Smell. What Are You Missing?
By Hardy | 04/27/2023
As a winemaker and wine lover, aromatics are the most captivating and powerful part of a great wine. But, how we are taught and conditioned to smell wine is wrong. Wrong? Really? Let’s call it less effective.
Where are you going with this?
When we learn to smell wine we are first taught to engage the intellect. We are instructed to see wine as a puzzle that can be solved, a message of status that can be decoded, a force to be mastered. This ties into our desire to have all the answers. Yet, when we solely focus on deciphering and labeling aromatics we reduce phenomena and lose touch with wine’s deepest power - its ability to transport us across space and time.
Our sense of smell is unique when compared to our other senses. It is the one that bypasses the thalamus in our brain stem. In a way, the thalamus acts as a conductor deciding what we should focus on, what information we should let in, and what information we can tune out. (Do you feel your socks or the ring on your finger right now? That is the thalamus at work). So, what we bring in via the thalamus is edited, or in wine terms, a filtered interpretation of those senses. Our sense of smell is unedited and aromas are experienced and registered by the unconscious in their raw state. This is why magnificent smells interrupt us (visualize standing under orange blossoms or flowering jasmine) and why they also connect us deeply to our past with meaningful and often beautiful memories.
What is the danger when we break down a wine’s bouquet to simply figure it out? Is that bitter orange or kumquat? Lemon or yuzu? The danger is that we close a door to one of the deepest powers of wine.
Prior to releasing the 2022 Full King Crab II, I popped a bottle while alone in the winery, I poured about 3 ounces, gave it a big swirl, stuck my nose in, took a deep inhale, and held it in for about 10 seconds. It was one of the most moving experiences I have had with wine to date.
The symphony of the Full King Crab II’s aromas transported me back in time, back to when I was about 5 years old (close to my son’s age). It took me to of all places a late 70’s Dunkin Donuts outside of Boston. The kind of old Dunkins that had the wrap around diner counter with the round swivel stools. Nearly every Saturday, my father would take me and my sister there for breakfast. He’d often have a french cruller and coffee, my sister a chocolate glazed, and I’d order a huge cinnamon bun, heated with a pat of butter. We’d sometimes run into friends, little league coaches, members of our community, but the power of the memory comes from being at the counter with my dad.
With another inhale of the wine I see the reddish vinyl cracked bar stools, and I can feel my wandering fingers find the rough edges. My father would always warn me that I’d get a stomach ache ordering the cinnamon roll. But, learning to finish one felt like a 5 year old rite of passage.
As the memory exited, I was back holding the glass, tears slowly coming down my 49 year old cheeks. The power of the experience was much more than a visual recreation of this memory. It came with: a trip to the past, a present moment filled with gratitude, and the realization that I’m currently creating similar memories for my own children.
What a way to smell wine.
Why is this important? The complex and evolving aromas of wine allows us to travel through time, tap into emotions, and get a glimpse of the person we are becoming.
This is the secret that the culture of wine teaches us to ignore.
My recommendation - get in on it!
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