Donuts help unlock aromas

In my last article, I touched on the importance of how aromas are linked to experiences.  Since writing this, I’ve focused on experiencing aromas in my day.  It’s amazing to me what scents you unlock when you slow down.  For example, I craved donuts this week, so I went to Sweetwater Donuts.  Walking into the shop and watching them load freshly made donuts into the racks with the combined aroma was heavenly.  I actually stopped when I walked in just to enjoy a moment of pure aroma bliss.  If you have never had one, when you travel through the Kalamazoo area, stop in.  They are the best donuts made (and we can argue this one all day).

I bring up the donuts for two reasons:

  • We have all had a donut, which gives us a common language of what they smell like, and
  • More important, you just imagined the last time you had one (your experience).

I love that we can take our experiences to help us communicate, especially with aromas.  When I teach about wine, I focus on attempting to teach you a common language for greater enjoyment. I want to make it simple.  Too many times in the Sommelier world, we teach way too much instead of keeping it simple.

Let’s Keep it Simple.

I find that when I teach wine, people get stuck on what aromas they are smelling.  They know what it is but sometimes cannot find the right words/description for it.  I’m going to share with you what typical aromas you find in wines.  Please remember these important facts:

  • White wines have aromas linked to fruit growing on a tree (apples, pears, peaches, citrus, tropical) and vegetables that are green in nature (beans, unripe peppers, asparagus).
  • Red wines have aromas linked to red fruits growing on a tree (plums), dried fruits (raisin) or the vine / ground (berries).

If you can remember these two points, you can determine most basic aromas in wines.  Yes, there are others but this is a great start to help you appreciate the wine.  When we link this to experiences, you no longer have to stress out about determining the aroma.  It comes naturally.

How this Practice Works

Here’s my system to help detect aromas in wine (in future articles, I will focus on other beverages).  I’ll break this down into a few steps below and explain each one.  Please note that all I’m doing is asking a series of questions over and over to figure out what the aroma is.

  • Is the Beverage healthy to drink? If the wine has an off aroma to it (such as vinegar or wet dog), you may want to question its quality and examine if its good (what I call healthy).  Do not pass this by.  I’ve seen many people smell something, get the odd look in their eyes, smell it again and think it’s them and the wine is fine.  It’s probably not.  I’ve been to enough events and watched people drink wine that was faulted.
  • Where have I experienced this aroma? I never try to determine what the aroma is.  I focus on what I was doing when or where I experienced it.
  • Where does it grow (tree or ground)? This part is easy.  The color of the wine leads you to a particular direction.  For example, if it’s a red wine, think of red fruit on a tree.
  • Can I narrow it down to something specific? If it’s a red fruit grown on a tree, can I figure out if it’s a plum, cherry, or an apple?  If it’s a cherry, is that a red cherry or a dark red cherry? 

White Wine Example

The other evening, I sampled a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.  Here is what ran through my head.  The first time I brought the glass to my nose, I checked if the wine was good.  There were no off odors that popped up.

Then I focused on the aromas and there were 6 different ones.  I linked each aroma to an experience and created a list.  Remember I’m looking for tree fruit, vegetables, or something green.

  1. What is the memory? This reminds me of mowing the yard = grass.
  2. What is the memory? This reminds me of growing up in Toronto playing in the back yard at the end of summer = Peaches my dad grew.
  3. What is the memory? I was chopping some herbs for a vegetable dish = oregano.
  4. What is the memory? I was making a cocktail and squeezed fresh limes = lime.
  5. What is the memory? It’s something green and reminds me of Fall = My dad making me climb the pear tree to reach the top to pick riper pears (sidenote, they were fantastic).
  6. What is the memory? Why am I picturing my mom making a pie from scratch?  Ahh, the apples = granny smith apples.

For you to Remember

As a chef, I’m able to remember some aromas just from years of experience.  However, that does not work in all cases.  That’s when I relax, let my mind wander for a second and let it bring back a memory.  Whatever the memory is will help me link it to an aroma.  For example,

  • I’m never going to forget what violets smell like after watering my dad’s African violets for years.
  • I’m never going to forget red currants after picking two bushes which made one jar of jelly.
  • I’m never going to forget the aroma of thyme after having to cut sprigs for my mom (that includes bad weather).

These and other aromas are etched in my mind.  The secret is to remember the experience to help you link the aroma to it.  Simply put:

  • White wine = trees, vines, green
  • Red Wines = red fruit trees, berries or dried fruit

If you can get used to using this method, you can figure out aromas easily.  We will keep expanding on this topic in coming articles but wanted to share some tips.  Beverages should be fun when consuming…never stressful.

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