Anatomy and physiology of smell in wine tasting.
The sense of Smell in wine tasting
Two of our five senses respond to the chemical stimuli from our surroundings: taste and smell. Both depend on chemical interaction, known as chemoreception. Taste is: contact chemoreception, because to sensing the taste of anything requires contact with it. Smell is: remote chemoreception, it is airborne, and can be sensed from a distance.(from The Sense of Smell (Brief Overview for Primary/Secondary Grade Students) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIDBG-UPRUI
In 1990 BBC books published a small (soft cover) book, by Jilly Goolden, titled “The Taste of WINE“, for me it was one of the basic ABC’s to wine tasting. It meticulously described all the “Smells of wine”, not TASTE (divided by country of origin, grape variety, local blends etc.). Semantically, it follows the title of the reference book by Emile Peynaud: The Taste of Wine: The Art Science of Wine Appreciation (1984). Both books are titled mistakenly: The taste of wine. But it is by the aromas of wine (the sense of smell) that wine is “tasted”. It occurs mainly by accumulating information from smelling the wine in the glass before tasting and retro-nasally through the back of the mouth as the wine is swirled in the mouth, It is here that vapors of wine smells travel via the Nasopharynx to the olfactory bulb, and finally translated in the form of flavour by the brain. The human tongue (sense of taste) is limited to the primary tastes perceived by taste receptors on the tongue: sour, bitter, salty, sweet and savory (Umami). The wide array of fruit, earthy, floral, herbal, mineral and woody flavours perceived in wine derive from aroma notes which are interpreted in our brain through chemical information obtained by the primary receptor cells in the olfactory membrane.
.In professional wine tasting, a distinction is made between wine odors: “aromas” and “bouquet“.
The term Bouquet refers to the smells that arise from the chemical reactions of fermentation and aging of the wine in the bottle as part of the wine aging process, these are more complex kind of smells, combined together to induce an odor from our memory bank of smells (ground coffee, cigar box, leather, Tarte tatin, toasted bread, compost, caramel, toffee, mint etc.)
Apart maybe from wines made from the Muscat grape no wine smells like the juice of the grapes variety it is made from. Aroma refers to the smells unique to a certain grape variety, and is most readily demonstrated in varietal wines–such as Raspberries and blackcurrants with Cabernet Sauvignon, exotic fruits and canned Leeches with Gewürztraminer or Gooseberries and freshly cut grass in Sauvignon Blanc. These are smells that are commonly associated with a young wine.
As wine ages chemical reactions between the acids, sugars, alcohols and phenolic compounds, create “new smells” that are known as a wine’s bouquet. These can include honey in an aged Sauternes or mushrooms even truffles in a Pinot noir, and others listed above. The term bouquet can also be expanded to include the smells derived from fermentation and exposure to oak. Wine aromas are sub-divided into three categories-primary, secondary and tertiary aromas.
Primary aromas are those specific to the grape variety itself. Secondary aromas are those derived from alcoholic fermentation and oak aging. Tertiary aromas are those that develop through bottled aging.
Wine contains volatile and non-volatile compounds that contribute to the overall wine aroma. The majority of volatile compounds responsible for aroma combine with sugars in the wine to form odorless glycosides. Through the process of hydrolysis, caused by enzymes or acids in the wine, the odorless compounds revert into an aromatic form, thus the act of tasting wine is essentially an act of smelling vaporized aroma compounds
Of the human senses, the sense of smell is the most precise, with high sensitivity to minute amount of odorant. It is also the most fragile. Most of us have experienced detecting an aroma of bread baking, even from a long distance and certainly in the bakery, yet after a fairly short but continuous exposure of just a few minutes, that same smell is less noticeable. This “fatigue” is really an accommodation process of the sense of smell by means of sensory adaptation and occurs in other senses as well.
