Have you ever wanted to learn more about the aromas of wine in hopes of enjoying your wine experiences more?
By identifying the aromas in different wines, you will not only enjoy the experience of each glass more as you begin to appreciate the intricacies of the flavor, but it will also help you to identify just what it is you like about certain wines and don’t like about others. And that will help you to get closer to buying wines you are more likely to truly enjoy rather than just guessing.
Since launching VineSleuth Uncorked, I have been trying to work on my sense of smell so that I can begin to really identify different fragrances. Just like anything, I will only get better with practice, so every now and then I’ll stand in my pantry, open jars and smell away.
Last week I was invited to visit Cornerstone Cellars’ tasting room in Yountville, California to take part in a sensory evaluation. I was thrilled when Craig Camp issued the invitation to me on Twitter and couldn’t wait for the experience to learn even more and put my nose to the test.
When the time came, though, I’ll admit I was nervous. And, even though I knew this was ridiculous, I kept thinking I was going to ‘fail’ the test… And fail it in front of the two guys at Cornerstone that would then think I was an idiot. Gulp.
I took my seat at the bar, surveyed the aroma wheel, 2 opaque glasses, 5 vials of oils, took a swig of water and hoped for the best.
And then Alex and Steve of Cornerstone Cellars walked me through a great time of smelling all sorts of things. (I’m bummed I didn’t get to meet Craig, so I hope there will be a next time…)
To begin, they encouraged me to swirl and smell the first wine in the opaque glass.
It was definitely fruity, but exactly what I was smelling escaped me.
My first thought was grapefruit, but then I looked down at the wheel on the counter and second-, third- and fourth-guessed myself.
After trying to identify the fragrances, and offering all sorts of ideas, Steve encouraged me to smell one of the tiny vials and then go back and smell the wine in my glass.
I could definitely identify that smell as being in the wine, but I had no idea just what it was.
It was amazing to me how that scent came alive and I could single it out once I smelled the essential oil.
Eventually Steve shared what I was smelling in the vial: muscat.
We went through this with the other two vials, which I was able to identify as pear and then (cha-ching!!) grapefruit. (See- I had been right at the start. All that doubt was for nothing. And this really is not a test, anyhow.)
Throughout the process, when my nose became overwhelmed and the smells were all running together (which happened quite a few times) Alex suggested I smell my own skin. Smelling your own skin helps to ‘reset’ your nose, he explained. Coffee beans can also have the same effect, but I don’t carry those around with me anywhere, so my hand worked just fine.
After smelling and learning some of the fragrances I might be getting from the wine, I smelled it once again, tasted it and was shown the bottle for the Sauvignon Blanc I had been identifying. Once the pressure was off, I enjoyed the wine quite a lot.
Next we moved on to the other glass, which I assumed to be red, and repeated the process with only 2 vials this time, smelling the wine, naming scents, smelling the oils and identifying them in the wine.
I was surprised that one of the aromas, that of green pepper, completely baffled me. I cut green pepper fairly regularly in the kitchen, yet I could not identify the fragrance either in the wine or from the essential oil. I guess I have more smelling practice to do!
The whole experience was a lot of fun and felt very much like a mystery to be solved. I definitely want to get better at it!
Steve and Alex pointed out that I could learn more about different fragrances by smelling the fruits and vegetables individually when grocery shopping, which I will do on my next trip. (Will everyone think I am crazy or just crazy about produce?)
Or, of course, I could just return to Cornerstone Cellars for another round.
If you plan to be in Yountville and want to heighten your awareness of the fragrances in wine, I highly recommend the sensory evaluation at Cornerstone. Not only will it help you to begin to identify what you are smelling and what you like, but you’ll also have a fantastic time and sample some delicious wines in the process.
Have you ever tried to train or exercise your sense of smell? Does it come easy to you to identify fragrances in wine… or in anything else?