Let me explain. A critical part of wine tasting is the getting to know the different smell or aromas in the wine. It sounds easy enough to say it, but it is actually the most intimidating part of wine tasting as most people feel that they should smell the kind of aromas that most people talk about in the western wine journals. This is where many tasters become confused and feel inadequate when they are unable to say the right words about the wine.
In my approach, I have come to realize that relating to a particular aroma in a wine is dependent on the taster's familiarity with that aroma. Just imagine someone saying that a Cabernet Sauvignon smells or tastes like black currants (something one hears very often as as description in western notes). If the taster has never experienced the smell or taste of blackcurrants, it may actually make the taster think of wine tasting as a something reserved for those who can identify the standard aromas - this is a common problem and one that begs to be clarified and made easier.
You can guess where I'm going with this. The taster's aroma and flavour profiles are based on years of exposure to products that are indigenous to where the taster comes from. Thus, if one grows up familiar with the smell or taste of a ripe Tamarind fruit (commonly found in tropical countries), the taster will recognize the fruit's aroma and flavour in certain wines, especially with many Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia, while a western influenced taster will not.
In the hundreds of wine tasting events I have attended, I have always used atypical reference points that differ from my colleagues from Europe and North America. This is not to say that mine is better than theirs. I simply use my own aroma/flavour wheel memory bank based on my past exposure to products some of which are not readily available where they come from. In the end, we all agree as to the style and level of quality of a wine, despite the different aromas we may find according to our individual references.
As I spend most of my time in Hong Kong, I am continually bombarded by competing aromas as I walk the many streets where one finds endless varieties of fruits, meat and fish (fresh and dried) stalls of varying aromas, spices and smoke from restaurants' kitchens, etc. One's nose become so overwhelmed by these aromas that you either love or hate them. My Burgundy winemaker came to see me last February and was fascinated by this complex set of aromas which vary according to where were passing by. To him, this was an experience that he can never have in Beaune.
Which brings me down to this conclusion: consider yourself lucky if you grew up in such an environment. Here's why. Unlike the North American environment where exotic aromas and food flavours are rarely evident in public, those living in places like Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Morocco, India, etc.. actually have a more acute sense of smell and taste based on years of exposure to more complex aromas and flavours. As such, one can see an advantage in terms of appreciating wine without having to rely on western references.
When I taste wines, I discover aromas and flavours that the producer has never even heard of or experienced. This is my advantage, and you can have yours, too. As an example, I once tasted a very good Faugéres from a small producer. My immediate reaction to the aroma was green papaya. Now imagine the look on this producer when I said it. Try doing it the next time you open a new bottle of wine and use your own aroma and flavour wheel reference. You will be pleasantly surprised and it will change the way you taste wines..for the better.
Leo J. Baduria