Ever struggled to relate to an aroma that is attributed to a particular wine? Just not able to pick apart an elusive scent from a varietal? A technique used by many wine professionals, known as “Retronasal Tasting”, may allow you to become more fully aware of what a wine may have to offer.
The part of the brain that processes incoming aromas and flavors (the olfactory epithelium) is a dime-sized patch of nerve endings in the upper part of your nasal passages. These hyper-sensitive filaments connect scents directly to your brain, allowing for recognition of individual aroma profiles, as well as linking to previous memories. For example, the phenomena known as brain freeze occurs when these sensitive nerve endings are temporarily paralyzed by the quick intake of cold foods, causing the endings to retract and subsequent headache.
When we smell a wine, the fruits, minerals and other aroma compounds that we can readily recognize are detected by the olfactory epithelium and picked apart by your brain; this allows us to readily identify one varietal from another over time. However, clogged sinus passages, poor glassware and certain types of wine can all make detection of distinct aromas difficult. Retronasal tasting may help: by taking a sip of wine, keeping your mouth closed and exhaling, the air from your lungs is forced through your retronasal passages (the airway that connects your nose and mouth). The olfactory nerve endings are then even more accessible to the now adjacent aromas, allowing for a more intense and powerful perception of aromas and flavors.
In turn, some of these aromas may not be as easily identified through a 'normal' smelling in a wine glass (known as an orthonasal process). More volatile compounds and scents may only be accessible through retronasal tasting techniques, allowing for not only a more distinct profile, but potentially something different altogether. So next time you are attending one of our classes and struggling to relate to our description of a wine, try retronasal tasting and see what else you can find!