Going to farmers’ and local food markets is the best way to discover a new place. The food sold in the local markets represents the climate, the soil, the season, the people, the habits… It’s part of the culture. But have you ever considered it can also help you to identify wine aromas?
I was at the wine sensory analysis class with our French professor, Alain Razungles, who was teaching us the techniques of tasting and evaluating the wines in a proper way. He has a great technique and integrity about this subject. He explains everything was with the rules, all well defined and scientific. However, there was one thing that he couldn’t fully teach in the classroom: How to distinguish and identify the aromas of wine. It needs a lot of practice to smell the wine, catch different aromas and name them. Our professor knew the difficulties we might face while learning how to taste, so he gave us some exercises to make at home to improve our skills. One of the exercises was to visit the farmers’ market and smell the fruits, smell the vegetables, smell the spices… basically everything they sell in the market. “You’ll be able to find all the main aromas of wine in the local market”, he said.
He also suggested that we smell a fruit and try to code it into our brains. For doing this, close your eyes and focus only on that smell. In the following days, try to remember the same smell. By practicing this, you’ll be able to name the aromas when you smell them in the wine, without even realizing.
As a good student, I listened to my professor. I went to the local market in Montpellier that was taking place on Saturday mornings under the ports which lead you to the city center. You can find anything in this market, fruits and vegetables, spices, olives, pastries, honey, jam, bread, seafood, meat, charcuterie and even wine.
Berries, stone fruits, citrus fruits, tropical fruits, dried fruits, spices, honey, olives, and flowers, and even cabbage and mushrooms. Here are some of the produce I smelled on the farmers’ market.
Blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry, mulberry, cranberry… There are many different berries, they might look similar, yet so different in flavor, it’s very easy to mix them up among aromas while tasting wine.
Stone fruits are peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums and cherries. Some of them can be confusing to distinguish, such as nectarine versus peach or sweet cherry versus sour cherry. It’s a good idea to put them side by side to smell where you can.
Lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, mandarin orange, bergamot… In the case of citrus, you might want to buy and cut them to smell different parts, as their juice and the zest smells differently.
Melon, pineapple, mango, lychee, banana are the most common tropical fruit aromas you can find among wine aromas.
Dried figs, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, dates… Drying process changes the aromas of the fruits. Nutty aromas in wine such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts etc.
It can be sweet spices Sweet or baking spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves. Other spices such as black pepper, white pepper, paprika…
Honey from different trees or flavors, or different regions will have a unique smell and taste. Eucalyptus honey, acacia honey, orange blossom honey, chestnut tree honey: A lot of different tastes and textures.
A Mediterranean coast fruit. Black olives aromas are generally a desirable aroma in red wine, as in case of Syrah, while green olive aromas can be considered as a wine default, especially when they exceed the threshold of giving complexity to wine.
Common flower aromas found in wine are rose, jasmine, honeysuckle, lily, chamomile, lavender, violets, acacia and geranium. Blossoms are also common, try to find some trees during spring time to smell apple, citrus and cherry blossoms.
It’s not always fruits and flowers, it’s also important to identify wine faults. Not in a sound wine, but unfortunately you can smell cabbage aroma in the wine if it’s reduced. More than fresh cabbage, it’d smell like boiled cabbage that was left in a tapper for days.
Truffles and forest mushrooms are desirable aromas in aged wines. However it can be an off-flavor in the wine if it smells like canned white mushrooms. Of course, as it’ll all depend on the amount of it and the interaction of it with the other elements in the wine.
Going to farmers’ markets is a great way of appreciating locally grown produce, and supporting the growers. Now, there’s a new advantage added to this enjoyable activity. It’s very useful to improve your senses, differentiate the aromas of wine, and how to keep your sensors open all the time during daily life. Next time you’re in a farmer’s market, make sure to smell the air and all!
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