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Job Aid: Off-Odor List

Odors Resulting from Sulphur Compounds:

Sulfur Dioxide

characterized by a pungent smell like burnt matches often accompanied by

an unpleasant tickling sensation in the nose and throat. The sensory effects
of S02 are directly related to pH. The more acidic the wine, the more
pronounced the sulfur dioxide will be.

Hydrogen Sulfide

characterized by an odor of rotten eggs resulting from the reduction of

elemental sulfur. Yeasts need nitrogen to grow and multiply. In a nitrogen
deficient must, yeasts will scavenge this element by breaking apart nitrogencontaining amino acids. In the process, sulfur is released and incorporated
into light sulfides or H2S.


often described as onion- or garlic-like. Mercaptans are formed when sulfur

dioxide and ethyl alcohol molecules bind.
S02 + ethanol = ethyl mercaptan, an off-odor that can be treated in the
S02 + 2 ethanol = diethyl mercaptan, an off-odor that is untreatable

Bacteria Derived Off-Odors:

Bacteria can create a number of different products that create off-odors in the finished wine, for
Butyric Acid:

responsible for an odor similar to that of rancid butter or spoiled Camembert


Lactic Acid:

responsible for an odor similar to sauerkraut

Acetic Acid:

responsible for a vinegar smell

Ethyl Acetate:

responsible for the odor of fingernail polish remover or airplane glue

Sorbic Acid:

a geranium-like scent caused when sorbic acid, an additive used to inhibit

yeast, is put into the tank before malolactic fermentation is complete

Other Off-Odors:

an odor produced as alcohols are oxidized. It can also be created due to

excessive esterification. An example of a wine that is purposefully aldehydic
is Oloroso Sherry.


a cooked or baked odor. Normally present in wines that have been

excessively heated or to which reduced must or must concentrate has been
added. An example of a wine that is purposefully maderized is Madeira.


the bitter, green odor of unripe grape stems that is caused by the inclusion
of unripe grape stems into the fermentation vat.


a pungent odor that may develop if wine spends too long in contact with
dead yeast cells


an odor resulting from the use of moldy grapes or moldy cooperage


an odor often associated with very high pH or excessive sulfur

Filter Pad:

a wet cardboard chemical odor resulting from filter pads or filtering materials

Brettanomyces or

a family of aromas running the gamut from earthy to barnyard and from
clove to medicinal; caused by a strain of yeast called Brettanomyces. Note:
Not all tasters consider this a wine fault.