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Aug 18, 2009 10:33 AM

Beginner Question - Nose

Hi chow wine drinkers, I need some help here. I am reading books and beginning to teach myself about wines. A potential problem I repeatedly run into here is concerning the nose. Specifically analyzing the smell and taking notes.

I have a good taste/smell memory and can detect differences quite well. But what gets me scratching my head is how people know what a lot of the things (they use to describe a wine's smell) smell like in the first place! For example people compare a wine's smell to all kinds of plants, grasses, flowers, herbs, nuts, berries, and fruits. But I look at this list of things and think, but I don't know what most of these are supposed to smell like! Especially flowers, plants, and berries. I am a meat eater and don't eat a lot of fruits, especially berries, and I know nothing about flowers and grasses and plants.

Does this mean I have to go to flower shops and supermarkets and start smelling stuff?

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  1. All these associations a.k.a. fancy descriptors a.k.a. big time BS started on or about 1982, when Robert Parker found out he could make a comfortable living writing about wine.

    And since just writing "I like it", "I like it a lot", "I don't like it" wasn't going to make it, he came up with the entire gamut of BS: "saddle leather", "flint stone", you name it.

    The emperor was basically naked, but an entire crowd came behind supporting same views, and also making a comfortable ( but less ) living writing nonsense. And the rest is history.

    Yes, there is maybe a 1% of conveniency in using fancy descriptors, but again, most of the time it's absolute BS. Just go back to basics, stay there as long as you can: "I like it", "I like it a lot", "I don't like it" should suffice for your first 1000 btls. Then we can talk.

    2 Replies
    1. re: RicRios

      Well I am going to have to disagree with your "absolute BS" statement. There are differences in the aromas of wine and through exposure to the different varietals, growing regions, etc you can start to get a sense of some specific characteristics.

      If you want to train your sense of smell to recognize scents within wine check out the Le Nez du Vin which helps to recognize the molecular composition of wine.

      1. re: Scott M

        Hey Scott, sorry I didn't notice your recommendation before.

        Thanks, but you know what? I've always trained my sense of smell to recognize scents within wine by drinking wine. So far it has been working fine for me. Ain't broke, don't fix it.

    2. I agree with Scott M that it isn't "BS" but I do think that all that you'll taste in the beginning is "wine" and tannin most likely. The first stride that I made in discerning flavors was identifying oak. From there I was able to make more and more distinctions. Other low hanging fruit (no pun intended) includes minerality, citrus and grass/ vegetal. Other descriptions can be pretty esoteric I agree but not "BS".

      1. After years of trying to "smell" different things in wine - I gave up. By the way, if Robert Parker is guilty of inventing this "BS" then it must be highly contagious because on this very forum self proclaimed anti-Parkers anti-new-world-wine often launch into long evaluations of wine's smelly bouquet. But for me the bottom line is how it tastes in my mouth - I noticed this is where I am getting a bang for my buck.

        1. Well, to be able to describe BY WORDS, what you smell, you need to expand your vocabulary and that can take a lot of years of experimenting.. and you need to keep notes of of the aroma of the wines you smell,

          Start with generalizations, does it smell like fruits ? grass ? flowers ? petrol ? rocks ? ... that should be initially easier.

          Once you're able to differentiate between categories like that, you then can try different wines with the same caracteristics and try to get the more subtle difference between them.

          and so on and so forth.

          BTW, in the end, if you like the smell and the wine, and are not able to tell what exactly it smells, it's OK.

          1. It helps to train yourself. Plus you absorb stuff as you go along. I have no idea what lychee is but I like gewurztraminer so I know what it smells and tastes like now.