Olfactory vs. Gustatory Wine Experiences: A Discussion

In July 2014, I sat down for a candid discussion with Ken Trimpe, a Washington-based photographer and oenophile who runs the website Decanter Banter. We met at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, and it was delightful to be able to engage with such a creative mind.

All weekend, I had a surplus of questions swirling around my head. I already had plans to adjust my website content, and as such, I began brainstorming (and interviewing) folks about their thoughts on many of these questions. The reaction I had from a number of wine industry professionals was very positive. As a result, I am now here attempting to reiterate these conversations in blog form.

For sake of fancy definitions, olfactory refers to the sense of smell and gustatory refers to the sense of taste.

The Curiosity

One of the ideas that has been floating around my brain is how people generally interpret wine.

As a trained professional, I evaluate wines in a systematic and methodical way. Factors around wine colour, glycerol levels, bouquet & palate notes, aging potential, etc., are all components of my engagement with wine. While it is fairly safe to say that most wine industry professionals experience wine in a similar way that I do, I have gained a curiosity around how untrained people experience wine, particularly through olfactory and gustatory means.

The Question

Why do you think people are more interested in how wines taste [gustatory involvement] as opposed to how they smell [olfactory involvement]? Which do you have more interest with?

Ken Trimpe of Decanter Banter Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

Ken Trimpe of Decanter Banter
Copyright © 2014 Valerie Stride

The Discussion

Ken’s initial reaction to this question was not silence, but vibration.

Most people trust their tastebuds over their “sniffers”. I think the nose is important, but less people have the nose to pick up the subtleties. My wife thinks I have a good nose, and I don’t. I pick up tastes quicker. If you have a good sniffer, it’s a key in tasting wine.

There is no doubt that having a good sniffer is a key in tasting wine and that most people trust their tastebuds over their olfactory senses. Why is this? Has the ability to pick up subtleties with our noses been on a natural decline throughout evolution? Or have we simply trained ourselves through time to trust our tastebuds more than our noses? Either way, after having spoken with a number of people, it appears that people trust one more than the other.

Attending the Vancouver Int'l Wine Festival Blind Tasting Challenge February 2013

Attending the Vancouver Int’l Wine Festival Blind Tasting Challenge February 2013

Coming back to Vancouver and mulling over this topic led me to look at things from a different perspective. Undoubtedly, experiencing food and wine transcends olfactory exposure. From the information that I received through discussions with people, the consensus is that most people have a stronger experience of food and wine on their palates. Generally speaking, many people jump straight into a taste experience and tend to forget (or pass by) the olfactory part of the journey. I questioned Ken whether or not he thought a lack of being able to make quick olfactory associations hinders part of the enjoyment process. He did not hesitate, again, to infer confidence as a key factor in how people approach wine.

I do. I think some people don’t trust or have the confidence to make associations. I can usually pick up on general associations like fruit or other categories. For me, it takes a while longer to figure out what it is that I’m smelling. Sometimes it hits me over the head and other times it’s just something familiar that I can’t put my finger on.

Confidence is a critical factor when attempting to understand a wine through olfactory and gustatory means. Of course, this requires knowledge gained from being acquainted with wine. Essentially, the more wine one consumes, the clearer associations will typically become. For example, having a good memory of what cherries smell and taste of is meaningful when experiencing a Pinot Noir. One who understands cherry smells and flavours will more confidently be able to interpret Pinot Noir. Confidence in making correlative associations is one of the missing links that can help bridge the gap between wine snobbery and the approachability of wine.

Maybe this is just my passion shining through, but I have frequently pondered how wine snobbery intimidates the general public and results in less-than exciting tasting experiences for them. Thus, I am left with the curiosity revolved around how a deeper focus on olfactory experiences might assist the general public in enjoying wine on a deeper level more so than they might already. While Ken has had his nose in a number of glasses, he admits that, for him, the olfactory experience is still more challenging when tasting wine.

I think sometimes the nose is a bit harder. I need to work at it a bit more. Not always, though.

