When I started learning about wine, I was amazed to see people around me sniff the wine and rattle off with aromas of fruits, flowers and spices. While I was stuck with descriptors like Uhmmm, Grapes? Spirit? Citrus?
I saw the same thing happen when I started encouraging my family and friends to discuss the wine aromas. Whenever I asked them to smell the wine and identify aromas, it was difficult for most of them to go past grapes, citrus and maybe some berries. One of the questions I was asked when I said I smell blueberries was, “Do they add blueberries in it”?
Most wines, unless specified as fruit wine, come from grapes and only grapes. No other fruits are added to it. So when we smell or taste blueberries in a wine, it does not mean that the fruit was added to it but that the aroma or flavour compounds of the blueberries are similar to the aroma compound found in that wine.
Most of the aromas that you detect in the wine are purely subjective, that is to say, you identify them based on your personal experience.
There is an aroma memory bank in our minds and I have heard some very interesting descriptors being used. The most recent one was when a friend commented that a particular wine smelt like eating blueberries next to a horse!
During my wine course, I was often confused with the fruit flavours my classmates spoke of. Similarly, my association with the forest floor smell was different from someone who grew up around pine forests. And while I could not take them to the jungles of central India to tell them which aroma I was talking about, I could take myself to the bustling farmer’s markets and fruit stalls to smell and taste the different vegetables and fruits.
While we were encouraged to use descriptors from our own experiences (and often told there are no wrong answers!), it was interesting to sit in a class where each student was from a different country. Sometimes, all of us could identify the same fruit but called it by different names and so we spent much of our wine-tasting class googling the picture of the item we were trying to explain.
I found it hard to find the flavour of Damson in my wine until I had tasted it. Similarly, it took me a lot of time to explain the aromas of banana pepper because I didn’t know the English name for it, but I knew what it smelt and tasted like!
I’ve learnt that the best way to figure out and identify the different aromas is to smell the various fruits and vegetables and trees and leaves around you.
So, head over to the local mandi/farmer’s market and spice market (or your kitchen’s spice rack!) and sniff away.
And always, always stop to smell the flowers!