Swirling & Sniffing... Using a systematic approach to tasting wine sounds silly, but has a lot of practical application and you don't have to be a wine snob to do it. Now that you've stared down your wine, it is time to perform that rhythmic and smooth dance of swirling by grabbing the stem and give it a twirl on a flat surface or if you're good, you can do by holding it and doing the Hula-Hoop - reserved for cocky winos. Don't get too aggressive or you will paint your neighbor and spill, especially if more than half full. After a few twirls, bury your nose into the glass - really get it in there, and inhale deeply. Is the aroma pronounced, medium, or light? A good wine will make you feel like your heart is melting with pleasantries. Some wines, however, will cause facial distortion and leave you wondering if the wine is bad, are your senses off, or that's what Zweigelt smells like? Smelling Italian leather is fine, but generally it is very difficult to pick out a single scent. Don't get overwhelmed! The purpose of swirling is to open up the wine, expose to oxygen in the air, soften acidity and tannins, and get those small wine aromatic compounds moving to expose subtle secondary and tertiary aromas. It's an amazing chemical reaction and process!
Legs...Tears...oh my...those streaks on the side of the glass after swirling. No need to panic or assume it must be an awesome wine. Legs have nothing to do the quality of the wine, but do indicate the alcohol content. The more alcohol (many full reds), the more tears will appear.
Ok, now the technical stuff, the primary aromas of wine are - fruit (all different kinds like red fruit, black fruit, tropical fruit, stone fruit, green fruit, citrus fruit, dried fruit, etc...), earth, floral, and herbal, herbaceousness (diff than herbal), and spice. These aromas come from either the grape itself or the environment in which it's grown (terroir, soil, climate, etc...). In red wine, the fruit aromas are typically red fruit and black fruit, such as cherry, black cherry, cranberry, plum, blueberry, blackberry, bramble (look it up), currant, and raspberry. In white wines, the aromas are stone, citrus, tropical, and tree fruits, such as pineapple, guava, apple, pear, lime, lemon, grapefruit, peach, and apricot. You will actually smell grapes though.
Earthiness (which emcompasses anything from the earth) evokes soil, dust, clay, gravel, limestone, minerality, forest floor, potted plant, etc... and comes from environment of vineyard, not grape. Floral (which is not detectable on the palate - more on this later) can range from perfume, blossoms, violets, rose, geranium, chamomile, and elderflower. Green/herbal include herbs like mint, eucalyptus, fennel, dill, and medicinal. Green/herbaceous like vegetables, grass, green bell pepper (Cab Franc), asparagus, tomato, and blackcurrant leaf (resinous).
The secondary and tertiary aromas in wine comes from post-fermentation and maturation/aging. Secondary are often bread, cream, biscuit, and toast from yeast autolysis and malolactic fermentation (process of converting malic acid to lactic acid to soften harsh acids and produce a more creramy and buttery texture (Chard). Aromas from oak aging or fermentation are oak, cedar, cloves, coconut, smoke, chocolate, vanilla, and raisin. Tertiary aromas come from aging, such as dried fruit, tobacco, coffee, leather, mushroom, meaty, nutty, petrol, and caramel.
Faults in wine create certain smells that are unintentional from poor storage, oxidation, poor winemaking, reduction, sulfur dioxide, cork taint, etc... They will be noticeable on the nose,such as wet dog, cardboard, musty, sulfur, and vinegar. No worries because only about 1% of wine in world is faulty from the beginning and odds are that you will not encounter one in your lifetime. Don't get upset with the winemaker because they most likely had nothing to do with it and something that happens over time.
That brings us to the end of this section. Hope you enjoyed! Look for "tasting" and "sipping" on the next episode.