Sense of Smell and Wine Tasting

Bacon in my Syrah!

There is a great deal of research studies and experiments done with regards to vision and color recognition. When it comes to the sense of smell there are not as many. In fact, if you do a search on the internet for sense of smell in humans it shows the lowest number. The following Google Scholar search results illustrate the number of citable research studies and published papers:

Sense of vision in humans 1,300,000
Sense of taste in humans 601,000
Sense of smell in humans 265,000

Since I would like to keep this blog short I will let you think about why there isn’t as many research papers in the subject of smell. If you’d like this is your homework. But, remember to have a glass of Syrah while are thinking about this!

Wine appreciation starts with the use of your eyes to look and recognize the color of the wine. Then, you will use your nose to sniff the wine and try to make sense of the aromas. Of course, if you swirl, it is going to help move the aroma compounds up to your nose. Making sense of the wine aromas and trying to describe them using words is not as easy as it sounds. Even if the label on the bottle includes a description such as this…

Finally, not really, you will take a sip of the wine and try to taste the flavors of your wine. We all know, food does not taste like anything if you are not able to smell it. Wine is a kind of food, right? Smell and taste have to work together. They overlap each other. Sometimes, they are like those two legendary sisters that are jealous of each other. You know what I am talking about! The history of your past known smells and tastes have to be recalled from your long term memory to make the connection to the wine aromas and flavors. The emotive part of your brain unfies the flavors, aromas, and colors into a summary. The intellectual reasoning part of your brain deconstructs and dissects to describe the summary in words. It is a pretty daunting task..

Say, you were born and raised in a tropical country like Singapore, it is most likely that your aroma and flavor records may not include grape aroma of, say, Syrah. Most of your records are probably related to the tropical flavors and aromas. However, if you are tasting a white wine such as Chardonnay, a white grape varietal from Burgundy, France, it is possible that the wine has green apple, and lemon or papaya or even some banana flavors and aromas that you are able to immediately recognize and describe them. On the other hand, Syrah, the red wine is a Rhône grape varietal from France, may have the aroma note of a violet flower


or possibly vanilla and some baking spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Its flavors may include dark fruits such as blackberry and blueberry along with a note of black pepper, and a taste of bacon, sometimes, it may even taste like beef jerky and or smoked meat. Plenty of tannins and some leather, too!

Let me ask you, when you were younger growing up in Singapore… did you ever stop and smell the violets on the way to your school? Did you ever rip out a piece beef jerky with your canine teeth or chewed on some leathery smoked meat for the afternoon snack, or shoved in a blueberry muffin for breakfast? (Of course you saw Clint Eastwood chewing on a piece of jerky and drinking whisky from a leather pouch just before saddling up his horse). This is the reason why you feel like an idiot trying to describe the elephant that is not in the room while your friend is yapping, “wow, I smell a little bacon in my glass of syrah!”


  • Clint Eastwood: A cowboy actor who can shoot from the hip. I bet he can smell the aromas and taste the flavors of Syrah from a long distance as he is quite familiar with bloody red, tobacco, gun powder, smoked meat, beef jerky, bacon, wild black and blue berries, sweaty horse, barnyard, wet wool, leather, sweaty socks, and more!
  • Syrah can be Shiraz in Australia. Probably because English is their second language and it is normal for them to mispronounce English words!! But, this mispronunciation is widely accepted by the wine snobs around the world.


  1. Very interesting take on how people view wine! Rather than just having 2 categories of people who drink wine & people who don’t, this shows how even in the category of people who drink wine there are still many factors to consider. Like where they grew up and what smells trigger an emotional response from them.

    1. I agree!
      This is a very interesting viewpoint that I never considered before. There are so many unique flavors that could be extracted from exotic fruits or smells from rare flowers that we may never get the chance to experience in real life but may be added to the next glass of Syrah that you order!

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