Using a wine aroma kit is the best way to train your nose

Wine aroma kits can be purchased or made at home. Learn the pros and cons of each and choose the best way to practice wine aroma identification.

Using a wine aroma kit is one of the best ways to improve your ability to identify aromas in wine.

I have described elsewhere how it is normal for an untrained wine consumer to be speechless when asked to express why they like a particular wine. 

>> You perceive these great aromatic sensations but cannot find the right words.
You have smelled these scents before but cannot pin the words that match the aromas. 

Classical “tip of the nose” phenomenon!

When you don't have a wine aroma kit handy

As a wine enthusiast, you partake in group tastings. Very frequently, you notice that people use different words to describe the same wine.
>> You smell a combination of red fruits, chocolate, and leather.
>> Julie perceived hints of vanilla and earthiness.

What looks like a disagreement may be caused by 3 different factors.

  1. You have different sensitivities to the wine compounds imparting chocolate, vanilla, or leather and earthiness
  2. You didn’t follow the same protocol to evaluate the wine, which may explain why Julie didn’t smell the red fruits. Maybe you evaluated the wine before swirling it in the glass, and Julie swirled the glass many times before starting to smell the wine. By then the red fruit scents were likely gone.
  3. You both perceive the same scents but use different words to describe them. Chocolate and vanilla could be evoked by similar compounds, as could earthy and leather.

How a wine aroma kit can solve divergent wine aroma descriptions

The best way to align your description with Julie's will be to compare what you smelled with some aroma references.

  • An aroma reference can be the actual product you are referring to in your description: a stick of vanilla, a piece of chocolate, a leather wallet.
  • It could be a transformed product like a vanilla extract, a vanilla flavored yogurt, or a chocolate sauce
  • It could also be a flavor composition created by flavorists.

You will likely find actual products or flavored products in your home or source them at a grocery store. Earthiness can be evoked by damp dirt (water a house plant, and smell).

The flavor compositions are also available in commercial wine aroma kits.

One wine aroma kit may not be enough

Whatever the solution you choose to get aroma references, you and Julie may still disagree on the right terms to describe what you both smelled in the wine.

Indeed the chocolate you found in your pantry may be milk chocolate. There are several variants of chocolate (dark, extra dark, cocoa) or variants of vanilla (natural vanilla or synthetic vanilla).

One important thing to realize is that aroma references are only examples of the aroma category.

Let’s make a parallel with colors.

How many yellow paint chips can you find in a hardware store?

Wine aromas can be as nuanced as a color palette

Many, plenty, it is amazing and daunting if you have to make a choice. Yet, yellow is the name of the color category, and there are many variants of yellow color that we still associate with yellow.

It is similar to the aroma palette we can choose from. 

A reference in an aroma kit is only one example of the many variants within the aroma category.

Therefore, when training to describe aromas, it is important to train your nose with as many examples of the aroma category as possible.

For convenience, you can start training with a commercial wine aroma kit that provides examples of typical wine aromas. 

I strongly advise to pursue your training by smelling actual products from different origins so that you can build your mental collection of aroma references.

When you train with actual products, making concoctions in a basic white wine is helpful. This process dilutes the aromas, and you can learn and smell them in similar conditions to classical wine tasting.

Article originally published on in April 2017 and revised on July 22, 2022 by the same author.

Categories: wine aroma, Wine Language

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Isabelle Lesschaeve

Principal, Blog author, and Wine Tasting Coach

Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.

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