Volatilizing Your Esters

Smelling the wine as part of wine tasting

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Your nose is the key to enjoying a glass of wine, long before the wine ever hits your palate.

The act of swirling your wine releases the bouquet. (The bouquet is a result of the wine making process. Aroma, on the other hand, is related to the scent of the grape.)

It cracks me up that there are classes on volatilizing your esters. But then, if you see people swirling their wine as a wine geek habit, and you follow suit only to simulate the mannerism without knowing why it’s being done, this is why classes on volatilizing your esters have evolved, I dare say.

Esters are chemical compounds found in all substances. In fruit, the same chemical compounds found in green apples, blackberries, and blueberries, for instance, are also present in certain grape varieties. This is why a tart Chardonnay, for example, can be said to taste like green apples, and a really round and juicy Pinot Noir can be said to taste like mashed plums. Those flavors cross the spectrum of fruit.

It’s just Chemistry 101, and a lot more fun when it’s related to the finished product of wine. I recall the differences between my own Chemistry 101 and Oenology 101. Oenology (enjoying wine) was a lot more fun than chemistry (blowing up potato mash… although, that was a lot of fun, too).

Esters are formed by the action of alcohol and acids, and reside in the finished product…In this case, it’s wine.

If you’ve never done this, give it a whirl…

  • DON’T SWIRL your wine first.
    • Just smell the wine in your glass.
    • Put your nose in the glass (tip your head and focus on just one nostril, really concentrating your effort).
    • Take a deep sniffing breath.
  • NOW SWIRL your wine.
    • Put your nose back into the glass.
    • Take another really deep sniffing breath.

Voila! The contrasts are remarkable.

Now, take your time and think about what aromas come to mind, besides “wine,” and begin to find your own descriptions for what aromas are being associated with that variety and glass of wine. It might only be one new aroma for that day, but you’re got the rest of your life for discovering the rest available to you and your wine experiences.

REMEMBER: You’re your own best expert, because you know (more than anyone else) what you love and what you can’t stand. Developing our own palate rocks!

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9 Responses to “Volatilizing Your Esters”

  1. Loweeel says:

    Petite seems to crawl its way out of the glass and into your nose…

    just 58 days until D&D!

  2. Victor says:

    Good Morning Jo,
    It is so cold here this morning, I don’t think my Esters can do much of anything!

  3. Jo says:

    You guys are both funny!

  4. Joeshico says:

    Great advice Jo.
    I never did the sniff before swirling, so I tried tonight.
    Put nose in glass, tipped head back and spilled wine on face.
    Tried sniffing with one nostril and finger used to hold the other nostril kept hitting glass.
    I will continue to practice.

  5. Jo says:


    You are so funny! I’d love to have been at that practice session.

    Next time, try doing a head stand on a chair, balanced on only one leg, while twirling a dish with the other hand.

    I just know you’ll have better luck this way.

    I was saving this advice until I heard from someone who had the spilling wine on face result. Not too many people encounter this one, so I decided to wait until I heard from you.

    Happy holidaze, and you’re entered into the contest for the Dark & Delicious tickets. I wish I had a flight to go with them, because you’d be a blast at any party.

  6. Arthur says:

    Good piece, Jo.
    I’m a big proponent of knowing one’s sensory physiology and how to use that in learning about, assessing and enjoying wine:


  7. Peggy says:

    I am just learning about wine and it looks your blog will be one of my favorite places to visit.

  8. Jo says:

    Arthur, thanks, so am I. As basic as this blog entry is, I’m constantly brought back to my original roots… education… and remembering how I’d conduct educational tours at Robert Mondavi. This kind of info was always a light-bulb moment, so giving it as a blog entry still has its place. I enjoyed writing it. I enjoy more, though, that you endorsed it.

  9. Jo says:


    As I just wrote to Arthur, I occasionally come back to my Robert Mondavi roots of wine education, and remember that so many people are just starting their journey. It’s very easy, being deeply dug into the wine business (almost 17 years later) that many of the things I write about have nothing to do with someone’s passions while s/he’s just discovering wine for the first time. I need to bring back many of the things that I’ve used in the past for those just starting out. It’s a great service to someone like you, and I thank you for reminding me that you’re out there and will benefit.

    I thought about writing the Volatilizing piece, and almost didn’t write it. I’m now very happy that I did.

    Welcome to Juicy Tales Wine Blog, and continued happy holidays.

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