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Sussing Out Flaws

Wed Nov 1, 2006

Of all our senses, smell seems the most mysterious and remarkable. With a whiff I can be taken back to my great Aunt’s bathroom in Brooklyn with its faint aroma of cold porcelain, damp brick and drying clothes. The scent of pine paneling and concrete always reminds me of my best friend’s basement on Long Island. And yesterday, while standing on a ladder pumping over a tank of Kobler Syrah, snacking on an apple with almond butter, I had a staggering flashback of my last Passover at my parents–the crisp apple and nut smells had combined in the air over the wine to evoke my favorite Passover dish, charoset.

With our sense of smell so often tied to memory, we often forget it is intricately connected to what we think of as taste. This is particularly true of wine, triggering the production of aroma wheels and aroma kits to assist us in unlocking and identifying the subtler scents in wine.

Bane or Boon?
Learning to identify varying aromas can greatly enhance your enjoyment of wine. Throughout our lunchtime blind tastings at Pax I’ve heard some pretty far out tasting notes, like Oreo cookies and oyster shells. Moreover, I’ve been learning a lot about flaws and how, in some wines, those imperfections can actually be favorable. Scents of burnt rubber, canned corn, rotten eggs and sulfur are all signs that a wine is reductive, which can occur when the yeasts in fermenting wine are deprived of nutrients and start to die off. Still, in wines like Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, a little reduction can be beneficial, adding depth and, what some people sometimes consider “regional character.” Many French wines have a more reduced character than American wines, which tend to strive more for fruit characteristics. The 2004 Forsythe Vineyard “The Mason” from Edna Valley is a delicious, peppery example of a wine displaying beneficial amounts of reduction.

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