Wine Tasting vs Wine Drinking - Part Two (Nose)

In my first post in the series, we discussed what to look at when you are wine tasting. For some reason, this post ended up showing up after post number three, but is actually the second step in tasting. These visual clues should set you up for what is about to happen next. It is very easy to describe what you see to another person, but when it comes to smell, things get a little more complicated. If you are like me, sit there and smell a glass of wine for long periods of time, trying to pick out all the different aromas that come out of the glass. Nosing (or smelling) a glass of wine is one of the best parts of wine "tasting". Smelling a wine is critical in tasting a wine (ever try tasting a wine with your nose plugged? It probably didn't taste like much).

So, how should you go about nosing a glass of wine? Well, first off, make sure the glass isn't too full, or you might end up spilling wine all over, as this step in tasting requires swirling the wine in the glass, to spread the wine around the inside of the glass, and open up the wine for smelling. Next, get your nose down in that glass. Don't just take a little whiff, really get in there, and take a number of quick sniffs, to maximize your impressions of the wines aroma. Don't stay in there too long, as the alcohol in the wine will fatigue your nasal cavity in a short period of time. This means you'll need to evaluate in a short period of time, and smells are one of the hardest things to remember, and describe. Try describing the smell of a green apple, or a plum. Since smells are so hard to remember, it works best to have a list of aromas that you can run through your mind. As you go through each aroma on your mental list, you can try to pick out that aroma in the wine, or eliminate it altogether.

Since you know (by looking at your glass) that you are drinking a white, red or rose wine, your list of scents will be narrowed to those associated with the color of the wine. Examples of list are:

Fruit scents
  • Citrus - lemon, lime, grapefruit
  • Green Fruit - apples, gooseberry, pear
  • Tree fruit - apricot, peach, cherry (red and black), apple, plum
  • Berries - raspberry, red currant, strawberry, blackberry, cassis
  • Tropical fruit - banana, kiwi, lychees, mango, melon, pineapple
  • Dried fruit - fig, prune, raisins
 Floral scents
  • elderflower, orange blossom, rose, violet, geranium, linalool (Earl Grey tea)
 Spice scents
  • Sweet - cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla
  • Pungent - pepper (white and black), anise or licorice, juniper 
 Vegetal
  • Fresh -cut grass, asparagus, bell pepper
  • Cooked - cabbage, canned vegetables, olives
  • Herbaceous - menthol or eucalyptus, grass, hay, mint, wet leaves
  • Nutty - almonds, hazelnut, walnut, chocolate, coffee, coconut
  • Wood - cedar, oak, medicinal, resin, smoke, tobacco
Other scents
  • Earthy - mushroom, dust
  • Misc. - leather, meaty, bacon, yeast, toast, butter, cheese, petrol or vinyl, minerals, caramel, candy, honey, jam, bubblegum, butterscotch, soy sauce. molasses
  • Faulty - vinegar, nail polish remover, sulfur, wet cardboard, chlorine
When describing a wine, we often refer to aroma and bouquet. To a sommelier, these are two different things. Aroma generally refers to primary fruit aromas, found in younger wines, while bouquet refers to secondary smells attributed to age and maturity that have occurred in the bottle. Bouquet is typically more complex than aroma, made up of many different scents.

So now that you have some descriptors to work with, let's put this together for your tasting. First, nose the wine, and determine if you are getting "clean" smells - making sure the wine is not faulty (corked, oxidized, etc). Next, is the aroma or bouquet intense, or fairly mild? Is the wine showing primary fruit, or more complex bouquet? What in your list can you pull out of the glass of wine? Your descriptions will help you remember the wine. and can help you share the experience with others. It can also help you in your full evaluation of the wine. Remember to record what YOU smell, not what someone tells you you should smell. If the wine label says your cabernet has notes of cassis, or black currant, but you only smell blackberry, write down blackberry. In the beginning, you might only smell dark fruit...don't worry, your descriptors will grow with practice.

One of the common questions I get is, "how can I develop my sense of smell?" The answer may seem obvious, but "smell everything, and try to record that smell in your memory". Taste a lot of wine, and record your observations. Last is an exercise I have done with small groups....take a bunch of glasses, and fill them with the same amount of base wine (usually an inexpensive box wine). To each glass, add a fragrance. I've used cooking extracts, leather, tobacco, etc. Cover the glasses with plastic wrap, to hold the fragrance in. Number each glass, and record what is in each glass with a recap list. Then create list of possible scents, and see if you can match the scent in the glass, with a scent on the list....lastly, check your answers, with the recap list you had created. Over time, you will be able to identify those scents in the glass. It takes practice, and concentration. There is a good tool available called the Wine Aroma Wheel, by A.C. Noble.

Next week, we'll take a look at taste, or how the wine "plays" on your palate. Remember, have fun with your wine, and drink what you enjoy!

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