What’s That Smell?
Unless you are one of the unlucky few who have no sense of smell (anosmia) or diminished sense of smell (hyposmia) you can learn to be an excellent wine taster. Taste is all about aroma with your taste buds playing a fairly insignificant role in experiencing flavors. Think back to when you last had a stuffy nose. Didn’t all the foods you ate during that time seem bland?
It is your olfactory nerve – the one in your nose that distinguished aromas and transfers those messages to your brain for interpretation – that allows wine drinkers to experience flavors. The sensitivity of the olfactory nerve determines our ability to taste, a characteristic we are born with and have little influence over. Alternatively, training can significantly enhance our skill interpreting those signals from our nose.
There are only a few great wine tasters in the world who attribute their skill to hyperosmia, a heightened ability to smell. Most accomplished tasters possess an average sense of smell, but have studied hard over many years to develop their cognitive ability to interpret the signals coming from their nose. Therefore, most of us can become quite skilled in wine tasting simply by investing some time in training our brains to understand our noses.
There are many kits available to do such training. Most include a set of aromas paired with explanatory notes and images. These kits train your brain to associate an aroma – the signal coming from your brain – with an image that represents that aroma.
For example, the signal from the olfactory nerve stimulated by a ripe banana becomes associated in your brain with the image of a banana. Although this seems rather straightforward, it is not thanks to the power of our sense of sight. Unconsciously, our seeing the banana already predisposes our brain to interpret any signal coming from our nose to be that of what we expect a banana to smell like. Even if a banana is modified to smell like a pineapple, our first thought will be that it smells like a banana. It probably will take a second or third sniff to realize that the something is different about the doctored banana.
One way to get around this bias it to taste blind, meaning with your eyes closed. By doing this, your sense of site does not overpower your sense of smell. This is not only a good way to taste wine – close your eyes when first tasting a newly opened bottle – but works great when tasting food too.
Included in this issue is a representative wine aroma wheel. It covers most of the aromas associated with wine. Don’t be discouraged if you are unable to discern some of these aromas while tasting wine. Only through some rigorous training of your brain can you fully master the skill of tasting wine. Nevertheless, every step you take to learn a new aroma, enhances your ability to enjoy wine.
Barry P. Chaiken, Proprietor
Below are some tools you can use to further develop your tasting ability. Remember, it takes a good deal of practice and frequent retraining to maintain a high level of proficiency in wine tasting. Can you think of a better excuse for drinking wine?
|FRUITS WHITE WINE||YEASTS|
|Tree Fruits||pear||OAK AGING|
|FRUITS RED WINE||clove|
|Red berries||red currant||Nuts||coconut|
|orange blosson||dry apricot|
|linden||FORTIFIED RED WINE|
|acacia||AGED WHITE WINE|
|lavender||AGED RED WINE|
|Fresh herbs||cut grass||truffle|
|Dried herbs||mint||Cork taint||corked|
|Leaves||blackcurrant leaf||Volatile acidity||vinegar|
|eucalyptus||nail polish remover|
|Young white wine||flint||rotten egg|
|Aged white wine||kerosene||onion|
|Aged red wine||tar||sweet corn|