February 24, 2016
Cat's pee and other fine wine aromas
In ''wine speak'' there are numerous ways to describe the nose of a wine; you are prone to hear the use of words like herbs, berries, citrus, roses, nuts and others.
Ann C. Noble, a sensory chemist and retired professor from UC Davis, invented the ''Aroma Wheel'' which is designed to help wine drinkers to identify and describe the scents they experience when they hold a glass of wine to their noses. It is sold directly on Ann's website winearomawheel.com for $8.25 including taxes and shipping. Quite useful.
The Aroma Wheel has a word for over 80 different aromas, most of them quite appealing, but there are others (not all of them on the wheel) which most folks would find disturbing in the context of wine.
One such term is petrol (British for gasoline). A ''petrol nose'' can be found in some some good Rieslings that have aged for a few years - and it is actually desirable!
While we are on petroleum derivates, tar is another one that can be found in dark red wines such as Nebbiolo and Malbec.
Wet dog is a sure sign that your wine is corked. Return wine to sender.
In my opinion the top of the bizarre aroma descriptors is cat's pee, a scent found primarily in Sauvignon Blanc and caused by a chemical compound called p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one. ''Pipi de chat'', as the French call it, is an aroma apparently quite desirable, particularly in Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand.
There are other weird scent descriptions out there, and you can find many by visiting the websites listed below.
As a Winedabbler, more often than not, I tend to use a more simple analytical technique: I smell the wine and will detect within seconds if I like it or not.