What aromas do you smell in that wine? The million-dollar question. At every wine tasting event I host, I am asked, “what am I supposed to smell?”
How frustrating is it when a wine bottle’s description reads “aromas of blackberry, shades of pepper and leather”, and all you smell is… wine?
I definitely understand! Learning to identify what aromas are in different wines is not an easy task.
When I first started studying wine, I was just as confused. I remember a time I could smell rhubarb and everyone looked at me like I was out of my mind.
I always wondered why I couldn’t smell what wine professionals did when I attended wine tastings. Like tennis ball? Are you kidding me! Don’t worry, you are not alone. There are so many different aromas in one wine, it can be difficult to pick out anything!
First, let’s talk about why wine smells the way it does. If it is only made with grapes, how can wine possibly smell and taste like black cherry, grapefruit and mint?
Let’s start out in the vineyard. Ever heard of the word terroir? It can be described as the environment encompassing a vineyard. The unique habitat. It is composed of the climate, temperature, soil, sun exposure, proximity to water, etc. All of these aspects influence viticulture (cultivation and harvesting of grapes), and play a role in the types of aromas released in every beautiful glass of wine.
Ever wonder why grape juice tastes like grapes and wine doesn’t? The key player – Fermentation; the conversion of grape sugar to alcohol. During which, various complex chemical compounds are produced, many the exact same ones found in other fruits and vegetables, herbs, flowers, spices, and you bet, tennis ball!
After harvesting, inside the winery, there are a number of different methods used by winemakers that add to the aromas and flavours of a wine. For example, oak aging can give wine aromas of vanilla, clove, coconut or smoke. A process called Malolactic Fermentation, the conversion of harsh malic acids to softer lactic acids, results in aromas of butter.
When we get to an individual who is actually drinking the wine, there are a number of factors that affect our sense of smell. Remember when I first mentioned I was the only one who could smell rhubarb? Scents and aromas can differ from taster to taster. Think about a song that reminds you of an experience. Someone else won’t have that same memory as you. Scents are the same. Don’t feel down if you smell something different than anyone else.
We develop sensitive receptors to aromas we are frequently around and when they show up in wine, we are able to notice them easily and more quickly. Maybe people who use cat pee to describe a wine have a house full of cats.
In addition, every person fits into one of three categories of “taster”, determining the ability of your sniffer. Non-tasters, Normal tasters and Super tasters. Interested to find out what category taster you are? Check it out here!
So, what do the large percentage of us non-tasters and normal tasters do to improve what aromas they smell in wine? Practice. Head to the grocery store and start smelling everything! (you might get some weird looks, but it’ll work)
Trust me, you are not alone! One of the most popular activities at our wine tasting events is our aroma game. We use special wine aroma vials, designed to train your nose to smell wine scents and made a fun game out of it. Our clients and guests and intrigued, laughing and smelling the whole night through!
Nothing is more memorable than a smell, and nothing is more fun than tasting and playing with us!
Learn the simple ins and outs of how to taste wine here