Defining aromatic grape varieties

Hand-picking grapes at Neudorf (Photo: Neudorf Wines)

Most good wine stores and leading restaurant wine lists feature an “aromatic wines” section. There does seem to be a little confusion about the definition of an aromatic wine or grape variety.

The New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition has this to say:

“The New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition, now in its fifteenth year, focuses on aromatic wines including riesling, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, viognier and other wine varieties including muscat, verdelho, arneis, rosé and sauvignon gris, made in an aromatic style from any internationally recognised region.”

I’m not sure that rosé qualifies and they do seem to have left out albariño, although those words may well have been written before the variety was grown in New Zealand.

The website Wine Folly defines aromatic white wines as having

“… dominant floral aromas caused by a special aroma compound found naturally in grapes.”

That aroma compound is, I think, terpenes. Although the presence of terpenes doesn’t automatically admit a wine to the aromatic club as most white wines possess terpenes to some degree. Gewürztraminer, a very aromatic variety, has a lot more terpenes than, say, pinot gris, a semi-aromatic variety. Not all aromatic varieties are equal.

UC Davis in California classifies grape varieties into muscats with free volatile terpene concentrations as high as 6mg/l, semi-muscat or non-muscat aromatic varieties with concentrations of 1-4nm/l, and neutral varieties that aren’t dependent on terpenes for aroma (less than 1mg/l.)

Which leads me to two clearly aromatic new releases from Neudorf. I would classify them as mid-range aromatics rather than highly aromatic (muscat and gewürztraminer) or semi-aromatic (pinot gris and viognier).

The 2016 Neudorf Moutere Dry Riesling from Nelson is a delicious wine with clear floral, wildflower characters supported by oyster shell mineral and citrus characters. It’s not bone-dry and has just enough residual sugar (8g/l) to balance taut acidity and build a little welcome tension. (NZD $29)

The 2017 Neudorf Moutere Albariño also has defined floral notes and salty minerality with a seductively smooth texture and good weight. (NZD $33)

Both are benchmark aromatic wines.

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