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Memo From American Sommelier: What The Nose Knows

Posted on  | June 23, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Real fruit parallels provide the fun side of blind tasting

Andrew Bell, president and co-founder of American Sommelier

People in the business have grown accustomed to “friends” slipping a glass under their nose and asking the inevitable, “So what do you think this is?” Welcome or not as these incidents are, they remind us that associating specific aromas with certain wines is a skill which many people presume professionals have mastered. Of course, it’s not quite that simple, but how does one work on developing the nose?

Well, it can be a ball. There are websites and great books that cover the correlations between grape aromas and fruit, but why stop at the generalities on printed words when the live evidence is literally as nearby as the closest green market. Fresh, ripe, distinctive, expressive fruit is ready and willing to be your aromatic co-pilot when exercising your wine-smelling skills.

Make It Fresh

Let us start simply: Chardonnay grown in a cool climate can exhibit aromas and flavors of pear, apple and quince. So go and find a Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Crispin; then look for an Anjou, and a Bartlett pear. Peel half of each fruit and make slices with and without skin and pour yourself cool glasses of Chablis, Puligny Montrachet and perhaps a Russian River or Carneros Chardonnay. The aim of the game is to smell the flesh of the fruit slices with and without the skin and compare them to each of these wines.

You will likely “see-smell” a similarity between the fruit slices and the Old World expressions of Chardonnay. But there is more to that in the glass. The Chardonnays all likely went through a secondary fermentation called malo-lactic or ML. This is a technique for converting the wine’s tarter malic acid into softer lactic acid and creating diacetyl in the process. In a cool climate, the effect of ML often comes across to the taster as sour milk or sour cream or crème fraiche; and in a hotter climate, often butter and cream. So go to the fridge for the half and half or heavy cream. Smelling this will give you a sense of whether producer ‘X’ pushed the wine through malo.

This may seem complicated. It is not. The wines that best demonstrate very clearly defined fruit aromas are often less expensive, so it becomes an affordable fun evening with friends. But back to basics! The goal of the nose in this type of exercise is to see if there are easily identifiable aromas that are shared with grape based wine and other fruit in nature.

Parallel Worlds

Here are some other fruit-and-wine relationships, outlined in a very basic level sort of way. Cabernet Sauvignon typically offers cassis, black currant and/or black raspberry. Syrah can share some of these very same characteristics and can be easily confused with Cabernet. Syrah, however, will demonstrate aromas of tar, smoked meat, bacon fat and black olive, among others. Cabernet will often be blended with Merlot or other Bordeaux-based grapes. Here you may see some plum, red, black prune.

How do you pull apart the differences? The fruit is on the table. Crush a piece of plum on your hands and rub the juice into the palm and sniff it. Wave in under your nose and sniff. See if there are easily noticeable notes that you can pinpoint. The fun part is always being right. What you see, smell, taste, feel is personal and real; take notes to remember for next time someone slides a glass under your nose and plum screams “I am here”. Hopefully you will have Merlot thoughts!
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Andrew Bell is a co-founder and president of American Sommelier. Through the Sales, Service and Buying Seminar Series, American Sommelier provides professionals with the tools needed to build and maintain a successful wine program in any restaurant environment. Member benefits include events, career guidance, discounts and a the American Sommelier newsletter. For more details and a calendar of classes, visit americansommelier.com or call 212-226-6805.

American Sommelier
Blind Tasting Course
Aug. 5th – Nov. 18th | 16-week course
This 16-week course is a detailed analysis of wine using American Sommelier’s methodology of interpretation. Students are taught how to gather sensory data using visual, aroma and flavor cues to make supportable deductions about the contents of their glass. Visit americansommelier.com for more details.


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