In February, winemaker Clarissa Nagy and I attended Alexandre Schmitt's Olfaction Seminar in Napa. She had seen him do a short presentation previously, and told me she learned more in that few minutes as a winemaker than any other seminar. We signed up as soon as we could.
I'm going to brag a little here: Clarissa and I have amazingly detailed and exact palates. When we taste together, we both pick up minute details that most people wouldn't, and since we're both foodies, too, we love to use analogies and make pairings as we do so. In fact, I would put our palates against those of almost anyone in the county as far as identifying flavors and nuances in wine. The cool thing is, the two of us work well together because we pick up different things. Because I cook so much, my knack for noting spices and savory food flavors is impeccable, whereas her strengths are unparalleled in flowers and fruits. Seriously, she nails it almost every time, even if she's unsure. It's remarkable.
Through two days of building a sensory library, which included scents from oils of specific things but also certain chemical compounds that are found in wine, our noses were exhausted. But it was intriguing, and left us wanting more. We committed to meeting once a month to do more sensory evaluation, and made that happen recently.
Even smelling some of the same scents you've smelled before is challenging: they fade or become more concentrated, and smelling them in a different environment changes everything. Your mood or what you had for breakfast affects it, too. We take over the VIP room and surround ourselves with 300 tiny pieces of paper, each with a different scent, and talk like geeks. "Is it resiny?" she'll ask. "Definitely dry and woody," I'll respond. It goes on like this until we get tired, usually about an hour.
All in a day's work, for sure.