Smelling the wine prepares our brains for the taste and flavor we are about to experience. If you close your eyes as you take a deep breath to smell the wine you’ll notice more of the aroma and your taste buds will be stimulated.
Flavor notes and chemical reactions can be detected. That’s the interaction between sugars, acids, alcohols and compounds that develop as wine ages.
Why do people swirl red wine?
The action of swirling exposes the liquid to air. The purpose is to encourage the wine to ‘open up’ and release flavor and aroma as the wine meets the oxygen.
A gentle swirling action moves wine around the glass so it runs down the side of the glass letting viscosity, hue, clarity and smell be observed.
Viscosity: One or both of these qualities will be revealed: higher alcohol content and higher sweetness. High alcohol wines reveal themselves in the density of the droplets. Higher density of droplets means higher alcohol.
The viscosity of sweeter wines is higher, therefore the flow down the sides of the glass is slower.
Hue: Color and density of the wine are observed for clues as to the type and quality of the grape. A brighter hue usually indicates a newer wine whereas a dullness is indicative of older wine.
Clarity: Visually you can also pick up cues. Is the wine clear or cloudy? For example, if there are particles of cork or if there is anything wrong with the wine.
Smell: As the wine softens, it gives off its aromas during the ‘opening up’ process. Aroma, flavor notes and bouquet are observed.
While exposure to oxygen opens the wine to release flavor, equally, wine will oxidize and be ruined if it is left to sit exposed or open to oxygen for too long (overnight for example). The resulting taste is unpleasant and flat.
What is Wine Bouquet?
Smell also reflects exposure to oak and fermentation. This is known as the ‘wine’s bouquet’ and develops post-fermentation during the maturing process and when the wine is in the bottle.
The bouquet can take years to develop or mature into a complex bouquet. In essence it’s the result of the aroma’s combining and maturing to produce the bouquet.
It’s all about the aroma. You should get used to ‘sniffing’ your wine before tasting it because this helps you to learn about the wine you’re drinking. The more practice you have using your senses, the more you’ll learn.
The sense of smell is a sensory system and one of our strongest senses.
What affects the taste of wine?
The type of grape and the climate and soil they were grown in affects flavor.
Taste is observed via the tongue initially and as you swallow followed up retro-nasally. The tongue detects bitter, sweet, salty and sour flavors, texture and the length of time wine stays on the palate.
What is meant by Wine Aroma and Flavor notes?
There are 3 stages, or aromas, subdivided into these categories.
1. Primary aromas are derived from the variety of grape used to make the wine and will include fruit, herbal, floral and spicy notes along with the climate the grapes were grown in.
2. Secondary aromas are produced during the pre-fermentation, fermentation and wine-making process.
3. Tertiary aromas are from the aging process and are either bottle or oak. Tertiary aroma is actually the wine bouquet.
Flavor notes are a result of any of the following
Fruit notes – These are red or black fruits
- Reds: eg red plum, strawberry, raspberry, goji berry, pomegranate. Red fruits tend to have more tartness and acidity.
Wine produced: Pinot Noir, Merlot
- Blackfruits: eg blackberry, black currant, black plum. Black fruits tend to be full-bodied reds and may have some sweetness and some tart.
Wine produced: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec
- Citrus-like qualities grapefruit, passionfruit, lemon or tree fruits like apricot, peach, apple
- Floral notes
- Herbaceous notes
- Spice notes
- Earthy notes
- Flavor notes from oak aging and bottle aging
Sommeliers and professional tasters will put their nose right into the glass and breathe deeply to absorb the aroma. This is to evaluate flaws in the wine and from the aroma determine the qualities.
First to be noticed are fruit qualities, (eg citrus, berries, zesty qualities, light fruits, raspberry, herbs). These are ‘top notes’ and are lighter fruits.
After the initial top notes recede the earthy qualities of the middle become apparent, and are more dominant. Finally wood qualities.
Wood qualities are the base notes, they are heavier and tend to linger.
Professional tasters try to work out the alcohol content, the age of the wine and identify cork taint, which is unpleasant.
What does corked wine mean?
The wine has been contaminated with a chemical TCA (trichloroacetic acid) if it is corked. Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t mean particles of cork floating in the wine.
Cork is obtained from the outer bark of the tree and stripped by hand from the trunk and larger branches. As it’s a natural product the pores of the cork can retain fungi, mold or bacteria. Despite strict sanitation processes, occasionally an unwelcome chemical change can occur when the fungi or mold interacts with a cholorophenol, bleach, insecticide or fungicide. The resulting compound is TCA.
Can screw-cap bottles of wine be contaminated?
It’s not entirely impossible for screw cap bottles to be contaminated. Although rare, they can be tainted if they come into contact with contaminated equipment.
What does corked wine smell like?
Cork taint interferes with our sense of smell and is perceived as an unpleasant aroma. It’s been described in a number of ways. You might discern a damp, soggy, wet cardboard or newspaper smell. Or be reminded of an earthy, moldy basement, a musty smell, wet rags or a wet dog.
The smell of corked wine can be quite dull or muted. It can be subtle, especially if you’re learning about wine. You’ll recognize it easily once experienced.
Cork taint becomes more pronounced as the wine ages. It’s believed that corked wine won’t hurt you but you might want to return an expensive bottle of wine to the retailer.
How to open corked wine
If you have old bottles of wine and want to add the cork to a collection, use an Ah So Wine opener. Also known as Butler’s Thief and 2 Prong wine opener. The purpose of this type of opener is to open wine without damaging the cork.
The opener has 2 prongs to slide between the cork and bottle. Once inserted as deeply as possible, twist until the cork pulls out.
Why do people smell different things in wine?
Aroma has the power to stimulate our memory to recall a time or experience we’ve had in the past. In the case of wine, the brain will identify aromas or scents that are in our memory bank, (we have smelled before) and bring those to the fore.
That’s why if you’re sitting with a group of people tasting wine you may all detect and describe different flavors. There will be different levels of familiarity and sensitivity to appreciate qualities and smell.
Wine, Smell & Memory
Smell is our strongest sense when it comes to effecting memory.
The olfactory structure, (the nose is a part of this structure), collects information and sends signals to other parts of our body’s central command. One of these is the brain’s limbic system which has a direct relationship with emotion and memory.
As an example of how powerful smell can be, you might have heard the old saying ‘Rosemary for remembrance’. Rosemary is an aromatic herb and there has long been the belief that it helps stimulate and improve memory. This goes back to ancient times so it’s definitely not a new idea that smell affects recall.
What is Nose of Wine
The term used to describe the smell or overall aroma of a wine is Nose of the wine. Whereas a person who is expert in the science of essential oils is called a ‘Nose’.
What is a Sommelier?
A wine professional is a Sommelier. Formally trained, a Sommelier works alongside the culinary team of a fine dining establishment and has responsibility for managing a wine cellar’s inventory. They also work on the floor to suggest wine/menu pairings to guests.
What’s the difference between Sommelier and Connoisseur?
Connoisseur is a term often used incorrectly to describe a wine professional who is in fact a Sommelier.
The difference is a Connoisseur has expertise and a great deal of knowledge in a particular area, for example music or art. The specialty field of expertise may not be related to wine.
A Connoisseur of fine wines has an appreciation of the details and subtleties of wine.
What is the Olfactory System?
When we smell, or sniff, information is collected via the nose and is sent to the brain to interpret. This system of the body is called the Olfactory system. It plays an important part in recall or remembering.
As a side note, the Olfactory system is used in holistic therapies, eg Aromatherapy.