In Wine 101 classes we learn to swirl and smell before drinking. Why exactly this ritual can be so pleasurable is maybe less clear…..

Of our five basic senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch — the sense of smell is the one that most baffles neuroscientists and psychologists. What we do know is that no other sense is more closely linked to memory, particularly on a subconscious level, than the ability to smell.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re capable of distinguishing literally thousands of unique odors — an ability crucial to survival throughout human evolution. Smoke and rotten food are a few quick examples. Interestingly, kissing is thought to have originally developed from sniffing! (

Childhood memories linked to scent remain with us throughout our entire lives. And these associations constantly influence our choices. Researchers call these learned behaviors the “Proustian Memory Effect” — in reference to Marcel Proust who, in his book Remembrance of Things Past, vividly described how the aroma of a Madeleine pastry evoked scenes from his youth. (Given the French prowess with perfumes and fragrances, perhaps it’s only fair that this corollary is named after one of the country’s greatest writers.)

The fact that smell is so closely linked to specific experiences explains why a fragrance you find irresistible is one someone else despises. “In a recent study undertaken by the U.S. military to create a “stink bomb,” it was impossible to find an odor (including U.S. army issue latrine scent) that was unanimously considered unpleasant across various ethnic groups. So it isn’t just neutral or moderate odors that vary by culture, what we think stinks does too.” (Scientific American)

But back to wine……. Since the human tongue is limited to just five essential tastes: sour, bitter, salty, sweet and savory, much of what you experience in a glass of wine is through your nose — an almost endless array of fruity, earthy, leathery, floral, herbal, mineral, and woodsy flavors.

Wine aromas are categorized as primary, secondary and tertiary. As you drink a glass, swirl, place your nose in the glass and inhale — again harking back to Wine 101. You’re likely to smell fruit first or possibly flowers. Continue swirling and inhale as you drink. Complex and aged wines evolve quickly as they oxygenize. Experiencing the evolving scents and aromas are all part of the intrinsic joy in wine.

Literally hundreds of unique scents have been catalogued to describe wine. Photo by Marla Norman.

Primary Aromas: Smells derived from the fruit itself. Fruity and/or floral. Expect violets, rose, chamomile, green apple, citrus, black and red berries.

Secondary Aromas: After fermentation, wines take on additional scents. Here also, the winemaker’s choice in barreling will have a subtle or noticeable influence. Look for nutty, buttery, vanilla, cedar and other wood-like aromas.

Tertiary Aromas: As a wine ages, oxidative traits are displayed in scents known as tertiary aromas often described as damp earth, wet forest, mushrooms or vegetal-like components.

Bouquet: Is the term used to refer to the buttery scents in wine which result after a malolactic (secondary fermentation). In contrast, wine fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks will continue to exhibit fruit and primary wine aromas.

Sommeliers work diligently to develop their sense of smell, spending hours sniffing out fruits, vegetables, etc. to train and enhance their olfactory capacity.

When we take tour groups to Bordeaux, we always begin the visits with a stop at la Cité du Vin – the museum dedicated to every aspect of winemaking. One of the most popular exhibits is the Buffet of Scents –there we can experience everything from tropical aromas, to old leather and pencil shavings. A great way to sharpen up our senses before tasting the Grands Vins at the châteaux.

At Bordeaux’s spectacular wine museum, La Cité du Vin, Chuck & Kami Ransom (center) experience the “Buffet of Scents.” Photo by Marla Norman.

Literally hundreds of unique scents have been catalogued to describe wine. Let’s take a look at what the professionals say about the wine they’re drinking — the folks trained to sniff out a thousand & one different aromas. And of course all these selections are available for purchase. Write or call 850-687-1370 to order.

2015 Araujo Eisele Vineyard. $479.99 or $1019.99 in Magnum
Robert Parker rated this California Cabernet — now owned by Château Latour — 100-points, writing: “The initial nose is spicy with forward notes of cinnamon, vanilla, blonde tobacco, and cumin. With a swirl, highly expressive lily and rose aromas immediately lift from the glass, followed by a dark bouquet of black currant and boysenberry.”

2016 Vine Hill Ranch Oakville. $194.99
Antonio Galloni enthusiastically awarded the 2016 VHR 100-points, describing “a rush of black cherry, plum, menthol, licorice, sage, dark spice and earthy notes build as this statuesque Cabernet Sauvignon shows off its magnificent pedigree.”

2016 Château Montrose. $179.99
Jeb Dunnuck gave this gorgeous Montrose a 100-point rating, citing the aromas of “creme de cassis, graphite, damp earth, lead pencil shavings, and burning embers.” Lisa Perrotti-Brown rated the vintage 99-points, also mentioning the “wafts of pencil lead and wood smoke.”

2016 Château Cos d’Estournel. $179.99
Neal Martin awarded the 2016 Cos 100-points because of its “very intense but broody bouquet with fathomless deep black fruit tinged with blueberry and violet. The aromas almost seem to envelop the senses.”

2015 Château La Mission Haut-Brion. $389.99
“Rose petals, sandalwood and currants with some plums and fruit tea” were James Suckling’s notes describing this stunning 100-point La Mission Haut-Brion. Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth was impressed with the primary aromas, calling them: “Alluring, with steeped plum, blackberry and açaí berry fruit imparting a distinctive edge.”

