I wanted to think of a fun activity that would introduce the people who had never been wine tasting before to the idea that it isn’t a snooty elitist thing.
So we played a game, a smelling game.
Everyone divided into two teams, and I was the referee. In the kitchen, I had prepared a few different things to smell. The players were gathered in the living room, so they couldn't see, hear, or smell what I was doing. One person from each team was blindfolded. Then, I brought in something to smell, two of the same item.
To keep the blindfolded person from feeling the item, it was either placed in a cup (which they could hold) or given to another person on their team to hold beneath their noses. On my count, the two blindfolded players began smelling. Whoever could identify the item first won a point for their team. If after about 30 seconds or so no one could name the item, they were allowed to tasted it and touch it.
The idea was to let everyone realize just how hard it is to pick out smells, not only in wine but of real things in nature. Sure, you know what strawberry candy smells like, but could you identify a real strawberry if it were placed under your nose?
I picked smells that were likely to be in the four bottles of wine we had lined up to taste:
Strawberry (grated to release more fragrance)
Honey (placed on a spoon to get it close to the nose)
Black licorice (Panda brand)
Dried rose petals
I think the only smell that the players were able to identify quickly was black pepper. Licorice was astonishingly difficult for anyone to get, given that most people think it has such a strong and distinctive smell.
The strawberries were pretty easy, but the pears were very hard. Neither blindfolded player was able to identify the plum, but one of them admitted he had never actually tasted plum before in his life.
The players who got honey had serious difficulty figuring out what it was, until the moment they tasted it; then they knew immediately.
It was kind of an interesting experiment. After the smelling game, we tasted the wines: a Gewürztraminer, which had honey and rose petal notes; a Pinot Noir filled with bright strawberry and cherry flavors; a Zinfandel with hints of chocolate, licorice, pepper, and smoke; and a Cabaret Sauvignon laden with blackberries and plum.
Just handling all the fruits and other items made me feel more aware of the way things really smell, and I was definitely more in tune with a lot of the scents and tastes in the wines.