Wednesdays on the BottleBlog will feature an education session on wine, beer or spirits. Today Shannon Spare shares her experiences as a beginner in the World of Wine.
Welcome to part 2 of my Wine 101 Blog: Aroma. As I said in my first installment on color, my name is Shannon and I manage the website content and blog here at Joe Canal's. While I've drunk wine, and liked wine, for many years, I never really had the opportunity to get to know a whole lot about it. Now, I'm getting paid to learn, and I'm happy to share my experiences with you!
The first time I ever really noticed the aroma of a wine was a few years ago, long before my tenure with Joe Canal's began. I was six months pregnant, attending a business dinner at a nice Italian restaurant. To celebrate, my co-workers picked up a couple bottles of wine to share. Of course, due to my condition I couldn't partake of the wine, but the people to either side of me were both enjoying very large, very full, very fragrant glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. The smell was so fine, and so strong, I found myself salivating. At the time, I just chalked it up to A.) being pregnant and having a hyper-sensitive sense of smell, and B.) not having had wine for over 6 months and just really wanting a glass. I got through the evening without a sip, but that smell stuck with me for months. I couldn't stop thinking about it! Even the first glass of wine I had after my daughter was born didn't live up to the memory of the exquisite aroma from that evening.
Fast forward 11 months, to my first week at here at Joe Canal's. Every Friday and Saturday we have free wine tastings, and on my way out the door, I stopped to taste the weekend wines. Being a newbie, I tried to emulate all of my more educated workmates, swirling the wine, watching for "legs," and sticking my nose deep into the glass. I didn't expect much, since most wines still smell the same to me. When I came to the last wine, however, I was blown away! It was the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, and arguably the most expensive wine I'd ever tasted (or smelled). And there it was again - that smell, that awesome delicious smell! It was the first time I realized that I wasn't just having a super duper pregnant craving at the Italian restaurant, it was probably that the wine was super duper aromatic.
When tasting wine, it's especially important to pay attention to how the wine smells. In a lot of ways, the way the wine smells is more important than it tastes. Have you ever noticed that when you have a bad head cold, most foods taste a lot more bland than usual? That's because 80% of what we taste is attributable to our sense of smell.
Before I became a Wine-Enthusiast-in-Training, I would make jokes about "oaky undertones" to my friends and family when drinking wine. The truth of the matter is that, with wine, certain flavors can be brought out by how the wine is made. While it's true that wine is made from grapes, if it's aged in oak you might be able to taste clove or vanilla, or the actual oak itself. (My "oaky undertones" joke has become a lot less funny since I've actually been able to notice them.) "Malolactic fermentation" (a process in which bacteria is added to fermenting wine) might produce a butterscotch or popcorn smell.
I have had the opportunity to attend a couple wine festivals and tastings. I've gone to many wine festivals in the past, but it's a much different experience for me now that I have this new mindset. For the first time, I've actually been able to notice different scents. I still find that a lot of wines taste the same to me after a while (especially reds) but paying attention to the aroma has been really fun for me. At a tasting, I tasted a variety of seven dry red wines, the last two of which were "oaked". When we got to the sixth wine, I was amazed at how strong I could actually smell the oakiness. It totally smelled like wood! It's a slow going process, but I've also been able to pick out pineapple and chocolate in the wines that I have tasted (and smelled).
Reading tasting notes has been an interesting experience for me as well: Did you know that there are wines out there that actually smell like lead pencil shavings, slate or chalk? And, believe it or not, tobacco is an aroma that comes up fairly often.
Did you know that just about every Friday and Saturday, the Joe Canal's stores in Woodbridge and Lawrenceville have free wine tastings? I definitely urge you to stop in and taste for yourself, especially if you're a newbie like me! Just check the events page on jcanals.com to see what we're pouring, and stop in!
Next time I'll talk more in depth about the tastings I've gone to recently. Until then, I'd love to hear your stories and experiences of learning about wine, just leave me a comment!