Monday, November 19, 2007

Key Aroma 'Triggers'

Have you ever had a smell that came across you that almost magically took you way back to a lost memory or place? The smell of a perfume, wood burning embers, baby powder, petrol, freshly ground coffee, fresh baked cookies or even a new car can trigger various instant memories. In the world of wine, this can be a very useful tool if practiced correctly.

Back in one of my earlier wine classes, I clearly remember an instance when as we were doing our 'blind tastings' (i.e. when the varietal (grape) or wine is not revealed to you ahead of time) one of the students identified the nose of one particular wine as seemingly 'pepperoni-like' to her. After much of the class had a good chuckle about it, the instructor took this opportunity to point out that this was a prime moment to explore more of what was happening here. Spending some time with the student, it was uncovered that it happened to be a key trigger of the spicy/peppery flavors that often come from Zinfandel grapes/wine. Although pepperoni was a bit of stretch here, it was pointed out that for HER nose, it was a one of the definitive signs that this was a Zinfandel wine. From there on out, every time she got that 'pepperoni' nose, she always quickly identified the wine as Zinfandel. This applies primarily to single varietal (non-blended) wines, although once very well practiced, you can actually pick up these separate aromas in blends as well...but for now, stick to single varietals.

What I'd like to share is some of the key triggers I get when I "nose" certain wines. When doing several blind tastings, it helps immensely to have these triggers to quickly identify the varietal first and then continue on with the rest of the tasting evaluation. This is very individual and there are really no wrong answers here as long as it triggers the right grape used in production. Whatever you get that keys you in on the varietal is all that matters.

Here are a few of my triggers for wines that I drink regularly that take me to the varietal almost immediately:

Cabernet Sauvignon - green pepper mixed with leather

Merlot - soft red fruits

Syrah - vegetable garden

Pinot Noir
- red vines licorice/cherry mixed with straw floor (i.e. barnyard earthiness)

Zinfandel - alcoholic spice & pepper with black fruit

Port - cup of moist raisins

Sauvignon Blanc - floral green grass

Riesling - old fashioned sweet tarts or petrol (German)

Chardonnay - orchard fruit mixed with caramel (sometimes tropical)

This takes some practice to key in on your triggers for your nose, but it is a fun exercise. Although it is far from fool-proof, once you get a key identifier that you can definitively tag to a certain varietal, you'll be amazed at how much better you will do at blind tastings. In addition, it allows you to focus on the other components of the wine beyond the grape varietal as you go through the evaluation processes.

Start by having someone pour you a wine without having any idea what they are pouring and try to figure out what varietal it is. Also, at the local wine bar that does wine flights (usually 3-4 various wines), it is a good opportunity to have the server present them in a specific order blind to you without identifying the varietals first. When they have given you ample time, he can then reveal the varietals to see how you did. Once you get it down, you can show off to your friends at the next gathering...maybe even this Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Happy Holidays and enjoy!

Until the next sip..swirl ya' later.


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