WINES: Let’s Talk Wine — What Can the Nose Tell Me about the Wine?

Editor’s Note: This is the second article of three in a series about wine and how to assess, smell, and taste wine. Stephanie’s first article is a great introduction to the series: Let’s Talk Wine — First Impressions. We publish Stephanie Roberts’ articles on wine every two weeks, so come back on Wednesday, June 16 for the third article in this fantastic series, Let’s Talk Wine — What Can the Palate Tell Me about the Wine? — Hanna Schoenrock, Managing Editor


The “nose of wine”

The “nose of wine” is a term used to describe a wine’s aromas. The nose can reveal more about the wine than the appearance and palate, so it is important not to skip this step in tasting wine.

The nose can include a range of aromas:

  • fruity, floral, and herbaceous qualities (primary aromas)
  • yeast and earthy qualities (secondary aromas)
  • spice qualities (tertiary aromas)






Primary aromas

The aromas derived from the grape variety in general are referred to as “primary aromas” or “wine aromas” and fall into three categories:

  1. fruity
  2. floral
  3. herbal


Most grape varieties have a distinguishing aroma that will give you a hint as to what you are drinking, for example:

  • Sauvignon Blanc – herbaceous flavors, such as bell pepper and gooseberry
  • Gewürztraminer – lychee
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – black currant, violet, mint
  • Zinfandel – jam and licorice


Secondary aromas

The “wine bouquet” is referred to as the combined secondary and tertiary aromas.

Secondary aromas indicate what happened during the fermentation and winemaking process. Aromas developed during this process are associated with fresh baked bread, yogurt, butter, brewer’s yeast, cheese, sourdough, mushrooms, game, band-aids, horse sweat (that was not a typo), and so on.


Tertiary aromas

Tertiary aromas evolve during the aging or maturation process. An added layer of complexity is the amount of oxidation, type of wood, and size/toasting/age of barrels being used. American oak has more vanilla, coconut, and sweet spice aromas, while French oak is more dark chocolate, roasted coffee beans, and savory spices. But there is also Hungarian and Romanian oak, Acacia, and more.



The intensity of aromas varies from light (hard to identify) to pronounced (jumping out of the glass). Grape varietals that have pronounced aromas are known as “aromatic” wines. For instance, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Viognier are referred to as “aromatic” white wines.

Aromatic wines are often misunderstood. Intense aromas in white wines can hint that wine is sweet even when they are bone dry.



Give your glass a swirl, using a circular motion, to release the bouquet. Swirling wine is an important technique when assessing the nose. This technique gives wine the air it needs to activate and release odorous compounds.

Then stick your nose in the glass and give a gentle sniff. It might take a few sniffs to capture all the aromas. The nose can tell you the most about a wine. Give it some time and attention. Capture the aromas.

Wine Folly has a great aroma wheel to help train your brain to identify aromas and flavors when tasting wine. Here is the link to the aroma wheel: Wine Folly Aroma Wheel.

Next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, spend a few minutes assessing the nose.

What is it telling you about the wine?



Happy Tasting!

Questions? Email Stephanie at


Next up in this Series:

Article 3:  Let’s Talk Wine — What Can the Palate Tell Me about the Wine?








Photos courtesy of Stephanie Roberts


Stephanie Roberts, WSET® Certified Sommelier, empowers people to drink better wine. Through unique and tailored wine experiences, she demystifies wine and all its complexities and teaches people how to recognize a wine’s journey from a grape in the vineyard to the wine in your glass.  

More about how to experience wine with Corks & Boards here or email Stephanie at








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