In the Realm of the Sensory

Can you train your senses? As children learning about the natural world, we are taught that we possess five senses – touch, hearing, sight, smell and taste. Many wine lovers believe that in appreciating wine, they primarily use two of these senses, smell and taste, with a cursory nod to a third, sight. I’ll save for another time a discussion of how hearing and touch intersect with the appreciation of wine – let’s focus here on sight, smell and taste. 

The first thing we are taught to do with a glass of wine is to look at it. The second thing is to smell it, and only after we smell it do we tip the glass to taste the wine, though I do realize when you are thirsty, you might go right to step three! Which is the most important step? You might be tempted to say taste, but consider this: the taste buds on our tongues can only perceive five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and that elusive savory quality called umami

Taste vs. Flavor

What does this mean in your glass? It’s easy to find out – pour a glass of wine, pinch your nose closed and taste the wine. Without your nose to help you, all you will detect is some sweetness (that’s the alcohol and the basic sweetness of the wine), sour (that’s the acidity) and maybe a little bitterness from tannin. Now, stop pinching your nose and try tasting again – all those other elements like fruitiness, floral notes, spice…everything comes out in your wine, but only when you allow your nose to help. We might say that the taste buds provide taste but the nose provides flavor. And fortunately, we can enhance our skills in both senses.

The Art and Science of Olfaction

Honing our skills in this unusual realm called "olfaction" is the key aim of a class I am very happy to offer this September. WSET provider Fine Vintage, Ltd. has created a powerful workshop, a master class that is not a WSET course but does provide a great foundation for all your WSET (or Court of Master Sommelier) studies. In this course, we enhance your ability to taste, honing your skill at recognizing both the sensory impression from your taste buds and aromatic impressions from your sense of smell. 

How Does it Work?

At the center of this 2-day master class, we explore 14 classic grape varietals and the flavor/aroma profiles associated with them. Then we look at nuances that are enhanced or diminished with various regional and climatic differences (cool climate vs. warm climate chardonnay for example). For each grape variety, you create a "bouquet" of test strips, each with a distinctive aromatic essence commonly associated with that grape. My colleague (and Master of Wine candidate) David Munro and I will coach you in developing techniques for identifying these aromatic characters both individually and in combination with other elements.

Over the two days of the course, we focus on 14 grape varieties, including:

White Grapes:

  • Chardonnay
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Semillon

Red Grapes:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Grenache/Garnacha
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Sangiovese
  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • Tempranillo
A glass of wine can contain a complex combination of aromas and flavors. (Photo:  Pelissero Vitivinicola )

A glass of wine can contain a complex combination of aromas and flavors. (Photo: Pelissero Vitivinicola)

As part of our exploration, we taste a total of 24 classic wines made from these grape varieties so you can learn to identify those aromas in the glass and improve your tasting ability. You will also learn about the classic regions associated with those grapes and how the styles vary by region. This is a fascinating opportunity to dramatically improve your ability to taste, describe and identify wines.

Who is this class for?

This Sensory Masterclass course is open to anyone and everyone looking to enhance their ability to identify aromas and flavors. There is no prerequisite for this course – I think it’s beneficial for all levels of wine knowledge whether this is your first wine class or you are preparing for a tasting examination. It will be especially useful for anyone who needs to improve their skills in blind tasting. If you are pursuing your WSET Level 3 or Diploma or are working toward any of the certifications from the Court of Master Sommeliers, these skills are essential for you.

Course summary

We spend two full days on this course over a single weekend, during which you will learn:

  • Techniques on how to develop your unique sense of smell
  • To identify over three dozen key aromas commonly found in wine by smelling pure essences with expert coaching
  • The traits of 14 classic grape varieties through in-depth analysis of the aromas, flavors and key regions
  • To identify aromas and flavors in the glass by tasting 24 wines to illustrate the above varietals
  • To increase your objectivity and precision to describe wines
  • To improve your ability to describe wines

We are excited to present this unique course to wine lovers at every level of experience. If you are a relative novice in wine, this course sets you on a solid path to enhance your wine experience. If you are pursuing higher levels of wine education, this coaching is invaluable for expanding your detailed knowledge of important grape varieties and honing your tasting skills. You will be amazed how this two day experience expands your understanding of wine, your ability to share what you experience and, especially, how it enhances your tasting skills.

The course is set for September 16 and 17 and is kept small to enhance the level of interaction. To register, click the button below to visit the Fine Vintage Ltd website page listing Miami classes. The course is more than half full already, so register now to assure your place, and to signal your determination to enhance your wine sense!