Did you know that smell is the most acute of our five senses? It’s something like 1,000 times more sensitive than the sense of taste. That’s hard to believe. Isn’t it? Especially since many of us have a heck of a hard time describing what we’re smelling in our wine glasses. Today, we’re going to dig into the mystery of developing our wine smelling skills.
Much of What We Taste Is What We Smell
Because the smelling sense is so acute, what we taste is determined a lot by what we smell. The approximate breakdown for food is 75% smell and 25% taste. For wine, the breakdown is closer to 90% smell and 10% taste. So, it’s time to develop those wine smelling skills!
Become a Student of Smells
Since smell is critical to the appreciation of wine, developing our wine smelling skills will go a long way in increasing our enjoyment of wine. And the good news is that developing these skills is just a matter of practice and attention.
It turns out that we don’t pay serious attention to smells in any part of our lives, with the exception of really putrid smells. For example, when you eat a blueberry, do you smell it? How about a cherry? How about a banana? How about pizza? Okay, it’s hard to resist the smell of pizza, so you’re likely to pay attention to that wonderful aroma.
But given that you don’t smell a blueberry before tasting it, how can you smell a blueberry in wine? Same with cherries. Same with bananas.
Become a student of smells. Smell every ingredient that you cook with, everything you eat, the belt you wear, the gas you put in your car, the environmental smells – grass, rain, wet earth, flowers, wet dogs, mold.
Developing Your Wine Smelling Skills
When tasting wine with friends, observe what they smell. If they say they smell blackberries and blueberries, see if you can find those same aromas.
When tasting a wine for which you have tasting notes from the wine maker, see if you can identify the aromas the wine maker highlights.
Because it can be hard to come up with words to describe what you’re smelling, run lists of possibilities through your mind. For example, ask yourself if you smell berries. If you do, ask yourself if you smell cherries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries or cranberries.
The aroma wheel originally created at UC Davis is a very helpful tool for this purpose. I recently got updated aroma wheels from Wine Folly that I highly recommend. They have one for red wine, one for white and one for rosé.
Be confident about what you smell. Don’t self-consciously whisper that you think you smell lemon. Shout out that you smell lemon. After all, how can anybody contradict you? Nobody can prove that you don’t smell lemon.
Overcoming Smell Exhaustion
Even though our smell sense is so acute, it can tire very easily. As an example, you are drawn to the wonderful pizza aromas coming from the kitchen. But once you’ve been in the kitchen for a few minutes, you no longer smell the pizza.
If you lose your sense of smell when tasting wine, how do you turn it back on? Smell your arm or some ground coffee. It always does the trick.
I would love to know how you work to develop your sense of smell. Please share your stories here. Thanks.
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
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