Thursday, September 22, 2005

Smell update

Secrets of Smell

"No two people will ever smell the same thing in the same way," says Professor Patrick Mac Leod, president of the Institute of Taste in France and former director of the sensory neurobiology laboratory at the
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.

Mac Leod has shown that teeth give the brain nearly half the information it receives related to taste, and that the nose collects most of the rest via the mouth. The tongue is rather useless.

[This must be shattering news for Riedel and their outdated tongue model!! And I'm not sure how he came up with the amount of information that teeth gather - or even what that would be beyond 'textural' info. /huge]

He also says there are no intrinsically bad odours. If dirty baby nappies make us wrinkle our noses, it's only because we have learned to dislike the smell.

[I’ll have to disagree…there are plenty of smells which are universally considered “bad odours”: putrid rotting flesh (cadaverine), skunk odor (made chiefly of sulfur compounds and aldehydes), stinkhorns (a pungent aromatic mushroom which attracts flies), the “corpse flower” (Amorphophallus titanium - which also attracts flies), durian (a really stinky fruit), etc… /huge]

Others senses also contribute to our perception of odours.

"The colour of a wine - which is visual information - can truly change the taste of the wine," says Mac Leod, who has conducted experiments showing that the perception of smells is multi-sensorial."This is not an illusion. A white wine that has been tinted red with a odourless dye will taste different" and create a different pattern of neural activity in the brain, he says.

That’s something most serious tasters have picked up on. And it's why some tastings are now really held "blind" by tasting from opaque black glasses to avoid those extra visual inputs. But, it makes me wonder - is there a place for people reviewing wines when they're hypersensitive to something?

Perhaps, but maybe that wouldn't be good for the general public which isn't sensitive at that same level.

I'd disqualify myself on the hypersensitivity I have to Brettanomyces (just so I can avoid appearing a hypocrite), while I'd discount someone like Laube on his over-sensitivity to TCA.
I discount Parker's notes when it comes to Brett, but not because he's too sensitive...actually, he's not very sensitive to it at all - or perhaps more accurately - he doesn't find it a fault since he grew up on a dairy farm, and can "tolerate it".

While it doesn't discount those who are hypersensitive reviewing for their own peer group of sensitivity, I think it makes a good argument for wine writers and reviewers to have "average" palates, and not some super-special tasting ability (read as "smell sensitivity") when reviewing for the majority of people.


Blogger VineSci said...

"He also says there are no intrinsically bad odours. If dirty baby nappies make us wrinkle our noses, it's only because we have learned to dislike the smell.
[I’ll have to disagree…"

I think that when Mac Leod says "we have learned" he doesn't mean us as individuals, he (probably) means Homo sapiens has learnt that as a species through evolution. However ridiculous it may seem to us who are now successfully evolved (hopefully ;)), the bad smell of poo (for example) just tells us "don't eat this", etc. Some bad smells and feelings of disgust are related to sources of contageous diseases, and so on. This is now hard-wired in our brains, so in that sense you are right.

October 08, 2005 9:44 AM  

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