What Do You Smell When You Smell Wine?

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Wine is often described as having aromas of fruits, flowers and spices. But, what do you smell when you smell wine?

The most common response from those just starting to like wine is “It smells like wine.” Well, that’s a good start. But, there’s so much more.

The best place to start is with red wines. They have the biggest aromas. And, you need to do a lot of sniffing.

Start by gently swirling the wine around in a bowl-shaped wine glass. This can significantly enhance the aromas in the glass. Then, don’t be afraid to stick your nose into the glass. You don’t need to take a deep breath, just inhale. Give the glass another swirl and take a second sniff.

Now, this is where you have to open up your imagination a bit and think of other things that could have similar aromas. With red wines it’s easy to start with the black fruits. Do you possibly smell Boysenberry, Black Cherry, Plum or Blackberry? Think of the fruits themselves or maybe the smell of jams and jelly. How about Fig, Date or Raisin? In the lighter red wines, you may get a bit of Cranberry, Strawberry, or Cherry.

You’ll need to be patient with yourself and give yourself lots of time and plenty of experience. And, if you’re in an environment where you can smell lots of different wines you’ll be able to compare and contrast the aromas.

Your nose actually plays a very important role in how you taste something. We’ll get into that a bit more next time. For now, happy sniffing and sipping! Cheers!

Where You Drink a Wine Affects How it Tastes


Have you ever noticed that wines can taste really good at a restaurant, wine bar or especially at a winery? It's the whole experience, not just the aromas and flavors, that affect our sense of taste.

As I've discovered, a $15 bottle of wine, when served in a high-end restaurant (where they charge you $45 for that $15 bottle), will taste especially good. Somehow, the lavish surroundings, the great service and the wonderful company at the table just makes the whole wine experience so much better.

And, at a winery it can be even more powerful. You are typically in a beautiful setting surrounded by vineyards and being served by someone who is very knowledgeable about the wine or maybe even the winemaker. This experience can significantly heighten the taste of the wine.

This fact is well understood by the publications that do wine ratings. So much so, that they don't allow their tasters to review or rate wines at wineries or restaurants.  They ensure their tasters are in a neutral setting in order to allow them to focus only on the wine (which, by the way, they are tasting 'blind' with no knowledge of who produced the wine or what it costs).

So, keep in mind that the amazing bottle of wine you recently had at that fancy restaurant was probably made even better by all the other glamour around you. And, that's exactly what the wine experience is all about. Cheers!

How to Reset Your Sense of Smell When Wine Tasting

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While our tongue is only able to detect five basic tastes, our nose is capable of detecting millions of different aromas.

When wine tasting, one of the Five S’s is smell.  You stick your nose into the wine glass and take a sniff. You can get a very quick idea of what the wine will taste like and you may even detect some of the fruit aromas. But very quickly, after just about two sniffs, your nose tends to switch off and become insensitive to further sniffs of the same aromas.

One way wineries and wine tasting rooms will address this issue is to re-set your olfactory system by having you smell coffee beans.  This shifts the receptors in your nose and brain to something completely different. That way, when you sniff your next wine, your sense of smell is reset and once again heightened.

But you may not always have coffee beans with you when you are tasting wines. The one thing that you always have with you is your arm. And it can come in very handy when wanting to reset your nose. Just take a quick sniff of your arm (preferrably while not wearing any scented lotions, sunscreen or other scented products). This quickly resets your nose and allows you to get back to smelling the intricate wine aromas.

So, here's to smelling your arm!  And, to being better prepared to experience all the wonderful aromas that wines have to offer  Cheers!


How Do All Those Flavors Get Into Wine?

Last time we took a quick run through how wine is made. And you may have noticed that there are only two ingredients in wine: grapes and yeast.  Yet, white wines can be described as having flavors that include lemon, lime, grapefruit, apple, peach, pear and orange.  And red wines can be described as having flavors of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, plum and fig.  And then there are descriptions of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, chocolate, tobacco, leather, and even tar, just to name a few.  But, if wine is only made from grapes and yeast, how do wines get all those other flavors? 

To answer this, we need to review taste, smell and flavor. First, let's start with taste.  If you recall, the taste buds on your tongue are able to distinguish sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. You also have nerves in your mouth that give you additional senses such as temperature and texture or feel.  These nerves can yield sensations of smooth, creamy, or dry, for example.  So these are the senses inside your mouth.  

Then secondly, and most importantly, is smell or aroma. Aroma is what is detected in your nose and nasal passages.  As you eat or drink, aromas pass up through your nasal passages where you get additional information about what you are consuming.

And finally flavor is how the brain puts together the senses of taste and smell.

So then back to wine. When you sip a wine you are getting information from your tongue, nose and nasal passages. And while there are only the four tastes being detected by your tongue there are a multitude of aromas being detected by your nose and nasal passages. The aromas get released by the wine through the alcohol, which is lighter than air, and evaporates easily from your glass.  Your brain then puts together the information on the tastes and smells of the wine and equates them with tastes and smells that you already know. Thus, those amazing little grapes are able to cause your brain to sense additional fruit flavors without even a trace of the fruits actually being in the wine.

Aging wine in oak barrels also adds many other dimensions to the flavors in wines. And we'll discuss those next time.

But for now, remember the four S's of wine tasting (1) Swirl your wine in the glass to release all the aromas, (2) Smell the wine's bouquet, (3) Sip the wine and leave it in your mouth briefly, and then (4) Swallow (or Spit) and experience the wine's lingering 'finish.'  Then try to name all the wonderful fruit flavors that you experience. All just from grapes! Cheers!