Identifying Aromas in Wine

At RayLen Vineyards, we teach wine tasting as a way to relax. Relaxation will give your senses a chance to emerge after the stress of daily life. Since wine tasting appeals to the sense of smell, it’s a great chance to slow your breathing. Be conscious of the passage of air through your nasal passages. Wine tasting is our favorite form of aromatherapy!

The nose shares the airway with the sense of taste. When you smell a wine, a little of the aerosol wine reaches the taste buds. When you drink a wine, the fragrance of the wine reaches the smell receptors by retronasal olfaction. The nose works forward and backwards. We want to help you use your nose to its fullest!

To enjoy the fragrance of a wine, it helps to swirl the pour in the glass. This atomizes little particles of the wine into the air. This action also introduces air into the wine, which opens up its flavor. It’s okay to plunge your nose into the mouth of the wine glass. Everyone understands. Like the taste buds, the nose has regions. See what the front of the nose is telling you. Listen for the voice of the back of the nose too.

Begin first with simple clues. Does the wine smell sweet or does it smell dry? Next, ask yourself, “Does it smell like a red or a white wine?” The scent of a white wine seems simple to many because red wines rest on wine skins. If you’re confused by a wine, you might be blind tasting a Rosé or a Blush Zinfandel. A Rosé or a Blush Zinfandel rests on the skins briefly. They have the simplicity of a white.

Your wine will have a grape varietal fragrance. Hone in on the special fragrance of a varietal. Pinot Grigio often reminds people of an inn near a field of hay. Fans of the Shiraz will claim that it leaves a hint of ground peppercorns. Those who love Cabernet Sauvignon speak about the fragrance of violets.

Come to our tasting room at RayLen Vineyards, and ask for a varietal flight. We might set up a trio of reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Take the time to make a fragrance memory. When you’re solid on the reds, we’ll take you through the whites. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling make a great three glass flight.

Wine fragrances are often described by analogies to fruit or flowers. One of our friends loves a fresh, unoaked Chardonnay that delights her with an apple fragrance. Her friend loves a Merlot that makes him think of the scent of ripe cherries. His friend is loyal to a California sparkling wine that reminds her of an apple orchard in full blossom.

Maybe that’s why we say a wine has a fine bouquet. Wines often remind us of the fragrance of flowers. Thus, your pursuit of wine tasting will lead to a better life. We recommend spending more time at the farmers market. Enjoy the fragrance of fresh in-season fruit and the stalls of the flower vendors.

To be specific, aroma often is used to describe fragrances from the grape. Bouquet is often used to describe fragrances from the style of fermentation. Aroma is a primary fragrance, a fragrance from the grape. Bouquet is a secondary fragrance, a signature of the winemaker’s work. See if you can tell a French champagne from an American sparkling wine simply by the differences in their bouquets. The yeast will be different in each even if the grapes were the same. You might tell a difference in the oak barrels too. Oak is a secondary fragrance as well.

Since the nose has different responses, see if you can find more than one fragrance arising from the wine glass. A Chardonnay with a fragrance of apple might also offer hints of lemons. This parade of one scent following another is called the nose of the wine. Compare your observations with your friend and your wine guide. Buy a wine journal. Take notes. Treat it like a diary. Like a diary, write in your wine journal every day. This could lead to tasting wine daily.

Sommeliers work diligently to train their noses to identify fragrances in wine. One source sells a wine aroma kit. The kit includes eighty-eight fragrance samples, including honey, sage, pineapple and lychee. The sommelier must know them all. Have you never noticed the scent of a lychee? Take a trip to an outdoor grocery store in Chinatown. Only dandelion wine should remind one of the scent of dandelions.

If wine has primary and secondary fragrances, what about the fragrances imparted by the passage of time? Time gives tertiary fragrances to wine. Time increases the exposure of wine to oak, oxygen and yeast. Time changes wine profoundly. Often, the fragrances are described with comparisons to spices. Chardonnay often picks up hints of vanilla and nutmeg. The oak barrel often imparts a nutty scent to the wine, especially an almond fragrance. If the wine lies on its lees, the wine might pick up the pleasant aromas of a bakery.

We hope this inspires you to develop your palette and enjoy the process of wine tasting throughout wineries in the Yadkin Valley AVA and beyond. When you’re ready, schedule a tasting with us and go on a journey with your senses.