We’ve all seen it – wine connoisseurs swirling their wine, dipping their noses into the glass and taking a big whiff. But, is this the right way? How do the experts smell their wine?
Glassware is the first thing that matters for the olfactory appreciation of the wine. Different wines have different aromas and require different glasses to properly enjoy them. I recently had a nice French sparkling wine poured into a wide top glass – by the time I drank it – it wasn’t so sparkling. But other wines have specific glassware needs, whether it’s a narrow top to contain the delicate aromas or a larger bowl to allow a powerful wine to breath. If you have the right glass, use it. If not – a generic red wine glass can do for most needs.
The second element of enjoying the wine is a proper pour in the glass. Generally, this is 25-33% of the volume of the glass. This means there is plenty of headspace for the smells to release and concentrate and gives you a space for your nose without getting your beak wet. Don’t worry if it seems like a short pour – the Somm will give you more. Beyond the accumulating of the odors, it is hard to swirl a glass that is 70% full without sending some over the edge.
Once the wine is in the glass and properly filled, you want to aerate the wine – let some air hit it to release the wonderful flavor compounds. Remember, until a few seconds ago, that wine had been a prisoner in a bottle for the last 3 to 30 years. If you were released from prison – you’d want big whiff of fresh air too! The swirl is used to get this fresh air to the wine. Gently swirl the wine until the force of the swirl is causing the wine to run along the sides of the glass. The starter version of this is to swirl the wine with the base on the table. This allows more control over the height of the wine. A more advanced swirl is to do it freehand – but this requires practice unless you want to get a nice wine bath before your meal. Or worse, give a wine bath to your guests.
Once the wine is opened up a good with 10-30 seconds or so of swirling and air contact, it is ready for the smell. Don’t just stick your nose in! This is a delicate process and you are smelling for compounds that might be available at the parts per million level. Slowly bring the glass to your nose and take a small sniff. The another. Think of how a dog sniffs to bring the scents across his smell receptors. Now, we don’t want Bloodhound imitation, but a few gentle sniffs will give you more than one giant inhalation. Once your nose is over the edge, sniff and then pull back to clear your nose and go back in for the final good sniff. You’ll get different smells on each of the four sniffs and it will give you a better appreciation for the wine.
At the simplest level, we are looking for flaws in the wine before it is served to our guests as I discussed in a prior article. Digging deeper, we might be looking for fruit and non-fruit features of the wine to understand where it was made and the choices the winemaker implemented.
Right glass, proper pour, elegant swirl and little sniffs will have you swirling and sniffing like a pro in no time.