Asparagus is a signature note of Sauvignon Blanc but, in general, we find some of the aroma descriptions of asparagus in the standard wine guide books confusing and indeed, in some cases, we suspect that they may be misleading. It is difficult to find a description which clearly distinguishes between the aroma of the fresh plant and the well-known and curious odour which appears in your urine, sometime after eating asparagus.
Many of you will be aware of the distinctive odour which appears in urine after indulging in the delights of asparagus. The normal process of digestion involves enzymes in your gastrointestinal tract acting on special molecules in the asparagus which contain sulphur - and normally when we have a molecule which contains sulphur, we expect aromatic troubles. The volatile sulphur molecules which result from the enzymatic degradation give your urine that distinctive odour and we think that this is the asparagus odour which the authors of many wine books have in mind.
For this particular standard in our Wine Aroma Kit, you might choose to let the freshly-dipped aroma strip dry out in another room for some minutes, before you take a first careful probing sniff. Obviously, if you cannot smell it on your first occasion, work backwards in time (as it were) and smell the strip at decreasing time periods until you are sure that you are getting a clear smell impression.
For some noses, this aroma will be indicative of an ‘off-odour’ at any concentration. The wine world is relatively reticent about the topic of ‘off-odours’ but they often arise in the normal course of wine-making. Be sure that you can confidently distinguish between this unique aroma and the allied but different controversial (often mal-odour) odour types described as cabbage, compost, gamey, leaf mould, manure and truffles – all key scent signature notes of fine Pinot Noir wines.
When you are shopping for asparagus you should be looking for nicely compacted spear heads - they should not be open. If the tips are open, examine the specimens closely and look for any evidence of slime. Also the bottom ends should not show any signs of a brown off-colour and should look as if they are freshly cut. Never buy an asparagus (nor any fruit nor herb) without sniffing it. There should be a fresh mild green aroma. If you detect a heavier, non-green odour (perhaps reminding you of smelly socks or cheeses whose acquaintance you would not wish to make) then you might be wise to examine other specimens.
See our Wine Aroma Kit for more information.