The sniff test

The gateway to any wine is through its "nose"

Published March 27, 2013 1:00PM (EDT)

             (<a href=''>Zoltan Papp</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Zoltan Papp via Shutterstock)

Since we are at the beginning of our wine journey together, I thought it could be helpful to spend the first articles just covering a few wine basics before jumping in with more specific wine info.

So often, wine can feel intimidating and confusing, so I think it could be really helpful for us to all be starting out on the same foot. I don’t want any of my readers out there to feel like they don’t know what I’m talking about, or feel nervous about going to any of the classes or tastings I might recommend because they feel like they don’t know as much as other people, or feel unsure about wine in general.

Obviously I can’t go over everything here, but I think it will be really helpful to start out with one of the most important steps to drinking and exploring wine: smelling it.

It may seem peculiar to watch people in a tasting room spending a long time stuffing their noses deep into a glass of wine, swirling the glass around and then stuffing their nose back in again before ever even taking a sip!! You may wonder why on earth they are doing that.

The reason is this: taste is predominantly about smell, which is why when you have a terrible cold or allergies with a stuffed-up nose, you find that you can’t taste anything.

The gateway to any wine is its smell, or “nose.” A lot of information can be derived from the way a wine smells, which is why we always spend a lot of time smelling the wine before we drink it.

As far as the swirling goes, there is a reason for that too. When we swirl a wine, one of the things we are doing is “volatilizing the esters.” What the heck does that mean?!

Basically, smells are made up of actual molecules of scent, and when we smell something, that means that those molecules have actually touched the smell receptors in our nose. Volatilizing the esters, or making the scent molecules airborne, allows them to travel into our noses where our brains can then recognize and identify them.

Apparently, our brains are capable of identifying 10,000 different aromas, so if you find yourself saying you can’t “smell anything” in a wine, know that that is just not true! Sense of smell, like many other things, can be trained and improved, so don’t despair.

In the next article, we will look at how to begin to train your wine nose and learn to identify some of the most common aromas in wine.


This article has been sponsored by The Wine Spies — a unique kind of wine company. The Wine Spies introduce you to the world’s finest wines, once each day. Every 24 hours The Wines Spies features one exceptional wine for sale at its website, These wines are available on a quantity-limited basis -- and always at a great price. These are exceptional wines that The Wine Spies  hand select to assure you that you are buying only the best wines available.

By Jocelyn Rose

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