Since olfaction is connected directly to the Limbic system in our brain that supports a variety of functions, including emotion, creativity, long-term memory, and olfaction. Being primarily responsible for our emotional life, the formation of memories and smells in the same brain center facilitates connection of certain emotions that were evoked with a certain odor “background” a memory of that smell will be unconsciously related to an emotion. A connection between emotion memory and smell is created in our brain. The memory/olfaction connection plays a major role in the ability to relate (by association) wine odors to groups of smells fruity floral vegetal etc. which is a basic requirement in wine tasting. In fact of all our senses, the sense of smell is the most intimately connected with the brain.
The amount of odors in wine and their inner intricacies present a huge vocabulary from which to choose when coming to describe a wine. Ann C. Noble of University of California, Davis, formulated an aroma aid called the “Aroma Wheel”. It divides the various wine aromas to groups and sub groups within them covering the most commonly aromas encountered in table wines this was a means to try and “standardize” terms used to describe wines to a point that wine tasters, wine journalist, wine novices and readers of wine articles will “know” what was meant by a certain description:
The Aroma Wheel provides a visual graphic of the different categories and aroma components that one can encounter in wine.
The wheel breaks down wine aromas into 12 basic categories and then sub-divides them into different aromas that fit those main categories:
Fruity – Aromas like blackcurrant, apricot, apples and plums
Floral – Aromas like rose, acacia, or Jasmine
Spicy – Aromas like cloves, cinnamon or anise
Microbiological – Aromas like yeast and lactic acid
Nutty – Aromas like pine nuts walnut and hazelnut
Caramelized – Aromas like butterscotch and molasses
Woody – Aromas often imparted by oak like vanilla and coffee
Earthy – Aromas such as mushroom compost and mildew
Chemical – Includes aromas like sulfur and petroleum or nail varnish
Pungent – Aromas like alcohol and vinegar
Oxidized – Aromas like Sherry or acetaldehyde
Aroma Wheel: property of Aromaster wine aroma kits http://www.aromaster.com/product/wine-aroma-wheel/
A drawback of the wheel is that it does not contain terms used to describe the sense of touch on the palate, like texture or astringency, which affect the overall “tasting experience” and are a major factor in determining a wine’s quality, balance.
Prior to tasting the wine, a good swirl of the glass releases wine odorants into the glass bowl. Some glasses are specifically designed to enhance aromatic qualities and characters of different wines, these assist in capturing more aromatic compounds within the glass for the taster/sniffer, to detect. Wines served at warmer temperature will be more aromatic than wine served cooler due to heat’s ability to increase the volatility of aromatic compounds in the wine. Swirling aerates, the wine and increases available surface area, increasing the amount of volatilized aromatic molecules. Some subtle odors can be hidden by a more dominant smell that arise after swirling, so most professional tasters will sniff the wine briefly first before swirling.
The deeper our nose is stuck inside the glass, the greater the chance to capture the specific wine aromas. Our nose can detect and distinguish between thousands of different smells, which increase by means of training through exposure.
When wine is sipped, it is warmed in the mouth and mixes with saliva to vaporize the volatile aroma compounds. These compounds are then inhaled “retro-nasally” through the back of the mouth to where it is received by the millions of nerve receptor cells in the olfactory bulb. An average human can be trained to distinguish between thousands of smells but can usually name only a handful at a time when presented with a wide variety of aromas. Professional wine tasters will use their vast “library” of memorized aromas, for those with a lesser collection of memorized odors a visual aid like the aroma wheel.
Detecting an aroma is only part of wine tasting. The next step is to describe or communicate what that aroma is verbally. In this step subjective nature of wine tasting is most prominent. Different individuals have their own way of describing familiar scents and aromas based on their unique smell experiences, memories and “smell vocabulary”. Furthermore, there are varying levels of sensitivity and recognition thresholds among humans of some aromatic compounds. This is why one taster may describe different aromas and flavors from another taster sampling the very same wine.
In 1981, as a result of his research into vocabulary used to describe wine, Jean Lenoir created Le Nez du Vin®, a unique and learned combination of written works and collection of bottled aromas covering a large array of odors which form a part of the scents of wine.
