FrontRunners: The Nose Doesn't Know

Try this little experiment at your next wine party: Disguise a white Bordeaux as a red by adding a few drops of odorless food coloring. Serve the impostor vintage to your guests and ask them to describe its bouquet. Note the words they use: Do they liken it to honey, straw, or apricots— “yellow” flavors associated with white wines? Or do they compare it to “red” flavors such as raspberries, red currants, or tobacco?

If they sniff out the white in red’s clothing, compliment them and serve them only the best from now on, because a recent scientific study shows that most noses will not know. Gil Morrot and his colleagues at the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Montpellier, France, devised this test after analyzing the vocabulary wine experts use when describing a wine’s complex scent. They found only one clear pattern: Wines were consistently compared to things that were similar in color. Morrot and his team wondered if this showed that the brain might have trouble with disentangling different types of sensory information, if seeing red means smelling red.

The researchers tested this notion by asking 54 undergraduates to first sniff genuine red and white Bordeaux, then a genuine white and a white dyed red. The students were fooled by the tainted white, invariably describing it in “red” language.

Morrot claims these results show that “olfactory descriptions are completely subjective” and that our sense of smell cannot be separated from our other senses. Some might discount his results because he tested college students rather than wine experts. But Stephen Williams, founder of the Antique Wine Co. of Great Britain, was not surprised by the findings. “Yes, I’d go along with that,” he says, adding, “I think all the senses are interconnected and can’t be separated.”

The special release contains a blend of Cognacs aged for up to 35 years…
The 23-year-old scotch won a Best in Show award at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition…
Photo by Chelsea Curtis
New York’s Club Macanudo played host to an evening of Martell cognac and Cohiba cigars…
The full-flavored whiskey takes its character from the distillery’s picturesque natural...
The Mandarin Oriental New York hosted the exclusive event at its 35th-floor MObar…
Photo by Antoine Bagot
The finest Cognacs are deeply flavored, richly textured, and best discovered on their native ground...
The $3,000 Platinum pass ensures the finest food, drink, and access…
In honor of the hotel’s 125th anniversary, the ultra-rare scotch comes with a piece of England’s...
Scott Torrence evaluates, assesses, and drinks some of the greatest vintages in the world...
The cucumber-infused spirit inspired the giant green airship, which is taking to the skies of major...