Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Slurp – Exploring the Scent and Aroma of Divine Wines
You might have built up a thirst for that wine in your glass and can’t wait to chug it as soon as possible. However, you might be missing out exploring the massive world of aromas and flavours in wine. There is a lot to be gotten from slowing down and focusing on the various assets of wine. These are the things that make wine tasting such an enjoyable and unique experience. Most importantly of all is everyone can enjoy this no matter what level of wine knowledge you have. All you need is to be curious, open-minded and have an eagerness to learn.
First thing first, there are no wrong answers when it comes to wine aromas & flavours. Every person has a different sensory perception; a unique palette of smell and taste. Our sensory perception is affected quite a lot by our experiences. I was speaking recently to California based Wine Expert, Oenologist & Viticulturist Yigit Keskin on this subject and he made the point that the sensory evaluation thresholds of wine aroma compounds differ in so many factors.
When wine is being tasted by different individuals and sensory stimuli, physiological state of the drinker, even the room colour or the music is on in the background impact how one would perceive an aroma or a taste. The same wine might even appear to taste different to the same person during the different times of the day. The taste of wine that we perceive is basically a combination of the taste of wine and our own saliva. It stands to good reason then that when the composition of our saliva changes then the taste of will change as well.
How we can train ourselves to have more experiences which will expand our reference memories of aromas & flavours? The issue here is we often put barriers in place between ourselves and many of the sensory perceptions in our lives nowadays. I wonder when was the last time you stopped and smelt your coffee? We buy a coffee in our local café or petrol station and immediately we slap a plastic lid on it which limits our experience of those aromas. Yes, I am literally asking you to stop and smell the roses! Not just roses though, stop and smell that you see while out on a walk, smell your coffee before drinking it because this is where you must start building up your sense of smell from.
Believe me when I say that buying artificial aroma kits (liquids imbued with synthetic aromas) for a couple of hundred Euros won’t help you that much and are an outrageous waste of money. This is because you need to have a visual and physical experience to associate with the smell to help remember it later. Smelling a cherry scented liquid in a little jar won’t give you any visual and physical experience to associate strongly with that aroma but try falling out of a cherry tree and see if you ever forget the smell of that sweet fruit.
Gordon Murray Shepherd, professor of neurobiology at the Yale School of Medicine and writer of Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine said, on his research that multiple types of memory are involved in wine flavour & aromas, “working memory for immediately communicating our experience, implicit memory for flavours we habitually recognize in table wines we drink often, and explicit memory for new wines we have tested and have discriminated from other wines.” So, start making your list of aromas that you would like to explore and don’t worry about looking like a weirdo; smell your food, your drink, the flowers that you see.
Smell actual things in your everyday life and soon you will have no excuse about why you don’t have a good palate. Also keep in mind that some vegetables and fruits won’t release any smell unless you chew them, breaking them down and releasing their aroma compounds. It is similar to when cook with fresh herbs and how the flavour and smell are amplified you need to rub them between your hands before cooking with them.
Aroma is defined as an odour, sensed through orthonasal or retronasal smell. We perceive the orthonasal smell by sniffing in through the nose. The retronasal smell is perceived by breathing out to carry the aroma in the mouth and throat to the nose during expiration. After you take a sniff of your wine the smell molecules go to your smell receptors, your smell receptors run that through nerves up into your olfactory epithelium to be processed and following this your brain identifies the smell. The more you smell things the better your brain identifies them.
Most flavours we perceive is actually due to the aromas, even if the flavour is defined as a combination of aroma and taste. This is the reason why we can’t taste our food very well when we have are suffering from the flu. That blocked nose is stopping you from experiencing the full impact of the aromas around you. Without smell, your perception of flavour is defined just by sweetness, sourness, bitterness, spiciness or umami. You can try the nose-pinch test at home by pinching your nose tightly and having a piece of candy. You will be sensing only sweetness on your tongue. After releasing the pinch now you will be able to experience the full flavour of the sweet.
I have been asked many times if there is an addition of aromas into wine, e.g. strawberry, lemon, rose, ginger and so on. The answer is no. The wine aroma results from a complex blend of a large number of volatile molecules (±800) which come from grape by itself (varietal aromas), pre-fermentation, fermentation and aging process. For example, linalol will bring the aromas of orange flower, coriander, jasmine aromas while euganol brings cloves, vanillin brings vanilla and ethyl hexanoate brings apple and banana aromas.
Swirling your glass or slurping the wine in your mouth will help to expose the aromas as they are volatile compounds. Some varieties like Muscat and Gewurztraminer are called aromatic varieties. Monoterpenic alcohols in Muscat, Gewürztraminer; alkyl metoxy pyrasines in Cabernet-Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; hydroxy dimethyl furanone and amino acetophenone in Isabelle and Concord grapes are the molecules that give these grapes their unique character.
Varietal aromas are impacted by viticulture practices, soil, climate, diseases, maturity and composition. Pre-fermentary aromas can be affected on maceration, extraction, hydrolysis and oxidations. Fermentation aromas, on the other hand, are tied to alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. Aging aromas come from physico-chemical and biochemical transformations. In the end, even if we expect to get similar characteristics from the same varieties, we should always keep in mind that it varies depending on many other factors as we have discussed earlier.
So now sit back, relax, get a glass of wine, swirl, sniff, sip, slurp and enjoy the wine, its aromas and flavours.Giulia San Simone Sugano 2016
Available at: Wines Direct
This Cabernet Franc from Friuli-Venezia in Italy shows the aromas of cassis, blackcurrant and bell pepper.
The concentrated palate delivers black cherry and the hint of flavours of sweet spices with fine-grained tannins.
Familia Cecchin, Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Available at: Le Caveau Wines
From Argentina`s Mendoza region, this wine delivers intense flavours of blackberry and black cherry with a touch of peppery notes.
This generous and richly textured wine with supple tannins is easy to enjoy.Hugel Gewürztraminer 2017
Available at: O’Briens Wines
This fruit driven Gewürztraminer from Alsace in France offers the aromas of pear, white flowers and rose petal. The palate boosts these generous fruit flavours along with a refreshing sensation.
Sevgi’s passion for wine begun while she was studying food engineering in one of the wine-producing regions of her native Turkey. Following her graduation, she chased her dreams and started to work as a winemaker in her home country.
She obtained her MSc in Oenology & Viticulture from the Montpellier SupAgro and Hochschule Geisenheim University. Mosel in Germany, one of the most respected wine regions, is where she experienced the practice of growing grapes in the extreme steep-slope vineyards. Later, she conducted research for her postgraduate study about the wine market in Ireland.
Currently, she provides wine education and consultancy through her company A WINE IDEA based in Galway.