Into the heady world of wine aromatics
Tue, 20 September 2016
Pouring yourself a glass of wine, and taking that first sip can be one of life’s great pleasures. There are a couple of factors at play here in creating that amazing experience. There is, of course, the taste of the wine. But helping create that overall enjoyable experience is also the aroma of the wine.
Have you ever heard someone say ‘tastes like a wet dog’? We are willing to bet they have never actually tasted a wet dog, yet this term is used to describe tastes. Why? Because it is said that 85% of your taste is actually derived from your sense of smell. So if you smell something as strong and obvious as a wet dog, you can almost taste it in your mouth. And you can certainly recognise it when something does taste as bad as a wet dog.
The same applies when you have a head cold – your nose is blocked up and you notice that you can’t really taste your food properly anymore.
So although the smell of wine is enjoyable, it is also pertinent to the taste of wine.
When you are wine tasting, if you keep an open mind to the possibilities of what the aroma could bring, you will be amazed at the new world that is opened up to you. Aromas from fruit and plants, through to coffee or spices will present themselves and often there will be a mixture of several scents to take in.
When it comes time to taste a wine, really take the time to work out what aromas and flavours are in each sip. Before trying it, swirl the glass so oxygen will go into the wine, and this will allow the aromas to be released. After a moment, take a sniff from the glass. It is best to leave your mouth open slightly, and to take several short sniffs, but you do whatever works best for you.
If you do several short sniffs, you’ll unlock more of the aromatics in the wine and be able to discern the different layers. Remember, be open minded about what you may be picking up. If you are new to wine tasting it can be a good idea to take a copy of the Davis Wine Aroma Wheel to understand what you might be smelling.
When it comes to aroma, you will see many descriptive terms for what you may taste and smell in the glass of wine. It might be fruits, such as blueberries or cherries, or floral such as roses or geranium, or they might fall into other food categories with flavours like coffee or chocolate, vanilla or pepper.
There are three levels of aroma: Primary (usually what is experienced in a young bottle of wine and the smells are mainly related to fruit), secondary (this relates to the smells that have come about because of the winemaking process)and tertiary (these are related to the smells that appear over time as the wine ages). The secondary and tertiary qualities often come out more in a mature wine as the more primary fruit aromas drop away. These ones are layers that offer more depth and complexity.
What can influence the aroma?
There are quite a few factors that go into the aroma of wine. It starts with the soil that the vines were planted in and the type of grapes being grown. It ends with how the wine maker chooses to create the wine.
The type of grape used is the determining factor on the kind of wine produced, so therefore has a huge influence on the taste and the smell of a wine. But the same type of grape can produce two very different tasting wines when other factors come into play. For example, a sauvignon blanc that is made in a cool climate region will taste and smell different to one from a warm climate wine region.
Wine produced in warm climate regions will be bigger, bolder, with higher alcohol and less acidity. This is because with more exposure to sun, the sugar content of the grapes increases faster. A cool climate wine will be subtler in taste and aroma, with lower alcohol and higher in acidity.
Other environmental factors that have an impact on the aroma of wine is the soil, the location of the vineyard and whether it is on a sloping or flat block.
Two more influencing factors are the maker and the end user. The winemaker will make many decisions that will vary the end result of the wine, such as what yeast to use to ferment, what (if any) type of oak is used and also how long to mature the wine before selling it.
Once the wine reaches the consumer, they will then make decisions that will change the aroma further. Such as what temperature to serve the wine, how long to air it, what glass to pour it into and what food to serve it with.
The taste and the aroma of wine is a complex area thanks to the many elements that go into growing the grapes all the way through to the many different ways you can enjoy a drop at the end.