All of us Winos have been there… that moment when you go out with other friends who like wine, and seem to know a little something about it. You feel good about checking out the wine menu… you pick one out confidently. The server brings it to your table and you reach for your glass to take a sip. You look up… and then it happens. Your seemingly Wine Know friend is swirling that glass more comfortably than you… they’re more willing to take a big ol’ sniff of that wine while there in public… they swish their first sip – maybe even second – in their mouth… and there you have it. Your Wine Know confidence is shot and you’ve just downgraded yourself back to a Wino.
This Wino knows that self-wine-doubt… So I figured some tips on tasting wine should be shared. There are essentially four key areas to consider when tasting wine: Aroma, Body, Texture, and Flavor. Today on Thoroughly Wino Thursday, we’re only going to get into Aroma and Flavor. Next week (Let’s Talk About Taste – Part II of II), we’ll take a look at Body and Texture.
There are a couple of parts to getting the sense of a wine’s aroma. You can start with the swirl of the wine glass – it helps aerate the wine, which I like to think of as a bit of a “loosening up”. (Just try not to get carried away and swirl that wine right out of your glass. That’s embarrassing. – or so I hear.)
After swirling, get your nose in there and sniff that wine. Don’t sniff it as if the aroma is wafting its way towards you. Seriously get your nose in the glass and take a handful of small sniffs. “Sniffing creates tiny air currents in the nose that carry aroma molecules up to the nerve receptors and ultimately to the brain for intpretation.” (The Wine Bible)
Now here’s the hard part. Articulating that which you just sniffed. The Wine Bible suggests not trying to think of what that aroma is, but to run through a list of possibilities in your mind. We human creatures seem to have difficulty in our current evolutionary state with verbally articulating smell. “Scientists call this the “tip of the nost phenomenon.” Smell, they hypothesize, is elusive because it is the most primitive of the senses. … smell is not easily grasped by the verbal-semantic parts of the brain.” (The Wine Bible) So true, right? We always say things like, “that smells like…”. Nothing has its own smell. Except maybe roses… which I hear is what my breath smells like early in the morning.
Here’s a little nugget of Wine Knowledge regarding wine terms… “aroma” and “bouquet” are often used interchangeably in the wine world. But they actually are two different things. Aroma indicates the smell of the grape, while bouquet should be used to identify the smell of the wine once it has matured or evolved in the bottle. Next time you pop open a bottle, be sure to say something like, “My, oh my, this wine’s bouquet is lovely!”
The flavor of a wine may prove to be just as difficult to articulate as the smell. Basically, one may want to be able to articulate the flavor so that the wine can be remembered. I have so many memories of enjoying a bottle of wine… and while I can almost taste the wine from my memory, I would have difficulty describing it to anyone. As noted above, it may be easier to start with a general list of potential flavors so you can pick and choose familiar descriptors, and from there it will be easier to come up with something that may not be on your flavor list. Everyone’s flavor list may be different, but I’ve copied a starter list from The Wine Bible to help get you started. In general, I like this approach… I feel like many of the words below are often used on the back of bottles.
One thing my wine sipping sister likes to do describe a wine using her own words before reading the description on the back of the bottle. Then she can see how her assessment matches up to that of the winemaker. It’s a great way to better understand your own preferences… I suppose in many ways, that is what Divine Wine Sundays are all about as well!
The below list of descriptions for Flavors and Aromas are taken directly out of The Wine Bible.
Flavors and Aromas of White Wines
Fresh – apple, apricot, banana, coconut, fig, grapefruit, lemon, lime, litchi, melon, dried orange peel, peach, pear, pineapple;
Cooked – baked apple, baked pear
Butter and Cream: Butter, butterscotch, caramel, cream, custard
Vegetables: Asparagus, bell pepper, green beans, olives
Grains and Nuts: Almond, biscuit, bread dough, brioche, hazelnut, roasted nut, yeast
Spices: Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, white pepper
Flowers: Gardenia, geranium, honeysuckle, rose
Earth: Chalk, flint, grass, hay, minerals, stone, straw
Barrel Aromas and Flavors: Oak, toast, vanilla
Other Aromas and Flavors: Honey, gasoline, rubber boot
Flavors and Aromas of Red Wines
Fresh – blackberry, black currant, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, cranberry, dried orange peel, plum, pomegranate, raspberry, strawberry
Cooked – baked blackberry, baked cherry, baked raspberry, jam, prunes
Vegetables: Asparagus, bell pepper, green beans, mushrooms, olives, truffle
Chocolate and Coffee: Bitter chocolate, cocoa, milk chocolate, mocha, coffee, espresso
Spices and Herbs: Black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, licorice, mint, spiced tea
Tobacco: Cigar box, pipe tobacco, smoke
Flowers: Geranium, rose, violet
Earth: Cedar, damp earth, dried leaves, eucalyptus, forest floor, gravel, pine, stone
Animal: Barnyard, horse blanket, manure, sweat
Barrel Aromas and Flavors: Oak, toast, vanilla
Other Aromas and Flavors: Cola, game, leather, tar, tea, worn boot
Next time I taste a wine that I might describe as “asparagus like” or “like a worn boot”, you can be sure that I’ll post about that wine!! Do you have any other wine flavor and aroma words that you often use in describing a wine??