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Wine Tasting - The 3rd S - Smell


Moving on in this blog series on wine tasting as we’re about to learn about the Third S which is “Smell”.

The first two steps, which were See and Swirl, have led to this step where you’ll use your olfactory senses.


Wine Scents

When you first put your nose into a glass of wine, it tells a story. It’s the story of the wine from the vine to the glass.

For instance, terroir and climate can influence the aromas. This is because grapes grown in a clay vs. a sandy soil will have very different aromas. Additionally, grapes grown in a cool climate vs. a hot climate will make the wine scents differ. The age of the vine and the age of the grape at harvest can also make a difference to the aromas of a wine.

Just as the smell of food contributes to its enjoyment, so does the smell of wine. It’s important to use your sense of smell when it is not compromised by a stuffy nose or other odours in the environment.

Another factor is that scents may be experienced differently from one person to another. When you smell something, your olfactory sense is sending messages to your brain. Your perception of a smell may differ someone else’s.  For example, if you like the smell of oak, then your response to an oaky wine will be pleasant. However, if you don’t, it may put you off.

The measurement of the intensity of a wine’s aromas may also differ between two people. This seemingly objective measurement is actually subjectively perceived.

Lastly, the fact that the bouquet of wine can have multiple aromas complicates the process. Some wines may be more complex and have an array of aromas while other less complex wines have only a few.


Types of Aromas

The aromas of wine are generally classified as:

  • Floral / Fruit
  • Spice / Vegetable
  • Oak / Other

Floral aromas include blossoms, roses and violets. Fruit aromas may be a combination of a few, such as citrus, green, stone, tropical, red, black or dried fruits. Spice aromas include sweet or pungent spices. Vegetable aromas may be under-ripeness, herbaceous, herbal or vegetable. Oak aromas usually display vanilla, toast, cedar or smoky aromas. Other aromas might be buttery, nutty, leathery or earthy.

Aromas can be primary, secondary or tertiary.

Primary aromas are those usually produced by a particular grape. Therefore, when you detect these, you can identify the grape varietal, when it was harvested and the area it was grown in.

Secondary aromas are those produced during fermentation. These are generally floral, fruit and herbal.

Tertiary aromas are those produced during aging. As the wine ages, it becomes more complex which sometimes hides some of the primary aromas of the grape.


How to Smell

When smelling a wine, we’re looking for four things:

  • Intensity of the aromas
  • Whether the aromas persist or fade away quickly
  • Quality of the aromas
  • Description we can give to the aromas

The shape and size of the tasting glass are important. A full sized tulip shaped tasting glass is good for red, white and rosé wines but not for dessert and fortified wines which need smaller unique shapes.

Begin by holding the glass without moving the wine and taking a slow, deep smell to detect lighter aromas.  At this stage, you may detect wine faults such as cork taint. Then, swirl the wine to oxygenate it and take a quick, deep smell to detect the heavier aromas. Finally, take a series of quick smells to intensify your perception of the aromas.


Remember to take notes at each stage of the wine tasting process.


We hope you’re enjoying our new blog series on wine tasting and that the Third S has you intrigued to learn more.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels