When tasting wine, we smell more than we taste.
Published April 1, 2021
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.
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 :
Yes, that’s how you detect aroma through the nose, but by an indirect route, called retronasal passage. [see figure 1]
That’s a lot to take on, and it’s easy to be confused. So how can you distinguish between all these sensations?
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.
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 perceptions can become quickly overwhelming.
They include physical sensations such as:
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.
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.
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
The more you practice, the easier it will be. Soon enough, you won’t need to squeeze!
Every time you drink a glass of wine or another flavored beverage, practice the 5 Ss technique for the next week.
Let me know how you are doing below or by tagging me on Instagram (@winetastingdemystified).
Categories: wine aroma, Best practices
Principal, Blog author, and Wine Tasting Coach
Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.
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