As you hold the wine glass in your hand, you read the tasting note: aromas of cassis, blackberry, plum sauce and cigar box. You dip your nose in for a whiff. All you get is the smell of wine. And so goes the disconnect between those writing the tasting note and the everyday drinker.
Thing is, the person writing the tasting note probably doesn’t have any better sense of smell than you, he or she simply has more practice. In other words, better sense memory. When an “expert” taster smells wine, they are using their sense memory bank to gather what they smell. If they write down strawberry, it’s because they have smelled a strawberry before and they are able to connect the aroma in the wine with the aroma they once associated with strawberry. You’ve probably had a strawberry before, but may not be able to immediately recognize it in a wine (unless someone suggests it), because you have not had the practice of having to do so many, many times. Learning to assess a wine and its components, like aromas and flavors, are just like learning a sport or a language or a new skill – you just have to practice.
So next time you bite into a strawberry, think about the flavor, the smell and everything about it. Same goes for all food and flavors – the more you remember, the more you can associate when you assess a wine. Some things you may never be able to taste – gooseberry is a common term for Sauvignon Blanc, particularly from New Zealand. But they are not frequently found state side, so you may not be able to stock that away in your sense memory. Some things you may never WANT to taste – Sancerre is sometimes referred to with an aroma of “pis du chat,” or “cat pis.” No need to have that in your sense memory. The gist of the message here, should you want to improve your ability to assess a wine’s aromas and flavors with a wide vocabulary, is to practice! Practice tasting food, remember smells, practice tasting wine and start putting the two together.