the nose knows: wine smelling
Wine tasting is so … 2007, non? What’s new, what’s now: wine-smelling, the very foundation of wine appreciation! Turns out it’s your schnoz, not your taste buds, that’s responsible for most of what you recognize as flavors — including those you find in wines.
But if “notes of licorice,” “undertones of bell pepper” and a “black currant finish” sound like a bunch of pretentious doublespeak to you, meet the wine aroma wheel. Developed by Ann C. Noble, a chemist and former professor from the esteemed viticulture and enology department at the University of California, Davis, the wheel is a guide to help would-be wine aficionados distinguish the aromas found in wines — so you too can speak sommelier.
The wheel sorts wine aromas into categories (like “fruity” or “spicy”), then divides them into more specific descriptors (like “raspberry” or “black pepper”) in an attempt to make wine descriptions more consistent and meaningful, rather than fancy-schmancy but vague (like “fragrant” or “harmonious”). It can also make it easier for vino novices to narrow down just what it is they’re inhaling — particularly if you set up a wine-smelling bar so you can compare the bouquets of wines with their real-deal aroma equivalents. Here’s how:
1. Order a handsome laminated aroma wheel complete with instructions for just six bucks plus 75 cents shipping from Ann herself.
2. Decide which wines you want to taste — er, smell. Noble suggests starting with whites, since the aroma and flavor variations among whites are more pronounced.
3. Pour a little of your “standard,” a cheap jug wine in the same color family as the ones you’re smelling, into a group of glasses.
4. Then, consulting the instructions, gather the ingredients representing the common odors in the wines you’ve chosen — from Rose’s lime juice to canned asparagus brine — and add a different flavor to each of the glasses of your standard. If you’ve included a Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Muscat, you’ll also want to fill an empty glass with Froot Loops® or part of a Handi Wipe®, since, oddly, both are rare sources of the exotic fragrance known as linalool, which is derived from the oil of certain types of trees and plants and also happens to be a characteristic scent of, you guessed it, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Muscat.
5. Label each glass and cover it with plastic wrap so the smells don’t all just mix and mingle together willy-nilly as they’re wont to do, those wanton little whiffs.
6. Start sniffing. Pour yourself a glass of your chosen wine, give it a good snort, then try to identify the components of the bouquet and compare them to those aromas’ standards. Not sure? Smell the standards that seem like possibilities till you get some matches.
7. Drink your homework. You’ve studied hard today!