“Le Nez du vin is a The 54 Aroma Master Kit has been the reference for wine aromas vocabulary. Our sense of smell is very delicate and highly sensitive. Practice through daily training allows us to recognize and identify the 54 aromas most commonly present in wine; thus, improving our appreciation and enjoyment of wine. These are the typical aromas found in red and white wine (including Champagne) from France and around the world. They give us an indication of the wine’s origin, the grape variety as well as the vineyard, the winemaking techniques used and the aging conditions. Memorizing these aromas provides an accurate and coherent vocabulary to further stimulate our appreciation of fine wines”
The 54 Aromas of Le Nez Du Vin are:
23 Fruit Aromas, 6 Floral Aromas, 10 Vegetal Aromas, 5 Spices, 3 Animal Aromas and 7 Grilled Aromas (full list could be found in: http://www.winearomas.com/master_kit.html
“It is widely accepted that sensory interactions can, and do, occur during wine consumption. To this concern, many studies have dealt with aroma-taste interactions which have been attributed to physicochemical interactions in the product itself, interactions at the receptor level or cognitive interactions. Although the understanding of these interactions has grown during the years and it has been demonstrated that they are strongly product-dependent, investigations have seldom gone beyond that of model solutions with a reduced number of components (volatile and/or nonvolatile molecules). Recently some investigations carried out in this field have been conducted with more complex matrices in an attempt to simulate interactions in real wine samples. The aim of this chapter is to review these latest advances in the research of wine sensory interactions, and to highlight the magnitude, relative importance and qualitative nature of such sensory effects.” (From: Sensory Interactions in Wine: Effect Of Nonvolatile Molecules on Wine Aroma and Volatiles on Taste/Astringency Perception Authors: (María-Pilar Sáenz-Navajas, Eva Campo, Dominique Valentin, Purificación Fernández-Zurbano, Vicente Ferreira).
The “correct” scent of wine can quite easily be reached at the winery level but the quality of wine starts at the flavour’s level which is a combination of taste and smell add to those the sense of touch on our palate and the balance of the wine can be judged to give a complete view of the wine’s quality.
Next post of the sense of taste continues “our” journey through the symphony of senses in relation to wine tasting.
I beg to differ, Aged wines? Yes please!
Thoughts on Matt Kramer’s recent essay: Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore? (Subtitled: Wines have changed and so have our palates).
On January 8, 2013 Matt Kramer; an American wine critic since 1976 and a regular contributor to Wine Spectator Magazine, who has been described as “perhaps the most un-American of all America’s wine writers” “HAD AN ENLIGHTENMENT “, an insight to the true nature of reality. (As far as I know, He is not a practicing Buddhist)
He rushed to write an article titled: Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore? Wines have changed and so have our palates. This was posted in his column drinking out loud in the wine Spectator web site, read it on:
“My greatest wine dream, was a wine cellar, so full that I could easily forget about whole cases of wine for years at a time, the better to let them age to a fantasized perfection. That dream came true… I was motivated, obsessed even, by a vision of what might be called futuristic beauty. How soaringly beautiful it would be in 15 or 20 years! I wasn’t wrong—then. But I wouldn’t be right for today. What’s changed? Surely me of course.(He says), I’ve had decades of wine drinking to discover that my fantasized wine beauty only rarely became a reality. But I had to find that out for myself. And I’m glad I did…. In recent years it’s become obvious that an ever greater number of wines that once absolutely required extended aging no longer do”
Really? And if so, I am quite sure that if only one odd GREAT wine on his “list of grandeur”, it was still worth it. I bet you that this is the only wine he really remembers most, a memory that focuses on the finest, minute detail of taste, flavor, aroma and even appearance, from all the other hundreds even thousands of wines he had since 1976. After all, he had all the great wines of the 60’s 70’s 80’s and 90’s of the 20th century to sample and enjoy. He continues in saying: “Simply put, most of today’s fine wines—not all, mind you—will reach a point of diminishing returns on aging after as few as five years of additional cellaring after release. Stretch that to a full 10 years of additional aging and I daresay you will have embraced fully 99 percent of all the world’s wines, never mind how renowned or expensive”.
