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How to Smell a Wine and How to Start to Recognize the Aromas

This lesson is a part of an audio course Wine Course with an International Expert by Matteo Girardi

In our previous lesson, you learned how to define the colour and intensity of a wine and how much information you can extract by just looking at a wine.

In this lesson you will learn how to smell a wine.

The shape of the glass is important, and we have many types of glasses produced around the world. But generally, all of them have a bowl which narrows at the rim. This drives the aromas toward your nose.

The glasses for red wine are larger than the one for white wine, to allow more wine in contact with more oxygen.

The sparkling wines are poured in flutes or tulip shaped glasses. One important thing for sparkling wines is to prevent the glass from having any detergent still on it, otherwise the bubbles disappear quickly.

So, how do we smell wine?

First you need to define the intensity on the nose.

The intensity could be described by two things!

How close to the glass you must go to smell something and how well the aromas of your wine are defined.

For example, you have in your glass a Pinot Noir: you smell it and you are struggling to find the specific aromas, you smell generic red fruit. In this case, probably, the intensity of the wine is only light.

Whereas in the case you have a pronounced intensity Pinot Noir, you will smell the wine and you will easily detect strawberry, raspberry, red cherry, violet.

But how do you recognize the aromas?

We can divide the aromas in three families of aromas: primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas.

The primary aromas come from the grape variety and from the process of fermentation.

The secondary aromas come from the winemaking process (for example contact with oak, malolactic conversion or contact with the lees).

The tertiary aromas come from the process of ageing, and the ageing can be of 2 types: in contact with oxygen, like in a barrel, or without oxygen, like in the bottle.

In the next course we will enter more in detail about all these families.

During my lessons, the part regarding how to smell aromas is what scares my students the most, especially when they are approaching wine tasting for the first time.

Most of the time, the problem is not that you do not recognize the aromas, but that you cannot name and define them!

So, the first step is to build your olfactory memory! It is something you can learn!

The next step is to categorize aromas in your mind into different groups, like for example fruity, floral, spicy, or herbaceous. In the next course we will look more into detail on the aroma families.

Suppose you are smelling your wine and you are asking yourself which family of aromas could be present. Let us say fruity.

Then ask yourself, which group of fruit could it be: citrus, green fruit, stone, tropical, red fruit, or black fruit?

Let us say you choose stone fruit. At this point you can easily say peach and apricot for example.

The secret is not to try to detect immediately the specific aroma, but to first find the clusters and then to detect the single aromas.

Your task for this lesson is to go into your kitchen and to smell at cloves, cinnamon, lemon, orange, black pepper, vanilla, tomatoes, and everything you have in your kitchen, this will help you to build your olfactive memory. After that it will be easier for you to recognize the aromas of your wines!

In our next lesson, you will start to learn how to taste a wine, understanding how to detect the different components present on the palate. We will start with sweetness and acidity.

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Written by

Matteo Girardi