Nosing Around in the Spice Rack
I came across a Portuguese wine at the Boston Wine Expo in February that had a wonderfully complex spicy profile to the nose. From the Alentejo region the Garrafeira Vinho Tinto 2002 is a DOC labeled red blend from a region of Portugal that is primarily known for its ordinary table wines but is garnering more attention recently for its higher end wines. The spiciness in the nose of this wine transformed and continued through the finish, totally captivating me. In some follow-on research I found a number of tasting notes for wines from the region that similarly highlighted the spicy attributes of the wines.
In thinking about the wine more I found myself sticking my nose in the spice rack. What exactly had I been smelling? There was some black pepper, some vanilla and clove, but it seemed so much more complex than that.
I pulled out the black pepper corns, whole cloves, cinnamon, vanilla and even the Garam Masala, the last item more so because it was a blend of spices and I thought that might give me context for the blend of spices represented in the nose of the wine.
Nothing on its own came close. The masala blend definitely smelled more like what I was reflecting on, with earthy aspects to it from cumin and coriander, but a touch more savory that I was hunting for. When I got to the ground white pepper I found another hint. Unfortunately I found I was out of other types of peppercorns, I often have green and red on hand as well, which I think may have also filled out the profile I was honing in on.
The brown spices like cinnamon, clove and allspice smelled too sweet in the spice cabinet form to fit very well. That leaves the wood. It is likely that some of the remaining parts of what I was perceiving would have come from the wood. Depending on how much new and old wood was used, some amount of the earthy and vanilla character would have been derived there. The use of aged wood in winemaking means that aspects of the wines aged in barrels are carried forward and mellowed over time, so it is also likely that parts of the spicy profile might be some of mellowed spicy character from earlier vintages of this wine(and others perhaps) being bestowed on the future generations.
My parting question is this, when you are inspired by a wine how do you relate the aromas and flavors to other sources in your world?