Drive Italian, Wear French and sip … whatever you like!

OKAY, now what?

How do you fend for yourself? How will you be guided through the rich and sometimes daunting world of wine and wine appreciation? Do you speak Wineology? What’s in your wine cellar?

“A sensory study by Canadian and American researchers reveals that wine professionals, including critics, tend to possess acute tasting powers not as widely shared by the general population.  The findings suggest that reviews in newspapers, magazines and blogs may be too fastidious for consumers unendowed with the biological ability to discern finer shades of flavour and texture. Wine experts are more likely than non-experts to be so-called supertasters … a non-taster can, of course, beat the odds by training”. BEPPI CROSARIOL of The Globe and Mail – March 20th, 2012

So what are we, mere mortals and “non-supertasters” to do if we are part of the 75% of humans that cannot benefit from most wine reviews most likely conducted by “supertasting-endowed” critics and so called wine experts? Are we condemned to buying wines whose praised characteristics we cannot physically discern (and enjoy)?

The answer is not as simple as “do you prefer red or white”? The good news: there is an answer and it simply requires that we become more involved personally. It requires that we become better acquainted with ourselves and with our own senses. Basically, we need to self-educate ourselves pertaining to our own preferences. Why? For example, do you know why you like certain wines and  why you dislike others? The answer is most likely because you have a personal preference for the aromatic properties of certain wines – since we know that we cannot taste what we cannot smell. Ever try eating or drinking when your nose is stuffed?

Cut out: “Your sense of smell and taste are hopelessly and irrevocably intertwined. Naming  what we smell; is no easy task. Now you can liberate yourselves from the shackles, by training yourself to discern the finer shades of wine’s flavour. You can become your own wine expert.”

Furthermore naming what we smell is no easy task.  Many people typically experience that “tip-of-the- nose” frustration of being able to recognize an aroma, but unable to find the word to name it.  This happens because, contrary to our other senses, the stimulus of our sense of smell largely bypasses the language centre in our brains and is sent directly to our hippocampus and amygdala, the sites responsible for processing emotions and memory.  For example, try to describe the smell of lavender with words.

But how do you determine which aromatic properties you do prefer, where to find them, and which to avoid? Do you go out and make it your lifelong mission to taste all wines known to man? There are worse things … but seriously, how do you get acquainted with your taste buds and therefore consume the wines that you KNOW you will like and not what others tell you you should like? Aromas and being able to name them is an acquired skill that needs to be practiced and repeated. Aroma kits are designed to enable this practice and expand your repertoire of aromas … in itself is an intriguing experience.

But merely intriguing doesn’t describe it all … take for instance the story of Mark and Lynda, a married couple who have decided to act on their dream of travelling and touring the world. Both semi-retired, they recently purchased a wine tour package from their favourite tour operator. This will be their first time on a guided two week tour of the beautiful Tuscany wine region. Neither of them is any more than a casual wine lover, albeit eager to acquire a little more casual wine knowledge. They remember feeling some slight trepidation while reading the tour brochure which promised a memorable wine “experience” at one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world and that their tour would visit the historic Montepulciano region and the majestic Castles of Chianti. Nevertheless, they were excited about what they were about to “experience” and learn.

Approximately three weeks prior to their departure, they were surprised to receive an unexpected package. The special delivery, personalized package contained a beautiful black box, decorated with gold lettering. It was a wine aroma kit, elegantly branded Wine Awakenings and entitled “Wines of Tuscany”. The matching black sleeve elegantly enveloped the kit and was decorated with their tour operator’s logo preceded by “compliments of…”

What a wonderful surprise! They were delighted at this unexpected gesture and proceeded to uncover the kit’s mysterious content. The beautifully photographed booklet carefully guided them to discover its content which provided them with the actual aromas they would be enjoying during their tour.  They spent hours nosing the delicious aromatic secrets of the velvety Sangiovese wines, the delicate aromas so typical of the Trebbiano varietal in the Lucca region that they would soon visit. The topical and non-pretentious information on the wines’ origins, varietals, and unique characteristics all served to make them more comfortable, more familiar, and so much less intimidated. They took turns challenging each other to identify the different aromas while imprinting the aromas in their smell memory. They even proudly shared their new found “talent” and experience with unsuspecting family members and friends.

Mark and Laura, indeed, had begun their wine tour “experience” weeks before boarding the plane.  Once in Tuscany, armed with their new found casual expertise, they were able to proudly ask more pertinent questions without the apprehension of looking “silly”. They took away so much more from the experience and from the sessions given by the different wine makers. Their entire experience was more relaxed, informative and so much more enjoyable.

Indeed, their Tuscany experience still lingers so deliciously and so aromatically. They are already planning their next wine tour of …

A few years ago, Wine Awakenings, a small Canadian company made up mainly of wine professionals dedicated to enhancing everyone’s enjoyment of wine, introduced a series of new interactive and user friendly version of an age-old wine apprenticeship tool called wine aroma kits.  Used previously almost exclusively by oenologists and sommeliers, wine aroma kits are designed to train and sharpen your olfactory system (your scent memory bank) to discern the specific aromatic properties of any wine.  The Wine Awakenings version now includes a beautiful information booklet, aroma vials which define the 12 most prevalent aromas for the varietal, matching trivia cards and a personal taste profile pad which records your defined taste preferences so that you KNOW what you like and can start buying wines YOU prefer, instead of what others (probably supertasters) tell you you should buy.  The kits are produced entirely in Canada and are by the most popular wine varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), generic “red wines” or “white wines”, Wine Faults…and the newest of all: the world’s first and only White Icewine kit.

Now you can liberate yourselves from the shackles, by training yourself to discern the finer shades of wine’s flavour. You can proclaim yourself as your “own wine expert”.

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