Thursday, March 13, 2008

Vino 101: The Essence of Wine

I always have the best of intentions. Really, I do. So when it comes to wine, every fiber of my being really wants to believe that the particular Cabernet Sauvignon I'm tasting has essences of oak, plum, black currant and green bell pepper.

But the only essence I smell is my nail polish remover.

I use my poor nose as an excuse. I can't smell, I protest. After all, it is often my husband who comes rushing in the midst of my cooking, "I smell something burning!" and I have no idea what he's talking about (usually it's some piece of food stuck in the stove burner).

So alas, when I found out my coworker's dad was not only the wine professor at the CCA for two decades, but one of the two wine reviewers for the much respected Connoisseurs' Guide, I knew that if one person could show me the light, it would be him.

The first lesson was on whites. A line of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay stood before me, and I sniffed the first one (short sniffs, I learned, were more beneficial to the olfactory sensory neurons than a long inhale).

Lime, Steve (as he prefers to be called) said, do you smell it?

I sniffed some more. I sniffed with my eyes closed. I sniffed like a dog. And still I could not for the life of me smell lime. I pictured a piece of lime in my mind, hoping that would help. But alas, I shook my head.

I was a failure, and we had barely started.

Tell me what you smell in the next one, said Steve.

I sniffed. PEACH! my mind screamed. A juicy peach in its peak during summer. Yes, that was it. Perhaps I could smell after all.

Of course, I was back to smelling nail polish remover with the Chardonnay. I guess I can't win in everything.

The lesson progressed, smelling/tasting first a group of reds (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) and then a group of Zinfandel. Not that anyone is being competitive here, but it's frustrating when your husband "gets it" faster than you can on a consistent basis. He smelled skunk in one of the glasses, and Steve beamed. I, on the other hand, continued to smell nail polish remover. No, I do not cook my food in acetone, I swear.

I did have one more breakthrough though, when I tasted plum skin in the Pinot Noir. Still, I am convinced I need to smell more. So this weekend as Jason replanted one of our house plants, I proclaimed we needed to smell the dirt (we did). And at the grocery store the next day, we stuck our nose in blackberry and raspberry cartons.

Hey, I need to build my olfactory library somehow...


Janice said...

Omg, I totally hear ya. I always smell the same thing: a can of tuna!!

cakewardrobe said...

You're so funny! Your metaphor with polish remover is too creative! hahah I think I'll need to take up some lessons with your coworkers dad!

Laurel said...

Hi - - just so you know, sometimes wine ACTUALLY DOES smell like acetone - and this is a fault in the wine....but sometimes it is just a matter of making sure that you are not just defaulting with the acetone smell thing. I have found that one of the things that helps me is picturing a grocery store and going up and down the aisles. Go through the fruit department, the veggies, the bakery/baking, the meat (yes meat!) dept and definately the spice aisle. even doing this for real is a good way to get those scents into your brain - sure, you may get some strange looks from other shoppers as you are smelling all of the fruits and veggies, etc. but it will give you a good basis...then you can say - "no, not so much like strawberries, but more like lychee, to me!" Good Luck!

Hillary said...

Agreed but nicely done! I tried understanding it when I went to a wine tasting to not much avail...

Shannon said...

are those the glasses that were at my house? 'cause the photo looks so pro, and there is not way we always keep our glassware that clean...

acetone, schmacetone. at least we both got the peaches!!! =)

Nate 2.0 said...

I'm not as much a wine connoisseur as a couple of friends of mine, but I do know what I like and don't like. Anything that smells like horse manure - I don't like! (And that was a $500 bottle of Ridge Monte Bello Cab Sav at that!)

RYC: the first time I tried to cook rice, I ended up making porridge instead. We all gotta start somewhere.