Phase I: Glassware Stance: How to Address the Glass Consistently
The process of smelling and tasting wine is not unlike playing golf; the student has to be consistent with the sequence, or ritual, of how they hold the glass and smell the wine. Otherwise, their experience will never be consistent.
- Have the student find the best angle for the glass as they hold it when smelling wine—the sweet spot where they can smell best which means tilting the glass somewhere between 45-55 degrees. Don’t go too far! They’ll inhale the wine.
- Next, does the glass rests on directly on their upper lip or away from it? Find out what works best for them.
- Do they smell best with their nose alone or do they smell better by moving the glass away from their face by ½ inch to an inch and opening their mouth slightly—and inhaling through both mouth and nose? I call this passive vs. active inhalation.
- Finally, and this is important, help them find their starting eye position; the exact place where their eyes go to when they start to really to really focus in on the wine while asking some form of the question, “what’s there?” or “what am I smelling?” Odds are they look down center or down and slightly to the left. They might also look down and slightly to the right, or much less frequently it could also be at the horizon level. Find the exact place where they feel most comfortable. Have them physically point to it with their free hand. When found, it’s important to know that this is their unique starting point and they need to use it EVERY time they pick up a glass to smell a wine. Also important is the fact that this is only their starting eye position and once they start processing the aromas in a wine their eyes will naturally move to other places as they use different kinds of memory.
Phase II: Connecting Olfactory Memory to Images Using the Basic Set
- Now have the student put their wine glass down momentarily. Ask them to think about some of their favorite smell memories to get their brains into olfactory memory mode. These memories could be anything from freshly baked bread to a walk through a rose garden to a pot of simmering sauce on the stove.
- Next ask the student to think about their memories of what I call the Basic Set; the 25-30 aromas most commonly found in practically every wine. For example, green apples, peaches, citrus fruit both sweet and sour, cherries, blackberries, cinnamon, roses, and more.
- At some point—say six to eight things into the list– stop them and casually ask, “How are you remembering these things? Are you making pictures or movies of them in your head as you remember them?” They will probably respond, “Why yes, I AM making pictures/movies” (Cue celestial chorus singing major chord). Point out that smell and taste memories are indeed visual for most people and that the same way of thinking carries on to recognizing various aromas in a glass of wine. Aha! An important connection has been made.
- Now have them pick up their glass of wine and ask them what they smell. You’re very likely to get a LOT of information whereas only mere minutes before you might have gotten a blank stare, mumbling, embarrassment, self-abasement etc.
- By the way, connecting pictures to smell memories could be one of the most important psychological thresholds that needs to be crossed to become a professional taster.
Now to Phase III. Once the student knows how to hold the glass and where to look to start their internal tasting sequence–and once they have connected images to their smell and taste memories–it’s time to find out how they organize all this sensory information in their internal field—their so-called wine map. It’s really important to emphasize to your students that there is no right way to do this; everyone’s wine map is utterly unique. To begin, suggest to your student that having a way to organize the images for the different aromas in a glass of wine can be really useful for them in terms of remembering the wine. Odds are they probably already have a way of doing so and just aren’t aware of it. It’s not unlike being able to remember several things on a shopping list which is usually done with either images of the actual things on the list or images of the words of the things on the list–or some variation thereof.
Next have the student go back and smell the wine again looking for all the various aromas in the glass. Ask them about the different fruits they smell in the wine. Have them connect the fruits to the images they see internally. Ask them where the images are located in their internal field–or mind’s eye. Odds are if they’ve clicked to the image/aroma connection they will quickly tell you where all the images are located; they should be able to point out exactly where they are out in front of them on their so-called desktop.
What if they can’t? Have the student go back to phase II and do more work on being aware of connecting smell memories to pictures. After all, everyone makes pictures inside their heads. If they didn’t, they’d be dead.
Once you have their answer about “fruit” ask about other aromas in the wine and where the images of those aromas “live” on their map. For instance, with a glass of California Chardonnay, where are the images for apples, lemons, butter, and baking spices from oak located? Once they’ve recognized a handful of aromas and located the respective images, ask the following:
- Once generated, does an image remain in the same position as more aromas are recognized and more images generated?
- Or do the images move somewhere off to the side or up/down once they’re not the object of immediate focus?
- Once an image moves is the student still aware of it “hanging” around? Odds are the answer is yes.
- Do the images change in size, intensity, or proximity once they move? Or do the images stay the same?
- Other details: are the images 3D vs. 2D? In color? Are they bright?
- Do the images change from smelling to tasting the wine? If so, how do they change?
- Finally, and this is important, do the images arrange themselves by category (images for fruit, for flowers, for oak, etc.) so they can be reviewed later? Or are they positioned randomly? Odds are there’s a method to the madness of organizing the images—or else the student wouldn’t be able to make “sense” out of the wine much less remember it.
Eureka! You have just helped them discover their internal wine map and how it’s arranged. From there play around with several wines to see if their map is consistent or if it changes from white wines to red wines or for sweet wines vs. dry wines. Remember, this should all feel easy for them—like remembering a shopping list. If it’s not easy go back to and practice remembering an actual shopping list and then move forward slowly and gradually. When in doubt, have them compare it to something they already do easily.
Proximity and the Map
One final thing to check: have the student find out the distance and size where their map feels comfortable and where it feels like they have the most control over it. Here are possibilities:
First, have them make the map small, intimate, and close in their internal field like a miniature diorama. Is that comfortable and/or easy for them? Then reset it to its original position.
Second, have them position the image map farther out in front of them in a sort of “theater” giving the everything more size and dimensionality, thereby giving them more mental “space” to manipulate and sort the images. Ask if that’s comfortable for them. Then reset it.
If neither of these work they’ll be able to quickly and precisely tell just how far or how close their map should be.
*The proximity of one’s internal wine map is a very interesting thing. I say this because several students and professionals I’ve worked with are very precise in how close or how distant their internal wine map is located. Further, when I asked them about how they viewed future events “coming” at them and how much control they felt they needed to have over future events, the proximity/distance of the images for future events was very similar, if not exactly the same, as the proximity of their wine map. If I had them change the proximity of their “future” either slightly closer or further away they were instantly uncomfortable, in some cases very uncomfortable. I guess it gives new meaning to the phrase, “life comes at your really fast.”
One final and very import point: I want to caution you that all of the above may not work for about 10% or less of your students—and for good reason. These are the outliers I’ve written about previously who either generate very singular associative memories for each aroma in a wine (as in looking out of their own eyes at a movie of the experience) or they may actually project a shape/and or colors from their head or body in response to the wine. The latter are true synesthetes. The most useful—and valuable—thing you can do for someone who expresses wine this way is to help them become aware of what they do and how they organize the sensory information consistently.