Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Losing By A Nose

Wine is a spectacular sensory experience. Sight, smell, taste, touch…it’s all there except for sound. (I’m not counting hallucinations.)

But there’s one sense that’s pre-eminent for wine appreciation: smell. Without aromas and flavours (and we smell flavours, we don’t taste them), wine is stripped of much sensory pleasure.

The dread of losing that sense of smell, even temporarily because of illness, was the cause of nightmares for many students in our sommelier program, where blind tastings were part of every examination, and examinations seem to come around every 2 weeks.

That dread has come back to me over the past few days as I impatiently fight my way through a nasty end-of-summer cold, with a complete loss of the sense of smell.

The cliché seems to be true, though: loss of one sense heightens the others. (Yes, I’m still drinking wine during the cold; it’s habit-forming.) So without a sense of smell, appreciation of wine changes its focus to other characteristics:
  • Appearance: What colour is it?  How deep is the colour?  Is it crystal clear or cloudy?
  • Structure: Is it dry? sweet? Is the acidity high or low?  What about the tannins?
  • Texture (with your tongue): Weight...is it light-bodied or full-bodied? Mouthfeel?  What sensations do you get?  Smooth or grippy?  Crisp or flabby?   
For me, aromas and flavours usually overwhelm these other significant elements of wine appreciation. But without the ability to smell, they all become surprisingly easy to pick out accurately. And you’re not misled by preconceptions from tasting other wines with a similar aroma profile (for example, citrus = light-bodied...often true, but not always).

It’s been an interesting lesson. But I want my nose back! Speaking of which, time to blow it….

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1 comment:

  1. Hey Dave, I hope you're feeling better soon. Now you know how one of our local wine reviewers feels. He's lost his sense of smell for a while now but still manages to put out wine reviews by never mentioning aromas and flavours. Just think while you are recovering that the wine you are tasting has a "nice balance" and a "refreshing texture". Works for him. No, get that nose back soon!