Back in the way-far, starry past of my Sommelier education, I attended a class meant to develop facility in tasting. Before actually tasting any wine, our instructor gave a demonstration of the importance of the sense of smell. He asked that each of us pinch our nostrils shut and then place a small red pellet, about the size of a tic-tac on our tongues. After a few seconds had passed, we were instructed to relax our grip. That seemingly tasteless pellet, now aerated with breath was suddenly transformed into an eye-watering, cinnamon fireball. The lesson, which each of us no doubt first learned in childhood when faced with having to eat something particularly loathsome, was reaffirmed. Skipping the science, it’s this: smell and taste are intertwined, work together and complement each other on a deep level, and anything we can’t smell, we can’t fully taste.
After a palate cleansing, the class focused on developing our wine tasting technique using the procedure familiar to anyone who’s made even the faintest acquaintance with the Food Channel—assess the color, swirl to aerate and release aromas, smell or “nose” as we say in the biz, sip wine and air together. In order to gain the fullest appreciation of any wine, it’s important not to take a short cut in this ritual by skipping steps two and three. Why then do so many people (and years of pouring wine confirms this observation)) omit this part of the program?
Many of a wine’s finest aspects, and many of its flaws such as TCA, the chemical that “corks” a bottle, are best and most easily perceived through the sense of smell. In addition, flavor notes perceived on the nose are not necessarily mirrored on the palate, and vice versa. Smelling….. sorry, ”nosing” a wine before tasting it also allows us to concentrate on various aspects of the bouquet without the distractions of weight, mouth-feel or for the wonkier among us, the analysis of “attack”, “mid-palate” and “finish.” This Level of geek-dom of course, is all well and good if you happen to be in the wine business. The majority of wine lovers however are not, and need only remember one thing: you never have to look far for some of wine’s greatest pleasures- they’re right under your nose.
– Thaddeus Kawecki