At the wine tasting I led yesterday, I saw a container of Jelly Bellies in the host’s kitchen. I asked her if I could use some of these for the tasting. She said, “Sure!” So we put a bunch of Jelly Bellies in a bowl, and I asked everybody to pick a Jelly Belly. I then told them to follow these steps:
- Plug your nose
- Put the Jelly Belly in your mouth
- Chew 5 or 6 times
- Unplug your nose
- Finish the Jelly Belly
Everybody was blown away by the fact that, with their noses plugged, they couldn’t taste their Jelly Belly. They knew what flavors they had selected, but it didn’t matter. Without smell, they couldn’t taste anything.
I love starting wine tastings with this Jelly Belly exercise, because it very clearly shows the importance of smell in tasting.
When you do a wine tasting, it’s common to talk about what you’re smelling in the wine: berries, oak, vanilla, pepper, flowers. But you might not put two and two together and realize the importance of smell in tasting wine.
According to Vivino, “researchers estimate that 80% of flavor actually comes from our ability to smell. The other 20% certainly completes the flavor, with the tongue able to feel the touch, spiciness, sourness and sweetness of the wine. But it’s smell that does the vast majority of the work and is therefore the most important factor when we drink wine.”
Vivino suggests that instead of using Jelly Bellies, you use wine to more fully understand the importance of smell in tasting. They recommend using a nose clip or a clothes peg instead of your fingers.
When you realize how important your sense of smell is to your wine tasting experience, you might worry about not having what you consider to be the greatest smelling skills. Truth be told, most people don’t have great smelling skills. A key reason for this is that we run through life so quickly, we rarely take the time to smell anything.
In my article Developing Your Wine Sniffing Skills, I recommend a number of steps people can take to improve their smelling skills. The first is to “become a student of smells. Smell every ingredient that you cook with, everything you eat, the fruits and vegetables you buy at the farmers’ market and the smells of your environment – grass, rain, leather, gasoline, wet earth, flowers, wet dog and shoe polish. Fill your mental database with smells, so that you’ll have aroma memories you can quickly draw from.”
Becoming more mindful of smells will make a big difference over time, and will be a lot of fun.
If you would like me to lead a wine tasting for you where I start with the Jelly Belly experiment, please let me know. If you would like to join my team as a wine consultant, so you can lead your own tastings, please check out my wine consultant page.
Here’s to enjoying wine more as we learn more about the importance of smell in tasting.