Wine Flavor Profiles

Here are job aids for white and red wine flavor profiles.
White Wine Varieties Flavor-Aroma Profiles Job Aid
Red Wine Varieties Flavor-Aroma Profiles Job Aid

WHITE VARIETAL WINES

CHARDONNAY
The world’s most popular white grape variety produces many styles depending on where it is produced (which means nearly anywhere in the wine world). It has several manifestations in its native Burgundy in France: mineral Chablis (commonly unoaked), the complex dry wines of Burgundy proper (i.e., Puligny Montrachet, Meursault), and the mouth-filling luscious wines of Pouilly Fuissé in southern Burgundy. New World Chardonnay runs the gamut in style. Most Chardonnays marry well with oak, during fermentation, aging, or both. In the New World, generally speaking, cool climate Chardonnay has notes of stone fruit, mildclimate citrus fruit, and warm climate notes of tropical fruit.

Stone Fruit Apricot Peach Quince

Tree Fruit Apple Green Apple Pear

Citrus Fruit Lemon Lime Orange

Grapefruit    

Tropical Fruit Mango Melon Pineapple

Banana    

Floral Honeysuckle    

Brown Spice Ginger    

Sweet Aromatics
(Butter/Cream)
Butter Cream  

Sweet Aromatics
(Caramelized)
Vanilla Caramel  

Inorganic Mineral Chalk Metallic/Flint

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Nutty Toasted Oak

PINOT GRIS/PINOT GRIGIO
A mutation of Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio produces white wines. As Pinot Gris (gray Pinot), it produces fullbodied wines with delicate flavors in Alsace and, more recently, Oregon. Some of these see oak aging. Under the Italian name Pinot Grigio (whether produced in northern Italy or in the New World), it is known for crisp, easy to drink wines, which are almost never oaked. Considered a good food wine, since it lacks strong aromatic qualities that could compete with food; additionally, its acidity complements the food.

Tree Fruit Apple Pear  

Citrus Fruit Lemon    

Inorganic Flint Chalk Metallic

White Floral Honeysuckle Orange Blossom  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

SAUVIGNON BLANC
Sauvignon Blanc has many manifestations around the world. Its two homes in France include the Loire Valley, known for grassy, flint, and gooseberry notes, and the Bordeaux area, where it is blended with Semillon to produce food-friendly wines, in both dry and sweet styles. New Zealand’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc shines with its grassy and tropical fruit flavors and bracing acidity. Most Sauvignon Blanc sees no oak (stainless steel only). In the Graves area of Bordeaux some oak is used. The American style called Fumé Blanc also employs oak aging. Sauvignon Blanc is considered one of the most versatile wines to accompany food.

Herbaceous/Vegetal Cut Grass Asparagus Bell Pepper

Olive Herbs Celery

Citrus Fruit Lemon Lime Grapefruit

Tropical Fruit Melon Mango Pineapple

Other Fruit Kiwi Gooseberry  

Animal Cat Pee    

Inorganic Mineral Flint  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread    

RIESLING
A native of Germany, Riesling generally prefers cool climates. It is noted for its fine aromatics, its enduring acidity, and its special ability to reflect the character of the different regions in which it is grown (the land’s terroir). It never touches oak. Floral Rose

Floral Rose Honeysuckle Orange Blossom

Stone Fruit Apricot Peach  

Tree Fruit Apple Pear  

Citrus Fruit Grapefruit Lime  

Tropical Fruit Pineapple    

Inorganic Mineral Steel Flint

Chemical Petroleum Gasoline  

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Almond Pine Nuts Lychee Nut

Spice Fennel Ginger  

Herbaceous Tarragon    

CHENIN BLANC
Native to France’s Loire region, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa (where it is called Steen). Known for floral and fruity aromatics, high acidity, it produces often mouth-filling wines that range from dry to sweet, as well as dessert and sparkling wines, along with both easy-to-drink and ageworthy representations.

