Making Wine Sense: Swirl & Sniff

Friends! If you remember, we were #MakingWineSense at the end of 2015. And guess what… we’re still #MakingWineSense here in 2016. Why? Because using our senses while drinking wine is super important! Yes, we can enjoy wine without looking at its color or smelling it before sipping. But doing so helps us enjoy that wine even more. And who doesn’t want a goal of enjoying wine more than we already enjoy it?!

If you missed the previous posts on this topic, you can see them here. If you’ve been tracking along with the posts (as spread out as they are), then you know that we’ve spent a good amount of blog time on using our sense of sight and sense of smell when wine tasting. And guess what… we’re still on smell. It’s THAT important that it requires THREE posts. (Or maybe I just like to dive into details.)

Swirling. It’s not just for wine snobbery! It actually helps. For both white and red wine, swirling the wine once poured in your glass is like a mini decanting session. You swirl to air it out. It’s sorta like opening the windows for the first time in the spring (or fall for us Arizonans). Think of that wine all corked up in that bottle for however many years (or even just one year) – it needs to be “opened” or allowed to “breathe”. Swirling allows the wine to suck in some oxygen. And when we allow it to do that, the wine gifts us some of its beautiful aromas. That’s when we stick our noses in the glass and breathe it in. And when we breathe in the aromas of the wine, that helps us taste the wine (as discussed in the previous smell posts).

Ok now – before we all get extra excited about practicing our swirling skills – be careful. There is no need to seem like a wine snob by aggressively swirling your wine for 10 minutes before taking a step. When you first crack open the bottle and pour a glass, swirl that juice around for maybe 10 seconds. If it is a really big red, maybe longer. Take a big sniff, and then enjoy. As long as the bottle is sitting open while you’re enjoying those glasses, you probably don’t need to swirl the wine around for the last glass in the bottle.

If you do want to seem extra snobby, go ahead and swirl for an annoyingly long time and be sure to stick your pinky out while holding the glass and sipping. That usually does the trick.

Making Wine Sense: Smell Capabilities

The past couple of weeks, we’ve been Making Wine Sense by highlighting out how wine tasting is actually a sensory experience. We continue to explore our sense of smell and what that has to do with how we taste wine.  Earlier this week, we posted about how the olfactory nerves in our sinuses play such a big part in sensing flavors.

Smell vs. Taste Abilities

Another reason that smell is one of the most important steps in wine tasting has to do with how much we are capable of smelling vs. tasting.  When it comes down to it, we have 6 taste sensations:

  1. Sweet
  2. Sour
  3. Salty
  4. Fat
  5. Bitter
  6. Umami (Savory)

That’s it. These are the 6 things that we can truly “taste”. And when it comes to wine, only sweet and sour are relevant. (More on that when we get to the taste post of this Making Wine Sense series.)

We are capable of sensing 6 tastes.

We are capable of sensing 6 tastes.

But smells… there are so many smells! In fact, we know we are capable of perceiving over 10,000 different chemical compounds that register as smells! That’s right – SIX taste sensations vs. over TEN THOUSAND smells! This all goes back to those nifty olfactory nerves sending impulses to the brain. The aroma comes in through our nose, tickles those olfactory nerves, which ultimately sense impulses to the brain which tells us, “that smells like apple pie – we’ll register that as a flavor!”.

We are capable of smelling over 10,000 chemical compounds which register as flavors!

We are capable of smelling over 10,000 chemical compounds which register as flavors!


So when someone says they taste blackberries or strawberries in a wine, what they’re really saying is they sense them – or have smelled them – and they are registering as flavors. Some wines are often described as having a “barnyard” or “earthy” flavor. I doubt many people have tasted an actual barnyard before, but most of us have smelled one. And that smell is registering as a flavor. (Note that “barnyard” is not a negative description for wine!)

Next time you’re sipping on something delightful, think about what you’re sensing!! What are some unusual flavors that you’ve tasted on a wine?


Making Wine Sense: Smell – It’s Science!

