What affects aromatic nose intensity? (Recommendations for Chenin blanc, Viognier, Riesling etc)

I have had Riesling, Chenin Blancs and Viogniers that were not aromatic, but since these are classified as aromatic grape varieties, I am a little puzzled.
What should I look for if I want to find their aromatic counterparts? Terroir? Producer style? Warm vintage? New world vs old world?

Some examples I’ve had recently of aromatic vs non-aromatic counterparts:

Beau Rivage 2018 (It was so exotic and tropical, aromatics were bursting out of the glass) vs Chateau Yvonne Saumur Blanc 2020 (Very very shy nose, more wet wool and mineral notes rather than fruit)

Trimbach CFE 2016 (Almost no petrol notes and again more mineral driven)/Donnhoff Felsenberg 2016 GG (Again, quite shy on the nose but had some citrus fruit, with more mineral notes) vs the entry Level Trimbach Riesling (Bursts of stone fruit flavours, e.g. peach)

This is the first time I’ve seen Chenin Blanc classified as an aromatic grape variety. In my books, Chenin Blanc is an archetypal non-aromatic variety.

Typically white grape varieties high in terpenes are classified as “aromatic varieties”. Riesling and Viognier have somewhat higher concentrations than your typical non-aromatic varieties, but not by large extent; hence they are typically classified as semi-aromatic varieties.

Classic aromatic varieties are varieties like Gewurztraminer, Malagouzia, Muscat, Torrontés and any “musqué” mutations of certain white varieties. However, Sauvignon Blanc is typically classified as an aromatic variety, even if its aroma profile comes not from terpenes, but from thiols and methoxypyrazines.

When it comes to aromatic Viogniers and Rieslings, terroir and producer / winemaking style certainly have a large impact. For example the production of TDN (the compound responsible for the diesel aromas) is heavily dependent on the soil in which Rieslin grows in. Some Rieslings might never develop any petrol / diesel aromas; others might develop a huge smack of diesel in just a few years of bottle age.

I’ve understood that Viognier develops its characteristic aromatic compounds quite late in the season, so in hot vintages, when you have to pick the grapes early so as not to get overripe grapes, it’s possible that the grapes never have an opportunity to develop those characteristic floral and apricot aromas. Only in cooler vintages, when the grapes can stay as long as possible on the vine, develop those varietal aromatics fully. The same thing applies for red varieties, too: usually a cooler-vintage Nebbiolo harvested late in the season has a much more beguiling aroma compared to an early-harvested Nebbiolo from a hot vintage.


Otto: the ChatGPT for all things wine. Wow.


That’s exactly what my friends said when we were driving through Portugal and I kept telling them about all the things we just passed or were going to see. :sweat_smile:


Since you mentioned it, I tried chatgpt for the first time just now. It gave an answer really similar to Otto’s. Maybe Otto is chatgpt.

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You know Otto, in reference to the above comment, why have you not sat for the MW exam? If there is any amateur (meaning true wine lover) who is better prepared, I don’t know who it is. I think you could roll in unprepared and probably score higher than 75% of the candidates. If money is an issue, I would be first in line to contribute to a fund me pool here at WB to send you off to London.

What say you? I learn more stupidly geeky stuff reading your posts than most of the MWs that write books…

I’ve actually checked out many a MW exam essay question and thought that even with 0% preparation, I could’ve given a decent answer right off the bat.

But indeed money is an issue. It is a ridiculously expensive thing - especially if one wants to do it just for sheets and giggles (although I’m quite sure I could do it).

However, the thing is that you actually have to do the whole MW course - you can’t sit only for the MW exam. That’s what really makes it silly expensive. Plus you just enroll for the course. I’ve understood that you have to have be (or have been) in the business, have proof for visiting different wine regions and wineries and have letter of recommendation from other Masters of Wines - just to be eligible for the entrance exam. Although I doubt I’d have problems with those requirements!

So, in essence, even if I’m certain that the MW course is challenging, I think getting through it course wouldn’t be that difficult. But from my POV, that’s not the hardest part of the equation!


I believe closure can have a big impact as well. TDN as well as other compounds will get adsorbed over time when coming into contact with a cork closure whereas a screw cap will end up preserving more TDN in the wine. I read that the adsorption rate is even higher with synthetic corks.

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No reason to repeat any of OttoGPT’s comments, but I will say on the Trimbach CFE that (presuming a sound bottle) it’s too early for notable petrol, and the CFE has always been a mineral-driven wine rather than an aromatic one. The entry level Trimbach used to also be a stone wall, but that changed a number of years ago. It’s now a much more forward wine.

To address the OP, Jaime Goode, in an article maybe 10 years ago, said that residual sugar boosts aromas because it makes the volatile compounds come out of solution faster than they would in a dry wine. (I guess, in a sense, they compete with the sugar in the liquid.) That explained to me why dry riesling has very little of the aromatics you get in even a barely off-dry riesling.

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This is mostly correct (as someone that is about to apply). You do have to be in the business but you also need to hold A diploma or something equivalent. If not, then you really need some heavy hitters to vouch for you.

I certainly think you could handle stage 1 from what I’ve seen (though I’ve been told that they are quickly changing that). Stage 2 is a very different beast though and there is a reason that they allow for up to 7 years to get through it.

