The wine tasting experience involves many different sensations - taste, appearance, texture and, most importantly, smell. When you consider how bland everything tastes when you have a stuffy nose, it’s not surprising to know that the scents you pick up in a glass of wine contribute to the overall tasting experience. These scents and smells are described by using various terms, the main three being nose, aromas and bouquet.
The nose of a wine is the broad category for a wine’s scent, and it is made up of the aromas the wine emits, which we will explain in the next section. It is composed of three parts - primary, secondary and tertiary aromas. The primary scents of the nose are created by the grape variety itself. The secondary scent composition is created by the fermentation process and is minutely effected by the winemaker. Tertiary scents are determined by the aging process and the aging techniques the winemaker uses.
As mentioned above, the aroma of a wine is divided into three sections - primary, secondary and tertiary aromas. Primary aromas are a result of the type of varietal used to make the wine and are responsible for any fruity or floral flavors that the particular varietal is known for. Fresh, fruity smells that are found in young wines, especially those not intended for aging are a good example of primary aromas. These types of smells are typically created by the varietal itself, and the better the quality of the wine, the more recognizable the specific aromas are.
In essence, any fruit or floral smell would be considered an aroma. Here are some common examples of varietal aromas:
- Cabernet Sauvignon: bell pepper, blackcurrant
- Sauvignon Blanc: zesty, grapefruit, box tree, bell pepper
- Gewurztraminer: spicy, lychee
- Chenin Blanc and Colombard: guava
- Chardonnay: apples
- Pinot Noir: strawberry
- Riesling and Muscat: peach
Secondary aromas are the result of the fermentation process used to produce the wine and include the aromas imparted by oak barrel maturation, which can be scents of:
Tertiary aromas are the result of a wine's aging process, during this time, the wine will develop, blossom and balance it's scents and flavors into more complex, in depth characteristics. These all depend on the varietals used to make the wine, the terroir of the land where the grapes were harvested, it's fermentation process and how these factors evolve together during aging.
Keep in mind that aromas, especially varietal ones, are not usually present in wines that have been aged or have been produced using techniques, like oak barrel fermentation, that add different characteristics. When varietal aromas are present in these situations, it is faint and adds to the complexity and depth of the overall bouquet.
The bouquet scent of a wine is produced by some secondary and all tertiary scents; these smells are more complex and reminiscent of earthier, more rustic items, like leather, nuts and spices. The bouquet can take years to develop. As a wine ages, the chemical reactions in fermentation and aging create new compounds that have depth not found in young wines. This depth is found in the flavors and smells of the wine. These can include honey in Sauternes or truffles in Pinot Noir; oak imparts the smells of cedar and licorice; other generic bouquet characteristics include:
- Roasted almond
- Roasted hazelnut
- Dark chocolate
There is another term used to describe the smells of a wine. This one applies to all negative smells; anything that seems off or rancid. The term odor is only used when the wine has a fault, is corked or is otherwise presenting negative characteristics like that of wines affected by vinegar taint.
Sniffing Your Wine
To truly get a good sense of any wine’s nose, select the glass appropriate for the type of wine - red wine glasses and white wine glasses are specifically designed to harness all of the smells that float out of the wine. Fill the glass 1/3 of the way full, then swirl the wine for 10 seconds. This agitates the molecules, releasing the smells into the air, which collect and are focused by the top ring of the glass. Let your nose penetrate the opening of the glass and inhale deeply. Repeat the swirl and the sniff.
Now it’s time to ask yourself two questions:
1) How intense is the smell? Is it highly aromatic, powerful and inviting, or more subtle and subdued? Your answer to this determines the intensity of the nose.
2) What does the smell remind you of? Is there a specific fruit that springs to mind or a dessert? Or perhaps something a bit more obscure, like the smell of cut grass or a horse’s saddle? This is the description of the nose.
The answer to these questions will tell you whether you’re smelling the aroma or the bouquet; it will also tell you a little bit about how the wine was made, how long it was intended to be cellared for, and whether or not the winemaker played a huge role in the final product.