INTERPRETING OUR ATTRACTION TO THE SMELL OF WET ROCKS
I’ll be teaching Wine 123: Causation and Detection of Wine Defects at Santa Rosa JC next semester (Spring 2020). Check out our video courtesy of the Distance Learning department’s Emily Hansen –
Of the five senses, smell in Western culture has gotten a bad rap. In the English language there are fewer positive equivalents for the sense of smell than there are for the other four senses. You might sniff out a deal or smell a rat but the terms for nose in our vocabulary particularly as they relate to wine are more often than not derogatory (snobby, snooty, snotty, etc.).
Although we understand the physiology of the olfactory epithelium, the organ where volatile aroma compounds are converted in to the electrochemical signals that we perceive as aromas, smell or olfaction is still largely a mystery. For example, we have 400 types of olfactory receptors but we don’t know which volatile aroma compounds activate the majority of them.
It seems a Ph.D. in organic chemistry is necessary to fully understand the
issue, but wine science educator Deborah Parker Wong can provide some insight into what happens when certain vegetables meet the palate.
A recent study conducted at jointly at Penn State University and the University of California Davis illustrates significant differences in what consumers and self-described wine experts find likeable in wine.
The wines in question were six pairs of unoaked Chardonnay that had been doctored with increasing amounts of the compound – methyl anthralinate (MA) – that gives some native American vitis labruscana grape varieties their “grapey-ness.”
The odor of wet dog isn’t exactly something we want to detect in wine, but
experiencing this scent after a communal hike at Kunde Family Winery in Sonoma Valley could actually prove enjoyable.
Among our many activities, wine professionals devote a considerable amount of time to perception, the state of being where we become aware of something through the senses.
In the course of developing software for predicting consumer wine preferences, a Houston-based start up, VineSleuth, shed new light on the abilities of expert wine tasters and the validity of blind tasting assessments. Contrary to popular belief, the company’s VineSleuth metrics, which are based on the work of Chief Science Officer Michael Tompkins and his team, reveal that tasters can consistently identify aroma and flavor characteristics in blind wine evaluations. “We have extensive experimental data which support that expert evaluators have the capacity to precisely identify wine characteristics in blind repeat samples,” said Tompkins whose work spans thirteen years in the field of numerical methods. “During the course of our experiments, our vetted evaluators repeat sample characteristics about 90% of the time,” he says. VineSleuth’s data directly confronts the popular misconception that consistent sensory evaluation of wine is a random occurrence. In developing an algorithm designed to help consumers make wine selections based on personal preference, the company has established a benchmark based on the results of its top-performing tasters (including this author) and intends …
When wine professionals encounter a sensory deviation in wine and the offending molecule isn’t obvious, cork often takes the blame by default.