By Elspeth Brown
Smell is our most sensitive sense and the strongest link to memory and feelings. It is amazing what emotions a certain scent can evoke in a person. When I get a whiff of my children’s baby clothes, it makes me weepy for a time past. The dusty, dirty smell of horses and the aged smell of a leather saddle make me smile to think of my grandfather. Sweet potatoes remind me of my grandmother, and the sweet, musty smell of books makes me think of my mom—a librarian—and the countless books she read to me before bed, solidifying my love of reading.
The smell from certain special bottles of wine can bring up similar emotions and memories. My husband and I split a bottle of Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape after our first child was born. Still to this day the smell of wet earth, plums and violets from the wine makes me think of a very happy time. The aromas of snow, cinnamon, spice and rich red wines like Amarone, Cabernet Franc and Port make me excited about the holiday season. For instance, when I smell a Port wine and all the aromatics in the glass—the toasted almonds and the candied fruit—it reminds me of fruitcake, Christmas cookies and getting ready for the holidays.
During the holidays there is an enormous emphasis on strong scents; cloves, peppermint, allspice, vanilla and cedar. That is why a lot of stronger smelling, fuller body white and red wines pair better during the holiday months since we are surrounded by such strong scents and rich meals.
One of the activities my husband and I like to do at dinner is let our children smell our wine and tell us what aromas they find in the wine. It’s so interesting to hear what children smell because they have completely different descriptors than most adults. Your olfactory acuity is at its peak as a child and stronger as a young adult. As we age our sense of smell gradually deteriorates.
“Bouquet” is the total smell of the wine. “Aroma” is the smell of the grapes. “Nose” is a word that we use to describe the bouquet and aroma of a wine. When tasting a wine, you can perceive four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. But when you are smelling a wine, you can identify hundreds of different scents. Not enough time is spent on smelling wine. We are all too excited to drink it. The next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, try to let it sit and smell it for ten minutes without tasting. It will be hard. See if you smell and taste different nuances that you have never experienced from your everyday drinking wine.
Another difficulty when smelling wine is finding adjectives to describe it. Even after 12 years of owning a wine store and countless years of tasting wine, it can still be difficult for me to pull up wine terms like “tar,” “licorice,” “chalk,” “game,” and “plums.” But there is a wonderfully fun book by Bernard Klem called WineSpeak: A Vinous Thesaurus of (gasp!) 36,975 Wine Tasting Descriptors. It is a great way to impress your family and friends at holiday functions and a great present any time.
This season, take time to smell your wine. Happy Holidays!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.