Part I: The Smellening
I don’t mean to brag, even though I’m pretty good at bragging, but since writing my previous installment of The Accidental Wino, I’ve hit a wine drinker’s milestone: I recognized a wine’s smell.
I know. You’re super impressed. I completely understand. I am, too. What’s even more impressive is that I wasn’t even trying to recognize anything. Anytime I’m offered a glass of wine, I simply follow the protocol by sticking my nose into the glass and inhaling the aroma with all the intensity of someone trying not to fall asleep, but failing.
Suddenly, I have a glass of Apothic Red 2014 Winemaker’s Blend in my hand and there it was: the scent of vanilla. There’s nothing more exciting than vanilla! Women love being described as vanilla as much as I enjoy complimenting them that way. But here I was, accidentally stumbling upon my first wine scent. I didn’t think for a second I’d actually detect a note of anything, but here I am, humbly boasting about this major wine/life accomplishment.
I didn’t always believe the merits of sniffing the wine. All this time, I thought other wine drinkers were just yanking my chain, smelling something that wasn’t really there. Why would a drink made from grapes smell like gooseberries? And who honestly knows what gooseberries smell like to begin with? And if I Google the word “gooseberry,” does anything really come up? (It turns out, yes. Pictures show they look like a hairless breed of kiwis.) But those days are over. I’ve graduated to a new echelon of wine consumption that I will forever lord over all my friends who haven’t yet done so.
It was like discovering I had a new superpower. Sure, it’s not as cool as the power of flight or shooting lasers from my eyes, but a superpower nevertheless. And with great power comes great responsibility, so I sallied forth into the good night to go drinking. No wine would go un-smelt.
Part II: The More Smellening
Hey, remember before when I was bragging about how great I am at smelling wine? Well, you can forget all of that. Below are the three wines I tried to smell, and the sad, sad results that followed:
Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro.
Description: A sweet and vibrant Italian red.
My Guess: Plum.
Actual answer: Grapes! Also peach-almond.
Analysis: It’s like I started with a trick question. Way to throw me a curveball, Italy, with your wine that smells like grapes. For your next trick, why don’t you serve me a pizza and tell me the secret ingredient is cheese?
Margerum Riviera Rosé
Description: A light and pleasant rosé.
My guess: Sour apple.
Actual answer: Strawberry, watermelon, rose petals, and “heady Grenache earth flavors,” whatever those are.
Analysis: For starters, I didn’t think rose petals were even an option. Live and learn, I guess. In retrospect, strawberry and watermelon make sense since this California-based wine tasted like summer in a glass, but without the barbecue.
Sean Minor Cabernet Sauvignon
Description: Kinda icky red wine.
My guess: Dirt, but in a good way. Like, nutrient-rich soil.
Actual answer: Blackberries, black and red currants.
Analysis: Honestly, I was two glasses in by this point and maybe my senses were dulled. I initially guessed chocolate, but chose dirt for its earthy dirt-like aroma. And how am I supposed to know what currants smell like when I can’t even buy currants at Trader Joe’s?
It turns out my superpower wasn’t so super after all. I put myself to the test and ended up with grades resembling those on exams from my high school chemistry class. Maybe I’ll just learn how to detect wine scents slowly, over time, in increments, like a chump. That’ll teach me to brag, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s knowing when to stop bragging. I’m pretty good at knowing when to stop bragging.
Zachary Bernstein is a writer and musician who lives in Los Angeles. When he isn’t writing about wine, he’s writing songs as The Bicycats.