I don’t think there is any other beverage on earth that can leave you enchanted by the aromas of everything from peaches to cedar, from anise to honey or from lychee to mushrooms. You will be mesmerized and entranced by the amazing smells of wine. I personally think it is the most magical part of the wine experience.
Considering our nose detects up to 10,000 unique scents yet our taste buds only detect five, I can’t imagine ever tasting wine without smelling it first. After all, whenever we eat something and we feel like it’s bursting with flavor, we have our nose to thank for that! Have you ever had to ingest something nasty like cough medicine and plugged your nose in order to be able to drink it without tasting it? Yep. I rest my case. 😉
There are SO many things you can tell about a wine just by the smell. Some of which is: Is it oaky? Floral? Is the alcohol too strong as compared to everything else? Is the wine ruined? Does it smell like strawberries and cherries (common among Pinot Noir)? Does it smell tropical (which indicates it came from a hot climate like Australia)? Many things you might want to know about a wine can be told to you through its smell. Your wine is communicating and flirting with you before you ever drink it.
While everyone will have their own personal experience with scents and aromas, there are a few commonalities that I have listed below that will help you become more acquainted with your wine within a few inhales. So the next time you’re tasting wine and you feel like a goofball for sticking your nose near your glass and taking a glorious whiff – don’t be shy. People love it, especially other wine lovers. You might even find yourself having extended conversations with total strangers about the aromas you detect. It’s a wonderful bonding experience with the wine.
Tip: The key to being able to unlock the scents of your wine is to only pour a little into your glass initially and swirl it around several times. That will allow the oxygen to hit it and pull the aromas out. If you pour too much into your glass right away and don’t swirl it, you will experience less scents.
P.S. One can only identify an aroma that they’ve previously smelled in their life. For example, if you’ve never smelled an apricot, then you wouldn’t know it when you smelled it because your brain doesn’t have a history of it. A handy little tool that I use is the Aromaster. It has some of the most commonly detected scents in wine. It’s a fantastic tool to print out and keep in your wallet. Whenever life presents the opportunity, try to smell all of the scents presented on this wheel. You’ll be well on your way to smelling like a pro in no time! Click here to view the JPG.
Common things to look for when smelling wine:
Is the alcohol out of balance with the rest of the wine?
The mark of balanced wine is when no one particular element sticks out more than the others. These elements can vary depending on the wine, but in general a wine should never be too sugary, too alcoholic, too bitter, too acidic or too astringent. You can easily tell if a wine’s alcohol is out of balance just by smelling it. If the alcohol is too overpowering to the other elements, it will make your nose burn (literally). This is referred to as being “hot”. This is definitely one of those instances when being “hot” is not a good thing. 😉
Is it oaky, floral or fruity?
In many cases it doesn’t matter to a lot of people whether it’s one or the other. However, for a lot of us out there that have a preference – white wines in particular – this is invaluable to knowing whether you’ll like the wine before you ever taste it. I have skipped many white wines (usually Chardonnay) just by smelling it because I smelled buttery vanilla (which I personally do not like). On the flip side, I love earthy, oaky reds so when I take a whiff of a wine and I detect a little buttered toast or cigar – I know I’m going to fall in love.
While the smells of fruit are going to be obvious to most of us, detecting what “oaky” might smell like could possibly be trickier just because we’re not surrounded by oak like we are fruits on a daily basis. Some common indications of the oak are going to be:
• Toasted Bread
• Smoked Meats
This is where the Aromaster I posted will help! 😉
Is the wine ruined/spoiled?
This is going to be the most unpleasant of smells, and I hope you rarely every encounter it. If the wine is bad, you immediately smell vinegar – almost an ammonia smell. This is referred to as “Volatile Acidity” and it indicates bacterial spoilage. I’ve actually been to a winery and ALL the wines I tasted (5 total) had this smell. It was a terrible experience, and I hope you never run into that.
Is the wine from a warmer or cooler climate?
This would only be beneficial if you were doing a blind tasting, but I’m mentioning it because it’s still fun! Cooler climate wines such as from Germany, Austria and various regions of France and Northern Italy will have a essences such as berries, herbs, orchard fruits and florals. On the flip side, warmer climate grapes such as CA, Australia or even the Rhone region of France will have deeper or even more tropical flavors such as plums, juicy pears, mangos and peaches. This has to do with the grapes and the sunlight they receive. The warmer and sunnier it is, the faster the grapes ripen and the higher the alcohol and sugar content. In general, warmer climate wines tend to have a riper, more fruity flavor.
P.S. I will be posting on the warm vs. cool climate wines in a future post because this will help you when wine shopping. So keep checking back within the next week or so!