Drink What You Like: Boot leather? Are you f*$&@)# kidding me?

Tasting outside San Gimignano, Italy

“I’m getting notes of…..dried tobacco….stewed blackberries…..nutmeg….licorice….and boot leather. Definitely boot leather.” I’m sorry, did you just say boot leather, you think to yourself. This whole “bouquet” business is a little out there for me. Maybe I can get behind blackberries. But boot leather? You’ve got to be kidding me.

For me, determining the aromas, or the primary smells, in my glass is one of the hardest parts of learning about wine (especially since I really only have one fully functioning nostril…thanks deviated septum!). The “bouquet”, or the secondary and tertiary smells, is even more difficult. How do the masters do it?? Since most of what we actually taste is perceived through our sense of smell, figuring out the aromas in the glass is actually pretty important, even though the descriptors some people use are absurd.

My favorite piece of wine tasting education I ever received was from a laid back, surfer-type guy in a ritzy Napa tasting room. “You smell cherries? You’re right! You smell blackberries? You’re right! You smell chocolate? You’re right too! There is no wrong answer when it comes to smell and taste. You get what you get. The bottom line, the only thing that really matters, is whether or not you like it! That’s it!”

I loved it. I grasped on to it. And thus, Drink What You Like was born in my brain. It doesn’t matter if you can pick out every nuance in every glass. What matters is whether or not you like what you’re drinking.

And to figure out what you like, it might help to know what some of the traditional aromas are in the most popular varietals of wine. Not to impress your friends with your sense of smell, but to help you define the styles, grapes, and flavors that you really like. To help in getting you on your way to drinking more of what you like and less of what you’re told to like.

So how do we do that? Practice. Smell everything. You can’t pick out certain aromas in your wine glass if you’ve never actually smelled them in real life. What do dried violets smell like? I have absolutely no idea. And I’ll never be able to define it in my glass unless I go out of my way to find dried violets to sniff. But that’s ok because I can promise you that THAT specific characteristic is not going to drive whether or not I like a wine. There will be other, more prominent characteristics that stick out to me, and I’m going to focus on those.

To help you start defining some of those aromas, here are some things to keep in mind as you drink some of the most popular varietals so you can start narrowing down the aromas and flavors that you love. Little disclaimer — these are for wines made in the USA, in their most traditional formats, bottles that I think you’ll be most likely to grab off the shelf. Different regions worldwide will have very different descriptors as the wines are made in different ways.

Popular Varietals and Typical Aromas:
Sauvignon Blanc: grapefruit, green apple, pineapple, honeydew melon, apple blossoms , jalapeno
Chardonnay: yellow apple, yellow pear, peach, vanilla, crème brulee, honeysuckle
Merlot: red plum, raspberry, black cherry, chocolate
Cabernet Sauvignon: black currant, black cherry, blackberry, black pepper, tobacco
Pinot Noir: bright cherry, cranberry, mushroom

Here’s one more trick I like to use: when I smell and taste a wine, I try to think of what color it reminds me of, and then pick out fruits based on that color. For example, Sauvignon Blanc makes me think of green, so I associate it with green apple, green melon, and other acidic fruit. Cab makes me think of dark red, almost purple, so I associate it with the darker berries.

So pour yourself a glass, give it a swirl (like we discussed last week), and see if you can pick out some specific characteristics with your nose. Cheers!

What’s the weirdest aroma you’ve been told is in your glass of wine? Let me know in the comments below!

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.