I agree that less than 1 percent of world wines are really Great, but how many bottles of wine is 1%? Well, in 2011 248 million hectoliters of wine were produced, 1 hectoliter = 100 liters, that is 24 trillion 800 million liters of wine, more than 33 trillion bottles, one percent of which is 330 million great bottles! each year! That is a lot of great wines (if 1% is an accurate measure according to Kramer). Between us 1% of excellence in anything is reasonable, when counting the number of wine writers or any other group of professionals who really know what they are talking about (1% would be just right). When excellence is the sought after, high quality of 1% is a very good starting point, and ultimately this is not such a small quantity. Allow me to beg to differ yet again, on the “5-10 years at the most will improve by aging” maybe this is the best American wines can get to (I am no expert on American wines so I will take Mr. Kramer’s word for it. Is it the trends in new world winemaking methods that initiated Kramer’s Enlightenment? Is it an American way of always looking at their own as a reference for the best of the rest? or maybe it is the odd, rather new “varietal taste” that had led to this horrific conclusion?
He continues: “Well, what about them old great Old world wines (he lists French, Italian from great wine regions). Yes, all of those wines and still others, such as German and Alsatian Rieslings, Napa Valley Cabernets and Hungarian Tokajis, reward aging. But let me tell you something: With only a handful of ultra traditionalist exceptions, the modern versions of even these wines don’t require anywhere near as much aging as their forebears.”
And I beg to differ again, after all these “ultra traditionalist exceptions”, are the reference wines for all “great wines” of the present and future, the summit all those “modern versions” strive to achieve, copy, imitate, taste like, feel like, affect our senses like… of course, most imitations are “groupies” of the real thing. They may succeed in each and every aspect of excellence separately but Alas fail to stand out as a complete product, lacking the overall balance that separates between the many: good, very good, excellent and EXTRAORDINARY wines.
“… it’s that fine wines have universally changed, sometimes radically so. And our tastes have changed, too… Modern wine offers us a fuller, richer, more rewarding view sooner. Think of an old oil painting carefully and respectfully cleaned of an obscuring varnish, allowing both color and texture to leap out almost three-dimensionally, and you’ve got it.
Well, I think the beauty of an old painting is in the craftsmanship rather than it’s cleanliness. Please do not clean or fix Michelangelo’s or Da Vinci’s work, don’t fix the Sphinx’s broken nose and don’t tell me that modern wines can even be compared with the good old traditional wines of the old world made by hundreds of beacon bearers around the world, if that’s the wines you like fine just don’t tell me “our (my) palate have changed”
The bottom line: Today’s wines are far more drinkable, far more gratifying, far more rewarding when drunk younger than their counterparts of 20 years ago.Can they age as long? Yes, I think they can. But that’s not the issue. Rather, the key question is: Do they need to? I think not. Only a very small handful of even the best wines truly require more than five years aging—10 years tops—in a cool space.
I find most “modern wines” harsh, over alcoholic, lacking in Elegance, Finesse and Balance, still they are designed to fit a general taste those so called modern winemakers “brainwashed” their consumers to like, basically they are sales orientated and I expect respected wine critics not to fall in the same trap which is a PR stunt directed at wine novices rather than “wine experts”.
Of course there are wines today that stubbornly withhold their favors, such as Vintage Port and those few white wines that do not go through malolactic fermentation, such as Trimbach Rieslings, Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay or the white Burgundies of Maison Louis Jadot.
How can you put in one sentence Wine Houses that make very few wines mostly single vineyards (Trimbach make only 4 different wines) to Maison Louis Jadot (with all due respect) that produces approximately 150 different wines each year many of which from the general area?
…I am now convinced that today’s wine lover is well advised to buy fine wines, cellar them in a cool space for five years—10 years, tops—and then drink them in secure confidence that the great majority of their full-dimensional goodness is available to you. After that, it’s all just fantasy—and the very real likelihood of an increasingly diminishing return on your already delayed gratification.
