Making Wine Sense: Smell Capabilities

The past couple of weeks, we’ve been Making Wine Sense by highlighting out how wine tasting is actually a sensory experience. We continue to explore our sense of smell and what that has to do with how we taste wine.  Earlier this week, we posted about how the olfactory nerves in our sinuses play such a big part in sensing flavors.

Smell vs. Taste Abilities

Another reason that smell is one of the most important steps in wine tasting has to do with how much we are capable of smelling vs. tasting.  When it comes down to it, we have 6 taste sensations:

  1. Sweet
  2. Sour
  3. Salty
  4. Fat
  5. Bitter
  6. Umami (Savory)

That’s it. These are the 6 things that we can truly “taste”. And when it comes to wine, only sweet and sour are relevant. (More on that when we get to the taste post of this Making Wine Sense series.)

We are capable of sensing 6 tastes.

We are capable of sensing 6 tastes.

But smells… there are so many smells! In fact, we know we are capable of perceiving over 10,000 different chemical compounds that register as smells! That’s right – SIX taste sensations vs. over TEN THOUSAND smells! This all goes back to those nifty olfactory nerves sending impulses to the brain. The aroma comes in through our nose, tickles those olfactory nerves, which ultimately sense impulses to the brain which tells us, “that smells like apple pie – we’ll register that as a flavor!”.

We are capable of smelling over 10,000 chemical compounds which register as flavors!

We are capable of smelling over 10,000 chemical compounds which register as flavors!

 

So when someone says they taste blackberries or strawberries in a wine, what they’re really saying is they sense them – or have smelled them – and they are registering as flavors. Some wines are often described as having a “barnyard” or “earthy” flavor. I doubt many people have tasted an actual barnyard before, but most of us have smelled one. And that smell is registering as a flavor. (Note that “barnyard” is not a negative description for wine!)

Next time you’re sipping on something delightful, think about what you’re sensing!! What are some unusual flavors that you’ve tasted on a wine?

 

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