One of the most useful tools I have experienced as a wine guy is a wine aroma and bouquet nosing exercise.
When talking about how a wine smells, wine folk break down the scents into two main parts – aroma and bouquet.
Aroma refers to the scents that come from the varietal grape used to make the wine and are often fruit or floral in nature; blackberry, raspberry, cherry, apple, pear, rose, and honeysuckle are all examples of aroma.
Bouquet refers to the scents that come from winemaking choices. Put grape juice in oak barrels instead of stainless steel tanks, put the wine through a second fermentation called malolactic – changing tart apple flavors to round buttery flavors – and the wine you produce may have notes of oak, toast, cream and vanilla, these are examples of bouquet.
Together aroma and bouquet are described as a wine’s nose, as in “that ’97 Cabernet is holding up just fine, it still has a great nose of deep rich blackberry and current, with a little rose and eucalyptus, served up in an oaken bowl.”
While at Windsor Vineyards, I worked with and for a good friend Mary Jean Dubé. Mary Jean used to put on a nosing exercise regularly. She would task several people with a few notes each, and on the day of the tasting she would collect raw ingredient samples from each of the people she had asked to help. Mary Jean would end up with about 40 different aroma and bouquet scent samples; lemon, fresh cut grass, vanilla, butterscotch, rose petal, pepper, and so on.
Mary Jean would pour about 4 ounces of base wine in a 16 ounce glass; the wines couldn’t have much varietal character of their own as that would interfere with the exercise. Gallo hearty Burgundy and Chablis served well, they were red and white, they were made from grapes, they had alcohol, they were wine; but they were almost aroma and bouquet free. They each smelled like wine, and that’s about it.
With 20 4 ounce pours of red wine and another 20 4 ounce pours of white wine in front of her, Mary Jean would start adding a bit of a sample scent to each glass; different red wine glasses would get some blackberry, cherry, oak, tobacco or pepper scenting ingredients while different white wine glasses might get a supplement of apple, apricot, butter, hay, or violet. Putting a petri dish on each 16 ounce glass to act as an aroma/bouquet lid, and the name of the scent in the glass on a 3″ x 5″ card placed answer down under the glass, the exercise would be ready for any and all to test their noses at nosing wine’s noses.
I took part in the exercise at least a half dozen times and loved it every time. It is always good to sharpen and test your senses, find out your weaknesses, and work to become a better wine noser/taster – at least it is if your are working in a professional capacity within the industry.
Le Nez du Vin and other aroma and bouquet nosing kits are commercially available to make nosing exercises easier to put on. A variety of aroma and bouquet essences are available in a collection of bottles within a kit; kind of like a chemistry set’s collection of chemicals.
Visiting some Oregon wineries a couple of months ago, Nancy Iannios reminded me of the existence of the UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel by Ann Noble. I had a friend who likes wine, but isn’t “into” wine, that was going to visit wine country and wanted to spend a week together learning about wine. The wine aroma wheel is the best simple tool to help someone begin to find the magic that is wine tasting.
Essentially, the wheel helps you figure out what you are smelling, breaking down into 12 separate categories that are then further broken down into sub categories. An aroma might be defined as fruity as opposed to woody. Looking at the fruity section of the wheel, the scent might be further defined as berry as opposed to citrus or tropical fruit. Within the berry fruits, the scent might be further defined as strawberry as opposed to any of the other berry fruits. The strawberry smell was always there, you were smelling it, you either didn’t know you were smelling it or couldn’t precisely identify it. The aroma wheel helps you identify the different aroma and bouquet notes in the glass of wine you have in front of you.
ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, have a Zinfandel specific aroma wheel.
Funniest note you’ll find often in Sauvignon Blanc (also known as Fume Blanc): Cat Pee. If you’ve drank Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed it, you may be surprised the next time you taste and nose your favorite Fume. Often there, right next to a smell of hay or straw, will be the unmistakable scent of cat pee. Sometimes winemakers blend in up to 25% Semillon in an attempt to disguise the cat pee aroma. It isn’t really off putting. If you liked the wine before, you should still like it – just maybe with some wry amusement or chagrin each time you smell it.
Wine elites waxing poetic over scents of cat pee. The industry can do with a lot less of that and a lot more regular folks who happen to love wine, sharing their love and knowledge through their blogs.