Have you ever wondered why that wine you had last night smells of blueberry or cedar? Good news! There’s a course that helps us comprehend what we’re smelling when we take a big ‘ol gulp of vino. Moreover, it also allows us to better understand WHY we’re smelling it. The Sensory Masterclass, presented by Fine Vintage in cities across North America, will have you sniffing your wine glass like you never thought possible.

What Is a Sensory Masterclass?

I recently participated in the Sensory Masterclass in Calgary, Alberta. The class took place at the U of C’s downtown campus and was led by one of the city’s most knowledgeable instructors, Matthew Leslie. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more captivating and sensory-aware wine lover than Leslie. After joining the Fine Vintage instructor team in 2015, he completed his WSET Diploma in 2016. Later, he was accepted into the Master of Wine program. During the Sensory Masterclass, he talks about smelling, and our brain’s interpretation of aromas, for the entire 2-day duration. And he does it with innate passion and engaging analysis.

The Fine Vintage Sensory Masterclass covers 14 classic grape varieties. From Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc to Syrah and Sangiovese. Students are given three perfume strips dipped in pure aromatic essences commonly associated with a particular grape for each grape variety. Done as a group, we first analyze the strips and attempt to identify each aroma. Then, we determine which grape variety it’s expressing and then taste the wine. The process is repetitive and sometimes even tiring for the senses. But the repetition pays off. By the end of the course, the analytical method of smelling becomes second nature.

How To Identify Wine Aromas

The unique part about the Fine Vintage Masterclass isn’t that we’re learning which aromas are typically found in common grape varieties. That’s (legal age of consumption) child’s play. The most underestimated aspect is determining how certain aromatics make our brain trigger references or memories. For instance, we all know how a raspberry smells. It’s a familiar red fruit aroma found in many red wines. But without knowing what the aroma is, the process breaks down HOW an aromatic compound smells. For example, sweet (versus spicy), or perhaps sour (versus fresh), delicate (versus abrasive), pleasant (versus pungent), broad (versus sharp), and lifted or bright (versus weighty or dark). The descriptors are near endless.

Plus, You Get To Taste (Really Great) Wines

After evaluating the aroma strips, the class moves to the generously budgeted tasting portion. Six whites and six reds per day, times two days, equals 24 wines! We’re not talking about Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc or Tommasi Rosso, both palatable wines (depending on who you talk to), just not the level you’d hope. We’re talking about La Haubette Sancerre, Patrick Javillier Mersault, and E. Guigal Côte Rôtie. I tallied up the retail prices of all 24 wines, and it equals $1,476.00. Looking back at my WSET 3 wine logs, the budget-per-day is about the same (between $700-$800). However, there are no pre-requisites and no exams for the Sensory Masterclass. This leads me to…

What You Need To Take the Course

Literally, nothing. All you need is a working sniffer and a keen enthusiasm for knowledge. In my intimate class of 7, there were people of all wine levels. From recreational, just-here-to-learn, wine appreciators. To winery tasting bar employees who wanted to up their game in anticipation of taking further wine education.

What You Get for Taking the Course

You get more than a deeper understanding of wine and senses. You also get a nifty certificate (for those that like hanging things on walls). But by registering and completing the course, you also receive a FREE Fine Vintage online course (value of $99-$299 depending on the course), and FREE access to their extensive video library. Are you interested in becoming a better smeller? Check out the Fine Vintage Sensory Masterclass course overview and look up your city to register.

Day 1 Wine Log

1 Sauvignon Blanc La Haubette Sancerre AOC Loire, France 2019 36.00
2 Sauvignon Blanc Spy Valley Marlborough, New Zealand 2021 24.00
3 Chardonnay Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru AOC, Les Paragues – 375ml Burgundy, France 2018 25.00
4 Chardonnay Patrick Javillier Meursault AOC, Les Tillets Burgundy, France 2019 106.00
5 Riesling Weingut Alzinger Wachau DAC, Dürnstein, Federspiel Wachau, Austria 2018 40.00
6 Riesling Weingut A.J. Adam Dhroner Hofberg, Spätlese Mosel, Germany 2020 54.00

1 Pinot Noir Domaine Gérard Raphet Gevrey-Chambertin AOC Burgundy, France 2018 118.00
2 Pinot Noir Evesham Wood Willamette Valley AVA, Temperance Hill Oregon, USA 2014 60.00
3 Cabernet Sauvignon Blend La Croix Ducru- Beaucaillou Saint-Julien AOC Bordeaux, France 2018 110.00
4 Cabernet Sauvignon Majella Coonawarra GI South Australia, 2015 39.00
5 Syrah E. Guigal Côte Rôtie AOC, Brune et Blonde de Rhône, France 2017 85.00
6 Shiraz Greenock Creek Barossa Valley GI, Four Cuttings South Australia, 2019 45.00

Day 2 Wine Log

1 Pinot Grigio Franz Haas Vignetti delle Dolomiti IGT Alto-Adige, Italy 2020 27.00
2 Pinot Gris Domaine Weinbach Alsace AOC, Cuvée Ste. Catherine Alsace, France 2018 85.00
3 Semillon Tyrrell’s Wines Hunter Valley, HVD Vineyard NSW, Australia 2013 55.00
4 Gewurztraminer Domaine Paul Zinck Alsace AOC, Portrait Series Alsace, France 2018 26.00
5 Chenin Blanc Domaine Damien Laureau Savennieres AOC, l’Alliance Loire, France 2020 49.00
6 Chenin Blanc Domaine Huet Vouvray AOC, Moelleux, 1er Trie, Le Mont – 375 ml Loire, France 2002 62.00

1 Merlot Blend Château Grand Boutisse Saint-Emilion Grand Cru AOC Bordeaux, France 2018 53.00
2 Merlot Titus Family Vineyards Napa Valley AVA California, USA 2018 75.00
3 Grenache Blend Domaine Benneret Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC Rhône, France 2019 77.00
4 Garnacha Blend Ritme Cellars Priorat DOQ Penedès, Spain 2018 55.00
5 Sangiovese Podere La Magia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Tuscany, Italy 2016 60.00
6 Tempranillo Blend Remeilluri Rioja Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja, Spain 2012 110.00