Last week our crew went back to school on a field trip to visit the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine at UC Davis. Our former enologist had rejoined the world of academia to get his PhD and was able to give us a personal tour of the teaching winery (amazing!) and the sensory science laboratory. But best of all, we got to test our noses and participate in a little sensory analysis, too!
The Far Niente winemaking team and cellar crew pose by Robert Arneson's Bookhead installation at UC Davis.
Twelve black glasses containing various aroma standards were set out on the lab benchtop for us to sniff and try to identify. There was strawberry jam, floral (crushed up blossoms), orange, medicinal (Vick’s vapor rub), apple, cloves and various others. We took turns sniffing through to familiarize ourselves with the aromas and descriptors as well as to “calibrate” the group.
We were then led into a corridor with private sensory booths. Each dimly lit booth had the twelve black glasses and a computer screen. Our task was to identify each standard blindly. The computer prompted us to move from glass to glass and click on the aroma descriptor that best described what we smelled. It was not as easy as you might think. As a group, our most common mistakes were mixing up lemon and orange and strawberry and blackberry jams. (Me – I missed apple!)
While we had fun testing our noses and getting some good laughs and the UCD lab, sensory science is a very important area of research for the wine industry. It helps us to translate the chemistry of winemaking into practical terms – What does this wine smell like?
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