Your Vital Sense of Smell
By: George Balling
We have all heard about how hideous of an illness Covid is. Most of us know someone who has had it, and one of the really surprising parts of the virus is how different everyone experiences the illness and its symptoms. In talking to many customers in the shop though, most everyone we know that has contracted this evil bug has lost their sense of smell to varying degrees and with inconsistent results on how long it takes each of them to get that sense of smell back, and then fully back. Many have told us that even after they recover some of their sense of smell that they will still pick up “off” aromas in food and wine. They explain that they can smell and taste again but that there are certain things that show up in their senses that just don’t seem right.
I have read in several studies that the first part of the sense of smell to come back is the smell of burning wood and also sulfur and other chemical aromas. From what I have read this appears to be related to our sense of smell being an early warning device to help us recognize danger of either fire or risk from chemicals of various kinds.
I have also read that the nuance of aromas takes the longest to come back, in some cases taking weeks or months to get the full spectrum of smells and aromas to be completely clear. This is the most devastating part for wine consumers. The oft repeated fact that 90% of what we taste in wine is actually what we smell in wine comes to mind as we think of folks trying to reestablish their ability to pick up all the subtleties of wine aromas that make it so enjoyable to drink. The question for many wine consumers is what can be done to help regain more fully this vital sense of smell?
The main suggestions are the same we make for those just starting to drink wine. The sense of smell is a skill, almost like strength that can be developed and enhanced through practice and training almost like working out any muscle in the body your sense of smell will improve from training and exercise. Initially it will take quite a bit of work. When you pour your first sips into the glass try to use the best designed wine glass you can afford, if you can stick to tasting your wine out of the varietal style glass it is designed to be in that will help also. Most of us don’t have the full line of Riedel varietal glasses at home but use them if you do.
Start with wines you know well. Producers and varietals that you know are supposed to smell and taste like, those if you will that are most etched in your aromatic memory. Give the wine a good swirl and then really get your nose in the glass and deeply inhale the aromas of the wine. Work your mind to find those familiar aromas from the bottle you are drinking and know well. This will take some time to come around, so smell the wine repeatedly before taking the first sip. We have heard from many how frustrating this is that they are just not able to pick up what they used to easily smell and identify from their favorite wines. As hard as it is though continue to go back and deeply inhale the aromas of the wine and work your mind to search for those familiar smells. When you get one or more really linger over them and deposit them in your memory bank.
Go through this exercise with friends or family who have not had Covid and lean on their keen sense of smell to help you identify the aromas. Once someone you are having wine suggests they detect a specific aroma it is easier for you to identify it.
Use a sample aroma of the smell you are searching to find in the wine. If your pre-Covid memory suggests you smelled cherry, apple or other fruit aromas smell those fruits and then seek it out in the wine. If you recall baking spices, or dried herbs, floral or citrus notes try smelling each of those things and then taking a good whiff of the wine. Wine Aroma Kits can be spendy so make use of those items you already have to help you identify what you know is already there in your glass.
For many of us our sense of smell is vital in cooking, eating, drinking and enjoying wine, and many of our daily enjoyments. The destruction of our sense of smell is one of the many hideous things about Covid, but you can fight to get it back. Keep swirling and smelling and we hope your sense of wine appreciation via your sense of smell comes back soon!