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.
When it comes to wine storage, old habits are hard to break. But Dr. Paulo Lopes, Research and Development Manager at Amorim Cork, advises that if temperature and humidity are maintained at the correct levels, wine can be stored upright with no ill effects. In fact, sparkling wine should always be stored upright: a little-known fact that seems lost on many wine experts. During the course of his groundbreaking research, Lopes has seen no difference in the amount of oxygen found in wines that have been stored horizontally or vertically. Using science to debunk the myths that persist within wine culture is liberating largely because the facts can be even more compelling than the misleading maxims. In his recent presentation at the San Francisco Wine School on the reductive and oxidative nature of wine, Lopes made it abundantly clear that, after bottling, the main source of oxygen in wine comes from the cork itself. Atmospheric oxygen doesn’t make its way through the cork (neither does mold, for that matter); rather, the air trapped in cork’s …
Many who consider the sensory evaluation of wine to be a purely subjective exercise cite our differences in perception as the basis for that belief. While it’s true that our abilities to perceive aromas and tastes vary, using an olfactometer we’re able to accurately measure the thresholds at which different tasters perceive the volatile organic compounds found in wine. Research has also shown that a like group of tasters, those who are equal to the task, can consistently gauge the intensities of the aromas, tastes and structural aspects of wine. Compared to humans, who scientists believe can detect in excess of one trillion odors and identify a few thousand, the latest generation of olfactory and gustatory biosensors can detect up to 350 smells in about 15 seconds. Developed by a molecular biologist and nanobioscientist in Grenoble, France, the Aryballe Technologies NeOse Pro, a handheld e-nose that made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show this January, uses surface plasmon resonance imaging (SPRi) and biochemical sensors to analyze volatile organic compounds responsible for aroma and taste. …