One of the most useful wine gifts I’ve ever received was not wine, but a Le Nez du Vin wine aroma kit. It came with 54 little glass vials with numbers printed on them, alongside matching cards noting the wines and terroirs associated with each aroma.
When I got it, I was an unemployed recent college graduate and had just begun my journey into the world of wine. It’s said that the best way to learn about wine is to drink more of it, and so I did, but I couldn’t yet afford the kinds of serious bottles that contained something complex and otherworldly.
My new aroma kit helped fill that gap in my education, introducing me to common wine aromas I didn’t encounter on a regular basis like lychee, truffle, lees and red currant.
I’d sit at the kitchen table in my studio apartment—sometimes alone, sometimes with friends—and line up a row with a random assortment of vials. I would carefully sniff each one and jot down my best guess.
Early on, I could easily name identifiable scents like banana, melon, licorice and coffee. But I could barely tell the difference between grapefruit and orange, peach and apricot, or cedar and pine. With time and practice, I got better. I learned to discern bilberry from blackberry, apple from quince, and leather from smoke. By the time I got my first taste of Barolo, I could identify the notes of violet and cherry in it, and I had no trouble sniffing out Gewürztraminer’s telltale rose and lychee aromas.
I don’t rely on the wine aroma kit as much now. But every now and then, I’ll pull it off the shelf and quiz myself. I recently opened it for a bunch of friends and uncapped a random vial.
The saffron vial still trips me up, though it now reminds me of an aged Alsace Pinot Gris that I tasted a few years ago that had faint hints of saffron spice. Mushroom and truffle are closely related, and I don’t always guess correctly. But I’m always glad to indulge in my old ritual again, so I can better discern between the two when I smell them in a glass of wine.
I may have grown as a wine taster in the years that I’ve had it, but to crack open my aroma kit is always a humbling reminder that there’s always more to learn and rediscover about wine.