A Holiday Retreat - Wine and Scent
When I was a girl, my grandmother and I spent hours around her kitchen table plotting our holiday activities and indulging in the warm sweetness of freshly baked sugar cookies. During the long holiday season in Michigan, few things evoked the excitement of Christmas more than the crisp flinty smell of freshly fallen snow. My grandmother would dress me in layers of cold protection and send me out to forage for a bucket of pure snowflakes to make my holiday favorite; Snow Ice Cream. With a simple recipe of condensed milk and vanilla extract, she brought my seasonal delight to life with a wave of familiar and comforting vanilla.
Carefully un-wrapping me from my shell of wet wool warmed by my breath, winter down and leather mittens she indulged in the sticky sweetness of German Riesling. I would steal sips and swoon at the silky liquid candy. These rituals are still easily brought to mind by comforting smell of a warm winter wool scarf and with every glass of Riesling enjoyed in my adulthood I am transported back to those long holiday afternoons.
What is wine if not a scrapbook for your nose?
Few imbibements engage as many senses as wine. Sight delivers critical information about the age and condition of the wine but regales us with myriad of colors inspiring palettes found in artwork, fashion, and interior design.
We associate familiar sensations and sounds of pouring a glass of wine with celebration and relaxing. The heft of a bottle, the touch of a slender glass stem and the sound of a cork popping all help prepare us to enjoy what we are about to drink.
This leaves us with Taste and Smell, the two most rewarding elements of your wine experience.
The sensation of ‘flavor’ is a synergistic combination of taste and smell. When you cannot smell you taste very differently and in a diminished capacity. Test yourself by chewing a Jelly Bean while your nose is pinched. Can you recognize the flavor? Try it again, but open your nose midway through the process. When do you start to recognize the flavor of watermelon, cherry or black licorice?
I am frequently asked “At what point do you add the other ingredients or flavors to the wine?” The answer is never. The heart of a complex and flavorful wine is a continuous series of complex chemical reactions creating scents unique to the wine through the result of fermentation. While individual varietals (grapes) will have commonalities, the conditions in which it is grown and the winemaker’s process will influence the resulting flavor profiles. Your own personal body chemistry also plays a role in how you perceive these scents, which makes this process subjective by definition.
How do you develop the ability to find these scents and flavors? Wine is the ultimate example of Scent-Memory.
Sommeliers have made careers of waxing poetic about the dozens of unique flavors found in a singular glass. But, it is each individual’s ‘scent-memory’ that drives our understanding of wine. Recent Research has shown when areas of the brain connected to memory are damaged, the ability to identify smells is actually impaired. Let the process come naturally and try to ‘remember’ what you smell: a watermelon Jolly Rancher, a slice of Mom’s famous Cherry Pie or a new pair of leather boots. Open up a spice rack and put a name to those familiar warm smells. There is no wrong answer when it comes to describing the flavor of wine, never let anyone tell you what you perceive is incorrect.
The most important aspect of wine is simply enjoying it. During this season of Celebration, I challenge you to explore your ‘scent-memories’. Celebrate your past while creating the mental map for describing wine flavors yet to be savored. Find your True North wine, your sentimental ‘Grandma’s sweet Riesling’, or make a new memory linking a particular wine to a special time and place. Most importantly enjoy what you drink, don’t drink what you don’t enjoy and bask in the bouquet.
Aromatic Wine Recommendation:
2012 Kuhlman Cellars, Roussanne- This Southern Rhone beauty has found a true sweet spot in Texas. With an aromatic bouquet of honeysuckle and jasmine, the intense stone fruits coat the palate with a honeyed viscosity. The body offers complex herbaceous characteristics and a long finish.
2012 Texas Red (49% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carignan, 11% Cabernet Franc, 10% Grenache)- With a wonderful nose of baked cherries, sweet baking spices and roses, the body does not fail to wake the palate. Layers of earth, leather and cinnamon balance with the fresh red fruit and supple, fine, tannins.