Wine doesn’t always just smell like fruit and earth, it has all kinds of weird smells, from baby poo to green peppers. These aromas don’t come from the addition of the actual substance to the wine (thank goodness), but they aren’t just random either; complex chemistry is at work to make each wine smell the way it does. We explore some of the wackier scents below:
Found in a wine that has been contaminated by TCA, a compound that can be found in wine corks and contaminates the whole bottle of wine. Also sometimes described as wet cardboard or dank basement.
Found in pinot noir, especially Burgundy. In fact, British wine expert Anthony Hanson wrote, “Great Burgundy smells like s**t!” (Burgundy, Faber & Faber). The smell comes from the earthy, mushroomy quality natural to the grape, especially in older wines. It’s harmless, we swear!
Found in some sauvignon blancs and very rarely, in some cabernet sauvignons. It comes from a sulphur compound that, in just the right amounts, smells like your cat’s litterbox.
Often found in California zinfandel. It’s an odd aroma to smell in a dark, jammy wine, but the combination of California zin’s intense fruit and heavy oak use combines to create an aroma surprisingly similar to your breakfast.
Barnyard or Bandaid
Comes from a microbe called brettanomyces. At low levels, it can be considered beneficial to the complexity of the wine, but it easily grows out of control and spoils the wine.
Found in red wines that are aged in American oak barrels, like some California cabernet (Silver Oak, famously), Australian Shiraz, and traditional Spanish Riojas. The aroma comes from compounds in the wood called lactones, which are found in higher concentration in American oak than French oak.
Dairy (butter, cheese, cream)
Found in New World chardonnays. The aroma comes from the compound diacytl, the same compound used to make margarine taste like butter. Diacytl forms when a second fermentation, called malolactic fermentation, takes place.
Found in riesling, this smell (called “petrol” in wine-speak) comes from a chemical compound that smells disturbingly similar to what you put in your car, but it has die-hard fans nonetheless.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever smelled in a wine? Tell us here.
Photo Credit: United Hemispheres Magazine