In a previous article, I mentioned one method of improving one’s wine nose by purchasing a wine aroma kit. That works for professionals, but the cost is probably a bit steep for the average wine drinker. The main benefit of an aroma kit is to sharpen the sense of smell to detect the myriad scents many wines possess, deriving more enjoyment, and solving the mystery of what is in the wine's nose. What we perceive through our sense of smell then pays off in the richness and depth of flavors we savor drinking the wine.
Bouquet as an industry term refers to the scents created during fermentation, such as the type of container and yeast employed, and the fermentation process itself, which has many variations. Bouquet also encompasses the type of oak and toasting level, and the time spent in barrel as well as bottle aging time. Most wine makers wait a few months before releasing freshly bottled wine due to bottle shock.
Contrary to what someone told me, you can't induce bottle shock by taking it as a prop to the next Rocky Horror Picture Show, although you may start a new trend. Some wines in Europe are not released until one or more years after bottling to permit enough time for the wine to settle and evolve. The type of cork, the bottling process, and other factors all make their contributions to what we call bouquet.
Aroma, on the other hand, refers to the varietal aromas that arise from the grape itself. The strawberry nose of a Sangiovese and the blueberry nose of an Argentine Malbec relate back to the type of grape, or grapes chosen to make the wine. You may have noted I specifically mentioned an Argentine Malbec. That relates to the affect of terroir on the grape varietal. Many Malbec wines from Argentina display blueberry in both the nose and palate. Palate refers to what we perceive once the wine is in our mouth.
Another way of explaining this would be to say the hint of cloves we picked up in a Chardonnay came from the wood, the pear and apple from the fruit, and the buttery notes from the secondary malolactic fermentation to which many California Chardonnay wines are subjected. We also would have learned something about how the wine was crafted, and all through the detection of our nose!
The Wine Aroma Wheel
One inexpensive aid to improving our “wine” nose is the wine aroma wheel developed by Dr. Ann Noble at U.C. Davis. It provides a wealth of wine information in one double-sided, plastic-coated card. It comes on a standard 8-1/2 x 11 sheet, not in the shape of a wheel in case you were considering using it as a Frisbee. The wine aroma wheel website contains a tutorial and a link to a PDF file of a 2-sided 3-fold brochure describing how to create your own tasting kit. For more information on the wheel and how to use it see here and here in my Examiner.com columns, where I’m known as the Albuquerque wine examiner. So many aliases, so little time to read all the stuff I do on wine, hmm?
The brochure discusses wine aromas and bouquet for red, white, and sparkling wines, as well as wine defects. For example, to create a set of white wine scents, begin with a base white wine. A mediocre inexpensive wine is best. Using sealable jars or spare glasses with covers to preserve the scents, add a few drops of brine from canned asparagus to generate that scent as found in some white and red wines. Do the same for the scent of cloves, adding a bit of clove to another container, but don’t leave it in too long. The vegetative scent of asparagus typically comes from the grape, and clove is a common trait of some types of oak, particularly American oak.
Along with all the interesting and clever methods listed in the brochure for trapping specific scents, it doesn’t hurt to periodically remind our sense of smell of what a fresh cut orange or pear smells like. Or dig into those jams in the fridge to recall what blackberries smell and taste like before spreading them on toast. With a little thought, you’ll come up with your own ideas on how to sharpen your senses of smell and taste. Soon you’ll be regaling your friends with your prowess at detecting the multitude of scents in a complex wine. Just don’t get too carried away as Paul Giamatti did in Sideways. You don’t need to make stuff up, there are plenty of pretenders already busy doing that. Salut!