Smell This Wine – is that Cat Pee?


I hosted a blind wine tasting party for some friends and family this weekend.  So, to get ready for the fun, I wrote up some tasting notes for guests and it got me wondering about the adjectives that are used when describing wines.  Some of the flavors and aromas, I totally get.  To say something has a lot of minerality, or tastes like green apple, I can definitely see what you are talking about.  But other descriptions are a bit more – let’s just say – out there.

I’ve seen wine reviewers describe a red wine as tasting like leather.  Huh?  Now I grew up with horses, so I have actually had leather in my mouth from time to time while holding my horse’s reins between my teeth so I can free up my hands for something for a minute (not that I would recommend that as a super-smart thing to do, but don’t tell my mom).  But I have never set out to taste leather, and I wonder why a wine reviewer would have tasted leather.  Biting a leather strap while having his foot amputated without anesthesia?  Or maybe he rode horses too, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but why would he assume all his readers have tasted leather?

Once, a wine reviewer described a wine as having a hint of petrol flavor.  It was in a newspaper review, but I don’t remember the winery or the wine that the reviewer was discussing.  Now this is just wrong on several levels.  First off, we’re in the United States – we call it gas.  And then, who in their right mind would taste gas?  Do you just wake up one morning craving a shot out of the pump at the corner station?  I suppose maybe you have tasted gas if you are siphoning a car, but I tend to think that is generally a criminal activity, and call me biased, but I don’t think your run-of-the-mill gas thief goes for a fine bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the weekend.  Imagine being the winemaker whose wine was just described as tasting of petrol!  That’s gotta hurt!

Which brings me back to the wine tasting notes from this weekend.  Gerwurztraminer, a German varietal that I generally associate with being a sweet wine, was described as having a taste that ranged from apricot (yes, I totally get this), to perfume and bath salts.  Bath salts?  Is somebody not getting enough sodium in their diet that they have to gnaw on a bath salt?  Let me just say, I am pleased to not have come upon a Gerwurztraminer that I would say tasted like bath salts.  Not yet anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

One of the richer adjectives that I left out of my notes for my guests was that Sauvignon Blanc can smell like cat pee.  I had never noticed a Sauv. Blanc smelling like cat pee before, and some of my guests were not “experienced” tasters, so I didn’t want to freak anybody out.  So we are standing around the table tasting “Letter E”, and my mother in law says, “Smell this.  It smells like cat pee.”  And it did!  Amazingly like cat pee.  Of course, sadly, by this time it had been several days since I had drawn up the tasting notes, so I couldn’t remember which wine was supposed to have this aroma.  Next time, I’ll include the reference for sure!

I’ll be sure to blog about the blind wine tasting party soon – there were other memorable moments besides the cat pee comment.  But a good time was had by all!

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