The trilemma of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas

Posted on August 12, 2017

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It’s generally accepted that we have three choices when defining wine aromas, they are categorized as primary, secondary or tertiary. Yet in practice, many common aromas can be attributed to two of these categories.

Primary wine flavors (the combination of aromas and tastes) come from the grape variety itself and are almost always fruity except when they’re not. Secondary aromas are those associated with post-fermentation winemaking and include yeast, lees, yogurt, cream, butter or cheese and a full spectrum of flavors derived from oak. Tertiary flavors are defined as deliberate oxidation, fruit development, bottle age or any combination thereof.

Petrol, for example, which is most commonly detected in Riesling and attributed to the compound 1, 1, 6, -trimethyl-1,2-dihydronapthalene (TDN), can be present in new made Riesling and in increasingly higher amounts in bottle-aged wine due to the hydrolysis and rearrangement of TDN precursors over time.

The conundrum or trilemma that students of wine encounter when using a tasting rubric like the Systematic Approach to Tasting developed by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) or the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Deductive Tasting Grid becomes apparent when defining petrol. The WSET categorizes it as a tertiary flavor attributed to bottle age in white wines and the Court as inorganic earth/mineral.  Read the full article The Trilemma of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Aromas