What I’ve learned is that it is a very different level of thinking. WSET Advanced is kind of see topic, answer topic. Diploma is putting much more depth and context into it all. MW is going well past Diploma and is about thinking very much above Diploma and adding in much MUCH more nuance. Just my observations from having been to 2 1 day seminars on it all and talking with MW candidates

Great info from Otto.

Vinification and bottling play an important role in the production and preservation of aromatics. For example:

  • Certain yeast strains are known for producing larger amounts of certain aromatics.
  • Some aromatic compounds are rapidly degraded by oxygen. This is especially true of the thiols responsible for the aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc. So fermenting and storing in stainless steel and with appropriate gas management to keep out oxygen, and then bottling under screw cap or Diam, and then drinking the youngest vintage available, can all result in a more aromatic experience. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño can benefit from this approach if you are looking for more aromatic expressions.

From a consumer perspective, it can be hard to know without tasting a wine, especially because wine reviews from critics can be misleading. Critics tasted the wine when it was younger, and they tend to coax out aromatic descriptors into their tasting notes without always commenting on the relative intensity of those aromas.

Young German Rieslings can be a particular minefield because they can be over-sulfured, which overwhelms other aromatics, or reductive in their youth, which masks other aromatics.

I remember when they stank of sulfur, but that hasn’t been true for a couple of decades.


Definitely less true than it used to be, but I’ve had oversulfured Fritz Haag and JJ Prum wines within the last year.

Current vintages? You sure it wasn’t a sponti aroma rather than sulphur?

It was SO2. Recent vintages. Don’t recall which exactly, but definitely SO2. I’m annoyingly sensitive to the stuff so others experiences may be different, but I pretty much only ever get it in Rieslings. Thanks, low pH.
Edit: found the Fritz Haag one in my notes. 2022 Paulinshofberg GG. Tasted February 2024 with 2 other industry folks and my wife - all independently noted high SO2.

Quality of fruit and the timing of harvest that Otto mentions above play a critical factor. In the winery, partial skin contact, fermentation temperature and vessel are also key factors.

Andrew to answer your question of “What should I look for if I want to find their aromatic counterparts?” I think the safe bet is identifying a producer that you enjoy and taste through their lineup.

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Otto generates far more reliable answers than ChatGPT to questions, because he knows things, unlike LLM/AIs which are, on the whole, semantic (bullshitting) parrots.


Never had a Fritz Haag GG, so no reference point there.

Indeed. I remember reading an article by AWRI how the amount of TDN aroma loss with natural corks was surprisingly big compared to screw caps. This might explain how many new world Rieslings can have quite heavily petrolly overall feel.

This is true. With many Alsatian and German Rieslings you start to develop petrol notes only around ten-plus years of age. Young wines show rarely if ever any obvious petrol aromatics - which is why I raise my eyebrow at some CT TNs telling how the nose of a young German wine is all about petrol. It can be all about something, but most likely it ain’t petrol.

Do you know if one has to be ITB when doing the entrance exam? I have 7 years of history ITB, but I’m not ITB right now. I’ve also done “something equivalent” of WSET Diploma - ie. a Finnish sommelier course that runs for 1½ years including two separate week-long visits to wine regions that also include a few days of work at a winery and vineyards.

And indeed I know my biggest problem with MW studies would be the business part. I know I know wines like the back of my hand, but the MW approach to business is a wholly different thing. Not that it would be incomprehensible to me, but because I come from a country with alcohol monopoly and the MW system views the world from a very British stand point. I know one Finnish MW applicant who got his dissertation discarded because it was unfeasible and wasn’t based on any realistic views of how the market works. The problem with this was that he was actually working in the alcohol sales of a big Finnish beverage company and all the data was based on the company’s sale and purchase numbers and Finnish market behavior.

So learning how the MW views how the wine market works (not how the Finnish wine market works) might be the biggest new thing I would need to learn. That’s something I know very little about, because that is something that has never concerned me whatsoever.

But otherwise I’m pretty familiar with the MW way of thinking. WSET Advanced is still pretty fundamental-level stuff, whereas the MW level is more akin to how one would approach a subject at a university level. Having done my master’s in language and literature, which includes something like 4-5 years of literary analysis, I’m pretty sure I could handle the same thing when it comes to wine. After all, I’m more interested in analyzing wine than literature. :sweat_smile:

100% this. I’ve told this numerous times before, but I still can’t help but chuckle at the memory of a former colleague at the Finnish alcohol monopoly who told how they got to taste a new vintage of a Chilean Syrah that had just arrived. It smelled of a Chilean Riesling, ie. very heavily petrolly. In all likelihood it had been fermented with a “Riesling yeast”, ie. a commercial yeast strain that is tailored to produce copious amounts of TDN if the must has any TDN precursors. And apparently the producer didn’t care enough, so they just bottled and shipped it. Unsurprisingly, this new vintage was dropped from the selection!

Also the thiol degradation by oxygen is very obvious if one gets to taste a NZSB that has been open for one day! I remember one bottle that was almost explosive one day, riddled with aromas of gooseberries, asparagus, currant leaves, passoin fruit, you name it. The next day it was fairly mute in the nose and pretty watery - albeit very tart - on the palate. All the aromatics had gone up in the air in just something like 16 hours.