When I was a kid, I would go into a McDonald’s restaurant and smell the aroma of French fries and I would immediately want some. Maybe it is still that way today. I doubt it, as the restaurants are so much larger now than when I was going to them as a kid.
I find that a wine’s aroma, or nose, has the same effect on me as the smell of the French fries did…I want to drink some wine. There are three different terms associated with a wine’s different scents:
- Nose: Describes the various scents that characterize a wine; scents that distinguish red wine and white wine
- Aroma: Scents that designate the fresh and fruity scents of young wines
- Bouquet: Scents that come from an older more mature wine; scents that express a richness of a wine
Most folks like you and I interchange the terms “aroma” and “nose,” and most of us seldom use the term “bouquet” to describe the smell of an aged wine.
Professional wine tasters generally use the terms “aroma” and “bouquet” although they too interchange the two. However, there is a distinction: An aroma generally refers to the smells that are unique to the wine’s grape variety, and are most notable in a varietal (vuh-rahy-i-tl) wine. A varietal is a wine made primarily from a single named grape variety (such as a Cabernet Sauvignon). The name of which is typically displayed on the wine label. An example would be the smell of black currants or other black fruit in a Cabernet Sauvignon. These smells are normally associated with younger wines, as I mentioned earlier.
As wine ages, there are chemical reactions between the acids, sugars, alcohols and other things that affect the smell of the wine. In fact, new smells are created. These new smells are known as the wine’s bouquet. An example might be the smell of cocoa, truffles or coffee in red wines.
This can be pretty sophisticated stuff and something I prefer to leave to the professional tasters. I generally prefer to lump these three terms together and use the word “nose” to describe the various smells or aromas I detect when smelling or “nosing” my wines.
A Wine’s Aroma
When you smell your wine in the glass, you are preparing your brain for the wine you are about to drink. It is said that a wine’s aroma provides about 70% of all the information available on the wine. You can learn such things as what type of wine it is, the age of the wine and even a wine’s origin.
I am certainly not trained or as experienced as I would like to be, so I can’t distinguish all of those factors. But with practice, as we smell more and more wines, we all can pick out simple aspects such as the type of wine or its general age: whether it is young (a tight nose) or older.
Wines can have many (perhaps hundreds) of different types of aromas. Usually they are related to various fruits, particularly when the wine is young. They can also smell of many other things as well, such as tobacco, coffee, chocolate, mushrooms, flowers, etc. There are no wrong answers to what you think the wine smells like. Everyone’s sense of smell is different.
There are wine tasting wheels and plenty of charts available to help you understand aromas and what wines to associate them with. Some research on the internet could also be helpful.
How It Works
Your sense of smell and identifying of the aromas in wine are the primary means through which you evaluate and taste a wine. Smelling basically prepares your brain for tasting the wine. The other factor is through taste, as you sip the wine. The tongue provides the primary tastes such as sourness, bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and savoriness. Combined, the aromas and tastes allow you to make the many determinations on what the wine is, and whether or not you like the wine.
The Essentials for Smelling Wines
- Swirling. To become good at swirling only requires practice. I started by setting my glass on the table and swirling the wine in it. You can also start by having water in your glass. If you “over swirl,” you won’t make quite as big of a mess and won’t stain your shirt, blouse or the table cloth. Start slow, and practice, practice, practice.
- Why Do We Swirl? We swirl wine to enable some evaporation to take place and lose some of the more volatile compounds in the wine. This isn’t thought of often, but is an important factor. It also allows the wine to breathe. Swirling allows oxygen to enter the wine and round out the tannins in a wine. In young wines, this is also why you should decant them. This is referred to as “opening up the wine.” Finally, and most importantly, swirling activates esters (the aromatic, fruity compounds in wine) and makes them aromatic, which allows you to smell more of the wine and enjoy it more.
- The Right Glass. The right wine glass for swirling, smelling and tasting is one that is tapered, like a tulip, so the opening at the top is smaller than the bowl of the glass. There are 4 to 5 different styles of wine glasses, the explanations of which I will save for a later article.
How to Smell Wine
Fill the appropriate wine glass to no more than 1/4 to 1/3 full. Anything beyond that can cause problems when swirling. Not only will it splash, but there isn’t adequate room to aerate the wine properly.
To get the best whiff of the wine, swirl the wine for a good period of time after you fill the glass…around 10 to 15 seconds. Once the wine is well-swirled, stick your nose “into” the glass (you can even close your eyes as you’ll get a lot more smells if you do). Then breathe in deep. As you smell the aromas, ask yourself what scents you smell. Try to remember the scents. It is said that your brain can only remember or pick up scents that are in your memory…scents you have smelled before or smell often. If you have a room full of tasters all smelling the same wine, you’re likely to have a lot of different answers on what scents they smell.
What Do You Smell?
The first determination I make is the condition of the wine, whether it’s corked or flat, if there is anything wrong with the wine, etc. From that, I move on to what scents I can identify: fruit or flowers, and if so, which kinds?
I try to keep these scents in mind; as I taste the wine, I want to see if the scents reappear on the flavor profile or if they change on the palate. This is all part of enjoying a glass of wine.
- Hold the glass just under your nose and sniff. Then swirl the wine and this time stick your nose into the glass, breathe deeply and think.
- Move your nose to different positions around the glass. I would even cock the glass and get the wine closer to your nose. Different fruit aromas are found at different locations around the glass. Scents will vary from the upper lip of the glass to the lower lip.
- Always avoid wearing strong scents on your body when you are going to taste wine.
Primary scents in wines:
- Black fruit, dried fruit, red fruit, tropical fruit, tree fruit, citrus fruit, floral and herbal, earth
- Yeast, bacteria/other
Tertiary scents (bouquets):
- Aged aromas
- Oak aging
This is just a small sample of the information available on understanding the aromas on the nose of a wine. I hope it helps in understanding wine and allows you to enjoy your next glass of wine better.
As always, I appreciate your support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with family and friends. If you care to share your comments on this blog posting or other topics, please do so in the comments section below.
Until next week,
Please join us for these Upcoming Tiedemann On Wines Wine Club dinners:
August 25, Uptown Kitchen’s 9th Anniversary Wine Dinner, Uptown Kitchen in Granger, 6:30 p.m. Click here for full information on this amazing event.
October 13, Old World Versus New World Wines, Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.
November 10, Spanish Wine Dinner at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk in Elkhart, 6:30 p.m.