In my last blog entry, we examined how to describe a wine’s appearance. Let’s now talk about how to evaluate wine with our sense of smell.
Once we have established the color of a wine, the next step is to smell, or “nose” it. In order to get the most out of each sniff, make sure to bring the glass all the way to your face. The more nose you have in the glass, the more aromas you will be able to discern. Some people prefer to nose head on while others, (myself included) find that one nostril is more sensitive than its neighbor and find themselves tilting the glass towards one side. In either case, the important thing is to introduce our nose to the wine.
In order to better match descriptive terms to the wine being tasted, let’s understand what we mean by aromas and why they are constantly changing. Aromas are all of the olfactory elements which pass upwards through our nasal channel until they are detected just below the brain. Aromas differ depending on the wine’s age. When wines are young there primary aromas define their character: grapey, fresh, bright, and fruity. Directly after fermentation, secondary or vinous aromas follow. The most dominant of these is a yeasty smell. If you have ever toured through a winery during harvest season surrounded by furiously bubbling vats, you know what I mean.
As wines begin to age their character begins to evolve. Whether in barrel or bottle, a quality wine will develop complex aromas and this is when we begin to use the term bouquet. A wine’s bouquet evolves away from the grapey to more of a dried fruit character. Oak is an important element that further adds depth and a whole new dimension imparting such smells as vanilla, tobacco, spices, licorice, etc. The hundreds of chemicals present in wine constantly interact with the acids to form new chain links which translate into more diverse, complex and interesting wines.
Have you ever sipped a wine with your friends over a couple of hours and found yourself veering the conversation back to the glass in front of you? It is probably because there was so much to say. You found yourselves comparing your experiences with each other, and liking the wine more as time went on. Over a two hour period, a wine’s bouquet can change tremendously because the sudden rush of oxygen combines with the elements in the wine. Generally speaking, the more you have to say about a wine, the higher the quality. The more persistent the finish on your palate, the greater the satisfaction experienced.
Next time we will explore useful descriptive terms that seem so elusive when we yearn to express the style of wine being tasted.
Until then, may you never run out of bubbles in your Champagne.