Tag Archives: Wine Aromas

A Mother’s Day Wine Gift, from Mom

12 May

I called my Mother to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. She surprised me by thanking me for writing my wine blog!

I was shocked to say the least.

It seems that my parents, nearly retired, have been attending more and more wine get-togethers with their friends and neighbors, tasting and trying new things. My parents don’t care much for white wines, but they have been trying wines outside their normal comfort zone, and recently found a white that surprised them in how much they enjoyed it!

(She has no idea about the post that will appear soon in JvB UnCorked about the Lagrein grape and my sermon-like post on trying new things! Won’t she be surprised!)

My mom explained she has started to realize what she likes about various wines, and how she now appreciates their depth and structure, the secondary notes, the accents that take a wine from the merely enjoyable to the sublime. My mother notes that since reading my blog, now she too, sometimes gets excited by sensing the change in the palate as oxygen runs over the wine held in the mouth, how the flavor range expands and the savory notes can come forth after the initial rush of fruit. These are learned elements that often require serious appreciation to acknowledge, and out of the blue my beloved mother is telling me how much she loved one wine, was bored by another, and noticed elements that were present or missing in others!

From the lady who gave me an appreciation for listening to others, for the French language, for reaching out to those we don’t know-

I was hoping to lift her spirits with my appreciation, but she topped me by giving me a gift back on Mother’s Day.

Here is a toast to all the mothers out there, and especially to mine, a wonderful, warm, intelligent and charming woman who has wowed my friends and family her entire life. On your day, and every day, I raise my glass to you, with love, adoration and appreciation that only a child can have for a parent.

And to all my readers on the anniversary of launching UnCorked , thanks for reading, and may you open a wine that excites you, that helps you love the experience of trying new things.

à votre santé!

(thanks to Charles & Lynnette for sharing the picture below!)



‘Winter’ Whites, Saddle Leather, and Cat Urine

25 Feb

How often do you find yourself specifically choosing, or refusing, to use certain words when describing wine? We often select and refer to words that conjure up sense memory, but there are times I may select a word and find myself promptly removing it and choosing a different approach or descriptor. Several of my rarely-used descriptors originate from the stables: horses, saddle leather, horse sweat, manure, alfalfa pellets, oats, freshly plowed track soil, and variations on these.

Many of these words or phrases elicit negative connotations to me, hence my reluctance to use them. For example, the word “oily”  simply feels negative to me while in the right situation it might be an ideal quality, like a properly aged baseball glove or the expected phrase, “a well-oiled machine”. One of the things I find interesting is that the words may not have similar reactions from others. I actually find saddle leather and gun oil comforting odors, and I have seen people put their nose close and drink the smell in deeply from a leather jacket in the same way I inhale the scent from a luxurious red. Perhaps the odors of the American West oppose the ideas formed during my French wine education?

In recent weeks, I have tasted several new reds, several old reds, and a handful of various wines that I’m incorrectly calling “winter” whites. They are only winter white wines to me, when in warm weather I enjoy a glass of white regularly I tend to ignore them during the cold months and stay with heavier flavors such as single batch bourbons or single malt scotch as a cocktail before a glass of red wine served with dinner.

What words I use to describe the season in which I try a wine has nothing to do with the winemaker’s intention, and a phase like ‘gun oil’ or  ‘saddle leather’ might elicit a warm, fuzzy feeling to one reader and a negative image or memory from another. Interestingly, my intent in calling a wine a ‘winter white’ simply implies I enjoyed it out of my normal season for enjoying the grape, in the same way that I often ignore big, bold, complex cabs during the hotter months of the year, and YMMV.

My favorite descriptive word is “velvety” which I use for specific quality of odor and mouthfeel I’ve found in certain well-matured Bordeaux, while my least favorite descriptor is “cat urine“, which I’ve used unfortunately at tastings for some very high end Sauvignon Blancs. Tasting a vineyards’ $400/bottle premiere cru that has a strong odor of cat urine can be off-putting for many people. I knew something was amiss when I saw it was the only wine, and a white wine at that,  decanted at the  tasting!

