When you stick your nose into a glass of wine, do you just smell....wine?
We've all been there, I promise. Actually, it's pretty normal to only smell "wine" when you are not a seasoned wine taster because your brain is trying to make things easy for you. Although there are a ton of different compounds in wine that your brain can detect, why would it confuse you with that? Instead, your brain sends out one signal: you're smelling wine.
Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses out there, linking many aromas to memories (and is one of the reasons why experienced wine tasters have less risk of getting alzheimer's disease...score!). Remember that scene in Ratatouille where the food critic is taken back to his childhood after tasting the ratatouille served to him? You might give credit to the flavors of the food giving him that flashback, but really...its the aromas and his sense of smell doing the work.
This is why smelling your wine before tasting it is so important. Your nose deciphers what is going on in your glass, then your palate just confirms it.
So, how do we train our brains to dig deeper than just smelling "wine"?The easiest way to start is to look for fruit that you might be smelling (and don't say "grapes!"...most wines do not smell grapey). Do you smell fruit? Ask your brain what kind of fruit. You could be smelling citrus, tropical fruit, red fruit, black fruit, or tree fruit. Then dig deeper...lets say you smell red fruit in your wine. Is it strawberry, cherry, cranberry, raspberry, or redcurrant? Is it unripe, ripe, jammy, baked, dried, or overripe? See where I'm going with all these questions? Just dig deeper and make your brain work a bit. It will be hard at first, but in no time you will be smelling your grandpa's pipe tobacco or that time you were finger painting in preschool.
Check out the video above, and make sure to download the Wine Aroma Cheat Sheet I've created to help you pick out what you may be smelling!
Final note: Don't be afraid of being "wrong" when picking out aromas in wine. Everything is subjective and there are no wrong smells out there. If your brain says you smell a shoe store in a glass of Cabernet, write it down. As you get better at smelling wine, you might calibrate your brain to recognize that shoe store aroma as leather, but you'll never get there if you don't explore first. Have fun with this and don't be intimidated. It just takes practice! Happy smelling my friend!
Get the Aroma Cheat Sheet
Download it here