Kramer describes in one of his books how he began his career as a wine writer in 1976, then a food writer of a weekly paper, in a meeting with his publisher. As the advertising department had altered the food page contents to include a “wine of the week” column, to the advertisers’ approval, Kramer was told that he would write this new column. Kramer resisted, saying, “But I don’t know anything about wine”, but the publisher replied, “That’s all right. Neither does anyone else”. Kramer went on to become a respected wine writer yet I hope his publisher did not convince him, because I for one do know quite a few who know A LOT about wine! Most of who have a gift of extra sensitive sense of taste and smell and flavour, I envy them from time to time and know that they do poses a gift that make them better judges of overall quality of wine in a broader sense than I would ever achieve.
Kramer once criticized wine critics in his New York Sun column, pointing to “almost desperate attempt by some of today’s wine tasting potentates to bolster their credibility by suggesting a physical superiority”. Kramer summarized that, “suggesting a linkage of taste buds to wine judgment is like confusing eyesight with insight”. Robinson later addressed the issue in an article that suggested Kramer may not have read Robinson’s own account before publishing his column, stressing that to suggest physical superiority “was the last thing [she] was attempting” (from Wikipedia)
Since Jancis Robinson cannot suggest physical superiority herself, let me say that without a doubt she and a few others I know do poses it, they should not be ashamed with the gift they possess, it is a blessing, Kramer and I can only be envious! Some people poses better sensibility in various sense organs you must admit you heard of people with absolute pitch, perfect pitch when it comes to the sense of hearing/sound, some people have a perfect sense of smell or taste and when combined with knowledge be it perfumes or wine or food, they are better judges! Their vocabulary is richer!
Thank God for wine writers like Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, if only more and more people will be convinced in this assertive fallacy, more well aged and sublime wines will be left for us wine lovers (of excellent aged wines whose palates have not changed overnight) at more sensible prices. I for one, promise not to “touch” wines from their list, as long as they leave my 1% of suitable wines to enter the “aged wines” list alone. All the wines in my “top ever wine list” that I remember with pleasure and longing, are wines of well over 15 years of “aging”.
Wine is a live commodity, it keeps changing in time and the ones that change for the better are worth all the patience and endurance, they are the hope of every winemaker, the completion of his aspirations and his expression as an artist of wine making and not simply a maker of wine.
Kramer by the way is the guy who wrote: “How to Really Taste Wine, The six most important words in wine tasting” He very sensibly lists: Complexity, Texture, Midpalate Density, Proportion, Finesse and Balance as his “six pillars of wine tasting wisdom”…quite a good reading (and writing) http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/47792 , I do not know what came over him recently but when one has many followers/readers, they should be careful with the effect of the written word on the less informed.
I beg to differ is: a polite way of saying that you disagree with something that someone has said (from the free dictionary dot com) and so my friends, allow me to BEG TO DIFFER! (I hope Mr. Kramer will take it in the polite way it is intended), I agree to disagree!
Wine is sunlight, held together by water. – Galileo
sense one in wine tasting – SIGHT, as appeared on https://wine4soul.com/2012/10/28/vision-anatomy-and-physiology-of-wine-tasting/ continues…
Physiologically, sight is initiated when reflected light of different wave lengths: colour, hit the eye.
We have the bottle before us, the glass is filled (no more than a third up), the reflected light in different colours hits the external surface of the eyeball: The Cornea, travels through the lens and inwards through the Vitreous Humor, to hit the Retina, the innermost layer of the eye ball. The Retina consists of nerve tissue, Photo-receptors that sense the light entering the eye, and start translating it as the images of our vision in the form of shape and colour in the brain.
The Physiology of sight
Photoreceptors are specialty cells in the Retina, they allow us to see shapes, colors and the combination of both, something we all take for granted.
How is it done? The retina contains 2 kinds of photoreceptors:
These receptors enter into function when we enter a dark cellar full of wine wonders, or when we stroll down the vineyard at night (with or without our lover, better with!)
2. Cone cells: The other kind of photoreceptor cell. There are three different types of cones, sensitive to different light wave lengths (Red Green & Blue). The cones operate in bright light and are responsible for high acuity vision, as well as ability to “see” colour.
