When you smell a wine, you’re preparing your brain for the wine you’re about to taste.
When you smell a wine, you’re preparing your brain for the wine you’re about to taste. Our sense of smell has a profound effect on the way our brain processes flavor. If you want to better understand just how profound, hold your nose and then put a strawberry in your mouth and start to chew. Halfway through chewing, release your nose. You’ll notice right away how much more you actually taste when you have your sense of smell. This is why smell is so important when it comes to tasting a wine.
IT’S TIME TO LEARN HOW TO SMELL WINE!
The label has told you all it can, and you’ve inspected the wine in your glass for clues to its age, body and style. Now it’s time to really get down to business and take a whiff. Stick your nose all the way into the glass and close your eyes — sure you might feel silly doing it, but you’re going to notice a lot more smells this way — then breathe in deep. As you smell the wine, think about what scents you’re picking up, and keep in mind that there are no wrong answers!
So what are we looking for? Professional tasters try to identify primary, secondary and tertiary aromas. Primary aromas come from the grapes — the various fruits, herbs, flowers, vegetables and spices. Secondary aromas derive from the fermentation process — earth, smoke, rocks. And tertiary aromas develop from aging — oak, oxidation and the complex flavors that develop in the bottle as a wine transforms over years in the cellar.
A quick smell can help you determine if the wine is faulty. A wine could be corked (moldy basement, wet dog), reductive (sulfur, cabbage), or have too much volatile acidity (nail polish, paint, vinegar) or brettanomyces (bandage, sweaty saddle, “barnyard”). It could also show signs of premature aging (tired, cooked flavors), though you probably would have noticed the visual clues in your glass.
If it’s a white wine, maybe you smell bananas, lemon rind, pineapple or even that scent that is always in the air when you go to the beach. If it’s a red wine, you may smell prunes, cherries, strawberries, peppers, plums or tobacco. In both situations, you may say you just smell grapes, and that is totally fine too. Your brain can only pick up scents that are in your memory, meaning they are scents you’ve smelled before or smell often. That’s why ten people could be sitting around a table smelling the same wine and say they smell ten different things!
As you swirl your wine and prepare to take a sniff, don’t just think of the liquid in your glass as a drink. That vortex is an invitation to an experience, drawing you in.