By guest writer Madeline Blasberg
Contrary to popular belief, one’s sense of smell is not simply genetic good fortune. It is also a skill, a muscle that you can hone with practice, diligence, and shameless sniffing around. Therefore, before you book your next winery tour, you may want to take the time to work out your senses. Here are some exercises to get you started:
According to an astonishing new study, the human nose is capable of detecting 1 trillion distinct aromas and of those the average person can identify a few thousand. Noses are volatile, they can be easily blinded by allergies and common colds, and their abilities vary from person to person.
Some have lost all sense of smell, known as anosmia, and others have selective smell blindness – in which they can’t smell one unique aroma. Finally, those with hyperosmia are the superheroes of scent – and have a heightened ability to pick up on aromas.
However, even wine drinkers with perfectly perky noses suffer to put what they smell into words. A poured glass of wine can easily overwhelm the senses with too many aromas at once. The way to navigate through them is to develop a sniffing strategy.
For example, rather than trying to jump straight from pouring the wine to pontificating about its delicate aromas of smoke and baking spices, it’s best to break it down a bit. Try categorizing the aromas into families such as: earthy, mineral, herbaceous, vegetal, fruity, floral, citric etc. Once you have the family identified, try to get more specific. Take a peek at the Aroma Wheel and use it as your guide.
A slightly more costly option is to buy the Le Nez du Vin set (French for “the nose of wine”): a set of small bottles filled with liquid scents that mimic the aromas found in a bottle of wine. Put your kit to good use by uncorking a wine and practicing with the scents listed on its tasting notes. Smell the wine, sniff the scent, then go back to the wine and see if you can identify that specific aroma.
Everyone has a different bench mark aroma that helps them to identify specific varietals or wines from specific geographic regions. It may be spice for Syrah, or plums and violets for Malbec, or banana for Chardonnay, or cat pee in Sauvignon Blanc. Try using your kit to identify these specific aromas and varietals – you’ll be unstoppable at the next blind tasting!
The inconvenient truth of the matter is that it’s impossible to identify an aroma that you haven’t already encountered elsewhere. Build up your aroma rolodex as much as possible by becoming a promiscuous smeller, and taking advantage of what’s around you. Start with what you find in your kitchen and pantry: cardamom, cinnamon, chives, pineapple, cooked beets, and beyond. Then move on to more exotic ingredients that may require some searching around: guava, elderberries, eucalyptus, and cat pee … for instance.
Once your memory is built up, focus on honing your method. Hold the glass in front of you with the rim hovering just below your bottom lip and the bowl of the glass angled towards you. Inhale slowly through your nose with your mouth open, this will give you an overall impression of the wine’s dominant aromas. Jot down some notes, and move onto phase two: stick your nose deep into the glass and take a couple sniffs (long or short, whatever works well for you). This will reveal more individual aromas, and should give you a better idea of the wine’s layered aromas.
Some wine lovers have no trouble pinpointing bizarre aromas such as dried violets, Band-Aids, lemon rind, and garden hose – a talent both befuddling and intimidating. Don’t let them scare you off. Commit to having your nose permanently on the prowl for new aromas and take your training one sniff at a time.
Author Bio:Madeline Blasberg is a Certified Wine Consultant currently working for Etching Expressions, a company that specializes in custom wine and personalized liquor bottles. Having spent time living in Mendoza, Argentina, Madeline was surrounded by wine, both professionally and personally.
Best wine training I took was Aroma Wheel, took the class early on then repeated years later, always great refresher.
Another good way to train your nose for wine descriptors is to smell fruit and veggies at the market whie shopping. I try to do that and sometimes when I linger on the aroma of a guava, I get some interesting stares.
Great article. Those little bottles are really a good training tool. As well as the “grocery store” thing that RussKane said!