Last time we talked about the first step of wine tasting and the type of information we can learn about a wine just by observation.

The second step involves the use of our smell, combined with imagination, and your wine tasting journey begins.

We can distinguish by a wine’s aroma whether it is good or overpriced. The aroma of wines are bound to be complex and structured, if an expensive wine has simplistic and easy-to-tell aroma, it might be overpriced. Since a wine can contain thousand types of aroma, how can we capture them?

Do you usually swirl the wine once you pick up the glass? I believe most people do it out of natural reflexes. I’ve seen people swirl the wine quickly, as if more aroma will surface if the wine is swirled fast enough, but this is actually wrong.

In fact, wines in their idle and swirled state can smell very different, so if you want to experience more aroma, after the preliminary observation and when the wine is in its idle state, put the glass between your nose and mouth and take a deep breath, then swirl the wine a few times and smell it again, you will find the before and after aroma very different.

Sometimes, a wine in its idle state will have a heavier berry aroma, but after a few swirls will turn into a vanilla scent with a floral aroma. Each wine is different, this is why wine tasting is so much fun.

We can first concentrate on the following aspects: unpleasant odour, fruity, floral, woody, and finally, our imagination.

About unpleasant odours
The first thing about wine tasting is to find out if a wine has started to go bad, or if too much preservative has been added, which can be detected when we smell the wine before drinking.

If a wine smells musty or like wet newspaper, it means the wine was not properly stored, the cork has deteriorated or bacteria have contaminated the wine (corked). If it smells sour like vinegar, it means the wine has gone bad and is not suitable for consumption.

There is another smell common in cheap wines that people often overlook ― a pungent smell that resembles burnt matches, which some people have mistakenly taken for oakiness. In fact, this is the smell of too much sulphur dioxide (SO2), which is a commonly used preservative that is present in many packaged food. It is usually undetectable in small traces and causes no harm to the body.

Since poor quality wines are made from second-rate ingredients and use an inferior winemaking process, excessive sulphur dioxide is usually added for preservation. If it can be detected by smell alone (and by taste also), it means there is too much sulphur dioxide and should not be consumed. Some people are sensitive to sulphur dioxide and suffer headaches.

Next time, I’ll explain how to use your nose to find a bottle of good wine.

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