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Wine and Psychology

Written on 04-12-2018 by Kristina Karanović, Novi Sad, Serbia

When we are tasting wine we first detect a smell, scent or perfume and then a taste of that wine...

As a psychologist and sommelier I feel somehow obliged to explore the above topic - wine and psychology.

How can we connect or correlate them? I can think of a few ways to do so.

Let us now establish more closely these subtle connections between wine and psychology.

 

 

When we are tasting wine we first detect a smell, scent or perfume and then a taste of that wine - that’s exactly what our brain interprets while being simultaneously bombarded with various substances. Alkaloids - generate bitter taste, sugars - generate sweetness, acidity generates sourness, and ions of salt generate saltiness. A cherry on top is a sense of ‘sweet saltiness’, which is of course umami. So, what happens with a brain at this point in time? The brain is over-stimulated and simply cannot differentiate so many sensations. For ordinary winelovers it is often assumed that they are unable to pick scents of bananas, ripe pears or anything dry or semi-dry on the nose, as how on earth wine can be dry when it is actually wet!?

 

A beginner winelover is probably only able to say something to effect that he or she does like that wine, or does not. Actually, a real problem is caused in that process of differentiation of tastes and smells. In simpler terms, if one senses too many tastes and aromas at once, the brain is unable to process that many stimuli simultaneously, so it is not a surprise that in such instances, the brain only ‘screams’ simple sentences like: ‘I do like this’, or ‘I don’t like that’.

 

It is, of course, possible to nurture and train one’s palate. Anyone who enrolled a sommelier course probably remembers what an ‘Aroma Kit’ is. Many sommeliers were struggling with this at beginnings of such courses. Their problem was to differentiate various tastes and aromas; however that is a skill that can be learned. A real question is how? As I just stated, the best solution is to use an Aroma Kit. There is a briefcase containing about 100 different aromas in small bottles. Each bottle equals a single aroma! Every time when you inhale an aroma individually, properly separated from others, you would certainly remember it. In the beginning of the learning process, each time after nosing it is necessary to see and memorize a name of that particular scent. The goal is to establish a unique mental aroma recognition key, for example Bergamot orange - is THAT particular scent and so on. Every time we should randomly pick an aroma bottle and take a guess. After being subjected to this type of training a brain shall be sensitized, in other words accustomed to a procedure resulting in precise differentiation of aromas detected in a wine glass. So, after the education, when our brain registers a whole lot of aromas together, it shall be able to differentiate them pretty easily. I hope this can explain why sommeliers often smell and sniff different items, food stuff or leather, smoke, fine tobacco, forest leaves, thyme, basil etc. as these aromas have to be memorized in order for a brain to conveniently ‘pick’ them up when required.

 

Various researchers demonstrated that most valuable wine tastings are actually blind wine tastings. Why is that? People have tendency to conclude that a particular wine is better or worse simply by judging it through a label. For instance, if one thinks that a bottle of wine is expensive or imported from oversees, or is labeled as a Grand cru, or coming from France, it most definitely means that wine is very good. If, however, one picks a bottle from an unknown local winery, it is probably a mediocre wine. However often that is not the case!

 

In order to avoid mistakes or prejudices we have to practice patiently and as often as possible engage in various blind tastings. You do not know what is a wine in your glass, you consume it blind, and after that you can honestly state whether the wine under scrutiny is good or not.

 

The olfactory bulbs are situated in the limbic system, more precisely in a part of brain responsible for emotions and memories. When we taste a wine, all our olfactory centers are active - emotions are active! The consequences of a symbiosis of olfactory and emotional properties are spectacular! For instance if we adore and cherish a particular style or variety of wine we shall pronounce with excitement that such a wine in our glass is superb even if it is faulty.

 

Therefore, if I, for instance, have plentiful of happy memories connected with a Sunday family lunch, that was always accompanied by a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon - being a kid - that left lasting impressions upon me. Every time I was enjoying a bottle of Cabernet in my later life, it would unmistakable invoke memories of my happy family, childhood bliss, prosperity and well-being. Even if I consume pretty mediocre Cabernet, the overall feeling and emotion will be amazingly positive as psychologically this particular wine is recreating my happy past and as such can only be perceived as very good, excellent or even brilliant. This is purely irrational matter.

 

It is not a secret that our people and not only them, often use wine, beer, cider or brandy as medication. This will be often justified by claiming that alcohol is healthy for blood circulation, or helps to fix many children maladies. This is not scientifically proven and medical students cannot find in their study materials any precise information as to benefits of alcohol, or alcoholic beverages except for cleaning purposes. I feel that it is fair to say that only moderate alcohol consumption should be encouraged, however what kind of authority is responsible to proclaim what is a moderate consumption?

 

On the other hand, perhaps my understanding of moderate drinking is wildly different than somebody else’s. For instance, one glass of wine from time to time is a moderate consumption of wine for me, yet somebody else would consider only a full bottle as his or her measure of moderation. If I say one glass of wine for lunch or dinner is in order, what does it precisely mean? Is it a glass of 0.1 l, 0.2 l, or 1 liter? I saw myself all these glasses. From my side I always refer to the Vienna standard - a glass of 0,125 liter.

 

I have to conclude this article with a few important tips. Please think about them.

Firstly, don't drink and drive. This is not a cliché and a new article about this topic shall follow soon. Thus, if you drink do not misuse alcohol.

Secondly, if you drink please be moderate even if you drink wine, that famous nectar of Gods.

Thirdly, if you do drink think carefully about your liver, she also needs to rest and recuperate. Your poor liver!

 

NOTE: The author of this article Kristina Karanović is a psychologist and sommelier. She runs a consultancy called 'The Forest Psychologist' or in Serbian 'Psiholog u Šumi'. Here is a link to her website:

Psiholog u Šumi