Bell Curves and Wine? What's the Secret?

In the last article, I discussed how we can use our memories (with the help of donuts) to find aromas.  Again, aromas are exceptionally important for understanding wine for a few reasons:

  • To check if the wine is healthy (safe to consume).
  • To be able to learn and discuss wines.
  • To be able to pair foods with wines.

My goal with is to teach about effective beverage and food pairings.  Therefore, we need to understand aromas as they are an important component.  How we can do that is by understand the amazing secret between a bell curve and wine for plotting aromas.

Where Confusion Occurs

When I teach wine, we need to be able to find the aromas.  However, the most confusing aspect to analyzing a wine is the following:

  • Each grape has more than one aroma. 😊

It would be easy to say that this wine smells like a pear and be done.  However, that is not the case.   Each wine has a number of aromas in its profile.   When I sample wine, you will hear me say out loud that there is X number of aromas in the glass.  Whoever is with me is now lost.  The reason why is they are trying to find X number of aromas at once and getting frustrated and confused.  Therefore, I go back to my earlier days of math and pull out a bell curve.

Bell Curve? 

Wait…. the bell curve?  The curve in all the math classes that you hated and thought you would never see again. ☹ Yes, I said bell curve.  Sorry…its back but for a good reason this time. Let me explain.  When I smell a wine, my brain does not focus on what the aromas are initially.  I try to determine how many aromas are in the glass.  That’s it.  I focus on how many different aromas are there instead of what they are.

What I do is let my brain tell me how many different aromas /points are in the glass.  The easiest way to explain this is that when we smell something (even if we do not know what it is), we know that a change in aroma has occurred.  That is what I’m counting as an aroma / point. Right at that moment, I have no idea what the specific aromas are.  Frankly, I do not care what they are either.  I’m just looking for the number to help me with the next step in the process.

Ah…the dreaded curve.  The horizontal line represents the time from zero on the left when we first place our nose in the glass until we are done.  You can see 7 points on this axis.  The vertical represents the intensity of aroma.  The highest point on the curve vertically in the center represents the strongest aroma in the glass.  This is what I focus on intentlyWhat is the strongest aroma?  Most people can find this if they use the memory trick from the last article. 

Today’s Scenario

In the last article, we talked about what are the primary aroma categories for white and red wines.  This guides you for what to look for.  For today’s example, let’s use a Chardonnay.  We are trying to determine the aromas (the wine is healthy so no worries there).  Since I know it’s a white wine, I start asking these questions:

  • Is it fruity?
  • Does it remind me of an apple or citrus?
  • If its citrus, is it a lemon, lime, or orange?
  • If its an orange, what type such as tangerine, navel, blood orange, etc.

For our example today, the strongest aroma is lemon.  We place this at the top of the curve.  After this, I use the curve to help me find the other aromas instead of searching and being lost.  I’m just asking myself a series of questions over and over.  I’ll ask what is the aroma that comes just before this one (the point before).  I’ll use my memory to determine what it is.  In this case, I was thinking about mixing cocktails(limes).  And then I keep moving to the left to get all of the points linked with an aroma.  I’ll come back to the center and move to the right to do the same thing.  Here’s the conversation in my brain:

  • The center aroma is lemon. What is the next aroma to the right, and what does it remind me of?  Walking outside on a rocky path (wet gravel). 
  • What does the next aroma to the right of this remind me of? I cold pressed juiced this morning (tangerines).   

Plotting the Curve

I call this exercise plotting the curve.  I do this for every wine to assist my brain from getting confused.  For the Chardonnay example, I kept it simple with only 5 aromas /plots on the curve.  The more you analyze wines, the greater your ability to determine more plots.  It’s a work in progress and takes time and effort.  Every time I have a glass of wine in front of me, I do this exercise.  Even if it’s a glass that I ordered at a restaurant.  The practice is very important as it will get easier over time.

When I do this exercise in classes, it takes about 15 minutes for the first wine with students.  As they learn this, they get faster and faster.  They are able to better distinguish aromas and plot the curve.  More importantly, they grow and pick up more aromas.  Someone may say something on what they pick up and it helps me plot another aroma. 

Best wine I’ve ever examined was 17 individual aromas.  The Master Sommelier I was tasting the same wine with picked up 25.  I’m telling you this because it’s easy to get frustrated and intimidated when someone else pics up something you don’t know.  Just keep plotting the curve.  Remember, it’s less stressful since you are focusing on one aroma at a time instead of all of them.

Final Thoughts

I understand that this may be new to everyone but trust me it works.  Next week, stay tuned.  To show you how this works, I’m going to purchase a wine that everyone has access to and plot the curve to show you what aromas are in the wine.  That way, you can purchase the wine yourself and run through the exercise with me.  Looking forward to sampling with you all very soon. 😊

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