Wine Talk

Snooth User: jamessulis

The aroma of wine is in different quadrants of the glass top opening

Posted by jamessulis, May 3, 2013.

Recently touring the Franciscan Winery in Napa Valley our host was an excellent spokesman for wine, the restaurant business and the pairing of food with wine. At one point in his conversation he spoke of smelling three quadrants of the wine glass to pick up different aromas. Now after a few glasses of their finest, I cannot remember exactly what all 3 quadrants were but I do remember two of them. He said the middle of the glass exposed the aromas of the spices and the lower quadrant of the glass exposed the aroma of the grape. Did anyone ever hear of this? I am a student of trying to discern not only the aromas of the wines I drink but the subtle different flavors wine gives forth. If anyone has knowledge of the area of this Post I would love to hear your comments


Reply by edwilley3, May 4, 2013.

I cannot speak to quadrants, but I have conducted a substantial experiment - with scotch - on the different effects of glass shapes. My testing companions and I were quite surprised by the range of variance.

In general, we found that the wider the bowl was, and the flatter the overall glass shape was, the more alcohol appeared on the nose. The best results overall were achieved with only a moderate bowl width combined with a taller overall shape. A tapered glass consistently helped to concentrate fruit and vegetal notes on the nose, but the bowl depth and width had a much, much bigger impact on our overall impression of the spirit. For example, a wide bowl with a rapid taper (a hock or balloon) would result in more alcohol on the nose than a tapered design, but less than a snifter, which commits the sin of a really wide bowl base and a taper that effectively concentrates and traps the alcohol.

We came to the following conclusions:

1. Having too little air space between the top of the liquid and our nose led to reduced enjoyment -  there must be some minimum amount or proportion of total area that is nice to attain the best result..

2. The snifter design was really not a great performer for high alcohol beverages like cognac or scotch due to high aerosolization of alcohol.

3. On a narrower glass, such as a sherry-sized example, a slight flare helped us to get our nose farther into the glass which helped us to smell better.

4. For most glasses, the pour size needs to be a minimum volume in relation to total potential volume of the glass in order to achieve full aerosolization in the glass.

5. A shorter glass with a narrow base and a wide, non-tapered mouth pretty much sucks for nosing anything.

Extrapolating from our observations, I would conclude that most mere mortals over-pour wine into wrong-shaped glasses. A large glass with a graceful taper and a larger height is a great choice for highly aromatic and fruity wines; given that these wines have far less alcohol by volume than a distilled spirit, you will not have the problem of increased aerosolization of alcohol that comes with the larger bowl. The hock or balloon shape probably isn't an ideal shape for any wine since most of these are too big/broad to concentrate anything for your nose; when you add in an over-pour, this is a disaster. Dessert wines are going to be trickier.  Sweet could benefit from a smaller glass with a decent taper since (a) they are served chilled and (b) will need some help in concentrating the scents.

I hope that this is interesting or even valuable to some.

By they way, we settled on the Eisch "Jeunesse" whisky glass. It's amazing for spirits.


Reply by JonDerry, May 4, 2013.

I found much of what you say to be true Ed.

Especially how limited small bowls are and most wait staff never fail to over pour.

Reply by outthere, May 4, 2013.

Only 3 quadrants? I just get my nose down in the glass.  Like Ed said, minimal pour allows you to get the most of he experience. 

Reply by edwilley3, May 4, 2013.

When I go to a "fine dining" restaurant with multiple entrees in the $30 dollar range, I know that I am dealing with amateurs the moment I see a cheap restaurant supply glass that's (a) way too small and (b) with a narrow base. There is just no point in ordering a very good wine at such an establishment. Of course, it's very possible that a restaurant will have great glassware and ho hum wines.

Here's the Eisch to which I referred above:

It is far and away the best glass for spirits that I have ever experienced. It outperforms the sherry copita, any snifter, and the little cognac glasses that are pushed by Remy (and others).

Reply by EMark, May 4, 2013.

"Only 3 quadrants?"

That bothered me, also, OT.


Reply by jamessulis, May 4, 2013.

@ EMARK & OT, Thanks for posting your thoughts even though the answers sway from my original question. I know I'm a beginner at trying to isolate smells and tastes I was hoping fellow Snoothers would try and clarify what I was told at Franciscan Estate. Now when I smell the center of the glass, I do smell the spices more than when I smell the lower inside ridge of the glass which is definitely grape. If both of you are experiencing more or something different, could you please describe? Perhaps the spokesman for Franciscan was just trying to wow the crowd. 

Reply by GregT, May 5, 2013.

James old buddy - the guy was selling you a pile of crap.

What are smells?

Some volatile molecules that your nose picks up.

Do you really think that molecules give a rat's ass where they come from? What are the aromas of spices and aromas of fruit anyway?  Spices would probably come from the wood, but not always. And what spices exactly?

More wine BS.

As pointed out above, the shape of the glass MAY affect the aromas you pick up. The surface area of the liquid, the taper of the glass, the temp of the liquid, the humidity in the air, your allergy sensitivity, all those things affect what you experience. But there's just no way in hell that the fruit is in one quadrant, the wood in another, and who knows what is in the third. And twenty years later, do all of those things still hold? You have a completely different group of aromatic compounds. 


Reply by JonDerry, May 5, 2013.


I'd also forget the three quadrants story from Franciscan and move on. Kind of like hypnosis, if you want those smells to be there, you'll buy into it.

Reply by outthere, May 5, 2013.

The power of suggestion is very compelling.

Sorry James if I wasn't as direct as Greg. Not my style.

Reply by GregT, May 5, 2013.

Mine either! 

Who wrote that?!

Reply by Richard Foxall, May 9, 2013.

I agree that some glasses focus heat from alcohol in an unpleasant way.  As a drinker of barrel proof bourbons and other spirits, something I have to watch out for.  I haven't refined my whisk(e)y glassware to that extent, but it might be time to try.  Thanks, EW, for your research.

Lefty, I think that there are probably differences as you go down the glass, but that's more from the comparative volatility of the different compounds that make up odors.  It's not the quadrant, but the wine that smells different over time. You are moving the wine around in the glass as you tilt it to sip, even if you don't swirl.  If I really want to get into the wine's aromas, I swirl, sniff, repeat a few times before I ever take a sip, but mixing in air to release the volatiles in any way will have some effect.

Now here's something I have noticed:  If I tilt my head and the glass so the aroma goes in one nostril at a time, my two sides are definitely sensitive to different things.  And my right side is more sensitive than my left.  Go ask the ENT behind the tasting bar at Franciscan about that.

I think it's funny what they tell you at tasting room, when most of the time they don't know what the cooperage is, or whether there was a pre-fermentation cold soak, or much of anything about the wine beyond the obvious or canned.

Reply by jamessulis, May 9, 2013.

Hey FOX,

Thanks for the positive tips, I'll try the 2 nostril thing. I guess that tasting guys get carried away much like the tour guide they are.. After so many trips it gets ad-libbed, embellished upon etc. Curiosity about some of these subtle things if they work sometimes gets me further into the wine mystique. I appreciate your post as it was informative. Thanks again.


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