April 20, 2012

Remind me again... what exactly am I looking for?

“Now ladies and gentlemen, if you will each raise your wine glass to your nose I’m sure that you will agree that the scent of black cherry, cinnamon, truffle and the slightest hint of eucalyptus quite typically displays the varietal character of this wine.”

What the hell!  Am I the only person in the room that has a problem with this?  Judging by the expression on the lady’s face sitting across from me, apparently not – in fact, I think the cork just flew over her head.
“Is it wrong that all I smell is red wine?” she whispered.

“Do you like it?” I queried back.

“Ya, it tastes really good but I don’t smell any of those things.”

With one eyebrow raised, “I doubt that he does either,”  I responded.

That was several months ago at a fancy dinner hosted by a gentleman who’s tie was just a little too tight as he attempted to educate the group on the wines being served while reading from his cue-cards.  Ridiculous - yes, but it does bring up a good discussion.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about enjoying the fine nuances of a great glass of wine but please don’t make more of this than need be; it’s a drink, not a science project, and there is both a time and place where this sort of critique is valid, but that place is not at the dinner table surrounded by people who really don’t care to know this information.

So the question remains:  Can anyone actually smell or taste the bizarre array of adjectives regularly printed on tasting note cards alongside bottles on the store shelves?  The short answer is ‘yes’ while the abbreviated and slightly sarcastic long answer is ‘who really cares’, but more so, what do you stand to gain from these tasting notes? 

The author of any tasting note is describing the variety of grape(s) and style of wine.  Within that style, he or she may also find a curious scent or taste to complement the typical (varietal) character of the wine in question.  Shiraz for example will normally display a rather pronounced aroma and taste of dark fruits such blackberries and plums in addition to the sensation of dark chocolate and pepper spice.  If the wine is from a warm new world region such as Australia, these characteristics tend to be more obvious than the same from a traditional producer in the cooler climates of France.  Does that mean that you are wrong to detect something else, like raspberries or leather?  Not at all, and that is what makes this subject so interesting.  Wine is subjective; your mood, the theme of the restaurant, food pairing choices, and the company you share will all influence the taste of a glass of wine.  

Your potential enjoyment of a glass of wine is entirely predicated on what you choose to make of it.  That pleasure may range from an in-depth analysis to absolutely nothing more than a thirst quenching beverage with no one extreme being more enjoyable than the other.

If you have yet to find something jumping out of the glass at you, be patient, it will happen.  But don’t try too hard, let your mind relax and allow your senses do all the work.  With a little practice, some curious aroma or taste is sure to catch you off guard.  I was once a skeptic too… until the scent of licorice leaped from the glass at me one day several years ago.  Now, I can’t wait to see how each new glass of this magical potion will captivate my mind and intrigue my senses.

‘Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.’
- Ernest Hemingway


  1. This is a great post!!! Most of the time it just tastes like wine to me... Some good, some not so good. On occasion if someone plugs an idea I to my head ("I taste bubblegum!!!") I will find it, but hardly ever on my own!!!!!

    1. Bubblegum indeed! We were sampling a Merlot from California two days ago, testing wines for the Wine for the Weekend post and my comment was exactly that – bubblegum! My wife thought I was nuts, but that's what leaped from the glass initially. Needless to say, the wine didn’t make the cut.

      Thanks for the comment Jodi.

      - Cheers

  2. How true. It's funny how you do have to just kind of relax into it. Nice post!


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine