How to train your nose?

Jan 11. 2021

When talking about wine, we can focus on different aspects. Without a doubt, it is one of the most noble and enjoyable drinks, and at the same time a great bridge to engage in conversation, whether at a party, a gathering of friends, or a romantic date. Everything is usually better when we have a glass of wine in our hands. Even the worst of days can end in the best way if we uncork that bottle that we had reserved for a great occasion, but that we decided instead to make it the closure of a hectic day.

Of all the qualities that wine has, there is one that attracts my attention the most, and that is the possibility it gives us to train our sense of smell. Or, on the contrary, the possibility that it offers us to bring to our sleeping memory, a particular aroma that we have not felt for a long time, and that thanks to wine we can evoke.

But how do we train our sense of smell? Although it’s never too late to start, in my case I think it’s important that I’ve always been interested in smelling the things around me. Since I was very young, I can accompany my memories with their respective smells. From that rubber life preserver that the Three Kings brought me when I was four years old, to that syrup I used to take against my tonsils, to the apple cake that my mother used to make on rainy afternoons. Smells, scents, perfumes, fragrances. There are many ways of naming the same thing, which is nothing more or less than living a moment again (happy and not so happy) just by closing your eyes and feeling “that” smell that accompanied you.

If any wine lover is reading this, know that it is never too late to start training your nose. And that, precisely, he can do it at home, with little daily exercises. Because that olfactory library that all of us human beings build and train every day, consciously or unconsciously, is what helps us to be able to better describe the wines we drink.

When I studied professional wine tasting, one of the first exercises we did was to describe the aroma in 10 containers. The keys were two: the inhalations inside the container had to be brief, so as not to fatigue our nose with the same aroma, and it was totally forbidden to look inside the bottle to see its contents, since our brain had to try to evoke that aroma on its own, without any visual aid.

This same exercise can be carried out at home: In 10 small, opaque containers (such as the little glasses used for children’s birthdays) we can put 10 samples of things we find in our kitchen or fridge. For example: butter (or a soft cheese), citrus peel, coffee (in grains or ground), nuts or almonds, cubes of tomatoes, dried fruits (for example plum or apricot), oregano, rosemary, peppercorns, red fruits (if it is strawberry or raspberry season), much better), honey, jam, sweet butter biscuits in pieces, tea in threads, peas, peppers (green and red), pineapple pieces, shredded coconut, cocoa powder or chocolate pieces, fresh yeast; among many other possibilities.

All these aromas, to a greater or lesser intensity, can be present in many varieties of wine. Some of them will be associated to the type of grape used, others to the terroir from which they come, others to the winemaking process, and others to the time of aging or evolution of the wine in the bottle through time (known as “bouquet”).

It is important not to exaggerate the amount of material that is placed in each glass, in order to allow the remaining air to transport the aromas to our nose. It is also necessary to keep these little glasses covered, and to uncover them briefly just to inhale the aroma.

It is important that, once the samples have been prepared, the containers are disorganised to avoid knowing what is inside each one.

When we have arranged the 10 containers on the table, we assign a number to each one, and we write down on a piece of paper what our perception is in each case. Once the 10 aromas have been noted down, we uncover the containers in order to corroborate the results.

Of course, doing this exercise with other people will not only make it more fun, but will also show us how subjective our perception of the same aroma can be. For example, one of us may determine that sample #3 is “lemon”, while the other says that the same sample is “ginger” or, closer to the lemon, “orange”. Or simply, one of us may identify “citrus”, but without specifying which one. We do not all have the same ability to smell, but it is possible for us to associate a certain smell with a “family of aromas”. Far from being discouraging, this should be an excellent start to describe a wine. In a first approach to the world of wine tasting, it does not matter so much if we can distinguish between the aroma of lemon peel from that of the nose or grapefruit, but if we can perceive that aroma as “fruity”, and more specifically as “citrus”, we will have already taken a big step.

Naturally, there are other more complex tools to train a taster’s nose. I use the aroma set of “Le nez du vin” and I find it very interesting. Although the aromas selected in that set are more associated with the profile of French wine, it is very useful for me.

In any case, there is no need to spend money on a set of this type when it comes to exercising our sense of smell. Little by little, if we are curious and smell the world around us, we will be able to discover those smells inside our glass, and that will make our experience when drinking a wine much more interesting. Simply, when we describe that wine, we will be associating its aromas with everything that our brain has collected over the years. And I think that is the most fascinating part of the drinking experience: wine can be a fragment of our own memory in a glass, and a wonderful bridge to put it into words.

Loading RSS Feed