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Unlocking the Secrets of Wine Aromas

smelling wine
Detect wine aromas

Understanding the aromas in wine is a delightful journey that can evoke memories and experiences, adding a rich layer of enjoyment to your wine tasting. Here’s a guide to help you enhance your wine-smelling skills and understand the complexities of wine aromas, from primary to tertiary, and how to identify and handle wine defects.

How to Smell Wine

Smelling wine is an art that involves several steps to maximize your sensory experience:

  1. Let the Wine Rest: Allow the wine to settle for a few hours if it has been shaken or transported recently.

  2. Proper Temperature: Serve the most white and sparkling wines well chilled (6-10º C) and red wines at 15-18º C (we speak about the temperature later)

  3. Use a Clean Glass: Ensure your wine glass is clean and free from any residual odors that could interfere with the wine's aromas. Wash with hot water and minimal detergent, and avoid using fabric softeners on drying cloths.

  4. Pour and Aerate: Fill your glass no more than one-third full to allow the wine to breathe. Swirl the wine to enhance aeration.

  5. The Two-Step Sniff: Sniff the wine once (NOSE I), let it sit, then sniff again (NOSE II).

  6. Frequent Breaths: Take frequent, shallow breaths to avoid dulling your receptors.

  7. Close Your Eyes: Focus on the aromas and try to identify memories or experiences they evoke.

The process of scent perception involves the detection of odor molecules by olfactory receptors in the nasal cavity, transmission of signals to the olfactory bulb, and complex processing in various brain regions to identify, interpret, and respond to the scent. This intricate system allows humans to detect and distinguish a vast array of different odors.

how we perceive scents

Intensity of the Aromas

The intensity of wine aromas can be gauged by how far you need to hold the glass from your nose to detect them. If you can smell the wine from 10 cm away, the aromas are pronounced. If you need to dive deep into the glass to smell anything, the aromas are light. Aromas range from light to pronounced.

aromas in wine classification

Aromas Classification

Primary aromas in wine
Primary aromas

Primary Aromas

Primary aromas come from the grapes themselves or are created during fermentation. They can be grouped into several categories:

Primary AromasPrimary aromas come from the grapes themselves or are created during fermentation. They can be grouped into several categories:

  • Floral Aromas: Rose (Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Rosé), Violet (Syrah, Nebbiolo, Bordeaux), Jasmine (Riesling, Torrontés)

  • Green Fruit Aromas: Green Apple (Chardonnay, Riesling), Pear (Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc), Gooseberry (Sauvignon Blanc)

  • Citrus Fruit Aromas: Lemon (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc), Lime (Riesling, Albariño), Grapefruit (Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé)

  • Stone Fruit Aromas: Peach (Viognier, Riesling), Apricot (Gewürztraminer, Riesling)

  • Tropical Fruit Aromas: Pineapple (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc), Mango (Viognier, Chardonnay)

  • Red Fruit Aromas: Strawberry (Pinot Noir, Grenache), Raspberry (Pinot Noir, Zinfandel)

  • Black Fruit Aromas: Blackberry (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon), Black Cherry (Merlot, Zinfandel)

  • Herbaceous and Herbal Aromas: Green Bell Pepper (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère), Mint (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz), Eucalyptus (Australian Shiraz)

Secondary Aromas

Secondary aromas in wines
Secondary aromas

These aromas come from the winemaking process, including fermentation and aging in oak


  • Yeast-Derived Aromas: Bread Dough, Brioche, Toast

  • Malolactic Conversion: Butter, Cheese, Cream

  • Oak Aging: Vanilla, Toast, Butterscotch, Smoke, Chocolate, Coffee

Tertiary Aromas

Secondary aromas in wines
Tertiary aromas

Tertiary aromas develop during the aging process in the bottle, adding complexity to the wine:

  • Leather: Mature red wines

  • Tobacco: Aged red wines

  • Cedar: Both red and white wines

  • Nutty: Aged white wines in oak

  • Mushroom: Long-aged wines

  • Dried Fruit: Figs, prunes in aged reds

Wine Defects

Sometimes, wine can be spoiled beyond repair. Here are some common defects:

  • Unripe Grapes: Smells like cat urine, green capsicum.

  • Volatile Acidity: Turns into vinegar, smells like nail polish remover.

  • Oxidation: Smells like a rotten apple.

  • Cork Taint: Moldy, rotten cork smell.

  • Improper Storage: Smells like dust and cardboard.

  • Thiols: Smells like rotten egg or bad breath.

  • Contaminated Yeast: Smells like sweat, stables, or feces.

Wine Reduction

Reduction occurs when wine is stored without enough aeration, leading to aromas of cabbage, rotten onions, or intestinal gases. This defect is usually reversible.

Restoring Wine Aroma:

  • Aerate: Pour into a decanter and let it breathe for several hours.

  • Copper Coin: Drop a clean copper coin into the decanter to precipitate sulfur compounds.

By following these tips and understanding the different aroma classifications, you can enhance your wine tasting experience and appreciate the intricate world of wine aromas. Cheers to your next wine adventure!

Ready to Deepen Your Wine Knowledge?

Sign up for our beginner-friendly "Introduction to Wine" course today and unlock the secrets of wine tasting! Whether you're new to wine or looking to refine your skills, our course covers everything from tasting techniques to understanding wine aromas and beyond.

Enroll now and embark on a flavorful journey to becoming a wine connoisseur!


Q: How should I store wine to preserve its aromas?

A: Store wine in a cool, dark place with stable temperatures to avoid oxidation and maintain its aromatic qualities.

Q: Can wine aromas change over time?

Q: How can I improve my ability to identify wine aromas?

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