How to Smell Wine

Date August 12, 2011 | Chuck | Editorials & How To Series

Your sense of smell is by far your biggest asset when assessing wine. Food scientists have identified over 200 aromas in wine; your tongue can identify 4 main flavour groups (sweet, salty, bitter and sour) while your nose is able to comprehend well over 10,000 aromas.

What to do:

  1. Pickup the glass by the stem
  2. Swirl it 3 times (increases the surface area and removes any old evaporating vapors from the glass' bowl)
  3. Put your nose deep into the glass and inhale gently for 2-3 seconds (for some, 3 one-second bursts works nicely)
  4. Identify and take note of some aromas (these may change as the wine opens [or warms] up)

What we're Smelling for:

  1. Intensity
    • Mild
    • Moderate
    • Aggressive
  2. Aromas
    • Fruity
    • Spicy
    • Floral
    • Vegetative
    • Earthy
    • Woody
    • Nutty
    • Caramelized
    • Chemical
  3. Flaws
    • Sour
    • Moldy
    • Cork Taint
    • Oxidized
    • Vinegar
    • Sulfide
    • Brett


Aroma vs Bouquet

The terms Aroma and Bouquet are often used interchangeably but there's a distinction between the two: · Aroma is used to describe the one-dimensional smells that make themselves very apparent on the first few sniffs. · Bouquet is used to describe layers of aromas perceived in the wine. The wine's bouquet does not develop until after fermentation.



Practice makes perfect

A professional taster is continually adding to his or her smell vocabulary. Remember, you can't identify a smell if you've never experienced that smell before. Use our About Grapes page for help on identifying some of the aromatic characteristics of the varietal you're accessing.




Give your nose a break when smelling a variety of wines or the same wine over and over. Your sense of smell can become 'tired' just like a muscle. · If the bottle's label indicates an aroma but you just can't pinpoint it, the aroma may no longer be present. If the wine is a few years old, so is the label. The wine matured, the label did not. · Don't try and smell a wine while in a kitchen full of other aromas. Try to be in a neutral place. · Avoid wearing perfume or cologne





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