Testing how bell curves are linked to aromas

The last few articles have focused on how important aromas are and how we can incorporate our memories to help.  I’ve also talked about how to use a bell curve to help plot aromas.  What I would like to show you next is what I hope will be a great exercise that you can try and let me know your thoughts.

The goal of the exercise is to find the primary aromas (the biggest ones) in a wine while using the curve.  First of all, we need a wine that everyone can purchase.  For this exercise, I purchased a 2022 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.  I love this wine to pair with foods that have:

  • Some spice to them,
  • Artichokes, bell peppers, green beans, or asparagus,
  • Seafood or chicken dishes,
  • And goat cheeses.

In order to determine the aroma, it helps that we know it’s a white wine.  From a previous article, we are going to concentrate on white wine aromas such as:

  • Fruit growing on a tree (apples, pears, peaches, citrus, tropical) and vegetables that are green in nature (beans, unripe peppers, asparagus).

The Exercise.

  • Please go to your local store and purchase a bottle of this wine. You will need to chill it down as the temperature plays an important role.  If you can get the wine temperature down to about 45 F, that will be perfect.  The best ways to do this are:
  • Leave the bottle in the fridge overnight (check the temperature to make sure it’s not too cold),
  • An ice bath (the bottle sitting in ice water for about 45 minutes to an hour), or
  • Ice balls.

Side note: These balls I use all the time as they are designed for drinks.  I picked these up years ago at World Market, but Amazon and other stores carry them.  These stay in my freezer all the time until needed.  You can add one or two of these to get the wine down to temp quickly.  I love them because they do not change the flavor (by diluting) and are reusable.

2)  You probably want to have some note paper available. For my notes, I use a blank bell curve and my tasting sheets that I’ve developed.  The curve helps with your mind finding where the aromas are located. 

3)  Once your wine is chilled to around 45 F ( I use an instant read thermometer designed for bottles 😊), pour it into a big wine glass. In the pictures, you can see me using a red glass for this exercise.  The glassware should be clean but be able to swirl the wine in.  I like that the glass tapers at the top to help capture some of the aromas.

4)  However, no matter what you use it’s important to do one thing:

  • RELAX while you are smelling anything!!!

We as humans, have experienced thousands of aromas over our lives.  We just do not think about them to instantly identify them.  This exercise is designed to teach you how to use memories to find aromas.  You can not do this unless you relax to open your mind to wander and remember.

5)  If you have the wine chilled and note paper ready, we can proceed. Pick up the glass and put your nose deep into it and take a steady draw up into your sinuses.  Yes, I said put your nose deep in the glass.  It’s your glass so its fine 😊. 

When you take the draw in, do not force it.  Just a steady pull for a few seconds.  Some say it helps to have your mouth open when you do this.  It does help get more aromas up into your sinuses.  Now, make some notes on what you think is there.  Relax and let your memories help you determine the aroma.  Right now, what is the biggest aroma in the glass? 

6)  Great job. We are going to do the exact same thing but this time, gently swirl the glass to move the wine around.  DO Not SWIRL IT LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!!!!   Gently works perfectly here.  It helps if you place the glass on a flat surface and move the base in a circular motion.  This will get the wine moving around.  What we are attempting to do is break the surface tension in the glass to release more aromas.  A gentle motion will do this.

Now, place your nose in the glass and smell the aromas.  Two things you will notice.  There are a lot more aromas now.  Do not worry about all of them.  Just look for the biggest aromas in the glass.  Secondly, the aromas will be more intense/bigger.  This is why we gently swirl the glass.  Breaking the surface tension aids in getting aromas more approachable.

Once you have the primary aromas, you now use the bell curve to determine the others and how many.  Take one of the primary aromas and move earlier on the curve to discover an aroma before this one.  Determine what that aroma is using memories.  And Repeat until you can’t find any more to the left of the primary aromas.  Do the same to the right of the curve to determine these.  Write down all of your aromas and go with your first hunch.

The Results.

Awesome job.  I wish I was with you directly to talk about the aromas you found.  The best way to learn is by interaction and guiding you through the process.  This is a difficult exercise to understand and master so do not be discouraged by it. 

Now, I’m going to show you my results in two areas.  The first one relates to what the primary aromas are in the glass.  These are found at the top of the bell curve.  I will also show you my memory linked to each of them.  The primary aromas in this wine are:

  • Green bell peppers (when I used to cater full time, this smell was always on my hands after)
  • Asparagus (I always think of opening a can of asparagus and that smell still sticks with me)
  • Grapefruit (my dad always had grapefruit around and would ask me to peel it for him….I do not like grapefruit ☹)
  • Ammonia or cat pee (think of a litter box). Yes, I said cat pee…its one of the key anchor aromas in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. (No…it’s not gross either).

These were the primary aromas or the most pronounced.  If you got one, GREAT.  If you were able to detect more than one…FANTASTIC.  If you did not get any of them as your primary, that’s fine.  As long as you were able to determine one or more of them, you are well on the way to understanding this.

As for remaining aromas, I’ve posted my tasting sheet above with aromas in the middle section.

This wine had 18 aromas throughout the curve.  The tropical aromas (pineapple and guava) come out at warmer temperatures.  If you chilled the wine down to 45 F, let the glass sit for a few minutes undisturbed and smell it again.  These will appear as the wine warms up.

Final Thoughts.

First of all, this is an amazing exercise that I run with all my students and chefs.  Again, its hard to do it without face-to-face interaction.  In the future, we can set up an online event if you are interested.  However, do not be disappointed if you only were able to detect a few of these.  The goal of the curve is to help you find the primary aromas and then use the curve to detect the aromas before and after.  It takes time and practice….and a lot of wine. 😊

The best way to practice this?  Do this exercise with every beverage all the time.  It works.  I feel like I have the worst sense of smell so if I can do it, everyone can and will most likely be better than me.

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