Betty's Wine Musings
Developing Your Wine Sniffing Skills
Developing Your Wine Sniffing Skills

Of the five senses, smell is the most acute. It is approx 1,000 times more sensitive than the sense of taste. As a result, what we taste is determined much more by what we smell than by what we actually taste. The approximate breakdown for food is 75% smell and 25% taste. For wine, the breakdown is probably closer to 90% smell and 10% taste. So let’s look at some ways to develop our wine sniffing skills.

Developing Your Wine Sniffing Skills: Become a Student of Smells

Given that smell is so critical to the appreciation of wine, are there things you can do to improve your smelling skills? Yes. Smelling wine is really just a matter of practice and attention. If you start to pay more attention to smells in your normal activities, you’ll get better at smelling wine.

Become a student of smells. Smell every ingredient that you cook with, everything you eat, the fruits and vegetables you buy at the farmers’ market and the smells of your environment – grass, rain, leather, gasoline, wet earth, flowers, wet dog and shoe polish.

Fill your mental database with smells, so that you’ll have aroma memories you can quickly draw from.

Developing Your Wine Sniffing Skills: Other Steps You Can Take

When tasting wine with friends, observe what they smell. If they say they smell strawberries and blueberries, see if you can find those aromas in the wine.

When tasting a wine for which you have tasting notes from the wine maker, see if you can detect the aromas that the wine maker says you might find in the wine.

Wine aroma wheelBecause it’s sometimes hard to come up with words to describe what you’re smelling, run lists of possibilities through your mind. For example, ask yourself if you smell berries. If you do, ask yourself if you smell raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries or cranberries. By suggesting ideas to yourself, you’ll have an easier time finding the descriptors you’re looking for. The aroma wheel originally created at UC Davis is a very helpful tool for this purpose.

Try different techniques for sniffing: short, quick sniffs vs. long, deep inhales. Also try keeping your mouth open a bit while you inhale.

Be confident about what you smell. Don’t sheepishly whisper that you think you smell lemon. Shout out that you smell lemon. After all, how can anybody contradict you? Nobody can prove that you don’t smell lemon. Your confidence will make others think, “Wow, how does she smell lemon? She must have a very well developed sense of smell.

Developing Your Wine Sniffing Skills: Overcoming Smell Exhaustion

While smell is the most easily stimulated of the human senses, it is also the sense that most quickly tires. As an example, you are drawn to the wonderful chocolate chip cookie aromas wafting from the kitchen. But once you’ve been in the kitchen for a few minutes, you no longer smell the cookies.

If you lose your sense of smell when tasting wine, how do you turn it back on? Smell your arm or some ground coffee. It works wonders.

I would love to know how you work to develop your sense of smell. Please share your stories here. Thanks.

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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  1. I smell lemons!!! That is great since there are times I will smell wine and smell things that no one else smells.
    One way when wine tasting and losing your smell of wine is to smell cheese. It seems to clear your path.

  2. Given that smell is so critical to the appreciation of wine, the wine Betty brought to our meeting was so fragrant with delicious taste. Now I understand why you could try this wine before drinking it. Thanks Betty for this info and the New Year Wine tasting! It was fun!

    1. It’s true for fragrant wines that you can virtually taste a wine before you drink it. But there are some wines that have very delicate aromas that still taste great. So tasting is still critical 🙂 Thanks for your comments, Larysa.

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