Did you know your sense of smell can tell you more about wine than your taste buds do? There is much to learn simply by smelling wine. In fact, you can learn much more with your nose than your eyes and mouth.
One of the skills of a good winemaker is his or her sense of smell. If you have a good “nose”, it goes a long way to assisting in the making of good wine. Your sense of smell is capable of identifying a multitude of aromas in the wine and with education and experience, it is amazing what can be detected by simply smelling the wine in the glass, swirling the glass and then smelling it again. Funnily enough, not very often does the wine actually smell of grapes.
So what can be detected, and how do you identify the aromas? Often in the tasting room, wine drinkers pick up a range of aromas, but find it hard to identify what the aromas remind them of. Once prompted, it becomes obvious, but linking the aroma to the memory can be a challenge.
Some of the aromas that can be identified include: fresh fruit – specific fruits may be prevalent, such as lychee, raspberry or maybe fruit salad. Dried fruit – raisins or prunes. Floral – such as roses. A range of vegetables. Mineral – flint, wet stones. Animal – leather, game. Buttery, spicy – pepper. Nutty. Oaky – vanilla, toast. Honey.
The list is endless, but some of those listed helps to have a starting point of what might be picked up when attempting to identify the “bouquet” of a wine. Wines are characterised by these aromas, due to grapes sharing many of the same chemical compounds as those listed.
So why bother identifying the different aromas of wines? The primary aroma is from the grape itself, indicating the grape variety. Secondly, there are aromas resulting from specific wine-making processes. For example, a buttery or creamy aroma in a white wine is a result of a fermentation process to soften the acidity of the wine. Or, there may be aromas such as vanilla or toast, reflecting the use of oak. The final layer of aromas are a little more difficult to identify and are typically found in wine that has aged. After the wine has matured, the young, fresh aromas are replaced with aromas that are mellow, deeply layered, yet still clean.
Finally, think about the intensity of what you are smelling. Is it strong, muted, restrained or almost non-existent? If you cover a glass of wine and give it a shake, you can awaken the wine and release a more vibrant aroma.
Finally, trust your nose – if you identify an aroma that no-one else does, it doesn’t mean you are wrong … there is no right or wrong; just have a go!