The sense of smell in wine
The nose, the bouquet, aromas, smell… Whatever you call it, it’s a super important part of wine and of wine tasting.
It’s when we use our sense of smell and we call up our olfactive memory.
Sadly, the olfactive memory is probably our less used memory when it comes to senses.
We are amazing with visual memory… that is you can see the difference between different fruits, or even things that are much more complicated.
We remember sounds amazingly well too! Using no other sense, you can hear the difference between a car engine and a motorbike. You can spot the sound of a piano and a guitar in a song.
Touch we’re pretty good at also. You’d be able to tell, even blindfolded whether you’re touching silk, leather or aluminium foil.
Taste, we’re a bit less good at… and the same is true of smell.
This is simply because we’re not pushed at using this sense. There are a few smells you can spot, maybe because our survival instinct is there and you can spot these well.. things like burning toast or gas…
But if I ask you, with your eyes closed to smell the difference between different fruits, things become much more complicated!
Want to test yourself? Get your partner or a friend to blindfold you or just close your eyes. Then ask them to pick a fruit from your basket, or something from the fridge or even one of your dried herbs.
Ask them to put it right under your nose and try and see if you can find out what it is.
Try it. say with 3 to 5 things… you’ll be surprised how difficult it is. If you get 3 or more congrats!! You’re good!
Now why is the sense of smell so important in wine?
Not only because it’s the most poetic and fun part of tasting (you know that feeling you get when you manage to pick out a clear aroma, like elderflower or redcurrant).
But because it’s used during both the nose, the olfactive part of wine tasting and the actual tasting (the part where you put the wine in your mouth).
Your taste buds detect taste, but there are only 5 tastes your taste buds can actually pick up. These are the 5 basic tastes.
These tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.
However, only 3 tastes exist in wine: sweet, sour and bitter. Salty and umami are not tastes found in wine.
What you then have that you might have, until now thought is taste, is flavours.
When you say that something tastes fruity or chocolaty, you’re not referring to taste, but to flavours.
And flavours are defined by your sense of smell.
It’s when your nose instead of smelling outwards, smells inwards and picks up aromas of what you have in your mouth through a process called retro olfaction… which basically means smelling backwards.
So, if you really want to enjoy wine or enjoy wine even more, it’s important to develop your sense of smell, to really smell your wine and look at all the different smells, all the different aromas your wine has.
Most commercial wines will just have one or two aromas, say blackcurrant and blackberry, whereas the better wines will have many more aromas present. And great wines with a bit of age, can really have dozens of different aromas that will develop in your glass. Some of these aromas will come out immediately, while others will slowly reveal themselves the longer your wine is in your glass in contact with air.
So, next time you taste a wine, make sure you really look at the nose of the wine. The aromas you can pick up.
Are there many aromas or just a few?
Is the smell intense or delicate?
The more you do this, the more you will be able to enjoy your wines.
I hope this helps you understand why the sense of smell is so important when tasting a wine, and I hope you try and develop it. It’s not difficult, just a little focusing on this forgotten memory everyday will help you enjoy wine even more.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate, I would be more than happy to help.