I have a large-ish nose, despite what my mother would tell you. I would love to be able to tell you that it gives me some advantage in identifying all the different aromas in a glass of wine when I give it a sniff. Alas, this is not the case. The average person can identify over 2000 scents. My big(ger) nose gives me no advantage here.
The truth is that being able to tell if a wine has a hint of raspberries or rose petals takes practice. Not only do you have to stick your nose in quite a few glasses of wine, you need to be able to identify just what it is that you’re smelling. If you’ve spent some time wondering how it is that wine critics and snobs alike seem to gush with exotic descriptors of wine aromas, you’re not alone. In fact, there are some companies (like winearomas.com) that sell kits containing multiple “aroma vials” to help train your nostrils on what the most typical aromas in white and red wines smell like.
That’s great. If you have an extra $399 laying around. For that money, I would rather buy actual bottles of wine that I could at least drink after I smelled them–those vials don’t look very tasty (yes, I know they’re not meant to be drunk).
So what to do? It helps to have a basic, consistent approach to smelling and assessing wine after it’s poured in the glass (contrary to popular belief, smelling the cork will allow you to smell…cork aroma. The best method is to sniff the wine in the glass.) Do it often enough, and you won’t even have to think about it. Here are the fundamental steps and also a video here, to boot:
- Swirl the wine in the glass. If you’re concerned about spilling, it’s perfectly OK to keep the base of the glass on the table. The reason we do this is to get oxygen into the wine and help release its aromatic characteristics.
- Bring the glass of wine toward your nose. Resist sticking your nose immediately inside the glass, since you want to determine how intense the aromas are. Can you smell the wine before the glass even reaches your nose, or do you need to really stick your nose in there to get a whiff?
- Once your nose is in the glass, take just 2 or 3 sniffs of the wine. You can swirl some more in between each. Don’t be shy.
What memorable scents have you experienced in wine, good or bad?