The Sugar Vine's wine tasting series is back this week and we are covering wine aroma today. As with any other food or drink, the smell of wine is an important part of the tasting experience. Don’t believe me? Try it. Hold your nose and take a sip or bite of something flavored. Before you swallow, let go of your nose. The flavors will seem much brighter than when you held your nose because your senses of smell and taste are very closely connected.
You may also hear aroma referred to as nose or bouquet. While there are slight differences in how these are used, for the most part they are interchangeable and we’ll usually use the term aroma.
The best way to smell wine is to swirl the wine around and then put your nose into the glass. Every time you take a sniff, you should re-swirl the wine. This exposes the wine to oxygen and helps release the aromas. You may also be able to smell the aromas more strongly if the wine is on the warmer side, or at least not over-chilled. Oh, and make sure you don’t have a bunch of smelly candles lit and didn’t bathe in perfume before you started sniffing because that will definitely skew your assessment.
Shouldn’t wine smell like grapes?
Wine is made from grapes, so it would make sense that it would smell like grapes, right? Well, no. For starters, wine grapes are a different species than table grapes so they do have different aromas. Each varietal has certain aromas it tends to develop as it ripens and ferments. The winemaking choices as well as aging also impact the aromas you smell.
Some wines have very simple smells. They just smell like fruit and you can’t detect any other aromas. This doesn’t make them bad; they were just made in a simpler style and didn’t need to develop other types or aromas.
Wines can also have different aroma intensities. This is simply how strong the wine smells like its aromas when you sniff it. If the wine has an in-your-face smell as soon as your nose gets close to the glass, it’s pronounced. A light aroma is when it’s hard to detect even with a good swirl and your nose deep in the glass. Medium is somewhere in between light and pronounced.
There are three main causes of the aromas in your wine: the grapes, winemaking, and aging. Let’s look at each of these more closely.
- Grapes- The grapes are responsible for what is known as primary aromas. These are formed while the grapes are ripening and during fermentation. These aromas fall into a number of categories, including fruit (green, red, black, citrus, tropical, stone), floral, herbaceous, herbal, and spice. Wines can also smell like wet stones or candy; and fruit flavors can smell ripe and unripe, cooked and dried.
- Winemaking- Secondary aromas are created by the winemaking process after fermentation is complete. Winemakers can mature a wine in oak, which adds vanilla, cloves, chocolate, coffee, coconut, cedar, charred wood, and smoke aromas. The wine can also develop dairy aromas from malolactic conversion or bread aromas from yeast.
- Aging- While most wines don’t improve from being aged for a long period of time, winemakers can wait to release a wine until it has aged in the bottle for a certain period. Bottle aging can help a wine’s tannins soften, but on the aroma side the wine can develop a whole slew of aromas like leather, mushrooms, caramel, ginger, nutmeg, and more. The primary fruit aromas also become more muted or transition from fresh fruit to dried.
Don’t worry if you struggle to identify aromas at first. Like all things, this takes practice. The more you smell things, both different wines and actual foods, the better you’ll become at detecting the different aromas. So go ahead and sniff some bread and don’t let anyone call you crazy! You can also keep a list of wine aromas handy to help give you ideas as you smell the wine.
We'll be back next week to talk about tasting- the most exciting part. If you can't wait, head over to The Sugar Vine's Wine Press and check out the entire wine tasting series.