When wise tasting, the nose play as much of a part as the palate. You will often hear expert refer to the wine’s “nose.” By this, they mean the wine aroma, the scents being picked up by the olfactory senses. While the tongue can only pick up a handful of flavours, the nose has the ability to detect a wide range of smells at varying intensities. Recognising different aromas in wine is important in wine tasting, as it gives you more insight into the wine and allows for a well-rounded experience. It also allows you to taste the complexities of the wine. It will take time and a lot of practice to be able to identify specific notes. Here are some basic knowledge and tips to get you started.
Scents to look out for
Just like flavours in wine, aromas can be divided into two general categories. Firstly, primary wine aromas. These are scents which derive from the grape varieties used in creating the wine.
- Fruits (ex: dark fruit, peaches, blackberries, citrus)
- Flowers (ex: lavenders, violets, roses)
- Herbs (ex: mint, bell peppers, oregano)
The next set of smells are the secondary, and sometimes tertiary aromas. This is known as the wine bouquet, meaning flavours acquired through the winemaking process of fermentation and aging.
Secondary and tertiary aromas
- Oakiness (from the oak cask used in aging)
- Yeast flavours (from the yeast used in fermentation)
- Nuttiness (ex: walnut, hazelnuts, roasted nuts, nutmeg)
- Spices (ex: pepper, cardamom, cloves)
- Smokiness (ex: cigar box, smoke, tobacco)
Other scents you may detect
- Wood ashes
- Cedar wood
- Leaves and grass
- Pine needles
The science behind the scents
You may be wondering, how does something made primarily of grapes end up smelling like flowers, fruits, and spices? Well, this has to do with flavour compounds, which are present in each element in the production process.
On their own, grapes carry their natural flavours and flavour compounds. However, as long as they remain unfermented, these compounds remain mostly unnoticeable. This is because they are overpowered by the natural sugars in the fruit.
When fermentation occurs, the sugars are broken down. As a result, the hidden flavour compounds are released into the wine and become more apparent to the senses.
Similarly to the grapes, yeast and oak also carry their own flavour compounds. When they come in contact with the wine, they impart their compounds into the mix.
Here are just some of the flavour compounds responsible for the aromas floating around in wine.
The more pronounced primary fruit flavours are thanks to esters. This compound is released when alcohol reacts with acids.
Ketones are to thank for floral scents, particularly the dark, heavy ones. This compound is present in wines like Syrah and Pinot Noir.
This compound is responsible for other flower aromas found in wine. They are found in grape skins, but are also present in flower petals.
Pyrazines are credited for scents of green bell peppers and grassy, leafy smells. These are especially unique to Sauvignon grapes, which end up in wines like the Cabernet Sauvignon.
How to pick up wine aromas
Now that you know what scents to look out for, it’s time to put your nose to the test. Here’s how you can ensure that you get a good waft of smells.
To learn more about proper wine tasting methods, click here
In the “swirl” stage of the wine tasting process, take your time. Swirl the wine in the glass for 10 seconds. It’s okay to be a little forceful with it. As the wine oxydises, the scents of the wine will be released into the air.
After swirling, tilt your wine glass towards your nose and inhale. Start by identifying the most general scents. Do you smell fruits? Flowers? Any herbs? Then, narrow down what you smell from there.
In general, red and white wines carry their individual sets of noses.
Red wine usually smells of…
- Dark fruits
White wine usually smells of…
- Citrus fruits
When getting to know your wine, it’s helpful to keep a notebook to jot down notable flavours, scents, and sensations.