The next time you’re sipping a glass of Kendall-Jackson, try to identify the aromas your nose picks up. Do you smell citrus or cherry fruit notes? Or spices such as clove or sage? Although this isn’t always an easy task, the answer is that your nose probably knows much more than you think it does.
Let’s start with the science. Although smell is the only sense whose exact function has not yet been determined by the scientific community, it’s largely agreed that aromas are detected by small hairs, or “cilia” in the cells inside the nose. When these cilia are stimulated by a passing aroma, a nerve impulse is sent to the olfactory bulb, located inside your forehead right above your nose. The olfactory bulb then sends a message to the brain, where a Chardonnay’s citrus fruit is identified.
And then there’s the personal side of smell. Did your parents ask you to weed the garden, like mine did? Perhaps you spent time at the beach, or you cooked beside your grandmother’s elbow — each of these scenarios is associated with different smells. It’s our life experiences that teach us about smell, hence it only makes sense that our “smell memories” are each unique. Think of this as your aromatic catalogue, one that you assemble over a lifetime.
That’s why it’s important to continue to expand your “smell library” with new things — identify a handful of rare aromas such as truffle, antique rose and cardamom for instance, and you’ll find an entirely new realm in that Pinot Noir glass. Or add lychee, jasmine, oyster shell and chamomile to your repertoire to open new doors in white wine.
Whatever your aromatic penchant, open your nose and your mind will follow.