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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.

            1. Just got back from Mendoza, Argentina where we visited a great winery called Balasco de Baquedano. They had an "aroma room", and I got such a kick out of it. They had everything you could possibly think of, even the smells of when a wine has been corked or gone bad. Just sharing...

              1. Yes, it means exactly that.

                You may expect to be able to easily identify flavors and aromas, but it is a skill of tuning into tiny subtleties.

                To help you identify flavors in wine, it does help for you to know the smell of foods and many other things.

                Smell everything -- fruits, every basket of berries, vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, condiments, flowers, grasses, leather, shoe polish, nail polish remover— anything that locks in a smell with a thing.

                It can be difficult to articulate what you smell -- you smell it but you cannot express it in words. To get better, it helps to taste wine with people who can help you detect aromas and flavors. They can help you differentiate between a blackberry and a blueberry, and the levels of intensity that differentiate fennel, anise and licorice.

                An example of an exercise for you might be for you to learn the difference in smell of various citrus fruits -- between lemon, lime, white and ruby grapefruit, tangerine, orange, and Seville orange. As well as the difference between the fruit, juice and its zest.

                The same for berries, even if you don’t like them. (You don’t like them???) Learn the difference in taste and smell between a strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blueberry and blackberry, and the difference between the fresh fruit and same fruit made into preserves (a difference of intensity and sweetness).

                Soon you'll be on your way. And the world of food will open up for you as well.

                1. I am currently in wine school and I have found that fruit preserves are very helpful. It is a very concentrated fruit flavor and if you go to different ethnic markets you can find some of the more esoteric fruits. Thank you Gary V.

                  1. You can buy a small sensory kit on the internet and it will really help, you can take wine courses at most colleges with a culinary program. A very simple way to start is start with basic wines. Really if you buy a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes you can smell citrus,intense grapefruit.
                    Flowers, is really, I mean REALLY perfumey, sometimes, I don't even like it becase it smells like perfume. Viongier would be a good grape for flower power.
                    Berries, Pinot Noir.

                    Another good way to go is buy two or three Cabernets, try them at the same time, , let them open up and you can really get the differences. Sign up for some wine courses, it is a fun, always evolving, always something to read, learn and drink!!!

                    1. I don't totally disagree with RicRios (that much of this is BS) but I have found that learning some of this wine language is very helpful when you're trying to buy wine from a knowledgeable source. Whether a small wine shop, at a restaurant or tasting room you'll get something you'll like much more readily if you and the 'seller' can zero in on what you do like AND that person is relatively good at the language is well.

                      But keep it basic................. no need to worry about the difference between gooseberries and raspberries now (or maybe ever). There are a couple of wine shop franchises out there that categorize their wines in terms like 'fruity' , 'bold', 'silky' or on a scale of 'fruity to dry' or describing the taste as 'light to full'-bodied'. Start there. If you find it useful, go deeper. But don't stress about it.

                      Just enjoy!