Exploring the Many Aromas of Wine
Wine aroma has fascinated me since my early college years, which I hate to say was more than three and a half decades ago, back when I was first introduced to one of my professors’ inventions: The Wine Aroma Wheel, created by Ann C. Noble.
To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of wine aromas is how expansive the list is. To illustrate this, another professor teaching sensory perception started a class by giving us a list of approximately 10,000 descriptors he had found used to describe the aromas of wine. His next challenge was to have us double that amount by the end of our course.
Wine from grapes is a unique consumable in our world as there is nothing else that can legitimately claim to illicit so many accurate sensory perception descriptions. To date, there are only theories of how the molecules that create smell are perceived by our brains as specific aromas but, truly, you don’t have to understand fully to appreciate the greatness of fine wines. Understanding the mechanics, however, may help you appreciate it a little more.
We have a bundle of receptors, called the olfactory bulb, that sit at the top of the nasal cavity that is open both front (nostrils) and back (above the soft palate). When you sniff the wine, you activate your smell sense through the nostrils. When wine is in your mouth, the aromas reach the olfactory bulb from the back before and during swallowing. Here are some tips to get the most out of the aromas in a glass of wine.
COVER YOUR GLASS AND SWIRL THE WINE
Aromas are mostly volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which simply means that they are easily released into the air. Swirling increases the surface area of wine exposed to the air and therefore allows the release of more aromas. Covering the glass allows you to concentrate the aromas released by not allowing them to dissipate out of the glass before you stick your nose in to sniff.
USE EACH AND BOTH NOSTRILS AND SNIFF MORE THAN ONCE
The pathway from each nostril brings the aromas into contact, in different ways, with the receptors of the olfactory bulb. Sniffing more deeply and more subtly also creates different perceptions. Try as many ways to sniff the wine as you are comfortable and you will be amazed at the difference it makes in what you are able to identify.
Remember that every human act has its appropriate place and time and this might not be something you want to practice while out to dinner with the boss.
‘TRILL’ YOUR WINE
‘Trilling’ is a technique of slurping your wine. To try this, you will want to take a small sip of the wine and, after it is in your closed mouth, bend your head forward (this helps to prevent you from choking). Part your lips slightly while holding your tongue lightly against the roof of your mouth or your top front teeth and suck air in. It is similar to slurping soup off a spoon. This creates an aerosolized fraction of the wine inside your mouth. Since each tiny droplet is completely surrounded by air in your mouth, it intensifies the concentration of aromas that will come into contact with the olfactory bulb above the back of your mouth.
EXPLORE AROMAS AROUND YOU
Recognizing and being able to annunciate a description of what you perceive is a learned skill that you can train yourself to be better at. As you come into contact with more aromas and begin to create a catalogue of smells in your brain, you will expand your capacity to recognize and tell others what you smell in the wine.
To start you on your way to developing a catalogue of aromas, here are two wine types I would recommend pairing with this month’s culinary recipes starting on page 34.
Stone fruits like apricots, peach, and nectarine, but also apple and pear, can be quite common. Honey, citrus blossom, and minerality are also frequent complexities.
Place of origin and winemaking technique will offer wines that may have more primary apple, stone fruit, and melon or citrusy aromas of grapefruit, lime, and lemon. The complexities usually follow an herbaceous path and even include ‘green’ aromas of cut grass.
To access the wine aroma wheel created by Ann C. Noble, visit winearomawheel.com.