Apart from the few eureka moments when I could identify an aroma in a wine, my nose is broken. I remember these episodes vividly, mainly because they are so rare. Once I picked up an obvious bacon aroma in a California chardonnay. Then, there was strong black tea in a Nero d’Avola and a Shiraz. At one point, pungent diesel in a German Riesling and the roses in a Californian Gewurtz. But these instances are few and far between. Wine aromas usually have to beat me over the head with a stick, or in this case, on the nose, for me to detect them. I’m trying to get better, but being a jaded urban rat, it isn’t easy.
I have never quite understood the art and science of wine aromas.
I still don’t. I mean, there are the obvious ones like flowers (rose, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender), citrus fruit (lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange), and red and black fruit (all manner of berries, cherries and plums). They all sound lovely. In my mind, I see fruit orchards and meadows, little girls skipping down a rolling hill, baskets of apples on their arms, curls in their hair.
Then, there are aromas like vanilla, dark chocolate, cigars, coffee, and leather that are generally found in powerful red wines aged in oak. Images of a dark and musty cellar come to mind. A brooding mustachioed man sits on a plush Chesterfield sofa. He’s in a velvet robe, hair slicked back, cigar in his hand. Swirls of smoke fill the air. He smells of money.
Then there’s the dreaded wet dog.
There are descriptions like wet dog, wet cardboard, band-aid, skunk, rotten eggs, gym socks, gym shoes and vinegar. I have never bathed a dog and I’ve never walked next to one in the rain, so I don’t know what a wet dog smells like. Skunk and rotten eggs are pretty much self-explanatory and vinegar belongs in my pork spare ribs, not in my wine bottle. And band-aid … seriously, band-aid? I have never heard anybody say they smelled band-aid in a wine but it’s in the Aroma Wheel, so it must be true. I should drop by the pharmacy later today.
And what about the iffy aromas?
These are not universally good or bad, it just depends on whether you like barnyards, sweaty armpits, cat pee, or horse sweat. These are not faults per se, because the most famous sweaty armpit and cat pee of them all is Marlborough region’s Sauvignon Blanc. From its popularity with wine lovers, it looks like we all love sweaty armpits and cat pee more than we let on.
But oh, steer clear of burnt rubber, boiled egg, onion, and nail polish remover ― these mean that the wine has gone bad. OK I think I get it now. Sweaty armpits ― good; boiled egg ― bad.
If I remember nothing else, I must remember this.
No matter what I smell or taste (or what I think I smell or taste), there is one thing I must never ever say. Heaven forbid that I should ever say a wine smells or tastes like … grapes. Now that would be unforgivable.