Smell is the most important of the five senses in wine appreciation. It works as a prelude to the memories of the past, evoking memories from the past, childhood memoirs, vivid memories of people, places, emotions and sensations. Most of what is usually described as taste is actually merely aroma, which can be easily perceived and empirically proven by the experience that we are not able to taste any food or drink when we catch a cold and, consequently, our nasal passages are obstructed.
The wine aromas vary according to different parameters, especially the variety or varieties used in the blend, the vineyard location and the type of viticulture adopted, the vinification methods applied and the posterior aging process in bottle. One might say, albeit generally, that the aromas can be divided into different categories, among which the fruity (lemon, pear, strawberry, cherry, etc.), mineral (limestone, graphite, pencil mine, talcum powder, etc), animal (hunting, leather, wet wool, cat urine, etc), spicy (black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cedar, etc.), dry fruit (hazelnut, walnut, almond, English cake, etc), burned (tar, coffee, toast, chocolate, etc.) and chemical (hydrogen sulfide, sulfur, etc).
Although we ought to avoid fundamentalism the truth is that the place where the tasting takes place should be as neutral as possible in what concerns aromas, distanced from any source of intense smells. That’s why whenever you want to taste a wine you should avoid using perfumes, after-shave or colognes, even if they are not very intense. For the same reasons food shouldn’t be in the room, raw or cooked, of strong and striking smell. Remember that smoking is an absolutely prohibited act during any moment of the tasting.
When you taste a wine, you should be careful not to get too excited, spending hours smelling the same wine. Rely on the first impressions conveyed because your nose will quickly become unable to discover any new sensations after a more or less prolonged exposure.
The perception of aromas also depends on the temperature the wine is served, affecting the way and speed that the aromas are volatilized. Generally, we can say that when the wine is served at higher temperatures the alcohol and the aromas volatilization is faster and more immediate, whereas with the lower temperatures there is a greater reluctance to release the aromas.
The order in which the wines are tasted is also crucial. Finally the glass format influences the way we perceive the wine. The glass dimension, as well as the bowl and its opening size may condition the way the scents are concentrated or dispersed, the manner the aromas reach the nose. Therefore, and regardless of brand and/or of model used to compare wines we should always use the same type of glass.
How to smell
You can simply bring the glass to your nose and smell it intensely, with a deep inhalation. However, the emanations can be much more intense if you swirl the wine around with some energy, thus allowing a larger vaporization of the aromatic compounds. Nonetheless, in the beginning of the tasting, you should smell the glass before swirling the wine around. The odour molecules vary in what concerns the degree of delicacy and volatility, and the ability to vaporize. The most delicate emerge naturally and they would be lost if you started the tasting just by shaking the glass. Sniff it carefully but intensely so than you can detect all the aromas conveyed.
Next, rotate the glass with some energy to help release the aromas, enabling the scents to vaporize. To do this you will need a few seconds of concentration, in order to try to identify the aromas releases. Don’t forget that some odour molecules are only released after a prolonged contact with oxygen. It is therefore important to smell the glass once empty, what in slang is called the “the bottom of the glass” smell.