Ever walked by someone and thought, “Damn, she smells good?” Or maybe you just felt spectacularly drawn to someone’s natural odor? The magic of each bottle lies in its aroma. If I’m not intrigued by the smell of the wine, it’s not likely that I’ll enjoy the flavor. On the other hand, the wine’s aromas can be so deliciously complex that I don’t want to ruin the moment by tasting it.
That’s why you see wine folk swirling the glass. It’s not because it looks chic. Swirling is an invitation into the wine’s natural mystic. Swirling causes the alcohol to vaporize, and those vapors carry the wine’s scent to your nose. So the truth is, your nose is doing the tasting.
While your tongue can perceive four different tastes—sweet, salty, sour and bitter, your nose is able to recognize thousands of different smells. When you’re reading white wine descriptions, you may discover descriptors ranging from lime and honeycomb to freshly mown grass and cat’s pea (Sauvignon Blanc). Red wine descriptions can range from red cherries and figs to leather and cigar box.
It wasn’t until sommelier school that I knew what gooseberry and quince smelled like. The point is you may not know what cat’s pea smells like, but the more you smell wine, the more personal the references become. When I first smelled Carmenere, for example, it reminded me of ganja smoke. A colleague once said his white wine smelled like a vegemite sandwich. A friend said his Chilean red blend smelled like “his grandmother’s Montana farm on a summer day.”
When I’m sipping a well-made wine, I usually close my eyes to focus on what’s in the glass. Some wines are certainly more aromatic than others. Sauternes, for example, can offer aromas that range from honey buns to candied ginger. When I think of typical old world Pinot Noir, I think of barnyard, armpit, and that gorgeous, unmentionable funk. Your wine journey may take you somewhere else, but you’ll know it when you smell it.
Here are tips to make your wine experience even more smell-binding:
- Be present. Don’t rush into the glass. Take your time.
- Give your wine glass a good swirl.
- Close your eyes (Optional).
- Put your nose into the glass and take a deep sniff.
- Don’t just keep sniffing.
- Give yourself at least two minutes before you sniff again.
Why? According to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, “Wine activates a unique pattern of nerve ends in the olfactory bulb. These nerve ends are like small candles that are snuffed out when activated and take a little more time to reactivate.”
- Try to smell the wine two more times before you decide if you like it or not.
Dinkinish O’Connor is an award-winning writer. Her food sojourns have taken her everywhere from the shanty town bistros of Kingston to the gnarly vineyards of Bordeaux. She has written for Wine Spectator, Condé Nast Traveler, The Miami Herald and other publications. Dinkinish received her sommelier certification and hosts innovative wine tastings. To see what’s happening in Dinkinish’s sumptuous, little world, check out, “Gourmet Squatter,” a blog that explores how to sip high on a low budget.