What is ‘nose’ when we talk wine?

I love wine!  

One of the fantastic things I find about drinking wine is the overall experience. Like I said previously, most of your senses are engaged; sight, smell, taste and your brain all contribute to the enjoyment of what’s in your glass. 

So let’s talk about aroma/smell. 

The aroma of a wine contributes a lot to the overall experience.  Most of what we call taste is actually coming from our nose.  When we swallow, a puff of air comes back up, directing compounds into our nose, helping us perceive the differences in “taste” to whatever we’re eating or, in the case of wine, drinking.  Pretty cool when you think of it. 

Ever smell something that immediately brings you back to a time or place?  Scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the brain’s smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which might explain why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.  That’s why smell is so important. 

There are a shit-ton of aromas in the wines we drink with just one glass having a multitude of possibilities!  Different wine varietals produce different aromas. The surrounding flowers, fruits, earth and environment

all contributes to the aroma of your wine. The nose/smell is also affected by how the wine is made and stored.

So what kinds of aromas can be in my glass?

Citrus – lemon, lime, grapefruit or mandarin orange. 

Fruits – apple, pear, peach, melon, mango, guava, pineapple and even passion fruit. 

Spices – cinnamon, clove, vanilla or pepper.  

Berries – red currant, black currant, strawberry, black cherry, cherry or plum. 

Earthy – mushrooms, leather or dust.


And don’t forget the flowers!  Honeysuckle, jasmine, violet, rose, acacia and hawthorn!

But don’t be unhappy if you can’t smell all the nuances of your wine. Unlike your taste buds which are attuned to the five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami), we each have hundreds of smell receptors and depending on our genetic make-up, some receptors are stronger than others.

Wines have thousands of different chemicals and influences.  Most people can’t tell the difference in these influences when smelling a wine. Although women do generally have a better sense of smell compared to men, having a super sniffer is rare. Those who are considered super smellers are more likely to be experts at segregating smells and being able to describe them. These people are in high demand by perfume companies and wineries who hire these super smellers as a “Nose” to help with fine tuning their product. 

“Nose” is a wine tasting term used to describe how wine smells in the glass. Different wine varietals will have different aromas. The nose is also affected by how the wine is made and stored. “Nosing”, or smelling, a wine is an important step in the wine tasting process.

There are three levels of wine aromas. Primary wine aromas come from the fruit, secondary wine aromas are a result of the fermentation process and tertiary wine aromas are derived from the aging process. 

For example, oak fermentation imparts spicy, smoky or vanilla aromas, while malolactic or bacterial fermentation results in rich, buttery aromas.

Let’s not forget the importance of shape of the glass!  

As we noted different wines have unique scents and flavors.  The shape of your glass could diminish or augment those flavors and fragrances. If you drink the same wine out of different shapes of wine glasses, you will taste a difference.  Seriously, try it. 

How does it work?  The bowl shaping is inward toward the rim, the smell of ethanol — or alcohol — does not go out of the rim. As a result, we’re able to smell the unique flavors of the wine itself instead of just smelling the alcohol.

During a tasting, wine is swirled in the glass to release the aroma vapors. Stick your nose into the glass and take several, quick sniffs, the aromas become apparent.  Some say not to prolong inhaling, as the aromas quickly blend and become undiscernible.  But for me I like to deeply inhale just because I have a pretty good sniffer. 

You can also take a sip (I prefer to swallow and not spit) then breathe out through the nose. 

If you really want to take this a step

farther you can work on training your nose.  There is helpful tool for expanding one’s sense of smell.   A Le Nez du Vin, (a wine aroma kit) which is a system devised by Jean Lenoir can be used to help learn how to smell. In the 1970s, Lenoir developed a collection of 120 aromas that he used to teach introductory courses on wine. In 1980, he had the set trademarked as Le Nez du Vin.

Kits like this can be purchased on line for about 70.00 or you can make your own (check out WineFolly.com) for a great how to.  I purchased my kit in 2004 (yes 2004) and still refer to it every once in a while. It’s a pretty helpful and fun tool which can help you to train that nose of yours to pick up those other aromas in your glass. 

So sniff away and really enjoy that glass of wine!

Next up, what the heck am I tasting?

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