I love going to local food markets. When I visit a new city, I always search for them because I think it’s one of the best ways to know better the place. The food that is sold in the local markets represents the climate, the soil, the season, the people, the habits… Moreover, it is part of the culture.
When I’ve moved to Montpellier to study (M.Sc of enology and viticulture), there were many new things for me to be discovered, and one of them was the local market that was taking place on Saturday mornings under the ports which lead you to the city center. This market was all the time full of people, you had to go early if you want to have the best of the products, but still you had to wait in the line to be able to buy things. The market was starting with fruits and vegetables, then continuing with spices, olives, pastries, honey, jam, bread, seafood, meat, charcuterie and wine of course. You also had a part where you can buy ready dishes; you could buy French dishes like quiche, mussels and other seafood, roasted chicken or food from different cuisines like Spanish, Chinese, Lebanese… In the end of the market, there was a part where people sell clothes, bijouterie and hand-made utensils like baskets, chairs etc. Finally the market was finishing with a part where they were selling second hand books.
I can hear you are saying: ‘Ok, Nesli, we see that it’s a very nice market, but this is a wine blog that you’re writing, not a travel blog, so what’s your point?’
Well, you are right, now it is the time where I will explain why I am talking about this market.
One day, I was in one of the wine sensory analysis classes with our French professor, Alain Razungles, who was teaching us the techniques of tasting and evaluating the wines in a proper way. Honestly, I was amazed by his technique and integrity about this subject, which might be subjective if it is not properly made. Everything was by the rules which are well defined and scientific. However, there was one thing that he (and anybody) could not teach in a classroom: How to distinguish the aromas of wine. It means to smell the wine, to catch the different aromas that you are getting and to name them. In the beginning, I was having difficulty of naming the aromas which I was getting. I was smelling the wine, catching the aroma and thinking: ‘This is something that I’ve smelled before, but what is it?’ Of course our professor knew the difficulties that a person might face with when s/he is learning how to taste, so he gave us some suggestions and exercises to make at home, to be able to improve ourselves. One of his suggestions was to visit the Saturday market and smell the fruits, smell the vegetables, smell the spices… basically everything they sell in the market; in the end they are the main aromas in the wine.
Obviously, going to market and smelling the fruits require a lot of courage. It might look odd to stand there and smell them. What I was doing was to smell as much as I can from the different varieties on a table, and in the end I was buying something from them so that it wouldn’t look so strange! When I smell a fruit I was trying to code it to my brain and remember them in the following days. For doing this, I was closing my eyes and focusing only one smell. In the end, without even realizing I was able to name the aromas when I smell the wine.
By the way, I’ve also tried to do the same in the supermarkets, but it didn’t work. I don’t know if it was the quality of the fruits or the cold atmosphere inside of the supermarket but in there nothing smelled like it should. So, open air local market remains the best option to smell the fruits for the city people!
Here, I just want to share some of ingredients that I ‘smelled’ on Saturday Market:
To me, the berry issue was the most challenging part. There are many berries and since they are small and have similar shapes and names, it’s very easy to mix them up; blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry, mulberry, cranberry… These are the ones that I know that they exist and how they smell. After I’ve started to distinguish them, as a second step, I’ve learned how to evaluate the state of the berry in the aroma. For example if you are getting strawberry aromas, you can further classify as mature strawberry or a candied strawberry or a strawberry jam. That is easy, just get all the options together and smell them one by one, like a horizontal tasting!
Stone fruits are peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums and cherries. To me, the most confusing couples are nectarine versus peach and sweet cherry versus sour cherry. They are quite similar and require a lot of smelling. Again, the same trick of horizontal tasting would work best to distinguish them.
You can have lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, mandarine, bergamot etc. To me, the challenging part was the smell of different parts of the citrus fruit; it smells completely different the fruit part, the lemon juice and lemon zest. This is also why the nature is so unique and incredible!
Melon, pineapple and mango were the most common tropical fruits on the market. Oh, and once I’ve bought a whole coconut but had very hard time to open it. Anyway, it is nice to smell them both as fruit and in the wine!
I grew up with around fig trees, thanks to Mediterranean climate; I know exactly how white figs, black figs and the leaves of the figs smell completely differently.
All fruits can be in there, and obviously it changes the aromas of the fruits a lot after the drying process. Dried figs, prunes, raisins, dates… And also very important ones to distinguish their aromas are almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts etc.
It can be sweet spices (I heard some people also naming those baking spices) like vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves or other spices like black pepper, white pepper, paprika…
Flowers are another difficult issue. Okay, roses are easy I guess everybody knows how they smell. And then it might get confusing; jasmine, honeysuckle, lily, lavender, violets and sometimes geranium. In the case of white wines, you just can say ‘white flowers’ and get rid of the headache but it is always better to be specific. Another hot issue is the blossoms. Of course you cannot find them on the market, but to go around the orchards in spring to smell different blossoms might be the solution; apple blossom, citrus blossom, cherry blossom…
There are many different types of honey with different smells that I’ve discovered in this market. There was a table where you could taste them with small spoons. Eucalyptus honey, acacia honey, orange blossom honey, chestnut tree honey: A lot of different tastes and textures. (I also taste palm tree honey in Chile, which was completely different from all the honeys that I’ve tried so far.)
Another familiar smell to me; which reminds me the Mediterranean coast. Black olives aromas are generally a desirable aroma in red wine; however green olive aromas can be considered as a wine default, like all the other aromas when they exceed the amount of giving complexity to wine.
It is sad to find cabbage aroma in the wine, but unfortunately you might do, if your wine is reduced. It would smell like a boiled cabbage that was left in a tapper for days and it definitely ruins your night if you don’t have a back up bottle.
It might be considered as a desirable aroma like truffle and forest mushrooms or off-flavor in the wine like canned white mushrooms. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, it all depends on the amount of it and the interaction of it with the other elements in the wine. Anyway, in the market, there are many types of mushroom to smell and to buy and cook a delicious dish!
These and many other different smells and tastes I’ve experienced in Saturday market. To finish my lovely visit to market, I’ve always given a small break in the café nearby and enjoy a cup of coffee (another aroma that we can find in the wine!).
There were many other aromas which I’ve experience in Saturday market, I will be soon adding a couple of more, as cheeses, more tropical fruits, meat etc.
Set your nose free!
Thanks to the recommendation of my professor, I’ve learned how to differentiate the aromas of wine, and more importantly I’ve learned how to keep my sensors open all the time in daily life, in order to be successful as a winemaker.
All images © 2017 by Nedret Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.