You're certainly not alone in trying to sharpen your tasting skills. Identifying wine aromas is probably the most difficult part of tasting.
First, let's agree on some terminology and take a peek at how your sniffer and taster work.
Aromas are sensed in your nasal passages. There are thousands of aromas; they include blueberry, mango, vanilla, oak and all those other scents.
Tastes are sensed by your tastebuds, which are mainly located on your tongue. There are only four tastes in wine: sweet, tart, bitter and umami.
Does the presence of sugar boost your ability to perceive fruit aromas? Hmmm... your brain could associate sweetness with ripe fruit and make you think that you're smelling fruit.
Recognition of aromas is based on two factors: the acuity of your senses and your odor memory.
The acuity of your senses is mostly genetically predetermined, so there's not a lot you can do to improve it. That said, you can turn up the volume on your senses by knowing how they work (the reason for the physiology lesson above) and how they react to various stimuli (i.e. sugars taste sweet and have a rich, cloying mouthfeel).
So, the area that you can improve is your odor memory; you need to train your brain to remember scents. Here are a couple suggestions:
1. Smell everything in your kitchen; fruits, vegetables, spices.
2. Compare the scents of various foods. Buy some berries (strawberry, blueberry and raspberry), put them into separate bowls and crush them to release their aromas. Sniff each bowl of fruit and see how they are different. After you've sniffed them a few times, try covering each bowl with a piece of paper and sniffing them blind so you have to identify each fruit.
3. Work out with other scent samples. You can buy aroma kits (which approximate a range of wine aromas) or you can create your own. You'll find recipes here:http://www.winespectatorschool.com/wineschool/library/howTo/0,2125,,00.html
4. Refer to tasting notes as you taste wine. A number of wineries and wine stores supply tasting notes online; you can also get tasting notes from Wine Spectator.
Hope that helps, Walt. ??
Anyone else on the board have suggestions for improving odor memory?