How to Taste Wine

How Our Sense of Smell Works When Tasting Wine

Smelling the wine first could save you from drinking some pretty rancid stuff.
Smelling the wine first could save you from drinking some pretty rancid stuff.

As tempting as it is to tip the glas­s to your lips, the next step in tasting wine involves your nose. It seems logical that our mouth does most of the work when tasting wine, but it's actually our nose that delivers the results. Think of when you have a bad cold and can't taste anything. This is because most of what we taste, we're actually smelling. ­

There are two ways that you experience a smell. The first is directly through your nostrils, when you inhale a scent. And the second is through the retronatal passage, also known as the area in the roof of your mouth that leads directly to your nasal cavities. Before doing anything, you should take a quick sniff of your wine to make sure it doesn't smell bad. You'll immediately know if the wine smells off. ­

Next, swirl the wine around the glass, allowing it to go up as far as possible on the sides. The aromas of wine are known as the bouquet, which is the scent of the actual grape combined with flavors that are created in the winemaking process during fermentation and aging. Swirling aerates the wine and releases its bouquet, letting your nasal cavity draw up the scents into your olfactory system, which is essentially the control panel for your sense of smell. Your olfactory interprets what you smell, immediately comparing it to other familiar smells. The technical term for this is recognition threshold, and a good example of this is how a random smell can snap you back to a specific childhood memory in a flash.

After you swirl, put your nose in the glass and take a gentle but long, deep sniff and make a mental note of what you smell. Does it remind you of anything? Wine is made up of more than 300 different organic chemical compounds that are similar to those found in nature, particularly in food. That's why aficionados describe wines' aromas in terms of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.

Wines, much like people, have unique personalities that are made up of many different qualities. If you give it another swirl, you might be surprised that you're able to pick out different smells than the first time. The ritual of smelling wine is very intentional and helps you learn a lot about the wine that you are about to drink.