Agreed. Not always. I think this boils down to personal sensitivities, and how swiftly we can draw on our memories of previously-learned smells and tastes.

Baked apricots Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Baked apricots
Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Mushrooms Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Mushrooms
Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Orange Zest Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

Orange Zest
Photo Copyright © Valerie Stride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it cannot be argued that a full tasting experience requires the use of both one’s olfactory and gustatory senses, sometimes we will naturally identify more on the bouquet than on the palate, or vice versa, because the wine simply expresses itself in that way. This can come into play particularly when attempting to understand how a varietal is expressing itself or when blind tasting. I agree with Ken when he said:

Wines have clues, and you have to use all your senses to [understand it]. It becomes a process of elimination.

Other questions that arise revolve around individual sensitivities. When tasting a wine, do you, reader, find that your nose is more sensitive to smelling wine than your palate is with tasting it? Or do you find your palate is more in tune with wine than your sniffer? How do sensitivities play a part for you, or do they at all? Do you think that an awareness of sensitivities alters your confidence levels?

Better yet, does it even affect your enjoyment of a wine?

I do not feel that I am satisfied; I am clearly curious about how others experience wine. I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment, or vote below!

Cheers!

The Demystified Vine’s Wine Story – Videoblog 001

September 1, 2014


Hello wine lovers!

Look! It’s my first video blog!

Last year at the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, British Columbia, I began thinking about doing some video blogging or podcasting. This year, the intrigue continued. I finally made a short 4 minute video about how I stumbled upon wine. It’s nothing over-the-top, as I filmed it on my webcam. However, I hope you enjoy the story!

WARNING: Cheesy video about to be played.

Cheers!

Another Wine Bloggers Conference came and went, and of course, none of it would have happened without the support of the sponsors.

This year, I was provided with a generous scholarship to the 2014 WBC in Santa Barbara, California, and I was (and still am) wholeheartedly thankful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow as a wine blogger, interact with such passionate and amazing professionals, and visit a fantastic wine region of the world!

I would first like to thank Zephyr Adventures for hosting this amazing conference. Your dedication to helping people “move…taste…learn” is why this conference is always such a success. There are veterans who attend the Wine Bloggers Con year after year because they seek out the types of adventures that you provide. I’m hooked, too. Thank you.

photo(31)It was a most sincere pleasure speaking with Katie and Whitney of Nomacorc again this year at the conference. Nomacorc specializes in zero carbon footprint wine bottle closures. The science will astound you, in addition to making you wonder why this technology wasn’t around sooner. We’re talking closure options for winemakers who can “choose [their] optimal oxygen ingress [...] to accommodate bottle aging as the winemaker intended”. How amazing is that? Thank you.

 

 

photo(32)Nothing is complete without chocolate. Stafford’s Famous Chocolates were on board during the opening reception to share their artistic goodies with us blogger folk. I’m hard pressed not to point out that their dark chocolate almond bark was to die for! I’m still wondering why Stafford’s Chocolates can’t be the next big food group. Hello!? Thank you.

 

 

photo(30)Bevmo had also set-up shop during the opening reception. It was very cool to learn more about this liquor store whose focus is on wine, spirits, liquor, beer, microbrews, and other treats. This California-based corporation was educating us on their products and services, which range from assisting brides & grooms with their libation choices to offering case lot specials. Thank you.

 

 

photo(34)Banfi, let me tell you, Joe Janish (Director of Public Relations) knows how to throw a great party. It was also great to share and learn more about the Banfi vision of “offering wines of superior quality, and fostering the appreciation of wine through education”. It was great to try your 2012 Centine, and well, I’ve always been a fan. (Just recently opened a 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva…*drool*) Thank you.

 

 

photo(35)Aside from attending informative and engaging sessions on wine and wine blogging, I had the chance to talk with Kevin Byrne and Gabe Medeiros, who are involved with Beverage Grades – a recent project that focuses on “fingerprinting” wine and using its chemical DNA to help consumers decide on purchases or help them with health concerns like sugar or pesticide levels in a wine. I was flabberghasted; this stuff is pretty awesome. Thank you.

