Wine Aroma Kits

Posted by Keith Wallace

I’ve used scent training for our sommelier training for decades. It’s a core part of our programming. I hadn’t planned on ever developing scent kits until 2020. I started by developing kits for people with anosmia: scent therapy has been shown to be very effective for regaining the sense of smell. I packaged them simply to help our students recover when they got hit with the original variant of COVID.

Soon after, we started filming for the online version of our Core Sommelier program, and I started thinking about creating a series of scent kits to accompany our classes. After six months of development, we had a series of scents that were perfect for training sommeliers.

Key Aspects of a Wine Scent Kit

Build the Scents!

Developing a kit is far harder than it seems. First, you need to have a scent lab that can create hundreds of different wine scents. Each of those scents takes at least ten compounds to create, which means having a library of several thousand compounds on hand.

For instance, to create a realistic smell of a Honeycrisp apple –which is a common scent in white wines– the process is far more complex than it seems. Here is how I create the scent of “Apple” that shows up in many white wines and is included in our “White Wine Aroma Kit.”

I start with Ethyl Butyrate, Hexyl Acetate, and 2-Methylbutyl Acetate to evoke the scent of apple, but to really get it right, I add Ethyl Acetate to mimic ripeness. I then add 1-Hexanol and Trans-2-Hexenal to replicate the scent of green apple skin. And then possibly some Methional to mimic an over-ripe apple or possibly Acetaldehyde and Hexyl Butyrate to make the apple scent more complex and realistic.

I also like adding a bit of Benzyl Acetate to add a note of apple flowers to the mix, if I want to evoke an apple orchard rather than a single apple.

One needs to have all the common fruit scents in a wine aroma kit, but also many of the scents that are only available in certain wine varietals, for example, the grass smell of Sauvignon Blanc and the ginger note of Viognier.

Chemical Accuracy

One of the key details is that aromas need to accurately represent wine scents and flavors. For instance, the smell of grassiness in the aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc is not a pure grass smell; it’s more of a kinda-wet-and-moldy-pile-of-grass. That’s because the smell reminds us of grass, but it’s really 2-Methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine.

The creator of the scent kit has to understand the chemistry of wine to know what compounds create the wine scents. The person also has to have the palate of a sommelier to understand those scents, and they also have to be a skilled perfumer to adapt them into a liquid form. Without these three skills, a scent kit will be useless.

Wine Scent Kit

Why We Build Our Own Kits

We have always preached against using pre-built scent kits, largely because none of the major producers understood wine chemistry, and their scents were not accurate enough to train sommeliers.

Once we started offering online sommelier courses, we needed to come up with a new solution. This is why we build each of our own wine aroma kits by hand. It’s the only way we can assure the necessary quality control. It’s also why we don’t sell them on the open market, as they are very expensive to create.

Combined with Education

Just the scents alone aren’t enough. A sommelier student needs to understand how to find the scents in wine, and what scents they need to look for in a specific wine. There are layers of flavors in wine. The top notes can be delicious elements of fruit and oak that are hard to see past. Our sommelier students are trained to notice the scents below them, to recognize how a wine is really produced. This is why our scent kits are included with a class: without that education, a scent kit is useless.

We have massive success with our kits, and they are now used across the USA. If you are taking a sommelier program at university or with the National Wine School, you are probably using the wine scent kits we developed.

Types of Wine Aroma Kits

We have a core of wine aroma kits we use in sommelier programs, and then many others for specific types of certification courses and wine events.

The Varietal Fingerprint kit is the most widely used, as it’s part of the L2 Online Sommelier Course. It includes all the core varietal fingerprint scents of all major wine varietals. We also have a kit on oak barrel flavors, which is a personal favorite. There are specific kits for red wine aromas and another one for white wine aromas.

We also have custom aroma kits for French wine regions, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone Valley.

Pricing & Packaging of Our Aroma Kits

We use jewelry-quality boxes for our kits, as well as perfumer-quality glassware for the scents. Depending on the kit, they are either numbered or color-coded. Each kit contains the essential 5-8 scents required for the class in question. Keeping our wine aroma kits well-made and focused, we charge 1/4 of what Nose du Vin or Aromamaster charges. We also sell our kits at cost, as they are part of a class.

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