Class: Le Nez du Vin Part I

May 6, 2010

My local community college offers workshops in their “Cooking & Wine School,” in which I just took the first off a two series class titled “Le Nez du Vin”: The Nose of Wine. It is a class designed to help improve one’s ability to identify smells in wine.

They started us off talking about how sight affects our perception of wine, as it gives the first impression based on color and haze. For instance, age changes the color of the wine, which we then perceive and it sets up expectations on our part. They also gave a 5 minute talk regarding the science of seeing.

From there, they gave us a grape wine aroma wheel designed for Washington State wines. It was a copy of what was originally a small flip book, where the wheel was limited just to smells common to this state, and then each page talked about a specific wine style. It gave a brief description, an ideal food pairing, indicated the usual flavor characteristics, and then indicated where they were on the wine wheel.

They then took us into another room where there were 17 foil covered jars with lids. Each jar contained either a mashed up food in it covered with tissue paper so you couldn’t see it, or cotton balls dipped in a liquid. We were to smell these jars and identify what they were, such as honey, pineapple, orange, apple, hazelnut, vanilla, etc. These smells were characteristics of white wines. They had briefly flashed a list of what the options where, so I got 14/17 correct, messing up three of the citrus and mixing up pear and apple. However, if I hadn’t seen the list, I’m not sure I would have gotten that many. They also included four “flaws” for us to smell – acetone (nail polish remover), vinegar, pickle juice, and sulfites.

They explained that if you google for “Le Nez du Vin,” you would find a kit of 12, 14, or 54 vials representing wine smells. These kits cost between $120-500, so this class’s “kitchen approach” method of jars was much cheaper, though not as long lasting since the items would parish.

They brought us back to other room and talked a little bit about smell. They said that the average person can smell 20,000 smells, and wine typically has 200 or more (cider has about 163 aromas determined by Long Aston Research Station in 1975). In order to smell something, the “smell” has to be able to evaporate, and it has to be able to dissolve in oil. This is part of the reason wine drinkers swirl their wine – it increases the ability to evaporate and therefore be smelled. Again, they talked a little bit about the science regarding how we smell.

We then went and tasted seven known white wines and just tried to identify smells in them. There were no right or wrong answers, just what you perceive. Unfortunately, our culture does not really encourage the development of a vocabulary for smell, so sometimes it would be frustrating that I might know a smell but would be unable to give it a name.

Next week’s class will talk about red wines.

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