 

 

photo(33)I can’t forget to mention Duckhorn Vineyards and Rutherford Hill’s wondeful contribution to the conference. Not only did they sponsor the conference, but they also put on an amazing Merlot tasting called “#Merlot Me”. You provided a great experience for a number of us bloggers to dig deeper into wines that are unanimously considered “good vino”. Thank you.

 

 

photo(36)WordPress, oh WordPress, how could we be bloggers without you? I am a dedicated WordPress user, and I am so glad that writers like myself have this kind of high-quality platform to help share our visions. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

There were a number of other sponsors at the conference, but these are the sponsors that I interacted with the most. I have also done some write-ups about the conference which included other sponsors like tercero wines, Wines of Portugal, and the Santa Barbara County Vintner’s Association.

Cheers, and thank you!

Warm regards,

Valerie Stride

The Confession

I’m starting this blog post with a confession. No, not the type of confession where I sit down with a mediator between heaven and earth, but a confession centred around “oh-my-why-didn’t-I-discover-these-food-and-wine-pairings-sooner”!

I was pleasantly surprised to discover how well Portugal’s bold libations paired with international cuisine on the level it did. I am not claiming that this was impossible, but that I wish I could have experienced these culinary adventures at least a decade ago. Now, when I cook spicy Indian or delicate Japanese, I will be considering choosing a wine from Portugal to pair with it. Win!

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The Facts

  • Portugal offers a variety of interesting wine flavor profiles as a result of vinifying their unique range of over 250 indigenous grapes
  • According to archaeologists, Portugal was introduced to their grape varietals as far back as the Bronze Age
  • Tradition around wine making is on blending than single variety wines
  • Portugal has 31 DOCs/DOPs (Controlled Denominations of Origin)
  • Let’s learn Portuguese!
    “Adega” – winery, cellar, or wine company
    “Ano” – year
    “Branco” – white
    “Garrafa” – bottle
    “Seco” – dry
    “Tinto” – red
    “Vinho” – wine

 

The Luncheon

Setting: Santa Barbara. Friday, July 11, 2014. Wine Bloggers Conference’s Grandstand tent.

Setup: Head to a wine & food station, grab a pour, grab a plate, eat, taste, … and be transported into a cuisine chameleon’s world! No, they didn’t serve any cheese, but I just did.

Goal: “Discover Portugal: Influences Around the World – A Food & Wine Pairing Brunch” hosted by Wines of Portugal.

 

The Experience

Copyright © Valerie Stride 2014Pairing #1: Indian Masala Omelette with Quinta das Arcas – Arca Nova Alvarinho 2012

So, we all know how fun Alvarinho is, right?! Right!

This citrus-based beauty was youthful and classy. Hints of quince complemented the fine pear and yellow plum notes that drifted from the glass. The 2012 was bone-dry, with a light-bodied delicacy. On the palate, a slight prickle lifted the spirits, and brought out its green, herbaceous character.

The omelette had met its match, provided there was no spicy sauce on it. The topping on the egg pancake was made from potato flakes, tumeric, and coriander. Just enough gusto to give the tongue a run for its money!

The verdict: Can I have this for breakfast everyday?

 

 

Copyright © Valerie Stride 2014Pairing #2: Portuguese Crostini & Grilled Halibut with Tomato Compote Alongside Casa de Santar Reserva Tinto 2009

The Casa de Santar was an evolving wine with clear-cut notes of crushed red berries, raspberry juice, grilled herbs, black cherry, and toasty oak. The palate was a bit smokey, with a touch of black pepper. It was velvety to boot.

This red wine and the crostini were a great pairing; the zucchini and corn flavor profiles were lit-up by the wine itself.  As for the Halibut, well… I was not expecting them to match. I was under the impression that the wine booths were near the food stations that would provide the best pairings. Aluminum foil is not an attractive flavor to me. The tomato compote did nothing for me, either.

The verdict: Bring me more bread with veggies and more wine!

