Let wine consultant and expert, Alex Berry, awaken your senses.
Taste and smell, texture and memory – what role do they play when it comes to wine?
Let’s look at our sense of smell. What do you love most about freshly-ground coffee: is it just the taste or is it the smell that makes it worthwhile getting out of the bed on Monday mornings? What about fried bacon – is it the salty flavour, the crisp texture, or the wonderful savoury smell?
I’m guessing you’ve answered this one already. Life would be pretty dull if what we drank or ate had no smell. How do you tell if toast is burning, or if the dog has rolled in something? One sniff and you know if it’s sweet or savoury. Too many of us take it for granted and we only notice it when it’s not there.
Our sense of smell can detect some 10,000 different scents, even concentrations as low as one part in 10,000 are sufficient for us to detect aromas. The part of the brain that holds the key to flavours and scents is the olfactory bulb – smells reach it via the receptors in the nose, of which there are about 1,000. You can detect smells without actually sniffing something, because the retronasal passage at the back of the throat carries volatile smells up to where the receptors in your nose can spot them.
Now let’s look at tastebuds. Your tastebuds can tell which of the four primary flavours – saltiness, sweetness, bitterness or acidity – are present. Bitterness, saltiness and acidity are qualities that don’t have smells, and bitterness and acidity are crucial pieces of information about wine. So, smell alone is not sufficient to tell you all you need to know about a wine.
Then we come to texture, which you can only detect in the mouth. Is the wine rich and full of dry tannins like strong black tea? Or is it thin like water? Is it sparkling? Does it give you a burning sensation of very high alcohol? All these relate to what we call the “mouth feel” of the wine, and can only be determined by taking a mouthful of wine, which is vital to your overall impression and judgment of the wine.
Smells and taste are two of the most powerful aides to memory we have. Remembering smells and flavours is part of learning to taste wine. A good memory is always an advantage. Some wine tasters’ descriptions of wine may seem a little farfetched or romantic. It could be they are in the habit of remembering and noticing smells more than others are. I guess I’m guilty of that too.
The smell or aromas of wine are sometimes complex and composed of many different compounds, so if you can’t smell what others do, don’t worry – you’ll pick it up with practice. It’s a personal thing and every person is different. Just enjoy the experience and use the back label of the wine to give you an idea of what to look for in it. It’s always a good start.
Article featured in Shepparton News, April 2011.