The Nose Workout


As you possibly already know, I am studying for my certified sommelier exam conducted by The Court of Master Sommeliers. One of the components of the exam is a blind tasting of 2 wines. The Court, being ever so thoughtful, has devised a deductive tasting method that I first learned about last year at the Intro exam. It’s essentially  an easy way to break down information into clues about what a wine is based only on sight, smell and taste.  Before I get into tasting grids, viscosity, clarity, faults, new oak- I want to start at the beginning. I need to remind my nose of what black pepper smells like, chocolate, vanilla, the subtleties of different citrus fruits. All of these things matter in the world of blind tasting and identification. They are clues.

A Master Sommelier gave me some good advice; just start smelling stuff. Smell the flowers at the farmer’s market, pick up produce at the grocery store, dig around in your kitchen cabinets. Smell, smell and smell some more. Train the nose to understand that you are smelling coconut and sawdust as opposed to vanilla and cocoa.  The latter being a telltale sign of French oak and the former of American oak. French oak= Old World. American oak= New World (for the most part.) I’ve seen some really super expensive “aroma kits” that are like a smell encyclopedia come to life. However awesome they may be, I can’t drop $400 on some vials of liquid. Therefore, I must do as my Master says… dig around in the kitchen.

variety pack

pantry raid

Berries, herbs, tea, vanilla, black pepper. Fun times. I might next be seen around the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silverlake foraging for wild herbs, picking grass samples and possibly smelling dirt. Don’t be alarmed.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the “Master series.” I am going to break down the tasting grid and then get to the fun stuff. Blind tasting. I am putting not only myself to the test, but my friends as well.

  • Jenny
    January 28, 2010

    I love to do these kinds of blind smell (and taste) tests for friends. This is a terrific exercise for your studies, but it makes a bang-up party game too!

  • my little apartment
    January 28, 2010

    this is so cool!!

  • tracy
    January 29, 2010

    thank you for passing down the knowledge! It’s funny how easily we forget the essence of a scent & taste. I am gonna be sniffing EVERYTHING this weekend. 🙂

  • LivefromTuscany
    March 10, 2010

    Great blog, I just discovered it! You have my utmost respect for taking the exam – I am going to take the Italian Sommelier Association exam this year and I’m already shaking in my boots, I can’t imagine the prep involved in the Master.

    I have the most problems with my olfactory memory – and I guess my memory in general. I remember few wines and their profiles really well. Only the ones that stand out for various reasons. I don’t know how to improve this, and it really stresses me out, I must say.

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