 

 

Copyright © Valerie Stride 2014Pairing #3: Japanese Tamagoyaki and Okonomiyaki with Herdade do Esporão – Duas Castas Branco 2012

Probably the best pairing I tried during the entire lunch was this white wine with the graceful elegance of the Japanese dishes.

The wine itself was light and brilliantly citrus-based, with white peach, minute hints of creaminess, and grassy notes. It was simply refreshing.

The Tamagoyaki (rolled omelette with sour cream) was, as I wrote in my notes, “awesome”. An appropriate pairing considering the fluffiness and lightness of the egg alongside the light flavor of the sour cream. The Okonomiyaki was interesting, as I have never had “Japanese pancakes with syrup” before. I thought the syrup was too sweet for the wine, although it did help to show the bracing acidity in the vino. What’s the rule again? Oh right, your wine should always be sweeter than your food.

The verdict: I’d do it all over again regardless of the syrup.

 

The Conclusion

Photo by George Rose

Photo by George Rose

 

As it is creeping up on lunchtime for me, I am disliking the fact that I am staring at these food & wine pairings and reliving the savory memories of each. Gurgle.

Many thanks to the Wines of Portugal for hosting this luncheon for us; it truly was an amazing experience overall. I am a huge fan of experimentation and adventure, and this lunch opened the eyes of many to the fact that Portugal has more than just Port.

Cheers!

Happy 2nd Anniversary!

Another year has come and gone, and I am pleased to say that The Demystified Vine is still guiding people to love & understand wine more and unravel the mysteries behind this fascinating topic! Okay, I’m done. Mission accomplished.

Just kidding.

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In the Similkameen Vineyards, 2013

In the last two years, I have seen The Demystified Vine grow significantly. In its first year, it had approximately 4,000 views. During its second year, views more than doubled. I have been working hard to not only grow as a writer, but also provide better content to my readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Fond Memories

photo 5

Reporting at the Black Hills Estate 14-year Vertical, 2013

The 2013-2014 blogging year was memorable. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in my BC vine-backyard (the Okanagan) and taste some amazing wines. In October 2013, I was asked by Natalie Maclean to represent her at the Black Hills Nota Bene 14-year Vertical Tasting. The following day, I attended a 6-year vertical tasting at Clos du Soleil Winery in the Similkameen Valley. What experiences! I was passionate about BC wines before I went into the interior that weekend, but post-trip, it deepened widely. I realized how lucky I am to live in such a quality wine region of the world. We DO have age-worthy wines here in BC.

 

 

rieslings

The Riesling tasting leftovers

 

 

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Spectacular line-up of Clos du Soleil whites!

In addition to attending the Vancouver International Wine Fest and numerous wine tastings around town, I was fortunate enough to record some podcasts with Wine Country BC (@winecountrybc). How could I not also remember talking with a number of winemakers and winery owners to bridge the gap between readers and wine? In June 2014, I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, California. I’m still processing many of the new things I learned. There have been so many wonderful experiences, and I am wholeheartedly looking forward to having more…especially more Marechal Foch and Riesling tastings!

 

 

Changes are Coming to The Demystified Vine

The Demystified Vine is going to be going through some changes. I have decided that I am going to be refocusing my website, in order to develop more engaging content about wine and the industry.

Previously, my focus was on reviewing wines and doing write-ups about wineries. In between those publications, I slipped in some wine-related posts or had guest bloggers. (Who could forget Martin Knowles (@mkphotomedia) and I writing wine Christmas Carols about Robert Parker?)

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In Venice: I love me some Valdobbiaddene DOCG!

I want to shift gears. My passion has steered me into examining a more theoretical side of wine. I want to engage in conversations about the philosophies behind wine, wine making, and examine why wine makes people tick. The Demystified Vine will still do some wine reviews and the like, but for a while, at least, I want to see what other perspectives can bring.

I hope that you will continue this journey with me, as I have appreciated you being here. Feel free to “Like” The Demystified Vine on Facebook, too! The Page is up and running!

Once again, thank you to my readers; I wouldn’t be here without you! Many blessings. Cheers!

 

 

 

Valerie Stride
Writer of The Demystified Vine

 

PS: I hope you like the new look!

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