Follow your Nose: 5 Ways to Identify Aromas and Flavors in Wine

Perhaps one of the most difficult and intimidating aspects of wine tasting is identifying the aromas and flavors in wine --- the proverbial “sniff” and “sip.” So many people avoid tasting wine in public because they are nervous that they might not be able to accurately identify how the wine smells and tastes.

To be sure, proficient detection of wine aromas and flavors takes lots of time and plenty of practice, so don’t expect to become an expert overnight. Wine educators and experts study and taste wines regularly and have tasted at least hundreds if not thousands of wines before being able to accurately detect wine aromas and flavors. Know that getting started is half the battle. So, for new or novice wine tasters, here are a few tips to begin identifying aromas and flavors in wine.

Once you have poured the wine into your class, start by swirling the wine in your glass. This opens up the wine and allows the aromas and flavors to become more apparent. Then you want to smell the wine — put your nose right in the glass — for tips about swirling, smelling, and sipping wine, check out this blog post:

1. Start by relating what you are smelling and tasting to something familiar—maybe an experience you’ve had, a place you’ve been, or a feeling. Perhaps the first thing you smell reminds you of trip you took years ago, or a place you visit often. Next try to relate a smell or taste to that experience. Write an exhaustive list—-there are no wrong answers.

2. Identify a category of aromas first, rather than isolating a specific aroma (fruit, floral, earthy, spicy, sour, musty). Realize that there are several aromas/flavors that are operating together.

3. Sometimes it helps to identify the aromas or flavors that you distinctly like or dislike first, then try to categorize what you are smelling/tasting to one of them. Consider your favorite or least favorite colognes, foods, spirits, and beers and other beverages.

4. Understand the three categories of aromas—-primary, secondary, tertiary and try to determine which category you are detecting. Primary aromas are those that come from the grape itself—those tend to be the fruit, herbaceous, and floral notes you detect. Secondary aromas come through the winemaking process — think of flavors that come from oak or stainless steel—caramel, toast, or smoke. Tertiary aromas come from aging in the bottle, think about mushroom or soy sauce as examples. Isolate any clear aromas or tastes you identify right away—your first answer is almost always right.

5. Finally, check the bottle or winemaker’s notes to see what they identify, match your notes to those—-give yourself credit for anything close. Then go back and smell and taste the wine again and see if you taste or smell anything different. Don’t force this—-you don’t want to cheat or trick your senses into believing what you already know.

It is important to realize that some palettes are more sensitive to particular aromas and flavors than others, so there are likely certain categories or types of flavors and aromas that are going to stand out more to you than others. Also, remember that there are no wrong answers, trust what you are tasting even if you can’t identify it right away.

You will become more aware of taste and smell you encounter as you drink and eat different things; be sure you relate those to the wine you drink. The more you drink wine this way, the more you will recognize and understand. Give it time. it’s not a test and certainly not something you will understand right away.

Most importantly, have fun. Drink the wine, enjoy it and have a wonderful experience. Wine is meant to be enjoyed. If you like a particular wine, drink more of it.


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