Flower Power

One of the most rewarding (and labor-intensive) classes I have ever taught is called “Flower Power”.  I came up with the concept for my college-based wine club, “The Grapeheads,” after leading monthly wine events for basically the same group of people for four years…in other words, I was running out of ideas!

This was one of those times when I just wasn’t sure how it would go; it could either be a brilliant success or a dismal failure. The day before the event I almost gave up on the idea and was about to swap it out for a generic white wine class disguised as a  tasting of obscure grape varieties.  I even had a name…”Let your mind go blanc!”  In retrospect, it’s a good thing I didn’t go with the alternative, and whether through pure dumb luck or lots of effort in the preparation phase (I’ll never know), the Flower Power class turned out to be of my all-time best classes in both attendance and execution.

The point of the class is that floral descriptors are among the most misunderstood of all wine aromas. Not too many people, beyond the modest appeal of edible flowers, fancy drinking something that smells like a flower.  Plus, while floral aromas are exotic and pleasant, in the day and age of the concrete city most people’s closest interaction with floral aromas is shampoos, dish detergents, and perfumes.

Another issue with floral aromas is people just don’t recognize them beyond the basic “floral, wildflower, garden after the rain, or perfume” descriptors.  My opinion is most people just don’t interact with the real thing very often, and when they do it is far from an academic affair.  In other words, most people have not had the opportunity to really sniff the actual flowers and make a real effort learn to identify the aromas.  Most people I know wouldn’t know even be able to tell a gardenia from an orchid in any situation!

To introduce the session, I began with a brief lecture accompanied by some beautiful pictures of flowers via Power Point. I discussed the different floral aromas found in wines, described what wines are likely to show floral aromas, and introduced the “WineSpeak” often used to describe floral aromas in wine.

Next, (this was the labor-intensive part), we had a flower-sniffing session.  I had 12 different types of flowers, labeled and arranged ever-so-cutely in wine glasses for a walk-around sniffing.  I also had some essential oils, perfumes, and aromatic lotions to fill out the bill.  These were presented via a cute little cotton ball in an even-cuter wine glass.  I also used – I must admit – some candles (yeah Yankee Candle Store). All told we had 25 different floral aromas represented.

Finally, to round out the day, we did a blind tasting of some exotically scented wines that exhibited floral aromas.  Taking a chance on this oddball of a class turned out to be worth it, and I was amazed at the ability of my students to recognize and identify those floral aromas! Of course, the wine was delicious as well.

Here’s a copy of the handout I presented that day:

Flower Power:  Wines and Floral Aromas

Don’t worry or leave:  Using a floral descriptor for a wine does not mean that you wine is about to taste like flowers, perfume or shampoo. Floral is style descriptor that applies mainly to a wine’s scent.  That being said, many wines have an intoxicating floral aroma.

It”s normal if find this hard to grasp:  since most floral aromas are somewhat exotic, you are not likely to come into contact with such scents everyday.  Keep an open mind and practice! You can experience floral aromas at the flower shop, a candle store, an herb shop (as in dried flowers or essential oils)…and you may find that you develop an appreciation for floral characteristics in wine.

Common floral aromas that reveal themselves in wine:

  • Acacia
  • Gardenia
  • Hibiscus
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hyacinth
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Lily
  • Orange Blossom
  • Rose
  • Violet

Other terminology  you may use to recognize or describe floral aromas are:

  • Wildflowers, Dried flowers, Dried roses
  • Rose perfume, Perfume
  • Old lady perfume (my personal favorite, and one that everyone understood)
  • Wedding bouquet
  • Walking through the Garden (as if WineSpeak wasn’t wacky enough)
  • Nivea Cream (this one you have to experience to believe)
  • Linalool, Honey

Grapes (and Wines) that Lend Themselves to Floral Aromas Include:

  • Albariño
  • Beaujolais
  • Bordeaux
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gamay
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Muscat/Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • Torrontes
  • Viognier

The Bubbly Professor is:  “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net