No One Nose.....
“…it smells like freshly cut garden hose and a freshly opened can of tennis balls” ~ Ian Cauble MS, SOMM
Full disclosure… I have not the slightest clue how freshly cut garden hose or a new (or old) can of tennis balls smells. Quite honestly, I’m not sure that anyone but Ian Cauble or the groundskeeper at a grass tennis court can actually identify those two smells. But in that moment, if he put his nose in that glass and that was the aroma that jumped out at him, NO ONE can tell him he is wrong.*
I totally get it, sitting at a table and hearing people mouth all these smells while you smell, or at least think you smell nothing but alcohol and grape juice can make you feel out of your league. You are NOT! Everyone started somewhere and the only way you get better at smelling and tasting wine is by… you guessed it… smelling and tasting wine. I encourage you all to be mindful in your tasting. You don’t have a “serious” oenophile, preparing for an exam or trying to get a job in the industry to benefit from being deliberate when you smell and taste wine. I promise, being intentional will tremendously enhance your enjoyment of wine and you will be surprised how many aromas you easily pick up, especially if are a woman (wink).
Remember the movie Slumdog Millionaire? Jamal knew the answers to all those random questions because he was able to do a mental flashback of all his experiences until he got to the moment where he acquired a specific tidbit of knowledge. That is pretty much how smelling (and tasting) wine works. It is important to note, the aromas you smell in a glass aren’t things added to the wine. They are a combination of the natural scents and flavors present in the grape varietal (primary aroma), the wine making process itself and how the wine is aged/stored (secondary and tertiary aromas). There is a geeked out scientific explanation for why you smell what you smell that I won’t go into (don’t want to bore everyone lol), but shoot me an email or comment below and I’ll happily share!
When you put your nose in a glass of wine, (I also close my eyes) you go through a catalog of everything you have ever smelled and try to identify if any of those things are present in the glass in front of you. Now of course there is wine jargon and any seasoned taster will tell you to stay away from smell descriptors that only apply to you. For example: “OMG, this smells like the bottom of my grandmother’s purse!” Unless you are describing this glass of wine to your grandmother (and maybe not even her) this descriptor will not make sense to anyone but you. However, if you said you smelled wet leather … you might be spot on! That is the point. As you progress on your wine journey, continue to get comfortable and be confident in saying what you actually smell. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s your nose! Someone can say, "hmm… I don’t smell that" and they aren’t wrong either. If you are tasting with the right person they can ask you questions that may help you better define what you are smelling and add to your wine vocabulary by sharing common descriptors used to describe that aroma. I was recently tasting with a friend who swore she didn’t smell anything but alcohol. Ok, fine, if that is all she thought she smelled, I would never say she was wrong. I followed up by asking her if she thought all alcohol smelled alike and we both agreed they did not. So what was she actually smelling? Beer, bourbon, rubbing alcohol, vodka, tequila etc? Based on questions like that, you may come to realize you are smelling something that is very much a characteristic of that wine, you just aren’t clear (or confident) how or what words should be used to describe what you are smelling. Very early in my wine journey, I had the opportunity to taste a glass of 1999 Easton Zinfandel. As soon as I put my nose in the glass, I was transported back to my Grandmother’s kitchen around Christmas and got a whiff of the large pot of fruits she would cook for her Black Fruit cake, a staple in most Caribbean homes. If I said that wine smelled like my Grandmother’s kitchen at Christmas, it would be useless to a group of strangers. Because I was specific and said it smelled like when she was cooking fruits, a very seasoned sommelier explained to me that the smell of stewed fruits is a very common marker of Zinfandel. How cool is that? This smell that I know very well, is specific to this particular grape varietal! Guess who almost never gets the smell of stewed fruits or Zinfandel wrong??…THIS GIRL!
I cannot stress this enough, no one can tell you what you do or do not smell. They can tell you they do not smell something or give you the “wine word” used to describe that aroma, but if they flat out tell you are wrong, they are an a**hole and you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life! Keep tasting and don’t be afraid to be vocal about what you smell. No one nose is the same and no one can tell you what your nose smells ... trust
*Watch SOMM on Netflix to see this scene. It’ll make you laugh!