Wine is a highly complex mixture of compounds which largely define its appearance, aroma, flavour and mouth-feel properties. The compounds responsible for those attributes have been derived in turn from three major sources, viz. grapes, microbes and, when used, wood (most commonly, oak). The grape-derived compounds provide varietal distinction in addition to giving wine its basic structure. Thus, the floral monoterpenes largely define Muscat-related wines and the fruity volatile thiols define Sauvignon-related wines; the grape acids and tannins, together with alcohol, contribute the palate and mouth-feel properties. Yeast fermentation of sugars not only produces ethanol and carbon dioxide but a range of minor but sensorially important volatile metabolites which gives wine its vinous character. These volatile metabolites, which comprise esters, higher alcohols, carbonyls, volatile fatty acids and sulfur compounds, are derived from sugar and amino acid metabolism. The malolactic fermentation, when needed, not only provides deacidification, but can enhance the flavour profile.
The aroma and flavour profile of wine is the result of an almost infinite number of variations in production, whether in the vineyard or the winery. In addition to the obvious, such as the grapes selected, the winemaker employs a variety of techniques and tools to produce wines with specific flavour profiles. One of these tools is the choice of microorganism to conduct fermentation. During alcoholic fermentation, the wine yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae brings forth the major changes between grape must and wine: modifying aroma, flavour, mouth-feel, colour and chemical complexity. The wine bacterium Oenococcus oeni adds its contribution to wines that undergo malolactic fermentation. Thus flavour-active yeasts and bacterial strains can produce desirable sensory results by helping to extract compounds from the solids in grape must, by modifying grape-derived molecules and by producing flavour-active metabolites. This article reviews some of the most important flavour compounds found in wine, and their microbiological origin.