Perfumer Alexandre Schmitt is teaching the wine world to speak the same language – the universal language of aromas. Be it at Opus One in the Napa Valley or Chateau Petrus in Pomerol, winemakers are learning how to describe the aromas of wine with pinpoint accuracy.
Born in the wine capital Bordeaux, trained in perfumery, Schmitt soon made the connection between these two worlds, first starting to work with the Petrus wine-maker, Jean-Claude Berrouet, some 15 years ago.
Wine is aromatically very complex. Its aromas evolve throughout its life. They come from the grape variety, the soil, the climate, its vinification, the barrels used for ageing, its maturity, how it is both stored and served.
The sense of smell is highly subjective and hard to standardise. But this is exactly what Schmitt has done.
Utilising his training in perfumery, he has developed an olfactory reference system which gives everyone a set of powerful reference points. He has identified hundreds of different aromas associated with wine and categorised them into families. ‘I give wine professionals a system of drawers in which to place their aromas’. He uses pure products of essential oils or absolutes (without solvents to avoid any interference) to create strong memory imprints.
Today he offers Olfaction Workshops to wine professionals across the world. I joined one of his courses at Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux recently. Smelling paper strips dipped into small jars of essential oils, we were able to begin the process of memorising over 120 aromas from the different families in a relaxed round-table setting.
As Schmitt stressed, ‘This is only the beginning. Accuracy is developed through repetition. The best musicians spend years studying music theory and practising scales on a daily basis. Why should it be different for wine professionals who use their sense of smell every day?’ Like learning any new language it is an on-going process.
In the weeks after Schmitt’s course I realised that it was not just my ability to smell wine that had been expanded but my sense of smell generally has been heightened – an added pleasure be it at the baker’s, the garden or in the wine cellar.
Nicolle Croft http://www.nicollecroft.com