Creating your own wine aroma kit is simple and cost effective

The use of a wine aroma kit (or wine references in our sensory jargon) is one of the best ways to improve your ability to identify wine aromas, develop your own wine tasting terms and avoid the “tip of the nose” phenomenon.

Two solutions to get a wine aroma kit: make one or buy one !

Make one: That’s the cheap solution, if you have time and plan to use the aromas within few days.

I found training for wine aroma identification more efficient when aromas are presented in a base wine, so to mimic a real wine tasting situation. I also found through my research that the training efficiency was higher when references were real products (e.g. real fruit versus an aromatic composition) or were real wines with distinct characters (see Sulmont et al, 1998).

You can always buy a wine aroma kit: There are many commercial aroma kits out there for wine professionals or for casual wine tasters. There are pros and cons to use these kits; it requires some practice to manipulate properly the aromas and store them well. Additionally the cost may be a drawback, especially if you are a student starting your wine tasting training. 

However, if you don't feel like taking the Do It Yourself solution below,  I offer some thoughts on what to consider when buying a commercial wine aroma kit to one visitor in the Q&A section of this website.

I have been working with Wine Awakenings lately. They have launched a sensory kit dedicated to wine appreciation including aromas, tastants, and various tools such as the wine aroma wheel.

Recipes for making a wine aroma kit

Selecting a base wine is the first step to make the wine aroma kit

How to choose a base wine? A base wine is by definition neutral, without faults, without strong aromas, tastes or mouthfeels. The best base wine I found for creating my wine aroma kits are in bag in a box, which mean you also have a large volume of the same batch to play with.

Advice to prepare your own wine aroma kit

  • Prepare these wine references directly in a wine glass or in an hermetic container that you can store in the fridge if you don’t plan to use the aroma reference right away.

  • If you add pieces of products in the wine such for green bell pepper, let them macerate for 30 min to an hour and remove the pieces so that you don’t have any visual cues if you try to recognize these aroma references blind.
  • Use a “control wine” in your wine aroma kit, i.e. a wine without any addition to help you compare the wine without and with the aroma. It helps with the process of identification.

Below are some recipes for wine aroma references, borrowed from Dr. Ann Noble. Indeed, these references are a good complement to the wine aroma wheel.

White wine aroma kit: common aromas

in 1 oz neutral white wine 

  • Asparagus: several drops of brine of canned asparagus
  • Bell Pepper: tiny piece of bell pepper; don’t leave them in for too long
  • Vanilla: Drop of vanilla extract
  • Clove: One clove
  • Citrus: ~ 1 teaspoon of fresh orange and grapefruit juice
  • Peach: several teaspoons of peach or apricot puree or juice
  • Pineapple: 1 teaspoon juice
  • Honey: 1 – 2 Tablespoons

Red wine aroma kit: common aromas

in 1 oz neutral red wine 

  • Asparagus: several drops of brine of canned asparagus
  • Bell Pepper: tiny piece of bell pepper 
  • Vanilla: drop of vanilla extract
  • Clove: one clove
  • Soy sauce: few drops, great for older red wines
  • Berry: Fresh/frozen berries and/or jams
  • Berry jam: 1-3 tablespoons strawberry jam
  • Black pepper: few grains black pepper 
  • Anise, black licorice: use few drops of anise extract

Sparkling wine aroma kit: special aromas

In 1 oz neutral white still wine 

  • Lime: a few drops of Rose’s lime juice or squeezed lime juice
  • Apple: Sniff freshly cut apple
  • Toasted hazelnuts: Crushed nuts alone
  • Sour cream/yogurt: 1Tbsp. in empty glass
  • Yeasty: 1 Tsp of Vegemite® or Marmite®)
  • Cherry/strawberry: few drops of flavored juices or extracts 
  • Nutmeg: few grains
  • Caramel: crush one Kraft® caramel 
  • Vanilla: as for table wines

Wine defects aroma kit

In 1 oz neutral white or red wine 

  • Moldy Cork:  the BEST standard is the actual example of the defect. Save a spoiled wine which has a moldy odor, produced by TCA (trichloroanisole). 

          You can freeze the cork-tainted wine for future reference so that it won’t oxidized.

  • Oxidation: a few drops of sherry
  • Volatile acidity (VA) A few drops vinegar
  • Sulfur:      

                          H2S Hydrogen sulfide, boiled egg or black sand from Japanese food store 

                          Ethyl mercaptan: Smell of natural gas (tell people to experiment on their own

                          S02 Sulfur dioxideDried apricots (which were treated with sulfite)

                         Caution: Many asthmatics are very sensitive to it!

  • Brettanomyces is a wild yeast found in some wine: a drop of creosote or add a piece of old fashioned Band-Aid to create a horsy, sweaty saddle, barnyard smell

Check out the Wine Aroma Dictionary for additional suggestions of aroma references

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