One of the things that has intrigued me about wine tasting is calling up aromas for my tasting notes, for myself and for pals that are struggling. I first began honing these skills via seated tastings where there was an opportunity to reflect and take notes. Further honing came with Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) certification classes. And final honing comes when I get to sit with friends and really chat about what the heck we are drinking. That final honing is my favorite, but doesn’t happen nearly enough. So, how does this all work?
Calling up aromas is exactly the same as calling up a memory – the memory of a scent found elsewhere. For example, there isn’t chocolate added to wine but both milk and dark chocolate can sometimes be detected in red wine, port and even whiskey. But if you haven’t had milk or dark chocolate it’s impossible to detect. You simply have to build your memory. I will sniff veggies and flowers at a supermarket, go through my own spice rack at home and pay attention to what is cooking on my stove to build my store of memory.
So, after working your senses via building up your memories, you can also grab a cheat sheet, as I call it, like an aroma wheel. I have two systems: one from my WSET courses and another from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA). These are great to look over when I get stumped. It reminds me to look for fruit, floral, spice, vegetal, minerality, etc. Or you can get this really big cheat: for $549 you can buy the original 54-sample Aroma Kit by Le Nez du Vin. I saw one that you could play around with at Harrods in London and I would like to have one…someday.
I’ve co-taught a few classes at our very own local Pulchella Winery. Winemakers Nate Hasper and Steve Lemley lead the class while I explain the aroma training via some handy syrups from Torani (see below) as well as flowers, spices, chocolate, tobacco and anything else I’ve found. Each is in its own un-labeled container for vinophiles to smell and guess at. Going straight from this to wine tasting makes the aroma memory that much more fresh.
If you want the full skinny of what I learned from J Lohr red winemaker Steve Peck, this excerpt is from a previous article I did for the SCV Beacon:
Meeting at J. Lohr Vineyards, which we hadn’t visited since our wonderful 2011 trip, we met in the same large room as before but this time it was set up for a component tasting. (For anyone wanting to do a component class get the Torani syrups, they are the most true. See photos here.) Along with the syrups for identifying fruit aromas, we sniffed dried and fresh flowers (rose, sage, jasmine and hibiscus), spices and other components (clove, cocoa, coffee, tarragon and fennel) trying to identify each so that later we could identify them in our wines.
Ian Adamo, the sommelier at Paso Robles’s Bistro Laurent (we had met Ian before when he paired an outstanding Adelaida dinner for us at the 2014 Cab Collective event) is currently working on his dissertation for his MS. Adamo, along with J. Lohr red winemaker Steve Peck, led us through each wine to evaluate the fruit, spice, floral, herbs, volume, astringency and then we were to try to guess the varietal of each of the five 2014 single varietal wines in front of us.
During “the next chapter” of our seminar Peck gave us a slide show that included a “style map” with color/body/mouthfeel/tannin/color broken town into styles based on their strength. He mentioned that it was akin to how someone may like their coffee: thin and astringent, dark but with creamer, etc. Pinot Noir would fall on the light end of the map while Cabernet Sauvignon would be on the dark end, and blends in the middle…(more)
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com