We continue this series of “Making Wine Sense” where we determine how our 5 senses are used when enjoying our favorite pastime… wine drinking! In previous posts, we’ve covered SIGHT with white wines and with red wines. Today, we’re moving on to using our SCHNOZZ!


Sniffing or smelling wine is perhaps the most important step when experiencing wine. And most of us either half-heartedly sniff a wine before tasting it or skip it all together. So why is sniffing a wine so important?

What We Smell is What We Taste

Remember way back when in some science class when we talked about olfactory nerves? ….no? Ok, me neither. But I do remember talking about them in wine class. (Amazing how much more info I find myself retaining when it relates to wine.) Anyway, olfactory nerves are in our sinus cavity and send impulses to the brain (through the olfactory bulbs and tract) that convey the sense of smell. While we think we are tasting a certain flavor, it actually has more to do with what we smell. The perception of flavor is based on what our olfactory nerves sensed when we took a big whiff of that wine.

Think about when you have a cold and you can’t really breathe through your nose. When we’re sick, nothing tastes good. That’s not just because we’re grouchy, it’s because we quite literally can’t taste it… because we can’t smell it. Our sinus cavities are all jammed up and our handy little olfactory nerves can’t do their job of registering smells and flavors.

Test it out! Next time you pour a glass of wine, first plug your nose and take a sip (while keeping your nose plugged).  Don’t let go of that plugged nose until 5-10 seconds after you swallow the wine. Have a cracker or something to cleanse your palate and then take a big sniff of the wine followed by a sip. See how different it is. (You could do this with juice or soda or whatever other beverage as well – it’s just less fun.)

Wine Smelling-It's Science.

Wine Smelling-It’s Science.

We’ll continue #MakingWineSense to discuss our human capabilities with smell vs. taste before moving on to our next sense!

Making Wine Sense: Sight with Red Wine

Last week, we kicked off the “Making Wine Sense” series where we explore how wine tasting involves all 5 senses.  We started with using our eye SIGHT and how you can tell what to expect from a sip of white wine based on color alone. And now on to sight with red wine!

SIGHT (Red Wine)

Color (or Hue)

Just as with white wines, we can tell a lot just from the color of red wines. And knowing a little about what you’re going to sip on before you sip on it can enhance your wine tasting experience. (Who doesn’t want an enhanced tasting experience?!)

While white wine goes from pale to yellowy to amber tones, red wine goes from purple to ruby to brick. For technical evaluations, red wine is described using following colors:

  • Purple
  • Reddish Violet
  • Cherry
  • Ruby
  • Garnet
  • Brick Red

Just by looking at the wine once in the glass, we can deduce a few things.

  • Age: In red wines, the color of the wine gets lighter as it ages. They will also get a bit of an orange hue as the mature (or overmature).  What do I mean “for their style”? Well, a Pinot Noir grape is not particularly dark (compared to a Zinfandel grape). But a younger Pinot Noir will be darker than an older Pinot Noir. However, a young Pinot Noir will probably not be as dark as a young Zinfandel. (That’s why the chart below is handy – it tells you what color you can expect a varietal to be.)
  • Body: The color of the wine also helps us deduce the body of the wine. Lighter colored wines are generally lighter bodied (Pinot Noir, Beaujolais) and darker wines are going to be more full-bodied (Cabernet, Syrah, Malbec).
  • Oak and Fruit: Color does not provide quite the indicator of oak or fruit flavors in red wines as it does in white wines.

The key thing is that once you know you like cherry colored reds a lot, then you can explore other varietals that are in that same color range. You may find some consistency with color and delighting your palate!

Making Wine Sense: Color Indications for Red Wine #makingwinesense

Making Wine Sense: Color Indications for Red Wine #makingwinesense


The clarity factor is the same with reds as it is with whites. You want bright color and clearness in your wines. A cloudy, hazy, or oily looking wine indicates there is a fault in it and it may not be good to drink.

Red wines could have some sediment in them. If you do seem some sediment in the bottle, it’s likely you’ll be sampling a full-bodied wine. (Of course, you want to avoid getting the sediment in your glass because no one wants to sip on a wine with bits of stuff in them.) But if you do, then leave that last sip in the glass so you don’t find yourself chewing on it!!


