Understanding Wine Aroma

Aroma is without a doubt the most diverse aspect of wine tasting. It is estimated that humans can identify approximately 10,000 unique smells. When it comes to tasting wine, the best way to release these many possible aromas is to swirl the liquid.

We swirl wine to expose the actual liquid to the air, to run it up the sides of the glass and to get an extra look at its color. The drops, or tears, that trickle back down tell lots about alcohol content. The color of the wine, both when still and when swirled, gives hints to its density, the type and quality of the grape and the condition of the wine. New wine often has brighter hues than older wine.

Plus, some wine — particularly red wine — needs to oxidize slightly when opened. If it has been properly stored, little oxygen will have reached it. As wines age, they need air to help fully release their aromas and flavors. Swirling helps.

Now that you’ve looked at the wine and swirled it around your glass, there’s only one more step before you get to drink it: smelling the wine.

It’s Time To Learn How To Smell Wine!

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 affect on the way our brain processes flavor.

In professional wine tasting, there is generally a distinction made between "aromas" and a wine's "bouquet" while in casual wine tasting these two terms are used interchangeably. An aroma refers to the smells unique to the grape variety and are most readily demonstrated in a varietal wine. As a wine ages, chemical reactions among acids, sugars, alcohols and phenolic compounds create new smells that are known as a wine's bouquet. The term bouquet can also be expanded to include the smells derived from fermentation and exposure to oak. In Burgundy, the aromas of wines are sub-divided into three categories-primary, secondary and tertiary aromas. Primary aromas are those specific to the grape variety itself. Secondary aromas are those derived from fermentation. Tertiary aromas are those that develop through either bottle or oak aging.

The sense of smell and detecting the aromas in wine is the primary means through which wine is tasted and evaluated.

When you go to smell the wine, 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. 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!

Detecting an aroma is only part of wine tasting. The next step is to describe or communicate what that aroma is and it is in this step that the subjective nature of wine tasting appears. Different individuals have their own way of describing familiar scents and aromas based on their unique experiences. Furthermore, there are varying levels of sensitivity and recognition thresholds among humans of some aromatic compounds. This is why one taster may describe different aromas and flavors from another taster sampling the very same wine.