Sunday, November 8, 2009

The downside of organoleptic development

Dwayne Perreault - Funny thing, the nose. We all have one and tend to take it for granted, but the nose is the most important organ used to judge wine and particularly to recognize wines. Furthermore, what we taste is directly related to what we smell, so the senses of smelling and tasting are connected.

So it is that Robert Parker insured his nose for $1 million, an outstanding feat at the time. Years later, Holland’s own Ilja Gort, maker of such fine supermarket wines as La Tulipe and French Rebel, insured his own facial protuberance for $8 million, a master publicity stunt in its own right. I wonder how much his premiums cost? In any case, Gort seems to be enjoying success.

The nose is like a hyper-sensitive muscle: it can be trained, made stronger. It just takes practice. When you start seriously nosing wines is around the same time you start smelling everything else: vegetables, flowers, cheeses, books, old socks. Not that you never did these things before, right? And this is how you eventually learn to haul the old sock odour out of certain Chenin blancs, though you would never be stupid enough to admit that unless you happened to write for a blog.

Incidentally, I am a smoker. Now some people may say smokers lose something between 20-80% of their sense of smell, but it is my understanding that numerous studies have tried to prove this true in regards to vinology, without success. But I freely admit, I could be wrong. I just enjoy smoking.

But I wanted to talk about the downside to all this organoleptic development. It was quite awhile ago that I recognized that the flip side to being able to recognize the hereditary smells of certain wines was that I could also smell unpleasant odours more prominently. I don’t just mean odours in the wine, I mean odours.

There are smells we all find offensive, like rotting garbage and sewage, then there are those other smells, which one person finds obnoxious and the other is not bothered. An example is patchouli. I think anyone who wants to smell like mothballs needs to be legally restrained, but to each his own.

A few days ago my girlfriend was cooking what the Dutch call snijbonen (translated as “French beans,” you must know them) and I wanted to leave the house. It was like a steady stream of rancid farts was rising with the steam from the pan.

Last evening I met a friend at my favourite wine bar in Amsterdam and upon entering, I was hit by the overwhelming odour of detergents they had used to clean in the morning. This is an unspeakable offense in an establishment where one comes to taste quality wines. No-one else seemed to notice!

I am not squeamish. I’ve backpacked over South America and Asia; I woke up next to a dead rat once in India. It’s when I smell the jenever-saturated sweat of an old alcoholic on his way into the Gall en Gall at ten in the morning that I fully recognize that there is a downside to organoleptic development.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Check out Fermentation for some more talk about the affects of smoking as Tom is in the process of quitting.

The hard thing is, it's not like we can have a double blind study to see what the results are for each person.

That being said I think that the average consumer is much too quick to underestimate the affect smell has on their tasting experience.