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There are plenty of wine-relevant smell memories in here

I grew up in Northern Ontario, a region not generally thought of as one of the great wine destinations of the world. When starting out in the wine industry I knew that I had a lot to learn to catch-up with those who had a natural introduction to the vine. What I didn’t know then, was how relevant those early years were to how I experience wine now.

It has been well documented that smell is closely linked to memory and whether we grow up with wine as part of our daily lives or not, our unique set of smell memories will help us describe the way a wine smells and tastes later in life.

Working in various wine regions of the world has taught me that each person’s memories cause them to describe the same wines differently than another person would. For example, what little ‘ol Canadian me calls honey suckle and marshmallow, my Australian counterpart might call frangipani, a locally grown flower.

There are many common wine descriptors that I have no smell memories of, so I have learned to associate these with fragrances that I do know. For example, brioche and stinging nettle are not a huge part of daily grind in Northern Ontario but they are widely used terms to describe certain wines. When I smell green apples and yeasty baked bread in a wine I know that someone in the room is going to say brioche. When I smell cedar bark and tomato leaves, I know a European colleague is likely to suggest stinging nettle. I am not the only one who uses this method. I know a top sommelier in Mendozawho doesn’t really know what fresh blueberries smell like (a common descriptor for Mendoza’s iconic grape variety, Malbec), yet she can blind pick a Malbec from Maipú over one from Lujan de Cuyo (both located in Mendoza) largely because of the different concentrations of blueberry and black fruit aromas.

Getting to the point where I could confidently describe a wine the way I smell it, or the way I think I should describe it took time. Years ago, during a tasting in New Zealand, I described a Chardonnay as smelling like my Aunt Marilyn’s homemade dill pickles. I was alone in this thought. While it was a great example of a smell memory aiding my ability to taste a wine, I now realise that I should have used a more universal choice of words. My Aunt lived on a dairy farm in an old, wooden, farm house, filled with oak furniture. She and my uncle baked bread several days each week and often smoked fish on the front porch. When my smell memory takes me back to Aunt Marilyn’s dill pickles I actually smell oak, dairy, hay, baked bread, wood smoke and dill; all of which are common descriptors of oaked Chardonnay.

Wine is produced in every continent on the planet, save Antarctica. That means there are a lot of people with different smell memories. Whatever you get from that glass of wine, as ridiculous as it seems, there is likely some merit to it. While the world of wine can be an intimidating place, wine is meant to be enjoyed. We all experience wine slightly differently, so embrace it you big weirdo. Swirl, sniff, taste and swallow.

What whacky smells have you picked up on in a glass of wine? Look out for my next post on tips to help train your nose and palate.

2 Responses to “Why the silly things you smell in wine may not be that ridiculous at all”

  1. […] when you should taste lemon, or if you smell apple when you should smell pear, count it as a win. No one’s palate is the same, and if you’re finding features from the same aroma families then you are doing […]

  2. […] « Why the silly things you smell in wine may not be that ridiculous at all […]

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