The smell of wine

Learn about wine

The smell of wine

Aromas in wine can stretch from from fresh and fruity styles like berries and citrus fruit to flowers and Vanilla. They can also appear as nutty aromas or like mushrooms and forest floor etc. It is possible to identify hundres of aromas in a wine and this can create great deal of confusion for many people who is just starting to familiarize themselves with the wonderful world of wine. The big question many people probably is asking here is why? Why are there so many different aromas and flavours in something as simple as  crushed grapes? The answer lies in five different factors which contributes to the aromas in wine each in its own way.

1. The grape

In our world it exists thousands of different grape varieties, and all of these have their own personality measured in different aromas and flavours. Some can smell like roese petals and violets, while others smell more like black currants and plums.

2. Yeast

To create wine one needs yeast. The yeast eats the sugar and creates alcohol. Yeast also creates several of the aromas in wine.

3. Malo

Malo is short for "Malolactic Fermentation". In simple terms it is a bacteria that transforms the harsh acidity to a milder lactic acidity in wine. Especially in red wine and in some white wines. Malo can also create the smell of butter, cream and toast

4. New oak

Maturing a wine in new oak casks contributes different spice aromas. This can be vanilla, cocoa, cloves ore cedar. But also toast or bond fire if the casks has been roasted on an open fire before use. Where in the world the oak barrels comes from defines what type of spice aromas it wil contribute to the wine. IT could be vanilla ore coca from American oak casks, or cloves and cedar from French oak casks.

5. Age

When a wine ages it will be influenced bu oxidation. This will create aromas of nuts, mushroom, leather and forest floor.

We can split the flavours we get when sniffing a wine glass into 3 groups.


These are the fruit and flower aromas coming from the grape itself and also the yeast. If you only smell these it it a young and fresh wine.


The secondary aromas are defined by the winemaker. It could be the storing in old are new oak barrels or other techniques like Malo and so on. Vanilla, cloves or butter are good indicators here.


Then we have come to ageing. Older wines will develop these aromas if the quality of the wine is enough to keep it alive long enough. Nuts, leather and mushrooms are good indicators here.

Spin the glass


When you spin the glass the aromas will more easily climb up along the rim. This requires a little practise, so be careful until you have worked it out.


Then it is time to put your nose down into the glass. A good tip here is when you can smell the wine far away from the glass, the wine is aromatic. However if you need to put your nose down into the glass to smell something it is a neutral wine. This has nothing to do with the quality of the wine, but it can give you valuable information regarding what grape it is. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc is classical aromatic grapes, while Chardonnay on the other hand is a classical neutral grape.

The Aroma Wheel


Aroma Wheel wine

It can be hard to identify the different aromas at first. A good helping aid here is the Aroma Wheel. When you start using the Aroma wheel remember to start with the inner circle of the wheel and then work your way outwards.

Dont be afraid to try new wines, many people has a bat tendency to buy the same wine every time. Dare to try, it is the only way to learn. And remember to have fun.

Marius has worked in several parts of the wine business for the last 16 years. He is currently working as a Category Coordinator for wine and spirits in the Travel Retail business. He is also a part of a tasting panel for the financial newspaper in Norway and writes articles and lectures in his spare time.Marius has a huge passion and dedication for the wine and spirits industry. He is a certified Sommelier and is currently undertaking the WSET Diploma in wines and spirits education.