“I’m sad…I hate this wine!”

Why is it that some people enjoy certain aromas, while others don’t? Some people enjoy that hint of barnyard in wine resulting from Bret, while others can’t abide it. With older German rieslings I love that smell of petroleum. Others, however, detest it.

Researchers at Brown University have concluded the following: 

"When an odour is paired with an emotional event, perception of that odour was altered to fit that association."

This leads to the conclusions that:

"As humans, we’re not immediately predisposed to respond to a scent and believe that it is good or bad
. When we like or don’t like a smell, that is learned."

Most of the aromas described in wine are those that we’ve all come across before we ever dipped our nose in a glass of wine: cherries, berry, vanilla, leather, mint, chocolate, etc. This research tells us that we are probably predisposed to like or dislike certain smells before our nose ever descends into a new release of Pinot, Cab, Chardonnay or Sangiovese.

Yet with few exceptions, the individual aromas that are found in a wine rarely dominate that wine. It really does tend to be a "nuance" of vanilla, or a "hint" of cherry. Occasionally you come across a wine that truly is dominated by one aroma or another. But it’s rare.

With wine, there is a consistent aroma set that is generally found across wines.   Listen to what a child says when you first let them smell and taste a wine: "sour", "bitter", "yuck". With the exception of sweet desert wines, dry wines do indeed have a macro aromatic profile that is on the sour or bitter end of the scale that results from a lack of sugar and the presence of alcohol. Those of us who like wine and taste lots of wine really don’t notice that as we bore down into the glass and pull our the nuance or hints.

The idea that we will like or dislike an aroma based on our mood at the time of tasting it has real implications for the adoption of wine into peoples’ lives.

The study did not indicate whether or not our reaction to an aroma can be turned around after an initial bad emotional experience with the aroma. For example, if a teenagers first experience with wine is drinking it in a very uncomfortable or even threatening situation, it seems likely, according to this study, that they may not like the aroma of wine in the years to come. But, can they overcome that initial association of wine and a tough emotional milieu?

I don’t know.

    However, I do know that the implications of this study confirm what we already knew about tasting room environments. Make the room as welcoming as possible, not intimidating. Make sure those working behind the bar are friendly and approachable first, rather than wine snobs. Make sure there is delicious snacks to eat with the wine. Make sure the music piped in is appropriate for the type of customer you expect. Pay close attention to color schemes and how they affect mood.

It has been known for some time that aroma can alter one’s mood. Department stores and auto dealerships have taken advantage of this knowledge for years. But what isn’t looked at as closely as it should be is that mood can alter one’s reaction to the product you are selling.
 

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