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?

 

Making Wine Sense: Smell – It’s Science!

We continue this series of “Making Wine Sense” where we determine how our 5 senses are used when enjoying our favorite pastime… wine drinking! In previous posts, we’ve covered SIGHT with white wines and with red wines. Today, we’re moving on to using our SCHNOZZ!

SMELL

Sniffing or smelling wine is perhaps the most important step when experiencing wine. And most of us either half-heartedly sniff a wine before tasting it or skip it all together. So why is sniffing a wine so important?

What We Smell is What We Taste

Remember way back when in some science class when we talked about olfactory nerves? ….no? Ok, me neither. But I do remember talking about them in wine class. (Amazing how much more info I find myself retaining when it relates to wine.) Anyway, olfactory nerves are in our sinus cavity and send impulses to the brain (through the olfactory bulbs and tract) that convey the sense of smell. While we think we are tasting a certain flavor, it actually has more to do with what we smell. The perception of flavor is based on what our olfactory nerves sensed when we took a big whiff of that wine.

Think about when you have a cold and you can’t really breathe through your nose. When we’re sick, nothing tastes good. That’s not just because we’re grouchy, it’s because we quite literally can’t taste it… because we can’t smell it. Our sinus cavities are all jammed up and our handy little olfactory nerves can’t do their job of registering smells and flavors.

Test it out! Next time you pour a glass of wine, first plug your nose and take a sip (while keeping your nose plugged).  Don’t let go of that plugged nose until 5-10 seconds after you swallow the wine. Have a cracker or something to cleanse your palate and then take a big sniff of the wine followed by a sip. See how different it is. (You could do this with juice or soda or whatever other beverage as well – it’s just less fun.)

Wine Smelling-It's Science.

Wine Smelling-It’s Science.

We’ll continue #MakingWineSense to discuss our human capabilities with smell vs. taste before moving on to our next sense!