I have such a deficient sense of smell that I no longer feel confident that I would be able to identify a gas leak or a fire in our home; my brain may process it as “birthday” or “sunset” and I will die. Of this I am convinced.
Case in point.
Carrie and I are taking a wine class. For $69, we spend our Tuesday nights at the Elmaro Winery in the MiddleOfNowhere, Wisconsin, learning about the process of making wine, how to taste wine, how to pair wine, wine, wine, wine. It is taught by an outstanding woman named Laura whose passion for this subject (and the immense amount of chemistry that goes into this subject) is infectious and lovely. We are having a blast.
However, week two was a complete and abject failure. Week two was to test our ability to identify the “aroma” and the “bouquet” of the wine. The aroma, from my understanding, is the grapes used. The bouquet is whatever other smells are included in the wine. A rudimentary understanding of these concepts is necessary to be really good at wine tasting.
I do not have a rudimentary understanding of these concepts.
The challenge was thrown down in this format: 20 glasses of white wine and 20 glasses of red wine were set on multiple tables in the classroom we use. We had a notebook and moved from glass to glass, sniffing the wine in the special way we had been taught, and then writing down the thoughts that came to us. She said she spiked them strongly (we were not to taste them for fear of us throwing up) and we may not be able to identify what exactly the smell was, but we should allow our minds to give us the comparison it made. Fine. All well and good.
We started with the whites.
The whites are mostly fruity and I can identify probably six or seven fruits if they are shown to me. I can only identify grapefruit by smell for whatever reason (and I am a person who can eat my own weight in raspberry jelly). So I nailed the hell out of the grapefruit sniff test. The others were a little more of a struggle.
For instance, #2 was “easy” to identify for most people. “Green pepper,” they all offered when we went through what we had written down. Now, I knew mine was wrong and for the first time in my academic life, I found myself praying that she would not call on me. Alas, it came time for me to share.
“I smelled turkey,” I said. “But maybe it’s an association thing?” I offered looking at my wife. “Do you put green pepper in our turkey meals?”
“No, you weirdo,” she responded from across the room. People with functioning noses are so condescending.
The good thing about #2 was that someone ELSE in the room had written down turkey. We are now bonded forever in the land of SniffIssues. This made me feel better. Maybe I wasn’t so awful and others were going to have similar confusions to me. That would be wonderful! It would be a nice change of pace to have people share my issues.
I was able to identify the vinegar spike pretty easily because that’s what Carrie cleans our coffee maker with. So my mind did not register “vinegar” as quickly as “Carrie being frustrated with the speed of our coffee maker” but I got there in the end.
One wine was spiked with pineapple. About 90% of the class got pineapple. I had written down “sweat” on my sheet of paper. So close.
Next came the reds. Dear god the reds.
Now I love red wine. Given the option, I will almost always choose a red unless I am out and eating fish. But at home, we drink (expensive) red wine almost exclusively because we are L.I.N.K.s (lesbian incomes, no kids) and spend our money on ridiculous things. I thought maybe I’d be better at the reds.
So the first one had some grains floating around the glass making it look horribly disgusting but seemingly identifiable. “Coffee,” everyone said and she laughed, joking that the coffee grounds maybe helped with that.
Well, it didn’t help me. I wrote down cigar. I have never smoked a cigar nor am I ever around them. I drink coffee every single morning. This obviously makes sense.
The next one was chocolate. I got chocolate. I was gonna get on a roll, I could feel it.
I did not.
#8 was one that everyone sniffed and nodded knowingly. I looked forward to #8. I got there and took a big whiff of it exactly as I had been taught and absolutely not a single thing registered in my brain. It is not a quiet mind I have, but this was empty chalkboard level of nothingness. I smelled again. Finally, a faint picture appeared in my brain. A coconut tree on a beach. Mind you, I have never seen a coconut tree on a beach, but this is OBVIOUSLY what the smell was. Of course everyone got that but me. They’d all been to beaches, I thought.
As we were going through the answers, I waited patiently for #8 and when we arrived at it, 99% of the class shouted out “Black pepper” and nodded, happy with themselves as students and pleased with their functioning noses. I mumbled, “Or coconut,” loud enough for the teacher to hear. She legitimately burst out laughing. Always a good sign.
#13 was cinnamon. I was sure it was cinnamon. Positive. And the answer was cloves so it really was close enough. I wrote down half a point on my paper for being remotely right.
Another component of this test was that we were to not make any faces or sounds upon sniffing the wines (which really limited my ability to cheat). So I got to #16 and immediately, audibly gagged upon smelling it. It was so bad, I refused to go back for an extra sniff. I wanted nothing to do with that wine and wrote down “mold” on my sheet of paper.
#16 was raspberry jam. Y’know, that stuff I can eat my weight in and have a song for while I slather it on my toast. My god.
Going back a couple, #14 smelled like cinnamon, too. She had warned us that sometimes a powerful bouquet will impact the wine you smell after it. But I couldn’t get past the cinnamon. This sparked a picture of Christmas at my parents’ house where Mom often lights cinnamon candles. Therefore, I wrote down “Christmas” on my sheet of paper.
The class had a really difficult time with this one (YAY OTHER PEOPLE’S STRUGGLES!) and I felt confident in my “Christmas” answer. I even offered it up to write on the board, loud and proud. I thought it even sounded like a deep and meaningful observation. “A wine so wonderful it was spiked with Christmas.”
The answers were wide ranging and she waited until every last person had offered up their answer. Then she smiled at us in the way you smile at a child who wants you to look at the mud he just picked up and wants you to be impressed with. “Nice, but no.”
“The answer is Band-Aid,” she said. “I soaked a band aid in the glass for an hour or so.”
Christmas. Band aid. What the hell is wrong with me?
When I told my mother this story, she laughed and then looked at me. “Seriously, was your childhood that bad?”
“No,” I replied, “but did I get injured a lot on holidays?”
These are the things wine class makes you wonder. I recommend it for everyone.