Breweries, Wine, and Cheese Lifestyle

The Grapevine: The Art of the Sniff

By Gina Trippi

We started this shop in 2013 with our two greyhounds, Bandit and Cate. They stayed the long hours with us every day and they will always be the face of Metro Wines. But now there are two new shop dogs, Kobe and Domino, and they invite you to join our family by posting your pets on their website page.

But dogs aren’t just companions. We could learn a lot from them, especially the art of the sniff! True, dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared to about six million in humans. And, also, the part of the dog’s brain devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times greater than ours. But we must be bold and try!

Andy Hale, our wine buyer and director of The Asheville School of Wine, says some sommeliers recommend you just do it: sniff like Fido! That means, Andy says, “quick sniffs to get the most out of the wine.” Some students of the sniff also recommend “active inhalation.” That would be, Andy says, ”putting the rim of the glass over both your nose and open mouth to sniff.”

Let’s get started. You need a bowl-shaped glass to let the wine breathe and to accommodate the mechanics of the sniff. Pour at least three ounces.

First, swirl the wine to release aromas. Then, stick your nose as far as you comfortably can into the glass. Focus on the olfactory and minimize distractions by closing your eyes. Breathe deeply. Think about the scents. Scents can unlock flavors.

There are no wrong answers, just different answers. Your brain picks up scents in your memory; that is, scents you have smelled before. And, so, at a dinner party of eight, with eight olfactory memory banks cranking, there will likely be eight wildly variant answers.

You are initially sniffing to determine if the wine is corked, or undrinkable. If you smell a moldy basement, wet rags or a wet dog, there is a good chance the wine is corked. Only a wine that has a real cork can be corked. If the wine is closed with a screw cap or synthetic plastic cork, something else might be wrong or, maybe, the aroma is just not appealing to you, but the wine cannot be corked.

Generally speaking, in a white wine, you might pick up bananas, lemon rind, pineapple, white flowers, grapefruit and beach air. In a riesling, you will detect petrol, and a muscadet from France presents salinity. With a red wine, you often find cherries, strawberries, plums, tobacco, chocolate, smoke and even peppers. A syrah is known for a waft of wild game, and eucalyptus often shows up in Cabernet.

Ready to try your skills? Try Nespoli Bombino Bianco from Emilia-Romagna. The winery says this wine evokes the aromatic profile of sauvignon blanc. With its notes of green apple, herbs and lime, it is fresh and clean on the nose. The rest is up to you!

Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Committed to the community, Metro Wines offers big-shop selection with small-shop service. Gina can be reached at or 828.575.9525.

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