Many people sniff wine before sipping. If you don’t, you may be perplexed by this seemingly improper behavior.
There is good reason for sniffing wine and it’s even considered proper. Think about when you wake to fresh brewed coffee…the aroma is so alluring! Even non-coffee drinkers appreciate the smell. That’s because our sense of smell is highly sensitive and impressively vast. Humans can detect thousands; some say trillions, of different scents. The sensory organ for the sense of smell is called the olfactory epithelium and contains millions of nerve cells that give the ability to enjoy aromas in coffee, food, wine, etc.
Our sense of taste is strikingly limited compared to our sense of smell. There are only five sensory properties associated with taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory, protein taste found in foods like aged cheeses or ketchup). You may think you’re “tasting” flavors but it’s your nose flooding you with those aromas. To prove this, do a quick experiment with a raisin. Eat a raisin as you normally would then eat a second raisin while plugging your nose. You will notice the raisin you eat while plugging your nose taste only sweet (sensation associated with taste). It is not until you release your nose (even after swallowing) that the aromas come rushing through. That’s because the flavors you taste are due to the scents reaching the nose when the raisin is in your mouth.
The same is true for wine. Wine contains around 200 aromatic compounds and by sniffing into your glass, you can direct all those scents to the olfactory epithelium giving you enjoyment. This sense of smell will continue as you taste then swallow the wine. So don’t be shy, get your nose in the glass and sniff!