Aroma Step One: Why We Smell Before We Taste

Take a Quick Sniff to Check the Health of the Wine

Most faults in a wine can be detected by smelling the wine. Sometimes the fault aroma is so strong that you can smell it before you get your nose anywhere near the glass. Other times the fault is very subtle and more difficult to pick up. If the wine has an “off” odour like damp cardboard or a flooded basement then you probably don’t want to drink it because it likely has cork taint. If the wine smells like varnish, it probably has too much volatile acidity. If you don’t pick up on “bad” scents in the wine, think about whether or not there is a fruit characteristic to the wine. If the wine is completely void of any fruit aromas, it could be unhealthy and you’ll want to taste it to find out for sure..

Aroma Step Two: Swirl Before You Smell

Before you take that first real smell, swirl the wine around in the glass to increase evaporation of aromas through the alcohol. Using a flat surface can aid in the process. Just be careful to tone down the enthusiasm as you don’t want to be sloshing wine all over your neighbour! When you swirl, all of the aroma molecules rise to the top, making it much easier to pick out the individual aromas associated with the bouquet.

Aroma Step Three: Get Your Nose Right in the Glass

Next, put your nose in the tilted glass. There are a couple of ways to smell the wine and it’s really personal preference. Whichever one works best for you, or a combination of both.

  1. Take several deep but short sniffs,
  2. Take one long, slow smellSome people even go side to side to use one nostril more than the other. We’ve seen it all! Try it all to discover what the most effective way is for you.

Aroma Step 3: Identifying the Wine’s Aroma Characteristics

Try to identify familiar scents in the wine’s bouquet. Perhaps it smells like fruit, a certain flower, or something earthy? Can you smell leather or does it remind you of a farm? You should be able to identify specific scents, but do not be discouraged if at first you do not. The process of wine analysis is an art, and you will have to train your senses as you go.

It’s best to start with a broad category then work your way into narrowing down that aroma. For example, you may be able to identify a “fruity” smell in the wine. If you smell fruit, ask yourself is it citrus, stone fruit or tropical fruit? If you think it smells like citrus, narrow that down a little further if you can. Is it lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit? Did you pick grapefruit? If so, pin point that aroma even further to either white grapefruit or pink grapefruit. You don’t have to smell the wine and instantly say to yourself “Oh that’s white grapefruit.” It takes a lot of practice honing your craft so start broad and eventually you’ll get there.

Just Wine Tip: Don’t just practice by smelling wines. Spend time sniffing your way around a grocery store, bulk products or spice rack. Learning the differences in aromas by smelling back and forth between a green apple and a Macintosh or a golden delicious will make a difference in your wine aroma accuracy.

Here’s Your Next Lesson:

Deductive Wine Tasting 231: Taste For Flavour Characteristics