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Fist-A-Cuffs in the Tasting Room!

A few weeks back, I walked into our tasting room to find 4 customers arguing with each other. I stayed back and listened as best as I could to try to understand what was going on, and this is what I heard . . .

No.1: I smell citrus and spice from this wine.

No. 2: Well, I get peaches and cinnamon.

No. 3: You are both wrong! This wine smells floral and spicy!

No. 4: Are you crazy? This wine has the essence of grapefruit and the sea . . .

Not only were each of these customers telling the others what they smelled, but they were insistent that they were ‘right’ and everyone else was ‘wrong’!

So who was right here? The fact is – they ALL were. One person’s ‘citrus’ may very well be another’s ‘stone fruit’ and one’s ‘spice’ may be another’s ‘cardamom and cinnamon’ . . .

The bottom line is that each of us has a unique sense of smell and taste that is based upon a number of factors unique to us, including the foods we were exposed to throughout our lives, the places we’ve visited and the aromas we’ve noticed at each of these places, the recency of when we last smelled a particular smell or tasted a specific item, and much more.

And not only that, but each of us has different’ thresholds’ for detecting senses as well. For instance, there are some, including some well known wine reviewers, that can detect TCA, the chemical responsible for the ‘wet cardboard’ smell caused mainly by bad corks, at 1 or 2 parts per BILLION! Others may not be able to detect this defect unless it is 20 to 30 TIMES that level!

What similar situations have YOU been a part of? I’m looking forward to your comments!

Cheers!

6 responses to “Fist-A-Cuffs in the Tasting Room!”

  1. I’ve seen similar behaviour in my experience as an aromatherapy retailer. It caught me by surprise because I was expecting more of a “kumbaya” from people in a health-realted industry. NO! What I discovered is that (as in any area of study) some people are more interested in being right than learning. Moreover, they get off on telling others, “You’re doing it WRONG.”

    Sounds like you had some big egos in there, getting loud after a few tastes. Were other customers in there?

    Suggest you keep a spray bottle of water behind the counter. A surprise squirt worked great today when my cat was having a dust up with the neighbor’s cat. Element of surprise, my friend. Works every time.

  2. B. Carufel says:

    I’ve always felt it was fun to discuss what we (sic) were tasting, not argue about it. It seems intuitive to think that we all detect slightly different aromas and in different proportional strengths when we smell and taste wines, so why argue? Debate is one thing, arguing about a smell or taste kind of defeats one of the reasons to go tasting with a group of friends.

  3. Paul Tarr says:

    Recent analysis of the Human Genome project indicates that there are approximately 400 functional olfactory receptors (the other 600 are pseudogenes). Each of these 400 receptors are clonal (uniquely different) and divided into families based on sequence homology. Unlike other cellular receptors that typically bind to specific ligands, olfactory receptors recognize a range of chemically similar compounds and two or more different olfactory receptors can detect the same compound giving rise to near infinite numbers of neural inputs for odors. If you couple this with the extreme chemical diversity that is present in any glass of wine you are setting yourself up for a fight-especially since nobody has exactly the same compliment of olfactory receptors given the genetic diversity of our genomes. What’s the point of all this science-NO TWO PEOPLE WILL EVER SMELL THE SAME COMPLIMENT OF ODERS FROM A GLASS OF WINE-BIOLOGY DICTATES THIS ACCEPT IT AND ENJOY THE WINE FOR WHAT YOU SMELL

  4. Don Giovanni says:

    Larry,

    With the nose having a receptor with 1,000 nodes that detect 10,000 smells at different levels…it’s no wonder no one can get exactly what the next person will taste..over 10,000 different smells …it is said that the subconscious picks them all up, but we awake only pick up a few…the point is we are hardly aware of the different nuances…if we did pick up all 10,000 smells we would crash like a computer…

    to try to get an exact PPT that each will perceive different nuances is irrelevant to the average wine consumer…it’s us the wine producers that have to know…to protect the consumer from bad wine…

  5. Tom Mansell says:

    great points! everybody’s got different smell receptors and different synesthetic responses, that is definitely true.

    Some estimates place the TCA detection threshold at 0.5 parts per TRILLION (ng/L)

  6. I can’t say I’ve ever been a part of a conversation as such, but I have spent a day, or two or three, learning how to unmask and “taste” the different layers of wine. I call it getting lost on the back roads of Soledad. Wine tasting is like apothecary. Yes?