Rods and cones form an uneven mosaic within the retina; there are 10 times more rod cells than cones. Rods are concentrated at the outer edges of the retina. There are approximately 130 million rod cells in the human retina. Rod cells are almost entirely responsible for peripheral and night vision. They are 100 times more sensitive to a single photon than cones so rods require less light to function than cones and allow us to see in the dark. Single Rod cells collect and amplify light signals. However, this convergence comes at a cost to visual acuity / resolution, because the accumulated information from several cells simultaneously is less accurate than information from each rod cell individually. But that will have to do since we look at wine under good light conditions and not in the dark.
In the retina’s center – fovea, cones are highly concentrated 5-10 times more than on the rest of the retinal surface, this area is described by Nobel Prize winner Jeremy Nathans as: “the most valuable square millimeter of tissue in the body.”
The first kind of cone responds to red colour (light of Long wavelengths – L around 564–580 nm); The second type responds to green colour (Medium wavelength – M, 534–545 nm), The third type responds to blue colour (Short wavelength – S, 420–440 nm), The difference in the signals received from the three cone types in varying degree of stimulus strength which allows the brain to perceive all possible colours. The brain combines the information from each type of receptor to give rise to different perceptions of different wavelengths of light and ultimately the correct colour.
Wine comes in a wide variety of colours shades and hues. It is these receptors and the wonders of the final interpretation of these signals into what we call sight, in our brain, will allow us to distinguish between different grape varieties, wines from different regions, wines in different state of evolution and wine making methods just by mere sight, with no other senses involvement.
Several theories explain the mechanism of colour vision, Helmholtz’s trichromatic theory & Hering’s opponent process theory, they differ on the exact point colour processing actually begins, either within the receptor cells in the retina or slightly behind it, at the level of retinal ganglion cells and beyond. Visual information is then sent to the brain from retinal ganglion cells via the optic nerve to the optic chiasm: a point where the two optic nerves meet and cross each other. Information from one visual field crosses to the other side of the brain to the visual cortex.
Cone cells allow us to stabilize the colour constancy of an object, so when we look at red wine we preserve an ability to see the true colours of our object for instance red wine in different hues and shades.
The wine clarity is wine easily examined at a slight tilt under clear light conditions either with the background of a white paper or a well lit background. And brightness is reflected from it. Fresh wine should have a clear spark ‘sneaky’ kind of wink and it looks sleek and shiny.
Clarity is graded to 3-4 levels:
Brilliant or Crystalline: perfect transparency; the surface of the wine reflects the light with a sparkle.
Clear: normal state of clarity
Dull: a partial lack of luster
Cloudy or slushy: with or without suspended particles visible to the naked eye
Wine, whatever its category should be clear, perfectly transparent and free of foreign deposits or suspended particles, most suspended particles are wine deposits and are not associated with wine faults. Signs of cloudiness may indicate a defect. A fine wine of any color at its prime should be not only clear but also bright with a luminous quality.
Type of Wine – Obviously, different types of wines will have dramatically different wine colour..White wines tend toward the more clear yellow and gold end of the spectrum while red wines can vary from light red to deep purple. Rosé wines are somewhere in between. Additionally, your expectation of what a wine should look like depends on the type of wine in question. For example, while many Cabernet Sauvignon, based wines will be dark purple or even close to opaque, Pinot Noir-based wines tend to be lighter with less depth of color and a lighter hue.
Is the color of the wine appropriate for the type of wine you taste? You will learn this as you go along and get more experience with different types of wines.
The COLOURS of WINE
Colour is simply light of different wavelengths and frequencies that we can actually see and is made up from photons, reflection of light from the wine (as our object) is what we see in form, shape, and colour with its inner diversity of different hues and shades. .
Wine colours, originate from the grape’s skin. Grape juice from red or white varieties is usually transparent (clear to cloudy). Anthocyanins are the chemical compounds that give wine white or red its colour, or pigment.
Different “exposure” to grape treatments like: amount and type of crushing, which exerts colors into the liquid. Changes in temperature, contact of broken skin with the juice, exposure to oxygen, fermentation with or without the skins (lees), length of fermentation, type of tanks: barrel or steel, etc. All of these factors change and affect the wine’s colour, which keeps changing even after bottling, as aging affects the depth and hue of the basic color of each wine. Different grape varieties contribute different hues of white yellow or red as described below.
