The nose always knows when it comes to good wine |

The nose always knows when it comes to good wine

While it’s said wine is a living thing, it doesn’t have teeth, eyes or ears. But it does have a nose.

I won’t say the expression isn’t high and mighty, but I’d feel uneasy standing around, glass in hand, talking about a wine’s nose. This one’s hooked, that one’s curved and the one being served at that table had an operation.

For that matter, I’m not too comfortable with the distinction made between a wine’s “aroma,” referring to the natural smell it takes from the fruit, and its “bouquet,” the complex overtones it may develop with age.

So let’s talk about simplicity in wine language, an acceptable wisdom that the “nose knows.” I’ll talk about how a wine “smells” in plain English and separate the sameness by adding aroma and scent and other niceties in wine vocabulary. I’ll then lead into the “off smells,” wine that has major faults.

When it comes to nosing around, we take a distant second place to animals. Still, we humans can train our senses of smell, and you don’t have to be an expert wine taster to learn to sniff out the differences among wines.

Here are sweet grape expressions and what they mean – words that ring as music to a winemaker’s ears.

Smell is fragrances that are emitted. Scent is when wine is fresh, just off the press. Smell is important to the wine taster.

Much of what is taste really comes through our noses. If you have doubts, try to enjoy wine or a meal the next time you’re down with a cold.

Bouquet is the odor contributed by the grapes combined with the odor assimilated in the cellaring procedures, causing a whole range of odors that linger on after wine is kept in the barrel.

Aroma is special, sweet-smelling matter found in the internal cells of wine contributed by the grapes, which is manifested after the long aging process.

Character is the odor that is descriptive of a particular grape variety, geographic location, cellar technique, or a combination of all three.

Delicate is a nose that is faint and rather difficult to gather in the nasal passages.

Flowery is a nose that has the effect of flowers, such as that of a well-made wine.

Full is a nose that is obvious and fills the nasal passages.

Woody is a nose that exhibits an aroma of wood, generally a wine that has been wood-aged too long.

Faultfinding words the winemaker dreads are expressions used by knowledgeable tasters when conversing among themselves, but essential when wine has a major fault.

Grassy is a nose that is “green” from wine that is immature, or has been aged in redwood cooperage.

Heady is a nose of high alcohol content, often called strong.

Moldy is a nose from wines made from grapes that have been infected with mold or wines that have been aged in mold-infected cooperage, or both.

Musty is a nose from wines that were aged in cooperage that has decayed or becomes waterlogged.

Off is a nose that does not exhibit a proper character or exhibits the wrong character, a term very often misused by amateur tasters.

Organic is a nose that is reminiscent of 3rotten eggs,² the result of hydrogen sulfide contamination.

Soapy is a self-descriptive term resulting from wines having been exposed to equipment and/or aging vessels that have not been properly cleaned or rinsed.

Other words readily understood among tasters are:

Typical: a nose that is expected from the wine because of its type, production technique, varietal usage, origin, or some combination of these.

Varietal: a nose that is typical of a particular variety of the grapes used in making wine.

A fun way to educate and explore the nose with wine is the 3arm1s-length test,² which can be practiced alone or with friends. Start with heavy flavored wines at first, and as you gain experience and confidence, try other, less fruity wines.

With wine in glass, stretch your arm straight out, then slowly bring the glass forward toward the nose until you perceive an odor that unleashes recognition of the wine.

Some at first will only detect an odor 2 or 3 inches from the nose, while others with practice will smell 8 or more inches away and describe the smell precisely.

Memory smell retention is achieved by regular practice, and its use by each individual will depend on his or her particular keenness and perseverance.


Norman E. Gates is a Lake of the Pines wine connoisseur. He can be reached at winegate@

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User