Identifying Reds Based on Nose

One piece of advice Kevin Zraly gives in his book Complete Wine Course, is that the most effective way to comprehend your own preferences for styles of wine is to “memorize” the smell of individual grape varieties.  He shares that many people in his classes want to know what wine smells like, and he prefers not to use subjective words.

He breaks it down into an easier concept for me to understand when he compares it to describing what food smells like.  When you ask someone to describe what steak and onions smell like, it is difficult to come up with anything other than “steak and onions.”

His advice is to try and take three major varieties and keep smelling them and smelling them until you can identify the difference.  Now, as I reread this for the post, I am wondering if I misinterpreted his advice.  He suggested using pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon for reds.  Now I assumed he meant wines, but maybe he was actually suggesting that you smell the grapes.  In any case, my research involved wines. I kept smelling these three types of wine.


Thankfully, I have wonderful friends, one of whom helped me in this endeavor.  Not only helped me, cooked a fabulous dinner of chicken parmesan and white bean salad to enjoy during the process!  We had a good time testing the different wines and I even had her quiz me in the end.

I’m not sure if it would be considered cheating or not, but I used the looks of the wine to guide my decisions.  I’m not confident that I would have been successful without this guidance.

The pinot noir was see through in the glass and had a touch of sweetness in the smell, giving out notes of cherry and currant.  The merlot was translucent around the edges when held up to white paper and the I classified the smells for this purpose of testing as astringent, oaky and hints of asparagus.  The cabernet sauvignon was opaque and had notes of pine and rhubarb that helped me identify it.  Now I’m sure some of my descriptions of the smells were off, but to me those descriptors were what made it possible for me to identify the wines based on looks and smell alone.


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