Wine emblem sculpted from polymer clay, depicting herbal aromas commonly found in wine — Artwork by Melanie Wynne

It’s wine emblem time again, kids! I sculpted this miniature scenario out of polymer clay to depict herbal aromas commonly found in wine. While I worked, I sipped a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of a kitchen garden in springtime — and the whole experience seems to have sparked actual springtime.

Herbal aromas can often be detected in both red and white wines, and are caused by chemical compounds called terpenes, which are naturally present in grapes (as well as marijuana). Every grape variety has a different terpenic composition, contributing a distinct set of aromas to the wine made from those grapes.

One simple type of terpenes, monoterpenes, have antiseptic properties and can lift your mood; responsible for the essential-oil aromas of citrus fruits, flowers, and various herbs, they’re known as “top notes” in the perfume industry. The following monoterpenes are associated with the corresponding herbal aromas:

  • Bourbonene — basil, fennel, oregano, rosemary
  • Cadinene — thyme
  • Citronellol — peppercorn, sage
  • Cubenol — green tea leaves
  • Eugenol — bay leaf
  • Geraniol — basil
  • Lihalol — cilantro, peppercorn, rosemary, sage
  • Linalool — lavender
  • Limonene — dill
  • Muurolene — bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, peppercorn, tarragon
  • Myrcene — basil, bay leaf, cilantro, thyme
  • Nerol — mint
  • Theaspirane — eucalyptus, tea leaves, tobacco

Note that while the wine aromas of basil, marjoram, oregano, thyme, and peppercorn are generally due to various monoterpenes, they’re also attributed to another type of terpene called rotundone.

(Whew, that was a lot of science.)

Cork displayed to show actual size of wine emblem — Artwork by Melanie Wynne

So, what are the herbal aroma profiles of various wines, you ask?

Well, here you go:

WHITE WINES

  • Sauvignon Blanc: basil, dill, and tarragon
  • Chardonnay: dill, tarragon
  • Chenin Blanc: dill, lavender
  • Moscatel (sherry): cilantro
  • Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris: basil
  • Riesling: sage
  • Viognier: mint, sage

RED WINES

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: mint
  • Carignan: thyme
  • Carmenere: marjoram, oregano
  • Malbec: dill
  • Merlot: bay leaf
  • Pinot Noir: mint, oregano, rosemary
  • Syrah: peppercorn, thyme

I hope this list proves helpful the next time you’re buying or tasting wine — salud!