Train Your Palate with a Homemade Wine Aroma Kit
The back of the bottle loves to promise a world of aromas inside the bottle. But do you ever sniff, swirl and sip in vain, trying to find the aromas that you know are there, but you just can’t seem to sense?
Don’t feel inadequate: sensitive palates aren’t born, they are made. Although it could be argued that sommeliers and wine connoisseurs have a certain amount of natural talent, it also takes a lot of hard work to develop professional-quality taste buds. One way that wine experts train their palates is by practicing with specially-made wine aromas. Over and over again, they smell vials containing different aromas and tastes found in wine. Eventually, these scents become burned in the memory centers of their brains. When tasting wine, they can recall these aroma memories and identify all those subtle flavors hiding in the wine.
Want to have a palate like a wine expert? You can! You don’t need to attend a professional sommelier school to up your wine expertise. One option is to buy a commercial wine aroma kit. These are sets of vials containing the common tastes and aromas found in wine. They are readily available and easy to use, but the scents have expiration dates and they tend to be pricey–usually a few hundred dollars. If you’d rather spend that kind of money building your wine collection or save it to build a gorgeous custom wine cellar, you’re in luck: there’s another option.
It’s easy to create your own wine aroma kit, and you can probably find most of the materials you need right in your own kitchen. First, you’ll need a bottle of wine. You want to use a varietal with a light, subtle flavor that doesn’t interfere with the aromas you’ll be adding, so use something like Pinot Grigio if you’re going with white, or Merlot if you’d rather start with red. One bottle makes enough for about 12 tastings, so get out 12 glasses. Add 2 ounces of wine to each glass.
Now it’s time to get creative in your kitchen! You want to add a small amount of some of the flavors and aromas commonly found in wine. To each glass, add a different flavor–about a teaspoon of liquid ingredients like lemon juice, a drop of concentrated flavors like vanilla extract, a pinch of spices like pepper, and a chunk of fruits like pear. But don’t stop there! Many of the aromas commonly found in wine aren’t traditional foods. Crush a few blades of grass and add them to one of the glasses, or try a drop of liquid smoke to get that smokey oak flavor.
Remember that white wines and red wines often have different flavors. For your white wine aromas, stick with the lighter fruits like apple, pear, and pineapple, and flavors like vanilla, honey, butter, and herbs. When creating red wine aromas, try darker fruits like blackberry, cherry, and strawberry, and flavors like black pepper, cinnamon, caramel, cloves, and nuts.
Let each taste macerate for about two hours, then strain the glasses to remove any solids (like spices, fruit chunks, and chocolate). Don’t forget to label them first so you don’t lose track! Then taste each one and concentrate on how the aromas you added interact with the wine and form unique flavors. Don’t forget to swirl and sip correctly! Once you think you’ve taught yourself each aroma, try mixing up the order of the glasses (first move your labels to the bottom), then seeing if you can identify them correctly. This exercise will give you a better ability to pick out what exactly it is you like about your wine, and help train your palate. It might even give you the ability to impress your friends by guessing the aromas listed on the back of the bottle !