you eat a Gewürztraminer grape from the vine, you won’t taste rose or lychee.
However, once fermentation begins, turning sugar into alcohol, those flavour compounds are released, and a wine starts to express its unique identity, shaped by the variety of the grape, and the specific compounds that exist in higher levels from one to the next – like Terpenes which are present in abundance in floral or, in wine terms, ‘aromatic’, grape varieties such as Muscat, Riesling and the aforementioned Gewürztraminer.
Those compounds, bringing a wine to life and sending your senses on a rollercoaster of scent association exist in the grapes themselves, but also occur elsewhere in nature. They occur within the elements of nature you’re smelling – which is why the question certainly wasn’t stupid. Terpenes are abundant in a variety of different blossoms, fruits and in the leaves of many different plants and, much to our benefit, in grapes.
Bear with us while we get a little nerdy – simply because we think it’s best practice to equip your readers with a number of complicated words that will render any fellow diners speechless.
Here’s a list of what we tend to pick up on the nose of a wine described as ‘floral’ or ‘aromatic’, and the chemical compounds that cause them – so you can be ready to impress anyone who says: “stupid question, but, do they actually put roses in the wine…?”
So, now you know what sort of scents you can expect from a floral wine – and maybe that’s a list of characteristics you’d rather run a mile from, than swirl around your glass. But one of the biggest misunderstandings, or preconceived judgements when it comes to floral wines, is that they’re soapy and sickly sweet.
We're here to weed out that rumour. The chemical compounds associated with floral characteristics are incredibly volatile, meaning they won’t hang around uncomfortably long in your glass, and they’ll generally escape a little under the radar, ensuring they rarely offer you more than a gentle waft of scent and very rarely rock up on your palate. Furthermore, in a well-made wine, they’ll always arrive arm in arm with a spectrum of other aromas and flavours, like zingy citrus fruits, spicy red berries or eye-wateringly crisp green apples. In other words, if you’re shopping well, you will rarely be overwhelmed by a glass that hands you a bouquet of flowers and little else because all good winemakers seek the same holy grail in the processes that take place between harvest and bottling: balance. Our Gewürztraminer from Cantina Terlano in Italy’s Piemonte region is a beautiful example of this…..
Granted, some wines are more floral than others, with Gewürztraminers and Muscats carrying the baton when it comes to bold aromatics but, made well, and armed with a mouth-watering citrus acidity, good floral wines will generally steer clear of bath-bombs – and lead you, instead, towards a second bottle. Under-the-radar Kerner and Müller Thurgau varieties also hum of delicate flowers and white spices while Riesling too can offer some wonderfully expressive aromatics, so floral as a wine descriptor doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be imbibing a bouquet, but rather a beautifully complex mix – a metaphorical bouquet, if you will..
Another assumption that’s often made when it comes to floral wines is that they all firmly belong on the White Wine list. Fortunately, this is entirely false, and the orchestra of red wines we can source from all corners of the world are made all the more cacophonic as a result. Again, certain grape varieties possess floral attributes in greater abundance than others: Nebbiolo offers enticing rose aromas amidst the more prickly (though delicious) thorns of its tanning berries and earth; while the indigenous Ruche grape, constituting our Montalbera ‘La Tradizione’ serenades us oh so subtly with purple florals of lavender and violets alongside roses and wild strawberries; and spicy Red Wines harking from the Southern Rhone sing of aromatic shrubs like Juniper, Rosemary and Thyme.
Of course, there is an added layer of complexity when considering the source of scents and flavours that define a wine as a firm favourite or a flop. Further to the grapes contributing compounds released on fermentation, other winemaking and aging techniques are available to winemakers who want to add a little more shape to their wines outside of the vineyard. Fermenting and aging in oak, for example, imparts compounds to a wine, contributing aromas of vanilla, caramel, coconut or smoke, while leaving a wine to age in bottle also leads to further sensorial complexity as various constituents of the wine react together.
Most often, though, the characteristics that will send your mind meandering through lavender fields or gardens of roses on your journey to pinpointing what makes the wine in your glass so unique, stem from those compounds already present in the grapes.
When it comes to answering the first question, “can you really smell that though?”, hopefully this short introduction to floral wines has clarified we aren’t just making it up. Our brains decipher many of these delicate aromas as we swirl our glass and take a sniff – but there’s no denying some people’s sensitivities to any wine aromas, and particularly the more volatile, delicate ones associated with flora, may be a little less heightened than others (particularly in comparison to those trained up by smelling wines all the live long day). The answer, as ever, is practice makes perfect – a bargain we’re happy to settle for given the contents of what we’re practicing…
We’re always looking to explore and discover new wines and new styles we haven’t tried before, and hope this might encourage you to do the same when it comes to a corner of the wine list people can too readily overlook. Here’s your cue to dip your toe into the realm of classically floral wines (what’s the harm in trying?), and to open your eyes (or nostrils) a little wider to the wines you already enjoy – chances are there’s some lavender lurking in their somewhere.
The Floral and Aromatic Case:
While it isn’t only white wines that can offer up a bouquet of blooms, they do possess a beauty we blooming love, so we’ve decided to spotlight six white wines with real aromatic qualities, that burst at the seams with notes of wildflowers, blossom and exotic fruits, are some of the most intriguing. This case of mixed whites celebrates some of the most expressive white wines around, wines packed full of concentrated aromas and flavours that will transport you to fields far away. Including some of the world’s iconic aromatic grape varieties like Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, take this opportunity to broaden your palate and taste some more unusual characters too. You can be confident, though, that all of these small production wines have an elegance and a brightness that will have you seeking more. Discover the Floral and Aromatic Case here.
Wien 1, Pfaffl, Weinwiertel, Austria:
The Pfaffl Wien 1 wine takes its inspiration from the traditional Austrian Gemischter Satz, which is a Viennese field blend wine. Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder to the locals) make up this zingy, fresh and fleshy white that has a load to offer. A core of firm peach and pear fruit is joined by a backbone of limey acidity and a lovely roundness in the mouthfeel. The palate concentrates on the finish for a lingering, spicy, zesty tone that lifts and makes the mouth water. Discover more about this wine here.
Gewurztraminer, Cantina Terlano, Piemonte, Italy
This stunning Gewürztraminer is reminiscent of lychee and mango with delicate notes of honeysuckle. The aromatic spectrum also includes notes of rose petal, which are typical of this variety. The unique quality of the aromatic character of the wine is continued on the palate, with fresh fruit and lively acidity combining with mineral notes to leave a very round but firm impression. Discover more about this wine here.
Ruchè ‘La Tradizione’, Montalbera
Roses, violets and wild strawberry juice jump out of the glass after a soft swirl, calling you to dive in for a taste of this incredibly rare grape variety. It’s not every day we smell such floral, perfumed and frankly pretty aromas coming out of a red wine. Don’t be deceived by the light colour or ethereal tones though, this Ruché has depth and structure. The palate is round and warming, a medium body with notes of macerated cherries, dried rose petals, orange oil, white pepper and crushed mint. It has a wonderful freshness that goes hand in hand with the juicy core and seamlessly smooth finish that will have you straight back for another sip. Discover more on this wine here.
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