Polyphenols contribute to the yellow colour of white wines, phenols concentration in different grape variety varies: level of phenols in the Riesling grape is very low hence they appear almost transparent, Chardonnay on the other hand due to high phenolic concentration will appear darker : yellow lemony colour. Apart from phenols, maturity level of the grape will also affect the colour. The riper the grape, the darker shades of yellows in white wines.
The colors of the wine can vary strongly depending on age, concentration and wine making techniques. Colour of white wines deepens with age, tending toward full straw or pale gold. More mature dry wines, particularly if aged in wood, take on rich golden tones, sometimes even with hints of copper or brass. Brown hues are a sign of over oxidation, (a defect in wine), but in certain fortified wines such as Marsala, it is a normal feature. Hints of red in a white wine are usually indications of a fault.
White Wine Colours:
The grapes and wines below, usually exhibit the listed colors.
These colours are an indication to the content of the glass on the eye level, well before our nose or taste buds go into wine tasting action! Wines exhibiting colours beyond their expected, ordinary hue may already be “suspected” of a fault of some sort either in the winemaking process, or more likely in their maturing state. Above is the colour of the 1962 Maison Noemie Verneaux Mersault Charmes, we opened (a magnum) the wine forty years old now!!! was slightly oxidized but still drinkable! This was its colour, (between us from now on I will photo real wine colors and exchange the colours above, with them!), I would say it falls between deep “old gold” and Amber what a delightful robe adorns these wineglasses.
Wine colour and state of clarity are mentioned as old as the New Testament (Proverbs 23:31):
King James Bible (Cambridge Ed) Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
New American Standard Bible : Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly;
Holman Christian Standard Bible : Don’t gaze at wine because it is red, when it gleams in the cup and goes down smoothly.
International Standard Version: Don’t stare into red wine, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.
Next post will continue re: Rose’ and Red wines their colours and the way we see and perceive them
The Cranial Nerves
The Scent of wine A Neuro-physiological study of wine perception
Part 1 The Brain
Wine making production, creation, becomes an art when all elements in the finished product are totally balanced. This of course, requires a set of strict and precise actions in all minute details from the vineyard to the winery, through the barrel to the bottle stages, which result in a refined and balanced drink with unique taste, smell and color qualities which cause the consumer, even at the glass stage a profound experience beyond a mere quench thirst.
Drinking wine can be an act meant to quench thirst: just tilt your glass and gulp. On the other hand the art of wine tasting is a challenge, an enigmatic quiz with all the clues stored inside the bottle behind the cork. To solve the quiz one needs specialized tools, all of which are “stored” in our cranium (the part of the skull that contains the brain) our 5 senses: Smell, Sight, Hearing, Taste and Touch for wine tasting you also need good memory and a colorful imagination. Between us this quiz is a game of associations.
I know that tasting wine adds an extra dimension to the basic daily function associated with eating and drinking. It turns the act of consuming food and drink for sustenance, as a source of strength and nourishment into an act of pleasure a celebration of our senses combined in an intellectual act.
Cranial nerves are nerves that emerge directly from the brain and not from the spinal cord. In humans, there are 12 pairs of cranial nerves. Only the first and the second pair emerge from the upper part of the brain, the remaining 10 pairs emerge from the brainstem the lower connection of the brain to the spinal cord.