Tree Fruit Apple Pear Quince

Stone Fruit Apricot    

Tropical Fruit Melon    

Citrus Fruit Lemon    

Floral Honeysuckle    

Herbaceous Straw    

Sweet Aromatics
(Butter/Cream)
Cream Yogurt Sour Cream

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Almond Hazelnut Toasted Bread

Inorganic Flint Mineral  

Other Oatmeal    

SÉMILLON
In Bordeaux, often a blending partner with Sauvignon Blanc for dry wines and sweet wines in the Graves region (80% of the famous Château d’Yquem Sauternes is Sémillon). Australia’s Hunter Valley and Washington State produce single-varietal full-bodied dry Sémillon wines, commonly oaked. Washington State also produces Sémillon Ice Wine. Some production in California and Chile mainly as a blending component. In Australia, where it is spelled without the accent, Semillon is successfully blended with Chardonnay.

Stone Fruit Apricot Peach  

Citrus Fruit Lemon Lime  

Dried Fruit Fig    

White Floral Honeysuckle    

Herbaceous Cut Grass Bell Pepper Asparagus

Sweet Aromatics
(Butter/Cream)
Butter Cream  

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Oak Toasted Bread  

GEWÜRZTRAMINER
Despite its German-sounding name, it is largely agreed to be a native of northern Italy. Known for its spicy and floral character above all. Thrives in France’s Alsace. Can often tend to be low in acidity and high in alcohol. Very rarely sees oak, which would compete with its distinct aromatics.


Floral
Rose Gardenia Honeysuckle

Tropical Fruit Lychee Mango  

Stone Fruit Peach    

Spice Nutmeg Ginger Cardamom

Allspice Citrus Peel Sandalwood

ALBARIÑO
Spain’s premier white grape, the source of crisp dry whites from the country’s northwestern Rias Baixas region. Extremely aromatic, with a sprightly acidity that makes the wine a good partner for sea food. Aged often in stainless steel with extended lees contact (sur lie aging), occasionally in light oak. Generally produced to be consumed young.

Tree Fruit Apple    

Stone Fruit Peach    

Citrus Fruit Lemon    

White Floral Honeysuckle    

Herbaceous Cut Grass    

Spice Ginger    

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

PROSECCO/GLERA
Produced from the Glera grape, Prosecco is the distinctive northern Italian (Veneto) sparking wine. The wine is produced in stainless steel with no wood contact. Its bubbles are imparted by by the gentle, Charmat tank process, yielding a low alcohol (11%) wine known for its delicate fruit and floral aromatics.

White Floral Honeysuckle    

Stone Fruit White Peach Apricot  

Citrus Fruit Lemon Grapefruit  

Tree Fruit Apple Pear  

MUSCAT/MOSCATO
In its many guises, Muscat is one of the world’s most widespread grapes. Moscato is the Italian term, and, in the market, generally connotes a sweeter wine than one labeled as Muscat. Fragrant, perfumed, and nearly the only wine to have distinct notes of grape itself, it usually not wood aged.

Fruit (General) Grape    

Dried Fruit Raisin    

Stone Fruit Peach Apricot  

Tropical Fruit Pineapple Mango  

Citrus Fruit Orange    

Floral Rose    

Spice Coriander    

Sweet Aromatics Caramel    

Earth Earthy    

Animal Musk    

 

RED VARIETAL WINES

CABERNET SAUVIGNON
In the Médoc area of the Bordeaux region of France, full-bodied, deeply-colored, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon leads some of the world’s great red wine blends. Napa in California has forged a reputation for fruit-forward, 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon wines: “Napa Cabs.” Cabernet Sauvignon shines throughout the wine world, however, as both a varietal wine and a blending component. Nearly all Cabernet Sauvignon sees some degree of oak aging (barrels, staves, or chips), which is sometimes extensive. The best examples support long bottle aging, although ready-to-drink wines are produced worldwide.

Black Fruit Cassis Black Currant Blackberry

  Black Cherry    

Red Fruit Red Currant Red Cherry  

Herbaceous Asparagus Bell Pepper Olive

Eucalyptus Mint Tobacco

Spice Black Pepper Licorice/Anise  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla Caramel  

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Coconut Mocha

Cedar Cigar Box Pencil Shavings/Lead

Tar    

Earth Earthy Mushroom  

Animal Leather Musk  

MERLOT
Most widely planted red grape variety in Bordeaux, France, and regular blending partner to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has become a popular varietal wine because of its easy texture and plum-led flavor. Merlot can have grassy characteristics in cool climates. Widely produced as a single varietal wine in California, Chile, Australia, and throughout the world of wine. Takes well to oak aging.