2007 Gosset Celebris Extra Brut Rosé. $149.99
“A super precise and chalky bouquet of oyster shells and iodine intertwined with fine red berry and rose petal notes” is the write-up for this vintage Gosset Champagne by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

2018 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay. $48.99
New Zealand’s tropical Chardonnays are known for their distinctive nose. Joe Czerwinski writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate confimrs the classic profile: “Hints of roasted cashew accent tropical fruit, but thanks to a zesty line of citrusy acids, the wine powers forward without ever seeming overly broad or heavy.”

2012 Dal Forno Romano Amarone Della Valpolicella. $318.49
James Suckling  cites the chocolate aromas in this younger vintage of Dal Forno Amarone: “A decadent nose of treacle tart, chocolate, tar, tons of black fruit such as blackberries and mulberries and even ash and licorice.”

Treacle Tart, by the way, is an English dessert made with a sugary syrup, known as Treacle and lemon. You might also wonder about the appeal of “tar” in wine….. but however extravagant professional descriptions can be, they help stimulate our wine awareness and occasionally entertain!

More Deliciously Aromatic Wines
At prices that will appeal to all your senses!

California Cult & Other Top Wines

2005 Screaming Eagle. $3,249.00
2012 Hyde de Villaine Belle Cousine Red Blend. $71.49
2012 Araujo Eisele Cabernet (half-bottles) $249.99
2012 Araujo Eisele Syrah (magnum) $439.99
2014 Opus One (magnum) $689.99
2015 Vine Hill Ranch Napa Cabernet (magnum) $359.99
2015 Ulysses Napa Cabernet. $149.99
2015 Ovid Experiment P5.5 Red Blend. $142.99
2016 Araujo Eisele Sauvignon Blanc. $89.99
2016 Ovid Experiment C4.6 Red Blend. $142.99
2016 Ovid Experiment M2.6 Red Blend. $142.99
2016 Ovid Hexameter. $299.99
2016 Opus One (half-bottle) $155.99
2018 Shafer Hillside Select (magnum) $489.99

Christian Moueix, who once oversaw production at Pétrus, now owns Dominus and Ulysses Estates in Napa. Photo courtesy of Établissements Moueix.

2008 Dal Forno Amarone. $318.49
2011 Tenuta dei Sette Cieli NOI4. $34.99
2012 Dal Forno Romano Amarone Della Valpolicella. $319.99
2012 Dal Forno Valpolicella. $84.99
2012 Biondi-Santi Brunello Annata. $159.99
2013 Val de Suga Brunello di Montalcino. $49.99
2015 Buglioni Amarone. $48.99
2013 Venissa Dorona Bianco (half-bottle) $159.99
2014 Venissa Dorona Bianco (magnum) $599.99
2011 Venissa Rosso (half-bottle) $139.99

Vibrantly gold, Venissa, produced on an island in the Venetian Lagoon, has a distinctive nose of wild flowers, peaches and a hint of fresh grass. Photo by Marla Norman.

New Zealand
2018 Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate. $29.99
2018 Kumeu River Chardonnay Coddington. $41.99
2018 Kumeu River Chardonnay Mate’s. $54.99

Burgundy – Pinot Noir
1999 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. $825.99
2010 Domaine Lignier-Michelot Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru. $299.99
2015 Domaine Perrot-Minot Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru. $349.99
2015 Domaine Simon Bize Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru. $249.99
2015 Domaine Joseph Drouhin Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru. $239.99
2016 Domaine Olivier Bernstein Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 2016. $449.99
2016 Domaine Thierry & Pascale Matrot Volnay Santenots 1er Cru. $69.99
2016 Domaine Thibault Ligier Belair Bourgogne Rouge. $29.99
2016 Domaine Henri Boillot Volnay Chevrets 1er Cru. $69.99
2017 Domaine Henri Boillot Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru. $174.99

Michel checks out the nose of a Volnay produced by Guillaume Boillot at Domaine Henri Boillot. Photo by Marla Norman.

Burgundy – Chardonnay
2014 Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots. $94.99
2015 Domaine Laroche La Réserve de l’Obédience Les Blanchots Grand Cru. $169.99
2015 Domaine Jean-Louis Chavy Puligny-Montrachet. $49.99
2016 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain. $139.99
2016 Roc de Boutires Pouilly-Fuissé. $38.99
2017 Dominique Lafon Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champgain. $173.99
2017 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses. $86.99

2015 Château du Moulin-à-Vent Champ-de-Cour. $60.99

1996 Château Lafite Rothschild. $899.99
2010 Château Clinet. $164.99
2015 Château Pavie. $329.99
2015 Château Angélus. $329.99
2015 Château L’Évangile. $208.99
2016 Château Palmer. $319.99
2016 Château Barde-Haut. $38.79
2016 Château Poesia. $39.99
2016 Château d’Arce. $18.99

2010 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de Terre Ferme. (magnum) $99.99
2007 Chêne Bleu Héloïse. $69.99
2015 Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge. (magnum) $149.99.
2017 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. 2017 $75.99

2015 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc Le Clos des Carmes. $64.99
2016 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc Brézé. $62.99
2013 Domaine Clau de Nell Cabernet Franc. $35.99

Champagne Gosset Grand Réserve Brut NV. (magnum) $99.99
J.M. Labruyère Champagne Brut Rosé Grand Cru Anthologie NV. $54.98
J.M. Labruyère Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Page Blanche NV. $69.98

2015 Vignoble des 2 Lunes Amélie Gewürztraminer. $18.99
2011 Vignoble des 2 Lunes Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Hengst. $24.99


Behind the scenes – Marla working hard to create great shots! Photo by Michel Thibault

Cheers! Here’s to making more scents out of wine….
You knew we’d throw in a bad pun somewhere!