On the nose: Understanding how to smell your wine

It’s easy to get intimidated when at a wine tasting event. All around you, people are swirling, sniffing, taking notes and making comments about fruits and spices. For you, its all grapes: looks like wine, smells like wine, and oh yeah, it taste like wine too. That’s a perfectly fine way to drink your wine, but if you want to go just a little bit further, here is some additional information about smelling your wine (often referred to as the “nose of the wine.”

A little preliminary stuff to start: wine does pick up smells and tastes beyond the grapes that it was used to make it. How? Simple answer: from its environment. Everything from the soil the grapes were grown in, to the machinery and barrels the wine was made in, to how it was handled all along the way can impact or add a little something-something to the wine you are drinking.

Now, knowing that, it often leads to the question: how does one smell these things? Spoiler alert: it takes some practice. Starting out, when you go to take a big whiff of your wine, it’s going to smell just like, well, wine. However, over time, and by trying different types of wine, you will start to notice little differences and scent notes here and there.

Ready to get started? Here are some tips that are helpful to those of use that are new at the sport:

  1. Don’t read the tasting notes or the back of the label. This will just put preconceived thoughts into your head.
  2. Fill your glass a quarter to a third of the way full. This will allow you to swirl and smell without your wine sloshing everywhere. And don’t worry, you will get to top it off later.
  3. Have a piece of paper and pen/pencil or a notepad by your side. Writing down what you smell is interesting, and it makes you look really official.
  4. Give your glass a swirl. This will put some oxygen into your wine, allowing it to “breathe.” Basically, it opens up the wine a bit, so that you can smell more then just grapes.
  5. Tilt your glass, open your mouth slightly and take a good, deep breath. Sometimes closing your eyes helps. Stay there for a moment and think of what you smell. Remember that wine is subjective, per Wine Pair:

    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!

  6. Write down what you are smelling, even if it seems silly. Does the wine smell spicy or like a leather jacket? Does it remind you of fruit jam?

Voilà! You are one step closer to becoming a sommelier.

Smelling wine actually can get pretty intense with different layers of scents. So when you are ready to go to the next level, check out this post by Wine Folly, Tips on Tasting: Wine Bouquet vs Aroma.

Happy sniffing!

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