The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2012

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Page 97 of 128

Napa Valley winemakers immersed in Schmitt's Level III olfactory training. Beyond teaching, Schmitt also consults for wineries, among them Opus One, using the same approach to creating a wine blend as he would a perfume: carefully evaluating each lot for aroma and texture and then collaborating with winemakers on the fi nal blend. The Aromatic Universe In a week-long Level III workshop held at Dana Estates in Rutherford, Schmitt's continu- ing students—winemakers from Bryant, Caymus, Cliff Lede, Harlan, Merryvale, Provenance, Red Mare Wines, Rudd, Ovid, Zeitgeist, Ziata and buyers from Acme Fine Wines—spent several hours each day nosing organic chemical compounds and discuss- ing both their properties and their relation- ship to wine and winemaking. "Many of these smells have been abused commer- cially," observed Schmitt when Murphy's Oil Soap was offered as a descriptor for an aroma compound known as linalool. During a discussion describing the properties of the compound geraniol in wine, Schmitt noted that it exists in berries and contributes to tropical fruit aromas like mango in aromatic white varieties and a vegetal, leafy character in reds that can "lift" the fruit. "It will show different effects based on the complexity of the wine," said Schmitt who noted that in red wines, geraniol enhances fl oral and berry charac- ters but if the wine shows vegetal notes, it can contribute to the winemaking defect known as geranium taint. Geraniol is also a metabolic by product of the preservative potassium sorbate which is the primary cause of this defect. When describing a refuted term such as minerality, Schmitt breaks it down to a molecular level: "Mineral [aromas] are more complex because they have a tactile sensa- tion; a smell that is painful can be described as metallic. Minerality does not always come from the soil; when it exists in the grapes, like the saffron character in Riesling, the resulting wines have a refi ned character and fl avor." He cites the balance between mineral, fruit and fl oral components that are essential to making expressive Chardonnay as a prime example. Analytical Perception Schmitt's extraordinary talent and his views on perception go a long way towards debunking the commonly held belief that wine evaluation is purely subjective. "Perception is fl exible, and as we move toward a global idea of smell through olfactory training, we are structuring our aromatic universe. Little by little, we begin using words the same way, and this in turn forms an aromatic language that is the basis for analytical perception. We can objectivize that which is consensual." It's evident during his workshops that Schmitt's ability to focus is unerring and that sustaining focus may be half the battle in mastering advanced olfactory training. Unlike tasting, which affords the use of all your senses to confi rm or refute the aromas being detected in wine, developing the abil- ity to smell is proving particularly valuable to winemakers who want to isolate and validate the unique properties of their terroir. Cameron Vawter, Director of Production for Dana Estates, who has studied with Schmitt for three years attests, "At Dana we're making vineyard-designate wines and the key is understanding their origins and then using that process to make better wine. By identifying the aromatic compounds that are unique to my vineyard, I can work to preserve the expression of the vineyard and reduce unwanted compounds that may come from the winemaking process." I work with objective aromas that can be perceived." —Alexandre Schmitt august 2012 / the tasting panel / 97

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