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!

Ever Wonder? - What is 'Priming' or 'Seasoning' a Wine Glass?


There is a process used by some restaurant wine servers and Sommeliers that, at first might seem a bit odd or even a bit pretentious. When you order a bottle of wine, they first pour a small amount of the wine in your glass. They’ll swirl it around inside the glass. Then, they’ll dump it! And, your first reaction may be “Hey! That’s my wine you’re dumping out!” But, there’s an explanation.

As you’ve probably guessed, this process is called ‘Priming’ or ‘Seasoning’ the wine glass. And, it’s done for a couple of reasons.

First, this may be done to ensure there are no other residual undesirable “aromas” in your wine glass. These could include odors of dish washing detergent, musty cabinets, cardboard boxes or wooden cabinets. Not the kind of aromas that your server wants you to experience with your first sip.

A second reason this may be done is simply to enhance the wine’s aroma, even in a perfectly clean and odor-free glass. This process of swirling the wine and dumping it coats the entire inside of the wine glass with the wine and fills the bowl with the wine’s aroma.

Both of these reasons for priming or seasoning your wine glass ensure that you get the optimal wine experience right from the start.

So, if you experience this process being used on the bottle of wine that you’ve ordered, don’t fret. You’re going to have a great wine experience. Cheers!

Think When You Drink

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A co-worker who is into nice wines recently told me that she used to pour her mother nicer wines when she visited. The problem was her mother would down her glasses of wine like water. She tried to have her mother slow down and enjoy the wine, but to no avail. So, she now serves her mother inexpensive wines and pours herself the good stuff. Her mother doesn't seem to notice.

When people ask me about wine, I tell them that there is so much more to wine than simply drinking. One of the simple ways to get more enjoyment out of a glass of wine is to follow the Five S's. When you are served a glass of wine, take a close look at the wine and its color (See the wine). Then give your glass a gentle swirl to help release the wine's aromas. Then smell the wine and pay attention to what you smell. And, yes, use your imagination. Your brain stores lots of information on smells and the wine's aroma surely will spark memories of other smells.  Then sip, don't guzzle, your wine. Let it stay briefly in your mouth. Then, swallow and enjoy the immediate flavors and those that linger.

The five S's, See...Swirl...Smell...Sip...Swallow will help to better enjoy the wine that you are served. And, it makes you "think when you drink." I assure you, it will make your next glass of wine a better one! Cheers!

Beyond the 5 S's of Wine Tasting

Drinking wine is a pleasurable experience that is quite simple. And, as winemaker Charles Smith puts it "It's just wine. Drink it." But for many people, wine tasting can be a very intimidating experience. But it shouldn't be.

In the past, I've written about how to visit wineries and how to have a great experience tasting wines. And whether it be at a winery, a restaurant, wine bar, or at home, there are simple things that you can do to enhance the simple enjoyment of a glass of wine.

The Five S's of wine have been written about many times by others but here's a quick review:

  1. See - Look at the wine in your glass and note the color and clarity. White wines can range from nearly clear to pale yellow, straw color, or golden. Red wines can be maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, or deep red. Both white and red wines can take on a brown hue with age.  All wines should be free of sediment.
  2. Swirl - By swirling the wine within the glass you give it an opportunity to gain further contact with air and release its aromas.  A wine right out of a bottle may need a little exposure to air. This exposure will quickly take away any sharp odors and can help soften or mellow the wine.
  3. Sniff - 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. Try sniffing with each individual nostril. You may find a real difference. And, by the way, there is no need to sniff the cork from the bottle. A wine server may present it to you, but you only need to take a brief look at it to ensure it doesn't show any obvious signs of leakage.
  4. Sip - Take a small sip, drawing in some air as you sip, and let it stay in your mouth for a while. You can even swish it around a bit in your mouth. This will give you an opportunity to really get all the flavors that the wine has to offer.
  5. Swallow - By allowing the wine to go through the back of your mouth and down your throat you will finally get the complete wine experience from your mouth and nasal passages.

But, in addition to these classic five S's, there are a few other things that can enhance your enjoyment of wine.  The glass itself is important. It should be clean and clear with a bowl large enough to hold a nice pour of wine (around 5 ounces) and still have plenty of room left. A wine glass should only be filled about one-third of the way. The remaining 'empty' space in the glass is left to capture the wine's aromas.

The wine also needs to be at the right temperature. Reds should not be served room temperature and whites should not come straight out of the kitchen refrigerator. A red should be served at cellar temperature, 58-62 degree F, and a white should be 45-50 degrees F.  These optimal temperatures allow you to best enjoy the wine's full flavors. I recently had a friend tell me he didn't like Chardonnay until a recent visit to a winery. What he learned was that his only experience with Chardonnay was drinking it at refrigerator temperature. When the winery served their Chardonnay at 48-50 F, it was an entirely different and better experience, allowing him to actually taste all the flavors in the wine.

Decanting a red wine can also make a big difference. It doesn't need to be a fancy decanter, just one that can hold an entire bottle of wine and give the wine lots of surface area exposed to air.  Filling a decanter up to the neck does little for the wine so find a vessel that has a broad bottom such that you are only filling it about halfway. Once you've poured the wine into the decanter, pour yourself a sip right away and note the wine's character.  Give it thirty minutes in the decanter and try it again. It should smooth out and soften. You can continue decanting for an hour our two, but beyond that the wine can become over oxidized and start to become a bit stale.

Once again you may be asking yourself "Why bother?"  Well, if you follow these simple steps you'll find that you will quickly start to understand the differences in wines and better determine your real wine preferences.

But, above all else, keep it simple, take wine tasting slowly, and enjoy! Cheers!




Why Do People Swirl Their Wine Glass?

Ever wonder why people swirl their glass of wine?  Is this just something that wine snobs do? Or is it a kind of nervous habit?  Are they doing it so they can examine the 'legs' of the wine?  Or, are they doing it just to look cool? What's the point?

Well, there are two basic reasons to swirl a glass of wine; aeration and aromas.

First, aeration.  This is simply adding air to the wine.  This seem odd at first. Why does wine need air? After all, it's been intentionally stored in an air-tight bottle for some time. Well, with most red wines (typically the younger wines), adding air helps improve the flavor of the wine. Some of the improvement is due to the fact that evaporation occurs when you swirl which releases some of the stronger, less appealing compounds in the wine. But, overall, swirling allows the wine to get exposure to air which helps improve the flavor.  The act of swirling the wine in the glass allows the wine to coat the inside of the glass, giving the wine more surface area and hence, more exposure to air.

Second, while you are swirling the wine and coating the inside of the glass, you are filling your glass with the wine's aromas - all those wonderful scents associated with the particular wine.  This allows you to sniff the wine and to fully enjoy the wine experience on your tongue and in your nose.  Both of which are very important to enjoying any flavorful food or drink.

But you don't want to swirl all wines.  Sparkling wines (or 'Champagne') should not be swirled. This will quickly release all those wonderful bubbles and lead to a less-sparkling experience.  

As to swirling a glass of wine to examine its legs (those tear drops that slide down the inside of a wine glass), it may be fun to watch, but it really doesn't tell you anything about the quality of the wine, just that it has alcohol in it.

So, go ahead and carefully swirl your wine.  Yes, it may look cool, but it is actually helping the wine and improving your experience of the wine.  Cheers!