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Welcome to Robert Bell's Wines of Canada

Smell the Wine

Aroma, or smell, is the most important sense when it comes to food, and therefore wine. There are actually two ways you smell your wine. ...you smell your wine externally and internally. The external sense is called orthonasal olfaction. This is what is being used when you place your nose in the glass. The second smell, known as retronasal olfaction is from inside the mouth (it translates to reverse smell).  This is why we swoosh the wine around our mouth. It is not to “taste” the flavours but rather to “smell” the flavours as they enter our nasal passage.

Here is a key factor no two people actually smell things the same way. Hiroaki Matsunami led a team of scientists who systematically explored the triggers for specific odour receptors in the nose. No two people apparently smell things the same way.

A difference at the smallest level of DNA -- one amino acid on one gene --  can determine whether you find a given smell pleasant. A different amino acid on the same gene in your friend's body could mean he finds the same odour offensive, according to researchers at Duke University.

There are about 400 genes coding for the receptors in our noses, and according to the 1000 Genomes Project, there are more than 900,000 variations of those genes. These receptors control the sensors that determine how we smell odours. A given odour will activate a suite of receptors in the nose, creating a specific signal for the brain. 

But the receptors don't work the same for all of us, said Hiroaki Matsunami, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the Duke University School of Medicine. In fact, when comparing the receptors in any two people, they should be about 30 percent different, said Matsunami, who is also a member of the Neurobiology Graduate Program and the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. 1.

In 2004, American neuroscientists Linda Buck and Richard Axel shared a Nobel Prize for their identification of the genes that control smell, findings which they first published in the early 1990s.

Their work revived interest in the mysterious workings of our noses, interest which is now generating some surprising insights – not least that each of us inhabits our own, personal olfactory world.

"When I give talks, I always say that everybody in this room smells the world with a different set of receptors, and therefore it smells different to everybody," says Andreas Keller, a geneticist working at the Rockefeller University in New York City. He also suspects that every individual has at least one deodorant he or she cannot detect at all – one specific anosmia, or olfactory "blind spot", which is inherited along with his or her olfactory apparatus.

Despite our perception of how powerful the tongue is when discussing taste, it's really quite small in comparison to our ability to smell. Countless studies have shown that most of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our ability to smell; researchers estimate that 80% of flavour actually comes from our ability to smell.

Therefore it is perfectly normal for you perceive the wine differently than your friend will.

Despite our perception of how powerful the tongue is when discussing taste, it's really quite small in comparison to our ability to smell. Countless studies have shown that most of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our ability to smell; researchers estimate that 80% of flavour actually comes from our ability to smell.

Our smelling ability increases to reach a plateau at about the age of eight, and declines in old age. Some researchers claim that our smell-sensitivity begins to deteriorate long before old age, perhaps even from the early 20s. One experiment claims to indicate a decline in sensitivity to specific odours from the age of 15! But other scientists report that smelling ability depends on the person’s state of mental and physical health, with some very healthy 80-year-olds having the same olfactory prowess as young adults. Women consistently out-perform men on all tests of smelling ability 2.

The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.  Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; the scent of an orchard in blossom conjuring up recollections of a childhood picnic, for example.  This can often happen spontaneously, with a smell acting as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience. Research has also shown that a memory can enhance the aroma of an item.

One memory would be our honeymoon in Napa Valley thus Napa wines seem to be enhanced for us.

In NUTSHELL we all like different things our experience of the same wine is different. Your wine experience is unique to you!

1. Duke University "Duke Today"

2. SIRC Research

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