Your nose is the most important part of your body in the enjoyment of wine.
Your perception of wine involves your nose and olfactory system, the taste buds in your mouth and tongue, and your brain. But, it all starts with smell, which triggers your taste buds and brain about what to expect, and continues to influence your perception when your taste buds begin their assignment.
Grapes have aroma before they are crushed. These pre-fermented smells, also known as primary aromas, include berries, cherry, tropical notes. When wine is finished in stainless steel, those aromas remain prominent.
If wine is put in oak barrels, additional aromas are added, especially vanillin, which gives wine a vanilla smell and taste; also guaiacol, which yields bacon and spice; furfural adds butterscotch and almonds; eugenol delivers clove; syringol suggests roasted coffee; furfural and 5-methylfurfural provide caramel; guaisacol and 4-methulguaiscol provide char and smoke. These oak-influenced smells are called secondary aromas.
It doesn’t stop there. Wine continues to evolve in bottle. Primary and secondary aromas interact with each other and with tannin, acidity, and alcohol to generate tertiary aromas. In argot of wine, this is when nose becomes bouquet, which means more savory and sophisticated smells like earth, subtle spices, mushroom. You can get really deep into the weeds at this third level of odor order.
Human noses are not created equal. Even among wine experts, opinions differ as to what aromas they find in a wine. Different bottles from same maker, same vintage, same grapes can smell and, therefore, taste slightly differently, even to the same person.
Who you are drinking with, where you are drinking, time and temperature, what you ate earlier and what you are eating now all combine to create the total experience. The important thing about enjoying wine is to enjoy wine. Swirl, smell, sip, enjoy. It is as simple as that.
• Tommasi Tenuta Filodora Prosecco DOC: Pear, lemon-lime on the nose; clean, exceptionally focused. $16
• Achaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2015: Black fruit, leather, smoke on the nose; complexity, depth, the reason you drink malbec. $22
Last round: It’s OK if you disagree with me about this wine you brought, especially if you are going to open another bottle of the wine.
Email Gus at firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com.