Black Fruit Blackberry Black Cherry Black Currant

Red Fruit Plum Red Cherry  

Dried Fruit Prune    

Floral Rose Violet  

Spice Clove Green Peppercorn  

Herbaceous Bay Leaf Mint  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Coffee Cigar Box

Chocolate Cocoa Cedar

Earth Earthy Mushroom Tar

SYRAH
As the characteristic red grape of France’s northern Rhône, Syrah is responsible for the great dark red wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. These are peppery, floral, and smoky. As Shiraz, produces Australia’s leading fruit-forward “big” red wines. Also widespread in a number of styles in California, South Africa, and Argentina.

Black Fruit Black Currant Blackberry  

Red Fruit Raspberry    

Herbaceous Grass Lavender Olive

Bay Leaf Thyme Rosemary

Spice Black Pepper Clove Licorice

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Cedar Chocolate

Cigar Box Tar  

Animal Leather Musk Game

MALBEC
Although technically a Bordeaux “blending grape,” Malbec thrives in the high-altitude vineyards of Argentina where it has become that country’s flagship red. Argentine Malbec is full flavored, juicy and bold but more “accessible” than Cabernet because of its softer, riper tannins.

Black Fruit Blackberry Black Cherry Blueberry

Red Fruit Plum    

Dried Fruit Fig    

Floral Violet Lilac  

Spice Allspice Nutmeg Mace

Herbaceous Mint Tea  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Chocolate Coffee Tar

Animal Leather Game  

Earth Earthy    

TEMPRANILLO
Spain’s most important red and backbone of Rioja, Tempranillo is now increasingly planted in New World vineyards of Argentina, California, and Australia. Strawberry flavors with vanilla and tobacco are characteristic, as is medium-level alcohol and acidity. Although often blended (as in Rioja), Tempranillo is increasingly turning up as a single varietal wine in its New World versions.

Red Fruit Strawberry Raspberry Red Cherry

Spice Licorice    

Herbaceous Eucalyptus Tobacco  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Cocoa    

ZINFANDEL
Although not native to North America, Zinfandel has long been California’s “own” special grape. Although it supports the sweetish “blush” wine called “White Zinfandel,” as a big, red wine Zinfandel is powerful, spicy, and brambly, often “jammy,” designed to be consumed relatively young (within 3-5 years of bottling). Often high in alcohol (16%+). Southern Italy’s Primitivo is a close relative, but California “Zin” maintains its distinctiveness from any other wine. It varies, in fact, greatly from vineyard to vineyard. “Old Vine” Zinfandel is particularly prized.

Black Fruit Blackberry Black Cherry Boysenberry

Red Fruit Cranberry Raspberry  

Dried Fruit Raisin    

Spice Cinnamon Black Pepper Clove

  Nutmeg Licorice  

Herbaceous Thyme Bay Leaf  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Coconut Tar

GRENACHE/GARNACHA
Widespread in southern France (as Grenache), and in Spain (as Garnacha), this is a typically warm-climate Mediterranean grape often grown on simple bush vines. Low in pigment and acid, and often high in alcohol. Versatile as a blending component (leader in world famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape), as a component of sweet and fortified wines, and, in its stand-alone role, in many southern European rosés.

Black Fruit Blackberry Black Currant  

Red Fruit Strawberry Cranberry Plum

Spice Black Pepper White Pepper  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Tar  

Herbaceous Tobacco    

Chemical Alcohol    

NEBBIOLO
Native to northwestern Italy’s Piedmont region, Nebbiolo, which essentially thrives nowhere else, produces the high tannin, high acid, great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Its profile is not particularly fruit driven, but rather floral or darker and more savory. Production is low (10% of neighboring Barbera) and these wines tend to be expensive. Long wood aging and long bottle aging are the norm with high-end Nebbiolo wines.

