Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Strange World of Wine - What is that I'm Smelling???

Why is everyone's nose always stuck in their wine glass? What's the big deal about the smell of wine anyway?  For me, aromas are one of the most fascinating aspects of wine.  Wine is made basically just from grapes, yeast, and a few other additives, yet it can have aromas that have absolutely nothing to do with grapes.  A sniff of red wine can reveal aromas of berries, leather, olives, bacon, roses, forest floor, barnyard (a friendly name for what you find on the floor of a barnyard, and I don't mean hay), pencil shavings, herbs, spices, tobacco, tar and so many more.  White wine will tend to give you more delicate aromas such as peaches, honeysuckle, citrus fruit, tropical fruit, wool sweater, grass, and even cat pee (no friendlier word for that!).

It is certainly not important that you are able to identify wine aromas in order to enjoy a wine, and in fact reading some professional wine critics may be intimidating as they describe in excruciating detail what aromas they detect in a wine.  Don't be too impressed - it's their job to write big flowery reviews, and you can only write "black fruit" so many times before you need something more along the lines of "a hint of damson plum, picked at the peak of ripeness from a dew covered orchard in early summer."  I find it a challenge to try and identify the aromas in a wine, but it takes work and a lot of practice (best homework ever!), but if you prefer not to spend too much time with your nose buried in your wineglass, I will give you two things to think about.  First, be thankful for those aromas!  The human tongue can only taste five things: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (a savory flavor, think of soy sauce without the saltiness).  It is those aromas that give wine its flavor, which is a combination of the five tastes plus the aroma.  Food and drink don't taste as good when your nose is congested...this is why.  Second, it is important to give your wine at least a single sniff as it is a tool for you to use to determine if there is anything wrong with the wine.  Smell nothing at all, or something like wet cardboard or a musty basement?  The wine may be "corked" and while not dangerous to drink, will not be all that enjoyable. 

If you do accept the challenge to learn to identify wine aromas, my best advice is to keep an open mind about what you may be smelling.  During some of my wine studies years ago I remember a Pinot Noir from Wild Hog that had a familiar smell that I just couldn't identify.  After spending way too much time with my nose in the glass it finally came to me...dill!  Not a smell you'd expect from a wine, but that is why it is important to keep an open mind.  

I had a similar experience more recently, which gave me the idea for this post.  I was drinking a 2014 Caduceus Cellars Primer Paso from Arizona which is a blend of 93% Syrah and 7% of a grape I had not heard of before - Aleatico.  There was an aroma there that I just could not figure out.  Syrah is one of my all time favorite grapes, so I didn't think the aroma was coming from that part of the blend.  Being less patient that I was when I was studying, I cheated and did some research on Aleatico.  It turns out it is grape grown (almost) exclusively in southern  Italy (the heel part of the boot).  As I read on...mystery solved!  One of the aromatic characteristics of this cult grape is...lychee fruit! I love the smell and taste of lychee fruit, and thoroughly enjoy finding a white wine such as Gewurtztraminer that has lychee aromas.  But a red wine that smells like lychee???  I would not have guessed in a million years because my brain would not put the smell together with what I was drinking - a big ole' yummy red wine.  So - sniff those wines, a little or a lot is your choice, but do sniff!