Smell is the second and most important tool in the tasting
process. The human sense of smell is capable of detecting
more than 10,000 different odors, with a “trained” nose
capable of recognizing more than 1,000 specific aromas.
The human sense of smell is also considered to be the strongest
trigger for memories, especially “taste” memories. After
examining the wine, the next step is to smell the aroma
of the wine, again looking for clues about the wine.
The keys to fully examining the aroma of a wine are simple.
- One, gently swirl the wine in the glass before
smelling. The action of swirling exposes more
wine surface area to the air directly above it in the
glass, which in turn causes the volatile odiferous elements
to be released into the glass.
- Two, once the wine is swirled it is important
to place your nose into the bowl of the glass and
sniff deeply to ensure that these odiferous elements are
pulled into your nasal cavity.
- Three, spend at least 45 to 60 seconds smelling
the wine before proceeding to taste. Some wines
will noticeably change after repeated swirls, so spending
the time to note these changes is important. Some tasters
find that beginning with smaller sniffs, gradually building
to more aggressive inhales, after repeated swirling, works
best. Again, the key is finding the process that works
for you. However, no one will dispute the vast amount
of critical tasting data acquired through intensive nasal
While the human olfactory can detect more than 10,000
different odors, it takes training and practice to be able
to increase the number of smells that are recognizable.
The level, or concentration, at which a person detects smells,
is called their “detection threshold.” Detection threshold
is typically something we’re born with and cannot necessarily
The level, or concentration, at which a person recognizes
smells, is called their “recognition threshold.” Recognition
threshold is something that can be improved through training.
The degree to which a person can improve their recognition
threshold depends on one important factor: memory. Through
practice you can teach yourself to recognize aromas. However,
without the ability to link these recognizable aromas to
the characteristics of certain grapes, wines and regions
through memory, a person will be at a disadvantage during
a critical tasting for assessment.
For me the way I improve the linkage between recognizable
aromas and specific grapes, wines and regions is through
copious note taking during wine tasting. While this process
works for me, be mindful that it may not work for you. The
key is finding a way to cement those linkages. Some pointers
to keep in mind when smelling wine:
For All Wines
Often times the aroma of a wine is where you will find
many of the varietal characteristics of a particular grape.
For instance, noting that Sauvignon Blanc exhibits “grassy”
hints will probably be more evident in the aroma, than in
the actual taste. For this reason, rely more on your nose
to provide varietal data about a particular wine.
I can’t emphasize the issue of time enough. Spend enough
time sniffing the wine, even returning to it after having
tasted the wine to ensure that each minute characteristic
is picked out. As I stated previously, most poured wines
will change significantly over time, some quicker than others.
A wine that changes for the worse more quickly in the glass
may not be one with a very long cellar life. The process
that causes a wine to change in the glass is an accelerated
version of the process that is occurring in the bottle.
Learn to recognize the difference between a flawed wine
and a problem that is due to bottle variation. On the Society
of Wine Educator’s web site there is an excellent article
on Teaching Yourself How to Identify Faults. While it may
seem impractical, the exercises listed in the article are
an effective way to self-educate on the subject of fault
identification. Practicing fault identification is also
a good way to build more objectiveness into your tasting
process as well.
3: Taste >