ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

What’s your opinion of wine tasting and aroma kits? Can they help?

—Lisa D., Putnam Valley, N.Y.

Dear Lisa,

I think a wine aroma kit is a good way to help build and train your memory bank and vocabulary of aromas. I don’t think it’s as good or strong as your own memories and associations with actual things like herbs, flowers, fruits and spices. You should be taking the opportunity to really get out there and taste and smell lots of things so that you’re able to identify the notes you’re picking up. If you aren’t familiar with the difference between a raspberry and a blackberry, you should be eating raspberries and blackberries, not investing in an aroma kit (unless you happen to live in a place where raspberries and blackberries are hard to find).

These kits are particularly helpful to identify notes you may have never experienced. In particular, I find the ones that focus on a wine’s faults very helpful. For example, the wine contaminant TCA is described many different ways—I say “damp cement,” someone else says “wet cardboard,” a third person might just say “musty.” But no matter how you describe it, once you get that aroma in your head, it’s much easier to pick out when you come across it later.

Some complaints about aroma kits are that they can be pricey, and some of them have really faint, barely discernable aromas. However, it can be fun to pull them out while nosing a wine glass, to see what you discover. And you could always make your own aroma kit.

—Dr. Vinny


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