How to disentangle aromatic components from the rest when tasting wine with this simple technique

When tasting wine, we smell more than we taste.

Published April 1, 2021


Your sense of smell is more important in tasting wine than you may realize. 

Let me share Mike’s ah-ah moment after completing my class on wine aroma perception.

“So, Professor, when I tell you I taste red fruits in wine, I should say, I smell red fruits in my mouth, right?”

Yes, your sense of smell is the most important of your five senses when it comes to enjoying food and wine. This realization often comes as a troubling truth when I share this fact in a conversation.


Traditional emphasis is on taste not smell

The wine language gives more prominence to the sense of taste or the palate. This bony structure separates our mouth cavity from our nose cavities.

The fact is that once the wine is in your mouth, much information start bombarding your brain :

  • the taste buds,
  • the somaesthetics receptors reacting to feelings on your mucosae, your palate, and gums,
  • the trigeminal nerve responding to irritation, and
  • the olfactory receptors, which capture the aromatic compounds.

Yes, that’s how you detect aroma through the nose, but by an indirect route, called retronasal passage. [see figure 1]

Olfactory pathways
Figure 1: The two olfactory pathways


That’s a lot to take on, and it’s easy to be confused. So how can you distinguish between all these sensations?


Why is tasting wine so confusing?

As I eluded to above, you experience multiple sensations once you sip wine and let it sit for a few seconds in your mouth.

Your brain pays attention to the strongest sensations, identifies the familiar. Basic taste, tactile sensations, and other feelings in your mouth tend to come up first.


Basic tastes

Wine tastes include sourness, sweetness, and bitterness.

A sour wine will trigger abundant and fluid saliva, while it will be thicker and still plentiful for a sweet wine.

You usually perceive bitterness after swallowing, on the back of the tongue or in the larynx.

Occasionally you may perceive some saltiness, never umami to my knowledge.


Mouthfeel

Mouthfeel perceptions can become quickly overwhelming. 

They include physical sensations such as:

  • temperature (e.g.cold/warm), 
  • irritation (e.g.pungent, burning), 
  • viscosity (e.g. fluid, syrupy), 
  • or astringency (dryness).


So, what about aromas?

Would you agree that describing wine aromas after smelling a glass of wine is an easier task than after sipping the wine?

Aromatic perceptions are usually not as dominant as the taste and mouthfeel sensations. 

They can also evolve quickly. You get the lemon zest, then pineapple, then pear. 

In contrast, taste and mouthfeel sensations intensify slowly.

Therefore you need to make a conscious effort to appreciate the retronasal perceptions.


How do you disentangle wine aromas from the rest?

The solution is simple but not elegant, I reckon. The good news is the more you practice this trick, the more aware you become of retronasal aromatic perceptions.


Tasting wine with the revised five S’s: Squeeze, Sip, Savor, Smell, and Swallow

1-Squeeze gently your nose

2-Sip: Take a sip of wine

3-Savor: assess the basic tastes and mouthfeel sensations. No volatile compounds can reach your olfactory receptors since you can’t breathe through your nose (pinched) or mouth (closed).

4-Smell: un-pinch your nose, and you can breathe. The aromatic compounds reach your nose through the indirect route; you can now focus your attention on the aromas and try to identify them.

5-Swallow or spit out: your preference



These five steps happen within less than a minute.

The more you practice, the easier it will be. Soon enough, you won’t need to squeeze!


It’s now time to take action.


Here is your assignment:

Every time you drink a glass of wine or another flavored beverage, practice the 5 Ss technique for the next week.


Share your experience

Let me know how you are doing below or by tagging me on Instagram (@winetastingdemystified).



Cheers!

Categories: wine aroma, Best practices