The purpose of each of the charts below is to link the chemical causes of distinctive wine aromas to the potential descriptions we can use to describe these elements. Each class of aromatic compound is explained in more detail in our Science of Tasting Expanded Guide.
Special thanks to Madeline Puckette from Winefolly.com for working with us on these graphics.
Fruit, flower, and herb:
Earthy aromas are perhaps the most complex to define in origin. They can be the result of microbial activity (often described as organic earth) as well as complex reduced sulfur compounds (often described as inorganic or mineral). It was once assumed that earthy flavors made their way from the soil through the grapevine into the grape but modern science gives us a different—yet admittedly complex—picture.
The spice of wine can come from both varietal fruit character as well as the influence of winemaking and oak aging. Distinguishing between the two can be an important factor in blind tasting.
The charts and subsequent notes presented here do not represent an endpoint, but rather an ongoing dialogue. They are by no means exhaustive and we can imagine more charts in the future linking other classes of compounds to potential descriptions. This dialogue and our understanding thereof will continue to improve, and sommeliers can become better professionals if we expanded upon both the poetry and prose of wine-tasting.
Have a wine showing Soured Grass/Sauerkraut. Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia 5th edition is saying Sauerkraut is from excessive Malo, ie diacetyl or lactic acid. Above shows it to be VA. Can it be both Geoff Kruth? Thanks for your attention here!
For sure! Sauerkraut is high in both ethyl acetate (VA) and lactic bacteria. In the case of the first, it probably won't get better; if the wine is very young, the second is likely to improve with a bit of time in bottle.