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How to get better at pulling aromas out of wine

Using your nose to pick out the aromas in a glass of wine sounds straightforward — after all, smell is one of our main senses, and anyone with a nose can tell with their eyes closed whether a 350° oven has chocolate chip cookies or roast beef cooking away inside. We use our noses every day. Because of this, when wine students have trouble picking aromas out of a glass of wine, they often assume it’s because they lack talent for it and will never be any good at it. 

But like anything that requires muscle memory, getting good at picking out aromas in the glass takes practice. Most of us wouldn’t expect to be able to run a marathon without many months of training, and it’s similarly unrealistic to expect we will magically be good at picking out dozens of different aromas in a glass of wine when we’ve never done it before.

So how do you get better at finding aromas in the glass? One way is to taste with a list of different aromas in front of you and specifically look for them. Many times, when I’m teaching a wine class and mention I smell something like dried apricot in a wine, students exclaim, “Oh wow, I do smell that!” Prompting your brain to look for a specific aroma is sometimes all it takes to find it there. This is especially true when you’re a beginning wine student.

If you’re studying for a WSET certification, print out the Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) card, and when you pour yourself a glass of wine, start at the top of the lexicon page that lists dozens of different aromas. Floral aromas are always listed first. Ask yourself if you smell anything floral in the glass. There’s also a list of specific floral aromas within the cluster, so if you notice something floral, can you tell what kind of flower it is? Read through the list of aromas and see if any of them seem to fit the wine. If not, it’s ok, and you can move on. After you look for floral aromas, look for different fruits. Going through a list of aromas in the same order each time will help you improve over time because your brain gets used to repeating the practice. 

Another way work on this is to think about colors or families of aromas. For example, when you pour a glass of red wine, smell it, and think about whether you smell more red fruit or black fruit. In a white wine, ask yourself if you smell apple. If so, is it more red, yellow or green? Sometimes starting out more generally can help you realize that you do smell differences in wines. 

If you want to get more serious, pour yourself a couple of different wines side by side and smell them one after another. How are the aromas different? Better yet, invite some friends over for a wine tasting and see what they think! Even experienced sommeliers learn by listening to their friends and colleagues. 

But at some point, you’ll likely realize there are aromas you don’t recognize.  Maybe you tried looking for floral aromas in a wine and realized you couldn’t call to mind how a rose smells different than honeysuckle or jasmine. Keep your eyes open the next time you take the dog for a walk or buy flowers for a loved one – maybe you’ll spot some jasmine or a rose bush you can smell. If you realize there’s a particular fruit or vegetable you’ve never had, head to the grocery store. I realized during my WSET Level 3 class that I didn’t know what passionfruit smelled like, so I went to the store and bought a passionfruit. I cut it in half and stuck it in my fridge and left it there for a week. Every time I opened the fridge, my nose got a blast of passionfruit, and now I have no trouble identifying it. 

There are also liqueurs that can help you figure out what some more esoteric aromas smell like. Like many Americans, have you never come across a blackcurrant? Find a bottle of crème de cassis at a liquor store – it’s blackcurrant liqueur. Same with elderflower and the liqueur Saint Germaine. If a something out of season or not available in your local market, try looking in the dried fruit, herb/spice or jelly aisle as well. 

Aroma kits like those made by Le Nez du Vin can help short-cut this process, but you can also work on developing your skills at recognizing aromas without a special kit. The good news is that studying wine means tasting quite a bit of it, and there are certainly worse things to have to practice!



Cancellations of confirmed in-person course enrollments and workshops are accepted up to 60 days before the start of the course. An administration fee of $50 plus the full cost of the study materials and exam fees will be deducted, and the remainder of the course fee refunded to the payee. Separate WSET exam cancellation/transfer rules apply.
Transfers of a confirmed enrollment to another course are accepted 60 days before the course start date with an administration fee of $50.

Cancellations less than 60 days before the in-person course start date or course no shows forfeit any refund/transfer options unless students can provide medical documentation. If medical documentation is provided, students can be transferred to a later course. No refunds will be applied.

Course Transfers cannot be carried forward to the next academic year (which commenced on January 1).

Students are highly encouraged to purchase separate travel insurance.

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