If you’re not an avid reader of Robert Parker, you might not know about his glossary of wine terms, which can be a great reference.
What are your least or most favorite wine descriptors?

à votre santé!

A Way To Identify Smells In Your Wine!

28 Sep

Many of my friends and wine associates have challenges in identifying wine aromas. This is a fun article that describes a wonderful approach to expanding your sense and ability to smell and describe wine!

A link to the article is here, and the text follows. Ross Szabo does a great job. Enjoy, and follow his work on Huffington Post!


A Fun Way to Discover Wine Aromas With Items Already in Your Kitchen 

By Ross Szabo

As a person who rarely even selects which wine to drink when I am out for dinner, I am definitely a novice when it comes to properly identifying wine aromas. I can’t tell you how many times I have put my nose over a glass and guessed, purely out of embarrassment. When tasting in the past, everyone’s nose seemed better than mine, like they had an inside secret I would never know. I felt like I had some kind of impairment that would never be cured.

A large part of the problem was that I wasn’t in touch with my senses enough to know what words to use to verbalize the scents wafting past my face. When I don’t feel like I have words to describe what seems so commonplace to others, like most people in this situation I feel stupid and hesitant to speak up. However, all that changed with one simple exercise that anyone can do at home! This isn’t a wine infomercial. I promise.

My wife, Heidi, and I were guided through a wonderful lesson on how to smell wines by a sommelier in Mendoza, Argentina, Mariana Onofri. She made the process really comfortable. She said, “Scents are one of the basic building blocks of wine tasting. People say they don’t know about wine and feel inhibited. Wine is about enjoyment. My goal is to help people understand what they are tasting to enhance that enjoyment.”

Here are the three simple steps to properly identifying aromas. You can even use them to throw a party.

1. It’s important to include a variety of different whites and reds during this exercise. We had six glasses of wine for each person, including Torrontes, Chardonnay, Rose, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. During our aroma ID session with Mariana, we smelled and tasted each wine one at a time. The first sniff should always be done before swirling the wine to preserve the purity. This exercise is to learn the scents, so it’s important not to drink all of the wine, as you will be smelling and tasting them again. As we smelled each wine, I expressed to Heidi my lifelong frustration with not knowing how to describe the odors. Then the magic happened.

2. We took a break from smelling the wines and played a game. There were 16 ingredients placed into individual short, black, opaque wine glasses. At home you could use coffee mugs, or small plastic cups — just as long as you cannot see what’s inside. We passed around the glasses and wrote down what we smelled in each of them.

When we couldn’t identify exactly what was in the glass, it helped to write down memories the scents evoked. For example, Heidi’s answers consisted of ocean, grass, Christmas and other familiar memories from her life. For me, Chardonnay smelled like fresh pancakes from my childhood, but I was actually identifying the buttery nature of the varietal. Smell often triggers memories. If they do, you should write down that feeling. The important thing is that this exercise is not about being correct, it’s about becoming more in touch with your senses and references from your world.

After writing down our thoughts, Mariana told us the answers, and the hidden scents came alive one by one. The ingredients were green olives, orange, honey, chamomile, fruit jam, pepper seasoning, butter, lemon, vanilla, red pepper, pineapple, black licorice, green pepper, caramel, cinnamon and apple. We kept score to see who had correctly identified the most items. You can come up with a fun punishment for the person who has the lowest amount of correct answers.

3. The next step was to go back to the wines and smell them again. For me the bouquet of smells came alive from every glass. Because we had taken the time to identify the individual aromas earlier, it all clicked for me now as I smelled the wines. I finally felt like I was part of the club that could identify different aromas of wines, instead of just looking around the room and trying to fit in or giving up on the idea of ever having this skill. Being comfortable with the words to describe the smells has changed my entire wine tasting experience.

It’s easy, and a lot of fun, to replicate this process at home. Invite some of your friends over and have each of them bring a different wine. There will always be cheaters trying to see what is in the hidden cups. Try to discourage them, as it is so much more important to be identifying with your own experience, rather than “the right” answer. You’ll be amazed at how well the sniffing experiment works.

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