Wine: The Nose
by Kay Pfaltz
If there is any one aspect of wine tasting I tend to stress more than any other, in a sometimes too animated voice for my more gustative wine tasting students, it is the nose. “Don’t forget your nose,” I repeat the oft stated remark and they flinch, having already moved ahead and, to put it gently, sipped.
“The nose” refers to the smell of a wine. (Aroma and bouquet have slightly different meanings from each other, but are nearly synonymous with nose. Aroma is used to describe young fruity wines, while bouquet refers to the complex smells that derive often from oak aging.) “Nose” can be a verb in the sense of, “We nosed the wine.” But that’s a bit pretentious sounding, so in class we stick to its use as a noun, as in “Take your first nose.” The first nose is the sniff of the wine before swirling, while the second nose is the sniff(s) thereafter, which should and usually do smell different. The reason for this is that swirling the wine (yes, there is a reason for this) releases esters, ethers and aldehydes which, combined with oxygen, gives the aroma. We aerate it to create a more pronounced nose.
Why is this important? We need only to think about how food tastes, or doesn’t taste, when we have a cold to realize the tremendous importance of sense of smell when tasting. Much of what we think of as taste is only perceived as an aroma, and here’s how it works: At the top of our noses we have a small half-inch sized area called the olfactory area containing millions of olfactory nerve cells that read messages and transmit them to the brain. Our taste is enhanced by chewing and turning solid food into liquid whereby flavor molecules are released as a vapor up a passage behind our nose, called the retro-nasal passage. Again, think of the difference in smell between a steaming plate of hot food versus a cold plate. We perceive the hot as more smelly because of the vapors bearing flavor molecules. Thus in order to be good tasters we must be good smellers!
The mere 10,000 or so taste buds on the tongue and in the mouth have a relatively easy job compared to the much more discriminating olfactory nerve cells. Taste is not much more complicated than sweet, sour, salty or bitter, while sense of smell can distinguish thousands of different flavors or aromas. Smell has the power to evoke memories of the past second to none—the only possible exception being sense of sound. Think Marcel Proust dipping a Madeleine into tea and the long eloquent digression into childhood that ensues, to which sense of sound might retort with Noel Coward’s fabulous line, “Oh, the power of cheap music.” Mothballs to this day recall my grandmothers closets; peppermint and cinnamon are Christmas; and then all the many outdoor smells, such as honeysuckle or hyacinth in spring. Grapes contains thousands of compounds also found in other substances, and this is why we often describe the aroma or flavor of a wine in terms of everything but the fermented grape juice that it is.
Experiment with sense of smell using easily identifiable grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc or Gamay.
Montes, Sauvignon Blanc – from New Zealand has a pronounced and distinct citrus nose. It is fresh, crisp and clean which you’ll be able to perceive on the nose. $14.99
Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Côte- de-Brouilly – Gamay can often smell like bananas, especially the Beaujolais Nouveau or Primeur. It has a fresh, fruit-driven smell, that once recognized, is easy to remember. $16.99
No Portion may be copied or used in any other work.