Sniffing a glass of wine is one of the greatest pleasures of tasting. But identifying the aromas can be a difficult task especially for beginners.
When tasting wine it’s important to select the correct shaped glass and serve the wine at the right temperature. Both of these factors will affect the wine’s aroma. Select a tulip-shaped glass (for red, white and rosé wines) and only fill it to a third full. If the wine is too cold its aromas will be suppressed. If the wine is too warm its aromas will vaporise too quickly and be overpowered by alcohol fumes.
How to analyse the aroma of a wine
Approach this in three stages:
FIRST NOSING - Without swirling the wine in the glass take your first sniff. What you’re trying to identify here is whether there are any undesirable smells and then capture the delicate, volatile aromas of the wine that are present in the upper part of the glass and soon disappear after serving.
SECOND NOSING - At this stage, you’re looking to identify the wine’s aromatic personality. Give the wine a swirl in the glass to help oxygenate it - this helps to release the aromatics. Take a few sniffs and think about what it tells you in terms of strength, intensity and richness. You can also start to identify the different aromas.
THIRD NOSING - Let the wine stand for a while in the glass and then take another sniff without swirling it this time. Here you’ll start to establish the wine’s character and you may notice the development of different aromas and changes in intensity.
Describing the aroma of a wine
This is no easy task so it’s best to approach it in stages and slowly build up to your final description.
Try and describe the wine’s aromatic characteristic in a general way. Assess its intensity in terms of strong or weak and then refine it using terms such as expressive, intense, powerful, generous and exuberant. Conversely, you could refine it as weak, poor or limp.
Sometimes the wine may not develop any distinguishable aroma in the glass, such as when it has just been poured or has been served too cold. The aroma could then be described as closed.
Feel free to add more subjective thoughts such as pleasing, agreeable, elegant, or classy, as well as banal, ordinary, simplistic, or vulgar.
Identifying different aromas
This is where things become a little more tricky so start by trying to identify the aroma family - floral, fruit, herbaceous, mineral, spice, chemical, musk, balsamic, toasted. Once you’ve pinned down the aroma families you can then begin to expand them, for example, if you identify fruit aromas are these of strawberry, cherry, apricot, or citrus fruits? We’ve compiled a table of wine aroma families to help you with this.
There are three groups of aromas that develop from the grape variety and the winemaking process.
Primary aromas come from the grape variety and they may be floral, fruity, vegetal, mineral or spicy. These primary aromas are strongest in young wines.
Secondary aromas come from the fermentation process and may be described as amylic (banana, nail varnish), fermentative (yeast, soft bread), or lactic (butter, milk, cream). These aromas are typically associated with young wines and disappear after a couple of years ageing in the bottle.
Secondary aromas can also arise from maturing wine in oak barrels. This will produce spicy aromas (pepper, vanilla, cinnamon) or toasted aromas (grilled, roasted, smoked).
Tertiary aromas come from ageing wine in a bottle or oak barrel where slight oxygenation is allowed. Tertiary aromas give a wine its complexity, adding musky and vegetal notes to its aromatic profile.
Describing a wine’s aroma is very subjective and it can be influenced by many things such as humidity, air pressure, temperature, and shape of the glass. It’s also very dependent on you and your own memories associated with particular smells. Never be afraid to say what you think of a wine: there’s no right or wrong answer!