Wine Tasting 101 (Part Two: Name That Smell)

The second stage of wine tasting. (c) Wine Folly

In the first post in this series, I talked about the five stages of wine tasting. In this post I’m going to focus on Stage Two: Smell.

You may have noticed that regardless of their size many wine glasses share a common ‘tulip’ shape, being wider at the bottom and narrowing slightly at the top (they also have a stem, which I’ll hopefully remember to talk about in another post), and that they are much bigger than the 100mls which is a standard drink. This is quite deliberate: the extra space in the glass allows the wine to interact with the air, releasing the aroma, while the tapered shape then concentrates that aroma close to the drinker’s nose and mouth. So, what should you be smelling?

Wine aromas are categorised into groups. The number of groups differ depending on who you talk to: for simplicity’s sake I usually stick with the three outlined on Wine Folly’s excellent site.

Fruit: The single largest category, and usually the easiest to pick. In general, red wines will smell of red fruits. Darker, heavier reds like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are typically associated with darker fruits like plum, blackberry, and blackcurrant, while lighter reds like Pinot Noir are often associated with lighter fruits like raspberries and strawberries (although there are always exceptions). White wines are associated with pretty much all the other fruits, from stonefruits like nectarine and peach, to tropical fruits like pineapple and lychee and citrus fruits. When playing ‘name that fruit’, pretty much the only guaranteed wrong answer is grape.

A simple guide to wine flavours.

Herbal and Floral: I always think of ‘vegetable’ fruits like capsicum (not uncommon in Sauvignon Blanc and drier Pinot Gris) as falling into this category, even though technically it’s a fruit, and in general I’ve found that herbal and floral notes such as cut grass, coriander, jasmine, and orange-blossom are more noticeable in white wines than reds. That’s not to say that you won’t find them in reds, though, so don’t let me tell you otherwise.

Everything Else: On the one hand this, obviously, covers a lot of ground. On the other hand these notes are often less noticeable, so unless you’re drinking the expensive, complex stuff you might very well encounter only one or two of these per wine. Red wines, which are aged in wooden barrels, will often have notes of oak or cedar, reflecting the tannins found in both the wood of the barrels and the grape skins which give the wine its colour. Both red and white wines will often have a spicy note: cassis or cloves or ginger, for example. Earthy notes can crop up, perhaps in the stony, mineral scent of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or the woodland leaf-mulch of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Good Champagne is characterised by a yeasty, bready scent. Honey, chocolate, smoke, tobacco, diesel, leather, almonds… the list is almost endless.

So there you go. I’ve resisted the urge to give exhaustive lists of the aromas you might find under each category, although they’re certainly out there. My suggestion – which I try to apply to my own wine drinking – is to try to identify at least two fruit aromas and at least one other aroma before you take your first sip of any glass of wine. Because the sense of smell is subjective it’s virtually impossible to be wrong (unless you guess ‘grapes’!), and it can be fun to compare your perceptions with other people or the blurb on the back of the wine label.

Once again, salud, l’chaim, à votre santé, and cheers bro! May every glass of wine you drink be the best yet.

A more complex approach: the Davis Wine Aroma Wheel.

Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.



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