Why Does Smell Matter When Tasting Wine?

Having a sinus infection sucks, especially when you work with wine for a living. Makes things a bit difficult at times. It’s been two weeks of this and just now am I able to taste wine with any sense of what it actually tastes like! When stuff like this happens, it always reminds me how important a sense of smell is to taste.

Did you know that 80% of what we taste is based on smell? Our tongue can only perceive five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami, but our nose can perceive thousands of scents which enhances the perception of the foods we taste. Of all our senses, smell is our most primal. Animals need the sense of smell to survive. For humans, the sense of smell communicates many of the simple pleasures in life – aroma of a pot roast in the oven, fresh cut hay, a lush rose garden.

So why talk about the sense of smell related to wine? If you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it! Having a sinus infection meant most wine I tried tasted only of bitterness. I couldn’t detect any of the wonderful aromas or notes you get when you normally taste a wine. Here’s a little educational side note for you…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. (Feel free to show off that knowledge at your next wine tasting. You’re welcome.)

When I teach people how to taste a wine, one of the first things I teach them is to swirl their glass of wine. You see all the wine “professionals” doing it, so it must mean something. Well, it really does! Besides looking cool, it actually has the benefit of aerating the wine which releases the bouquet letting you get a deep sense of the aroma of the wine.

Your nose (there’s more technical terms, but we’ll keep it basic here) interprets what you smell, immediately comparing it to other familiar smells. 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? Wines, much like people, have unique personalities that are made up of many different qualities. What you smell in the bouquet should echo and enhance what you taste in the glass. If it doesn’t, there’s probably something wrong with the quality of the wine. When you go to taste a Riesling, and it smells like dirty feet, take it as a sign that you shouldn’t drink it. Yes, I did experience this at a wine tasting…not a good thing. It left such a negative impression that I’ve refused to taste any further wines from this winery (no, I will not tell you the name of the winery as that’s just not a very nice thing to do).

I’m happy to say that I’m on the tail end of my sinus infection which means I can start tasting wine again. Oh, happy days! What does that ultimately mean besides that I get to drink wine? More reviews coming soon! Until then, take this knowledge to your next wine tasting, and impress your friends. Even if you can’t remember why you’re swirling your glass and sniffing your wine, you’ll at least look good while you do it.

Cheers!

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