Visualizing Scent

Chihuly

Chihuly

When you roll the wine around then put your nose in the glass, the first question you ask yourself is, ‘What do I smell?’ But before you ask yourself that question, ask yourself this question, ‘Where are my eyes?’ Where do your eyes go when you are smelling wine? According to Tim Gaiser, if you are like 90% of wine tasters, your eyes go down and to the left with a soft focus. You are not looking at anything in your environment. You are looking at the images in your head. For most of us, our scent memories are very visual. As we smell the wine, our minds are conjuring up images of black cherries, oak barrels, and vanilla beans.

Tim Hallbom, a behavioral scientist who studied Tim Gaiser and other Master Sommeliers and wine professionals has found that our sense of scent can be manipulated by manipulating our visual scent memories. If the first image that comes to mind is a blackberry bush, mentally move that image further away. What happens to the scent you are experiencing? Now, move the image closer to you and notice how the scent changes.

So, how does this help us become better tasters? Now, that we know that scent memory is visual, we can improve our scent memories by really paying attention to what the scent objects look like. The next time you come across a scent that could be found in wine, for example, a rose, study it as you smell it. Firmly etch it, both the aroma and object itself in your mind. Another good exercise for improving scent memory is to review scents even when you’re not tasting wine. Mentally call up objects along with their aromas. This type of visualization has been shown to be very beneficial in strengthening and increasing our scent memories.

Now, swirl the wine in your glass once again. Put your nose in the glass and inhale. What objects come into your mind’s eye? What aromas do you smell? Without lifting your head, move your eyes from the downward position that they are in to as high up as you can look without taking your nose out of the glass. What do you smell? If you’re like most people the answer will be somewhat incredible.

For more on the visual memory of scent, go to Tim Gaiser’s website, or, if you ever have the chance, take a class from him. He will probably be speaking again at the 2015 Society of Wine Educators Conference.

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4 comments on “Visualizing Scent

  1. Cindi says:

    Fascinating! I wish I could have read this before we traveled to Spain. I tried many new wines, and it would have been interesting to see how — as an “average” wine drinker who is still learning how to appreciate the better wines — it would have affected the experience.

    But we brought back a few bottles, so …. :)

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. foxress says:

    Oh, it will work on those bottles you brought back with you! It really was an interesting exercise. I loved your pictures of the trip. Maybe those are the pictures that your mind’s eye will conjure up when you smell your wine. Thank you for reading!

  3. Great post! Really breaks things down and I think helps ease a taster’s fear of trying to articulate what they smell!

    • foxress says:

      It really helps experienced tasters to hone their skills as well. All of us can benefit from an increased aroma repertoire. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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