In another post, we talked about Jilly Goolden and the seemingly impossible task of emulating the experts’ litany of descriptive words, when all we can smell is in fact ‘wine’. We also looked at why, when wine is simply made from grapes, it smells of all these other things to begin with.
So, more on this topic today. The first thing I will say is that you must NOT be hard on yourself if you pick up a glass of wine and only smell ‘wine’. That’s completely normal if you are new to this. We are not born with the ability to put language to sensory perceptions. It’s something which takes practice – and let’s face it, there are worse things to practise!
A good way to start is to get hold of a wine aroma wheel like the one below – there are lots available on Google Images. Then instead of trying to pick out all the individual aromas on the outside of the wheel, start in the middle with the larger aroma ‘groups’. See if you can spot any of those wider aroma clusters in the wine before drilling down and getting more specific.
What will also help you is to find as many of these aromas in the real world as possible and smell them so that you train your nose to remember them. I also recommend the Nez du Vin aroma kit – it has a series of little mini bottles featuring the common aromas in wine, and the bottles are numbered rather than labelled so that you can test yourself ‘blind’. This is a very useful exercise in training your brain to put a word to a perception. When you first do it, you’ll find yourself saying ‘I KNOW that one but I can’t put a word to it!’ but when you get better you’ll start spotting it straightaway.
Do also remember that although certain identifiable chemical compounds are present in wine and you can train yourself to spot them, there’s also an element of it which is more nebulous, more subjective – each of us has a unique palate and a unique set of associations with smells from our past and present. So one person’s ‘grandmother’s attic’ may be completely meaningless to someone else. A wine expert’s litany of aromas may not all resonate with you – and that’s ok!
In fact, although listing aromas in wine is the trendy thing for wine experts and wine labels to do, for me personally it is only one tiny aspect of describing wine. We spoke in a previous post about balance – and for me that remains overall the most important way of assessing and describing a wine.
So, get sniffing – but don’t get too hung up on it!