Aspen Times Weekly: May the nose be with you
SO YOU WANT TO BECOME A BETTER WINE TASTER?
There are a number of ways to learn how to better describe your wine tasting experience. Here are three:
The Wine Aroma Wheel
Six-bucks will buy you the ingenious Wine Aroma Wheel. Created by UC Davis legend Ann Noble, it consists of three concentric rings that break the taste of wine down into 120 separate descriptive words that correlate to other things that we may taste or smell in our everyday lives. The goal was to use words that would provide a standard, non-judgmental vocabulary to describe what is in the glass. You can find The Aroma Wheel at www.winearomawheel.com
Le Nez Du Vin
And for something a little pricier, at $399 you can purchase the Le Nez Du Vin Wine Aroma Master Kit. Created over 30 years ago by the Burgundy-born Jean Lenoir, the kit is elegantly dressed and eloquently conceived; 54 vials of aromas have been bottled to allow users to get a solid dose of the smells of say, raspberry and strawberry, so that you will be able to learn the subtleties of same.
It comes with a book and flash cards to help simplify the science of scents. www.winearomas.com
The Court of Master Sommeliers Deductive Tasting Method Workshop
An intensive one-day workshop that is designed to guide potential Master Sommelier candidates through the process of applying deductive reasoning to wine tasting. The workshop, if you can get in, costs $395, but by the end of the day you’ll be geeked up enough to become obsessed with the process. A caveat: You have to have completed the introductory Sommelier Course and Exam before taking this workshop. www.mastersommeliers.org
When I walk Vino, my black Labrador, each morning, it is all about the smells. Following his prodigious nose, he scurries to and fro identifying and defining the smells in the soil that tell stories about who, what, and why came before him. Vino’s ability to process what he smells is far greater than mine, or that of any other human for that matter. It is just one of the many things that make dogs better than people.
When I am with a serious wine taster I occasionally think of Vino. That would be Vino the dog. Because, when a serious taster puts their nose into a glass and inhales the aromas, he or she is also trying to discern a story. In this case a story about the wine that is in that glass. The sense of smell is important, but the ability to not just detect the aromas, but to label and describe them lets a great taster identify the grape, the region and perhaps even the vintage that is in the glass.
Among those who have a passing interest in the world of wine there may be a feeling that tasters who can identify wines with just a whiff and a sip are performing some sort of parlor trick. That they have some magical power that the rest of us don’t. While there are those who are indeed gifted in their olfactory capabilities, most great tasters are the products of prodigious study.
“Almost anyone can be a wine taster; all it takes is a will and a nose,” writes Jancis Robinson, the British wine authority who wrote the book “How to Taste.” While we all have a nose, it is the “will” part that makes the difference. The “will” part means that one must take the time to learn the language of wine and how to categorize the aromas that wine imparts. There is a very clear and well-defined path to learning how to identify a wine and if you follow it, and have the will to commit it to memory, you too can perpetrate the “parlor trick.”
When the candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers Examination, the “Black Labs” of wine tasters, take the tasting portion of the exam, they are seated in front of six wines, three reds and three whites, and are given 25 minutes to see, smell and taste the wines and then deduce and identify the wines in the glass. Each candidate goes through a very specific, step-by-step process to get to the final answer. They call this the “Deductive Tasting Method,” yes that is registered, and yes, it involves using sight, smell and taste to identify the wines that are consumed.
It begins by simply looking at a wine for clues that will help identify it. First, and most simply, is it a white or a red? Seems silly, right? But by making that first determination you can eliminate half the grapes in the world. Seriously, by saying it is a red wine you have eliminated Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and a host of other grapes as the source of the wine. There are other clues that can be found by simply looking at the glass and determining the wine’s color, clarity and brightness.
But it is the act of smelling a wine that really gives it context. The average human nose can identify an estimated 100,000 different aromas. But it is our vocabulary that limits our ability to make those identifications really useful.
The deductive taster will first try and determine what fruits they smell. Are there red fruits or black fruits on the nose? Do they get the smell of jam or is it dried fruit? Next up will be to ask: “What else is in there?” Spices? And, if so, what kind of spices? Is there the smell of dirt or stone? Is it wet dirt or is it slate? Does the nose get a whiff of vanilla or caramel or the smell of wood and is it the smell of burnt or toasted oak or new oak? Each and every one of these factors, or descriptors, that come from simply taking a good nose full of the wine’s aroma will help the knowledgeable taster eliminate certain wines from the equation and/or add others.
Tasting comes next and a similar “grid” of descriptions is used in determining the structure and the flavors in the wine. Is the wine dry or sweet? Does it make the mouth pucker because of the tannins? Is it acidic? What is the finish like?
All of these factors are there to discover for anyone who opens a bottle, pours a glass and pays attention. But the key to having a nose like a black Lab is knowing how to describe what it is that you smell in a wine and that takes some study.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black lab, Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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