See. Sniff. Swirl. Sniff. Taste.
Those are the standard steps for wine & spirit appreciation.
Actually, mostly people just do the swirl. sniff. taste.
But one should always look at the liquid in the glass.
You can often see identifiers when you contemplate the liquid – the color, the rim, the centre of the liquid.
This may give you clues about its past and prepare you for what you might taste.
I always Sniff before doing a swirl.
There’s this thing called cork taint and if you swirl wine -(especially) but sometimes spirits that use a natural cork as well – there’s a chance you could bury some aromas that cork taint gives off, so I always do a slight sniff before the swirl to ensure the liquid isn’t “corked”.
The Swirl is essential to wine, as it gives the liquid a chance to release even more aroma.
Some people say it’s unnecessary in whisky or spirits … other’s say it helps the liquid to “wake-up” after its long rest in the bottle.
I swirl everything. I like releasing as much aroma as possible.
Take a small amount of liquid in your mouth, swish it around … I recommend “chewing it” … get that liquid on every flavour receptor, and then swallow.
Pay close attention to what’s happening on your palate and throughout your olfactory / nose … all kinds of tastes & aromas will show up.
If you’ve prepared yourself for their friendly assault, it can be a fascinating experience. one which enhances the tasting experience immeasurably.
But that’s the key question … how does one prepare for wine, whisky, spirits & cigar sensory appreciation?
I’m WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) L3 Sommelier so I’ve had years of lessons, experience & practice developing / refining my nose & palate.
I am always learning something new, so here’s a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Let’s start with dedication.
Like the old saying goes:
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
For instance, take a few minutes each day to pull a few spices from your pantry and practice smelling them.
Start with common aromas, like cinnamon, clove & ginger, for example.
Make it a game with your friends / family.
Have them put a bit of each of those spices into an unmarked glass vessel – even a Glencairn or ISO Standard Tasting Glass would work.
See if you & they can identify those aromas successfully every time in a blind nosing.
When I host Sensory Appreciation classes, I’ll use flavourings like lemon, vanilla & coconut.
Common, simple scents, really.
To try it at home, put a dab on a strip of paper, mix them up without having them come in contact with each other and see if you can name it when you take a whiff of each aroma-laden strip.
Class participants were always surprised when they could name a couple of them (blind) but might get stumped on one, usually saying “I know what that is, I just can’t name it” … that’s part of olfactory memory – being able to recall & name what you smell.
Vanilla is an interesting one because there’s many forms of it.
There’s regular baking Vanilla, Madagascar Vanilla & Vanilla Bean.
Each smells different.
In time, your nose and palate will get accustomed to the training and your olfactory memory will improve.
When I started dedicated wine, whisky & cigar appreciation, I was one of those people who went all-in with the aroma kits, like Le Nez du Vin, etc.
They are very impressive kits – great conversation pieces – and they can be one of the best ways to fast-track all aspects of appreciation.
When people ask me if they should spend several thousand dollars on nosing kits like I did, I recommend they try the “home school” method first.
If a person doesn’t practice using what they already have in their fridge or pantry, then they have to ask themselves how likely it would be for them to use a nosing kit often enough to justify the expense.
It doesn’t take long before practice becomes habit and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better sniffer with a stronger appreciation for wine, whisky, spirits & cigars.
It’s important to give credit where credit is due.
WSET kick-started my wine & whisky journey, but there have been many influences along the way, so I want to say THANK YOU to a few:
Diane. Francois. Daniel. John. Lisa. Tim. Graham.
Diane is my dear wine-friend. She & her husband made sure we passed WSET L3 by hosting “blind wine-tasting” events at their home for our class.
I’ll be forever grateful for her unwavering help & support throughout our friendship.
Francois was our WSET Instructor and he opened my eyes to the wonderful world wine & spirits. He was a true ambassador for those commodities … always reminding us to never try to insist what people should drink or how they should drink it; just share ideas.
His immortal words “Always spearmint, never peppermint” … can you guess which grape/ wine he’s talking about?
Daniel. John. Lisa.
I met each of these wonderful people through the Wine Scholar Guild and our friendships have endured for years.
Many thanks to each of them for their lessons & love of the vine.
Lesson on Wine Acidity from Lisa: “count the number of times you swallow after that 1st sip of wine”
Tim is a true whisky connoisseur, so it’s no surprise our friendship developed through our meeting at the Nth and has grown throughout the years.
Graham has a long history in the wine & especially the whisky world.
He’s introduced me to stellar wine & whisky that I otherwise might never know.
Franca is the brain-power behind Cigar Sense. I’m an analyst on its cigar tasting panel.
Franca has taught me so many things about cigars … but I remind myself of these words every day since I first heard her say:
“Aromas never show up alone”
Truer words were never spoken. Aromas are fleeting. You have to be quick to pick them out and sometimes you have to isolate the dominant one. Especially with cigars!
With liquids you can usually go back to the glass; the aroma is usually still in there.
Cigars – that’s a different story. Often that one aroma is at only one point in the cigar.
That’s part of why I love cigars so much. They’re complex & fascinating … and I’m grateful to Franca for all that she’s taught me along the way.
Gary Laden, Susan Fidelholtz Laden, Nic Syris, Will Cooper, Chad Potier, Yvonne Ramee & the entire Smooth Draws Cigar Radio Show team.
Gary has since passed, but I owe him & the team a debt of gratitude for letting me be the Director of Social Media / Sommelier for the show.
3 years, for 2 hrs every Saturday – including the morning of my daughters wedding! – I was handling the Twitter & FB posts, as well as my contribution to the wine & spirits segment for Smooth Draws Cigar Radio.
The things I learned about cigars during that time was astounding. Unlike many of the cigar shows, Gary not only maintained the website but he actually wrote a 2hr script every week so the show was always very well orchestrated.
Learning about the leaf from key cigar stars, personalities, producers & enthusiasts every week gave me a solid foundation for all aspects of cigar appreciation.
It would have been about 2008 when I started watching his Wine Library videos.
One of them was about using grocery items – ie: jam/ preserves – for nosing practice.
It made sense.
For instance, one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s classic identifier is Blackcurrent/ Cassis.
But, how many of us live in areas where Blackcurrent is readily available so we know what it smells like?
I was grateful for his suggestion to just “smell the jam.”
My daughter & the love of my life. I’m so proud of her accomplishments and she’s proud of mine. She’s the reason I continue to grow and learn. She’s the reason I work.
… and to everyone else who’s come into my life through our shared love of the leaf, the vine & the grain … Thank You! Your friendships mean the world to me.