I’m sure all of us have heard some strange tasting notes throughout the years… “cow manure”, “sheep butt”, “an old friend”, “a fourteen year-old catholic school girl”, and the list goes on. For some of us, these quite creative (and well at times quite disturbing) descriptors are a reason to question the validity of different individual’s taste analyses.
However, I say go for it! Well with one guiding principle… that you stay true to what you taste and cut out the BS. But sure why not… if you grew up on the farm or spent a lot of time there during your youth (yours truly), then it only makes sense that when analyzing smell, you’ll reflect back on your past. In fact for me that’s the most beautiful part of a wine’s aroma and bouquet… the ability to connect it to real life… to person and place. This is after all a cornerstone of terroir.
Even some of the more straightforward descriptors like cherry and blueberry can offend certain people. Their general logic leads them to question, “how the hell can a drink made from grapes taste like strawberries?” Well the answer is science. Certainly no wine actually tastes like strawberries and if you’re from Iceland for example and have never tasted strawberries (I’m thinking about a particular Icelandic friend at this very moment), then of course the wine will not taste like strawberries. However, the base chemical compounds [ethyl hexanoate, 2.5-dimethyl-4-hydroxy-3(2H)-furanone] that make up the essence of strawberry, can be found in many wines.
Wine only tastes and smells like what we as an individual can relate to, which is to say our past. So if you’re Mexican and are smelling a Sauternes for the first time and you don’t have much tasting experience (or even if you have a lot), you may very well pick up mango on the nose due to the overall tropical overtone and the fact that mangos are very prevalent in Mexico. However, if you’ve never had a mango before but are familiar with the pineapple, then this may be a more logical descriptor.
Either way the point is wine, at the end of the day, is made up of many chemical compounds, many of which are shared among the plant and animal kingdom. And Jean Lenoir, born in Burgundy, is probably the world’s most respected researcher and expert on the association between aromas and wine. Anyone who has the chance to buy (300 Euros!) or sample Jean Lenoir’s aroma kit “Le Nez du Vin”, should jump at the opportunity. The complete classic set consists of the 54 aromas most typical in wine. The only way to grow one’s palate and tasting skill is to smell. Le Nez du Vin presents in one package the most essential aromas that all serious tasters should be familiar with. It’s a great way to grow one’s memory bank of smells. But of course this is only a start, because 54 aromas just scratch the surface.
Below I’ve summarized the 54 aromas, including their respective chemical compounds and their oenological associations.