Black Fruit Blackberry    

Red Fruit Red Cherry    

Floral Violet Iris  

Spice Anise Licorice  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Cedar Tar

Earth Earthy Forest Floor Mushroom/Truffle

Animal Leather    

Inorganic Mineral    

SANGIOVESE
Italy’s most widely planted red grape, and the characteristic grape of central Italy’s Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano wines. Sangiovese exhibits notes of cherry and sour cherry, herb and spice. Many styles exist, from juicy and fruity to oak-aged examples with wood and herbal flavors and aromas. Over a dozen loosely related clones exist. Plantings of Sangiovese have been on the rise in California.

Black Fruit Black Cherry Blueberry  

Red Fruit Cherry Sour Cherry Strawberry

Dried Fruit Dried Cherry    

Floral Violet    

Herbaceous Thyme Tomato Leaf  

Spice Cinnamon Clove Licorice

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla Soy Sauce  

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Chocolate Smoked Meat

Tar    

Earth Mushroom    

BARBERA
Barbara, a widely planted, Italian grape, most prevalent in the country’s northwest region of Piedmont, is seeing increasing New World plantings (Argentina and California). Deep in color, high in acid with low- to mid-level tannins, Barbera supports a wide range of styles from accessible juicy fruit-driven wines to oakaged examples with concentrated flavors.

Black Fruit Blackberry Black Plum  

Red Fruit Plum Cherry Sour Cherry

Red Currant    

Spice Cinnamon    

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread    

CABERNET FRANC
Actually one of the parent grapes of the better known Cabernet Sauvignon (the other parent is the white grape Sauvignon Blanc), Cabernet Franc acts as the major grape in distinctive wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank (Pomerol and St. Emilion), and supports single-varietal wines further north in France’s Loire Valley (Chinon and Bourgeuil). It is lighter in color than Cabernet Sauvignon and does better in cooler climates, including Washington State and New York’s Long Island.

Red Fruit Raspberry Plum Strawberry

Cranberry Cherry Mulberry

Floral Violet Rose  

Herbaceous Bell Pepper Leaves  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Coconut Cigar Box

Tar    

Earth Earthy Moss Mushroom

PINOT NOIR
The great red grape of Burgundy in France, Pinot Noir does best worldwide in cool to moderate-climate regions like California’s Russian River Valley, Oregon’s Willamette Valley and New Zealand’s Central Otago. The best Pinot Noir has ripe and integrated tannin, and is rich in cherry and other fruit, floral and perfume aromas. The grape is difficult to grow and hence, great Pinot Noir is almost always expensive.

Black Fruit Blackberry    

Red Fruit Red Cherry Raspberry Strawberry

Plum Ripe Tomato  

Floral Violet Rose Lilac

Spice Rosemary Cinnamon Caraway

Peppermint Clove Nutmeg

Herbaceous Thyme Basil Oregano

Green Tomato Green Tea Olive

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Coconut Smoked Meat

Tar    

Earth Mushroom/Truffle Barnyard Forest Floor

Animal Game Leather  

GAMAY/BEAUJOLAIS
The Gamay grape is almost exclusively associated with the wine of France’s Beaujolais region just south of Burgundy, since it is grown in only small amounts outside of its homeland. Beaujolais, always 100% Gamay, is often light, fruity, very low in tannin, and a crowd pleaser. The annual Beaujolais Nouveau release the third Thursday each November is widely followed. The carbonic maceration technique used for this wine and much other Beaujolais adds distinctive tinges of bubblegum, banana, and cotton candy. Beaujolais Villages is a more “serious” wine, as are the 10 Beaujolais Crus (special villages) located in the northern stretch of the region. These latter wines have more body, extraction, and tannin, and oak aging may be employed to an extent, resulting in some wines with ageability.

Red Fruit Red Cherry Raspberry Strawberry

Cranberry    

Tropical Fruit Banana    

Floral Rose Violet Iris

Chemical (Carbonic Maceration) Bubble Gum Cotton Candy  

Sweet Aromatics Vanilla    

Oaky/Woody/Nutty Toasted Bread Coconut  

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