The Cranial nerves all have specific task to execute and are highly specialized (unlike other motor or sensory nerves that emerge from the spinal cord). Although their function is diverse and spans on many different tasks along our body,
All of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves take part in the process of wine drinking and wine tasting
List of the 12 Cranial Nerves and their function
- 1. Olfactory- sense of smell
- 2. Optic- Sense of sight
- 3. Oculomotor – eyeball and eyelid movement
- 4. Trochlear – downwards and sideways movement of eyeball
- 5. Trigeminal –chewing touch & pain of the face and palate
- 6. Abducens – eyes side movement
- 7. Facial – mimic muscles, tear glands, salivary glands sense of taste
- 8. auditory– Hearing and body balance
- 9. Glossopharyngeal– sense of taste and carotid arteries blood pressure
- 10. Vagus– Aortic pressure, initiator of digestive system,sense of taste
- 11. Accessory swallowing action and neck muscles
- 12. Hypoglossal –Tongue movements
The Cranial Nerves and wine tasting
Nerve No. 1 Olfactory Nerve – sense of smell well this one is too obvious. Without it you’re a goner where wine in concerned. This is one of the easier senses to “train” and improve. The smell center although small (around 2cm2), contains ten million neurons (sense cells), and can detect around ten thousand different smells. You think this is a lot? A German Sheppard dog has one billion neurons within the same size smell center. Still as far as wine is concerned it does the Job!
Nerve No. 2 Optic Nerve – The first encounter with wine is through sight. Colors, hues, clarity and depth are all perceived through the eyes, as well as your company and the surrounding of your wine experience
Nerve No. 3 Oculomotor Nerve – Very important during wine drinking. Who knows who’s after the last sip in your glass of Richebourg 1929 DRC or Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1982 or 1945, it’s always handy to have the capacity to look around discreetly.
Nerve No. 4 Trochlear Nerve – downwards and sideways movement of eyeball, helps you see where your wine glass is before you pick it up or alas spill the above wines (and many others) on the white table cloth!!
Nerve No. 5 Trigeminal Nerve – chewing muscles touch and pain of face and palate. Very important nerve to on all aspects of food and wine, apart from chewing it controls our ability to sense Touch which is important to our taste sensation. This is where we try to feel the wine on the palate the texture, body, temperature, astringency, aftertaste, finish, and length of a wine are all things we feel on our palate cheeks and lips. Wine’s weight (light, medium, full) or texture (silky, austere coarse, chewy velvety). Palate sensation or perception is the scales with which we judge the BALANCE of Wine.
Nerve No. 6 Abducens Nerve – Controls the eyes side movement, carefulwho’s sitting next to you, who sneaks a hand towards you glass during conversation with the person next to you!!!
Nerve No. 7 Facial Nerve – mimic muscles, tear glands, salivary glands and parts of the sense of taste. It’s not always useful that everyone knows (by the expression on your face) what you really think of a wine especially if the tasting is in the winery. But what would we do without the sense of taste where would flavor be if smell and taste would not combine?
Nerve No. 8 Auditory Nerve– sense of Hearing and body balance. The chatter of people the clutter of cutlery and dishes the clinging of glasses the heavenly echoing sound of the perfect handmade glass of wine, cobined with the ability to keep your balance inspite of having a glass or two too many…
Nerve No. 9 Glossopharyngeal Nerve– sense of taste and carotid arteries blood pressure. Controles most of the sense of taste all 4-5 basic tastes. Also controls the proper pressure of freshly oxygenated blood to the brain keeping the brains analytical capacity intact.
Nerve No. 10 Vagus Nerve– Aortic pressure, initiator of digestive system,sense of taste . This one basically keeps us alive (very important to wine tasting) not to speak of its importance in digestion of food and parts of the sense of taste.
Nerve No. 11 Accessory Nerve – swallowing action and neck muscles. Without swallowing we would have to spit wine all the time and it is nice to swallow wine from time to time for some wines spitting is a obligatory some wines swallowing is a MUST. As for the neck action it’s nice to be able to nod yes to an extra top up or to nod nay if you had one too many.
Nerve No. 12 Hypoglossal Nerve – Tongue movements, There’s no swirling of wine around the mouth without the tongue moving folding and caressing the wine. We sense we taste we smell better with the tongue moving. Needless to say we will not be able to let the “world” know what we think of the wine we have all just tasted or drunk. Speech is nonexistent without tongue movements.
Combination of bits of information provided to us through observing, looking, smelling, tasting wine Touch by tongue palate will be used as a means of helping to solve a riddle: What wine is before us?
That’s it for now , anatomy and physiology of all the different senses: vision smell, taste and touch in future Posts