Aromas & Nose

The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting by Neel Burton talks about how the flavor of a wine is an interpretation by the brain of several different stimuli from specialized sensory cells. Receptor neurons flash information to the olfactory bulb in the brain once they have traveled through the nostrils and the channel at the back of the mouth. This explains why much of tasting takes place retronasally within the mouth and pharynx, while orthornasal is the action of the nostrils and nose.

The tongue has five thousand taste buds and the ability to detect temperature, fizziness, viscosity, and extract. The mouth feels the heat of alcohol, astringency of tannins, and waters with acidity. It is the taste receptors on the tongue that are responsible for the five primary tastes of sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and umami.

The key to becoming mindful with wine is leveraging mindfulness because that will increase sensory endurance and understanding for the taster.

The human olfactory sense is extremely acute, it can recognize and memorize 10,000 different aromas. This explains why some descriptors for wine are relatable to some parts of the population and not others, proving again why it is so crucial that each person develop their own sensory library. I recommend going to a floral shop, and farmers market to smell everything! Aroma kits are also a fun way to increase your sensory library. Don’t be shy, the more you sniff, the better wine taster you will be!

Aromas in a wine can be broken down into three categories: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary:

Primary aromas are from the grape variety and fermentation. These can be a diverse set of fruit, floral, herbal, spice, etc.

Secondary aromas are from the winemaking process. Examples are butter, vanilla, croissant, and toast.

Tertiary aromas are that of aging. These can be mushroom, meat, clove, and honeycomb.

Give the wine a hearty swirl to release the esters in the wine into the bowl then hold your nose directly into the glass. Take 5 short sniffs (like a dog) and write down the intensity (how concentrated the aromas are), then write down all the aroma characteristics that you smell. On an exam setting you would be required to write down 5-8 aroma descriptors. Use the following grid to help guide you.


Video & Activity!

Take 20 minutes to sit with a glass of wine in a brightly-lit room free of odors and loud noises. (Sorry kids- go outside!)

Pour wine in a Bordeaux glass or all-purpose glass with a stem. Give her a swirl and put your nose all the way in the glass. Don’t be shy! Take 5 quick sniffs and write down what comes to mind (look at your grid!)

Try to come up with 5-10 aroma descriptors. For a simple wine (like Pinot Grigio) there may be less to discover, but for practice sake, see how many you can come up with!

Homework- Go to the farmers market, local flower shop and shoe or leather shop. Go smell flowers, fruits, veggies, new leather vs old leather, and spices. The more sensory library you can input into your brain- the better! Also note the differences between a crisp, green apple and a golden apple that has been left out for an hour. What is the difference in the nose?

Remember, Practice makes Progress and Awareness, not Perfection is the Goal.