Smelling wine

Wine Tasting 101 - Step 2: Smell

Jun 25, 2021Martin Stead
In Step 2 of our Wine Tasting 101 series we help you get to grips with smelling wine and describing what you smell.
Your nose is your super-sense when it comes to really getting a handle on the aromas of your wine. However, many people find describing what they smell one of the most challenging and inaccessible parts of wine tasting.
The best place to start is to try - the more you practice, the better you'll get at picking up different aromas. And since you get much more of a read of the flavour profile of your wine from smelling it than you will from tasting it, this is a good skill to hone. So make sure you really get your nose in and smell your wine - don't miss out!
How to smell
Swirl the wine in your glass. This releases the volatile compounds into the space above the liquid. Put your nose in and get a good smell - inhale deeply and steadily through your nose.
What you're smelling for
Aromas come from the fruit itself, but also from the wine making process - like oak maturation and ageing. But when you're thinking about what you're smelling, try to get beyond describing it simply as "oaky" or "fruity".
If you smell fruit - what kind of fruit is it? Is it citrus, or tropical fruit, or perhaps berry fruit? If it's citrus, can you pick up on if it is lemon, grapefruit or lime? White wines often smell of apples or pineapples. Reds might smell of berry fruits or cured meats.
If the fruit aroma is a property of the grape, then the spice, herb, oak, mineral and animal aromas - if present - are due to the wine making and maturation process. The production of the wine adds and changes the volatile compounds in the wine to increase the aroma and flavour profile.
Intensity is also an important factor. Did the aromas hit you full on or were they light or harder to make out?
In the smell, you'll also be able to most easily discover if your wine is "off" (or corked). Whilst what some people think is "off" can be personal, there are some common attributes that we can all agree on that mean the wine isn't great. Strong aromas of wet card, damp, boiled cabbage, vinegar are typical aromas of flawed wine.
Do remember that aromas - and the flavours that you taste - will vary a little from person to person, and then you'll layer on this whether or not you like a particular profile that you find. This means that what you enjoy can be very different from someone else. This is one of the amazing and enjoyable things about drinking wine with others!

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