So… what color wine are you sipping on tonight?? Do you feel like its color range aligns with its body??

Making Wine Sense: Sight with White Wine

Enjoying a bottle of wine is a multi-faceted experience and is one of many reasons why I love it so! In some capacity, it involves all five of our senses… sight, smell, taste, touch/feel, and even hearing. This is why Wine Star Services doesn’t talk about wine “tasting” events – we talk about wine “experiences”.  As every wino knows, there’s so much more to it than just tasting!

“Taste” may be the most commonly associated sense when it comes to wine… that makes sense. But how can we use our other senses to further evaluate, understand, and experience wines?

So, welcome to Wine Star’s “Making Wine Sense” series! Each post will be focused on a different sense and how we use it when enjoying wine. Today, we shall start with SIGHT when enjoying white wines.


What can we tell from looking at a glass of wine? To start, we can see if it is red or white. That’s kind of a big deal. But then what? There are two primary aspects to evaluating wine by sight. (1) Color and (2) Clarity.

Color (or Hue)

Evaluating the color of a wine tells us a lot. It will help us prepare for what to expect when tasting it.  And that’s important. Think about if someone blindfolded you and told you they were going to feed you a blueberry but instead they fed you a grapefruit? It sorta jolts your senses and makes it hard to enjoy. It’s the same with wine. If you expected one flavor and got another, you may be turned off by it even though it is one you’d otherwise enjoy.

Sometimes white wines have almost no color and other times you get a deep golden or amber color. What can we deduce from looking at the color alone?

The color scale for white wines is generally described as follows:

  • no color
  • pale green
  • straw yellow
  • canary yellow
  • golden yellow
  • amber

Or to keep it simple, it’s perfectly acceptable to think of this range in more generic terms such as: pale, light, medium, dark.

There are a handful of things that we can evaluate based on the color alone:

  • Age: Lighter color wines tend to be younger, while darker colored wines indicate they’ve been aged longer. When there is a brownish hue to a white wine, that could mean it is past its “peak” drinking time. It doesn’t always mean it’s bad, but just that it may not be drinking as splendidly as it once did.
  • Oak: Light colored white wines most likely didn’t touch any oak in its fermentation/aging process. Wine that has a straw/canary/golden color has likely been aged in oak for a short time. Sitting in oak adds the yellowish color to the wine.
  • Fruit Flavors/Acidity: Lighter color wines will likely be less fruit forward in flavor and have higher acid. Whereas darker colored wines will exhibit more fruitiness and less acidity.
  • Residual Sugar: Dessert wines have high residual sugar (which makes them sweet), and this will show itself via golden or amber colors in the wine.
  • Oxidation: If your white wine looks a bit brown, it may have been exposed to too much oxygen (probably through the cork) and is probably not so good to drink. If it smells funky, then perhaps it’s time to pull out another bottle.

Here’s a little chart to help break all this down using part of the Munsell Color Tree.

Making Wine Sense: Color Indications for White Wine

Making Wine Sense: Color Indications for White Wine


Once you pour a glass of wine, look to see how clear it is before drinking it.  To really evaluate, look straight down into the glass and then hold the wine at an angle (almost like you’re going to pour it out). Is there a cloudiness to it? Or is it clear or bright?

Things that are bad: cloudy, hazy, oily looking wines

Things that are good: Bright color, clearness, sparkling

The “bad” characteristics are just faults in the wine. If you notice any of those characteristics, you probably want to pass on the wine.

Why Should Winos Care About Color or Clarity?

In my humble wino opinion, understanding what YOU like to drink is The Most Important Thing. If you like a wine that is very pale in color, chances are you’ll tend to like other pale colored wines. Which means, you probably like young, unoaked, acidic whites.  If you tend to like golden colored white wines, chances are that you prefer oaked, fruity whites.

Knowing this means it will be easier to select a bottle at the wine store next time – and feel confident that you’ll like it! So go out there and try something new that has a similar color to a wine you already know you like!

Next we’ll post about color indications in red wines! It’s a whole different evaluation.