A wine class teacher told me you should sniff fruit in stores as often as possible to really register those smells, so if you see people bending over the fruit and breathing (in) heavily, they might be wine lovers. I do the same with flowers.
Last Sunday before going from the Château Mercier in Sierre, where I was staying for the duration of the Vinea Swiss Wines Fair, I decided to spend 10 minutes smelling flowers. There were plenty of roses, and since I tend to confuse roses and peaches, which are more similar than you might think, I breathed in a lot of fresh rose perfume. Ahhhh!
Then I went to work on the geraniums, sitting in the window boxes. These are classic old-style geraniums, and perfect for registering the smell of the leaves: when people say a wine has geranium notes, it’s not the flower but the leaves they mean. I have newer, fragrant geraniums at my chalet in the mountains, but these are not the classic geranium smell we find in some wines.
My next stop was the Swiss Wine Selection table where company founder Hervé Badan was encouraging people to do blind tastings, with a nice prize in a draw. What a flop I was! The first smell was roses and I got it wrong.
Hervé kindly assured me the smell on the slip of paper must be another variety of rose.
More likely as an explanation is that while smells have measurable, identifiable molecules, what our brain does with those varies from one person to the next.
I was in a Vinea class offered to visiting international wine journalists with Richard Pfister, author of Les Parfums du Vin, two days earlier. We sought out some of the less obvious smells in wines.
It was not an easy exercise and I wasn’t the only wine journalist who had trouble finding some of them (more on this later). Perfume strips with the “pure” molecular smells were sent around the room. Some matched easily, but with others, the difference between the strips and what we were finding in our glasses was surprisingly great.
Richard reminded us of a key part of identifying smells in the nose of a wine: we are all different, and we won’t necessarily find the same things. I’m back to smelling the fruit and flowers as part of my homework.