Emily Wines on Blind Tasting Her Way Back to Childhood


Emily Wines is the wine director for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants and the Fifth Floor Restaurant. In February of 2008, she became one of 15 female Master Sommeliers in the world. In addition to maintaining the Fifth Floor's Wine Spectator Grand Award, she teaches the casual Wednesday wine series "Wines on Wine" and competes in the monthly "Three on Five" beverage pairing dinners at the restaurant.

Blind Tasting My Way Back to Childhood

There is something so sensual and memory-invoking about both smell and taste. The language of smell is all about offering familiar items as a reference point. Pinot noir doesn't taste exactly like cherries, but is so much more like cherry than blueberry or peach. It may offer an earthy taste that we can't name, so we might compare it to a mushroom, since it is closer to that smell than any other earthy-smelling thing that comes to mind. An image of the aroma is drawn, composed of a group of comparisons. Smell is also incredibly nostalgic and memory provoking. Have you ever gotten a whiff of your ex's perfume on a stranger? You recognize it instantly.

So often, as I taste wine, a bouquet comes up that brings me back to childhood. Like Chateau Latour; yes, it smells like lead pencil, but for me it is an instant flashback to the second grade. I am transported to the moment when I am shaking the pencil sharpener into the trash and its dust is wafting up into my face.

South African and Chilean wines often have a fragrance of rubber to them. The nostalgic trigger for me is those reddish-pink playground balls. The rubber smell is hot in my nose, as I prepare to die in a game of dodge ball.

Candy generates some of the most poignant flavor profiles. Sweet Tarts are often recalled when tasting a young, high-acid white wine. Sometimes pinot grigio even reminds me of baby aspirin, with its bitter, vaguely orange taste. Do you remember that powdered candy that you dipped the hard candy stick into? Lick-M-Aid, I think it was called. Or better yet, the powdered candy that came in the long plastic tube. I think that all young, fruity wines have that kind of flavor. Albariño has that with a bit of margarita mix put in for good measure.

When I was in Germany tasting tank samples of the 2004 rieslings, my notes were peppered with the abbreviation GAJR, which stands for Green Apple Jolly Rancher. I'm certain that all Gen-Xers would taste the same thing in these wines.

I've had Hermitage Blanc that was hauntingly similar to Banana Laffy Taffy. The tang of wax-candy lips is recalled in Vouvray and Beaujolais tastes like Cherry Hubba Bubba. (I don't think they even make that flavor any more.) One of my benchmark characteristics of Chianti isn't anise or even licorice, but Good & Plenty. One of the greatest wines I have ever tasted, Chateau Cheval Blanc 1928, was like liquid Tootsie Roll.

So perhaps mine is not the most dignified palate. But I love finding the nostalgic references that make a wine stick in my mind. A world where any glass of wine could remind you of your Grandma's perfume, a day at the movies, or riding horseback while smoking a cigar and eating a bacon sandwich is a fine world indeed.