Stop and Smell the Wine. No Seriously, Stop Gulping and Start Sniffing!

Posted December 02, 2014

Howard Kaplan


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"The nose reveals everything."
- Old French Saying

One thing that I've noticed over the years about novice wine drinkers: they tend to skip over smelling the wine, preferring to go directly to tasting without so much as a second's thought about what the aromatics are saying.

Basic wine tasting asks us to pay attention to four areas: sight (color), smell, taste, and aftertaste. For some reason, a lot of people don't get the memo about how important and revealing the aromatics of wine can be until later in their wine journey.

In tasting wine, after you've examined the wine for visual clues, you really must smell it before tasting it. You will notice that most experienced tasters will vigorously swirl the glass and literally put their nose into it to get the complete aromatic spectrum. Swirling is key to this process. By swirling, more surface area comes into contact with air, releasing tiny chemical components called esters (the word is in the New York Times crossword puzzle at least once per week) which conveys important clues as to what the wine is all about.

As the French would surely agree, the importance of the aromatic profile cannot be exaggerated. Is the wine sweet or dry? Open or closed? High in alcohol? Fruit-filled or austere? Modern or rustic? Oak or stainless steel influenced? Does the wine reflect terroir, or a sense of place? And most importantly, is the wine corked, oxidized, or just plain off? All of these questions can be answered BEFORE the wine is actually tasted, which explains why the French (and all wine lovers) regard a wine's aromatics so highly.

If you're a newbie, maybe you won't pick up on all of these characteristics in a way that the experienced taster might, but keep sniffing! Over time, you'll be swirling and smelling like a pro -- and getting much more from the wine tasting experience.


Howard Kaplan is a co-founder of Executive Wine Seminars, a New York based organization focusing on tasting rare and coveted wines.  He started writing about wine in the early 1980s for Wine Spectator and Cuisine Magazine.  Today, Howard’s tasting notes can be found on both Stephen Tanzer and Robert Parker’s websites.