Blog Post Series 3

Can you smell the difference?

Have you ever tried drinking or at least tried tasting wine before? If you did, you probably have tried smelling wine, too. If you did often and done it with a few kinds, you may remember differences in the smell between the kinds you have tried. No? You don’t think so? Well, that’s understandable. For someone who is not considered an expert in wines, it is quite normal for you to think that the kinds of wine you’ve tasted all taste or smell the same- probably grape-y and a bit alcohol-y. But for wine experts, every kind is special. Each brand of wine presents a unique smell and taste that demarks it from others. You’re probably thinking, “Of course they’d be able to tell the difference; they’re experts after all!” Fair point, but have you ever wondered how exactly they can tell these differences? Wonder no more because for this blog, we will be digging up on the secrets of the experts.

For a wine novice (yes, that’s you), you might have, as I have pointed out earlier, a very limited set of descriptions for the tastes and smells of wine.  Grape-y and alcohol-y may be all you’ve got with sparkly and, perhaps, sweet or bitter. But then one would think, what else can we describe the taste and smell of wine with? Well, experts and enthusiasts alike have an interesting list of descriptions for such sensory experiences for the drink. One example characteristic wines may have is being austere. In wine language, a wine is considered austere when the taste hits your mouth and just turns it inside out. In other words, the wine may be very acidic and have very little fruit flavours. You get what I mean? Another creative characteristic of wine is its flamboyance. The dictionary definition of being flamboyant mentions attracting attention because of exuberance, confidence and stylishness, being strikingly bold or brilliant, or simply striking. In wine lingo, when a wine is flamboyant it just means it’s abundant in fruits. I guess being abundant in fruits qualifies merits for being bold and exuberant, huh?

There are a lot more other descriptions for the taste and smell of wine that are equally as creative and interesting as the two I’ve mentioned. Going back to experts, this vocabulary of descriptions and characteristics is what they use to distinguish a specific kind of wine. But more than their extensive lexis, these experts also have another advantage over novices that helps them point out wine differences better- memory. Yep, according to a study conducted by Parr, White, and Heatherbell in 2003, wine experts have better memory over novices. “But they’re probably old and their brain cells must have deteriorated by the time they have become experts so there’s no way they have better memory than the most probably younger novices!” you say. Fair point number two. To clear things up, the memory we are talking about here doesn’t necessarily have to do with age, in the first place. The kind of memory I am talking about is what is called sensory-based memory. In English, it means a memory that is related to the sensations you feel when you use your senses. For this case the memory of the smell you smell. These experts recall smells the way you recall bits of information you have read or heard before. How exactly do they recall smells? Well, how do you recall information? You imagine it. Normally, you would be able to imagine how a ripe mango that’s fresh from the fridge smells like, right? But can you imagine the smell of a ripe mango that’s been out of the fridge in the open for 3 hours and distinguish it from the previous mango? That’s quite hard for you to do but not for wine experts. This ability to imagine these smells and the subtle differences between them is what gives them an edge over novices. As you might have guessed it, these experts develop this ability over time, although some may have been born with it.

Amazing isn’t it? Don’t you wish you had that ability, too? Don’t worry! As what research has proven, this can be developed and learned over time. So if you really want to have that nose of an expert, better do it now and start sampling ‘em wines!




Parr, W., White, K., & Heatherbell, D., (2003). Exploring the nature of wine expertise: what underlies wine experts’ olfactory recognition memory advantage?, Science Direct, 15 (5), pp. 411-420.

Puckette, M., (2012). 40 Wine Descriptions and What They Really Mean. Wine Folly. Retrieved from

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