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BLOG #5: Why and How do we 'smell' a wine?


We have all probably heard or even seen the amount of people putting their nose into a glass of wine before....but why do we do it? Does it add value?


Well at its basic concept, wine is effectively fermented grape juice. Yeast as we know from past blogs and posts, consumes the sugars in grapes (which have increased in sugar levels during ripening prior to being harvested) and produces ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide releasing heat in the process.


Ok sure but why do I smell wine? The best answer is quite simply your sense of smell is a very detailed and developed system that is over 1,000 times stronger than your sense of taste. Wine tasting in its efficacy is predominantly smell over taste and probably what many do not realise is even when you have placed wine into your mouth, the intense notes and flavours are really only being experienced because of the increased aromas reaching your nasal receptors.


Did you know that just by smelling a wine, you can typically see the prominent issues with a wine...for example cork taint or a reductive wine or Brettanomyces (plastic or animal aromas).


Ok so we have understood now that it can show if a wine is off or is past its best, and that it can stimulate aromas and tastes by smelling the wine first before we take a sip (or gulp!) But how do we do it to ensure we get the fullness of the wine.


So here is my easy stepped guide on best practice (yep, I am going there):


* If you have had the time, it is ideal to place your wine in a decanter or aerator - mainly so that you are aerating the wine, which is oxidising the wine as it raises in temperature and a large portion of the surface area of the wine is reached by oxygen. This will release aromas as the particles within the wine are bumped together...which brings us on to the next step.


* When pouring your wine either from bottle or decanter, ensure ideally for any wine you drink, that you are holding the glass by the stem. I can agree that typically this is more relevant for sparkling and white wines or reds which you have chilled as you want to drink at the ideal temperature and not heat with your hands.


*Once poured take an initial sniff of the wine, ie place your nose inside the glass and take a deep intake of breath. This is to assess the wine to check for any 'off' signals and also works as preparing your nose for more intense aromas.


*Next stop, happy that the wine is not giving off any untoward aromas, look to swirl the glass - this will ensure the wine particles are impacted with the oxygen in the glass and release aroma compounds to the area above the glass.


*Now is the fun part (aside from drinking of course), take a big intake of breath from your nose once more in the glass - ideally, although it may sound silly, close your eyes when doing it. It will heighten your sense of smell and alert you to aromas within the glass. Have fun with it...this is fun after all...what aromas can you smell? Try playing a game with your drinking buddy or on your own, write down or say aloud aromas your senses are bringing you from the glass.


*Take another sniff, has anything changed. Is there more prominent fruit that you can now smell? Do you smell more developed notes, not just fruit characteristics, which we would call primary aromas?


*One little trick which you can try, is keeping your mouth slightly open when taking a deep breath/sniff inside the glass.


*Lastly, taste the wine! It's why we poured it into our glasses after all....does the flavour profile change from the initial smelled aromas.


Stay tuned for more techniques, ways in which to try wine and most importantly have fun with it, it is an activity we all love doing (drinking wine) so why not play around with it too.


Until next time, bye for now and happy drinking!

The Devon Wine Guy.





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