Sniff in stereo

Take a deep sniff of a wine you like. Then sip and sense more aromas through your palate. This is how we enjoy wine. But I’ll bet you’ve never thought of this: Are you taking one deep breath or a series of short breaths … or both? Are you smelling with both nostrils?

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At this point you may be asking yourself what I’m smelling … or maybe what I’m smoking. But bear with me, please. I learned something fascinating the other day while listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast, and I’d like to share it with you.

Here’s the scene: Ted Radio Hour host Manoush Zomorodi ( @manoushz), interviewing scent historian Caro Verbeek (@caroverbeek) in the May 21, 2021 episode, “Listen Again: Breathe.” asked this expert smeller, “Do you have a process by which you inhale a scent?”

Verbeek responded, and this is where my interest perked up.

“You can use this sniffing technique: short fast inhalations, like a dog – snif snif snif,” she said. “It is also important to use both nostrils. Many of us are not aware that one nostril actually perceives something different from the other. No one’s nostrils are equal in power.

A wine lover takes a deep sniff.

A wine lover takes a deep sniff.

Manoush picked up her cup of coffee to give it a try.

“So you close one nostril,” Verbeek said. “It doesn’t matter which one. And you inhale the coffee scent. Then you simply close the other nostril, and inhale the coffee again.”

Manoush was amazed. “Whoa! It’s like complimentary smells, but not the same!”

Verbeek: “Yeah, exactly, because those two smells from both of your nostrils together, they produce the smell of coffee as we know it, But of course we never close one nostril.”

Manoush: “It’s so weird, it was like hearing the melody in one nostril and the harmony in the other, hearing the separate tracks and then bringing them both together.”

That was it. A two-minute segment, but it grabbed my imagination. First I hit the search engines to see if there was any science behind that. Sure enough Stanford University was on the case back in 1999.

“Your two nostrils may not agree on what a rose smells like,” reported Kathleen O’Toole at Stanford News Service. “Each nostril of the human nose is tuned to smell some odors better than others, and the specialization moves back and forth from one nostril to the other,” Stanford researchers reported in a study published in the journal Nature.

“When consciously sniffing, many people recognize that one nostril often sucks in air faster than the other, but scientists have not known what purpose this difference might serve. Now it appears that the difference in airflow through the nostrils allows one nostril to better detect the odor of some substances while the other better detects others.”

This shouldn’t really have come as such a surprise. As Dr. Noam Sobel of Stanford’s Program in Neurosciences, head of its Olfactory Research Project, pointed out, most of us are aware of differences in acuity and color perception between both eyes; differences in pickup or high and low frequencies between both ears. Why should our smeller be any different?

I don’t suppose I need to tell you that I started smelling everything in sight with four quick sniffs and one nostril at a time. It was fascinating! After sampling coffee, bourbon, wine, a tomato caprese and a bowl of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans, I can testify: The quick-sniff alternative works, and there really is a difference between one nostril at a time or both together.

As best I can describe it, my right nostril is better at zeroing in on the intensity of the smell; the left is much better at nuance and complexity.

With this week’s featured wine, Bonpas Grande Réserve des Challières Ventoux, the deep black plum flavor component dominated my impressions on the right side. On the left alone it was surprisingly easy to pick up the fine details. Together, the sensations merged like switching your sound from mono to stereo.

Give it a try! I think you’ll be intrigued. And I’d be delighted to have you post your observations on our WineLovers Discussion Group.

Today’s Sponsor:

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Today’s Tasting Report

Bonpas 2019 Grande Réserve des Challières Ventoux ($12.99)

Bonpas Grande Réserve

Bonpas 2019 Grande Réserve des Challières Ventoux offers the characteristic aromas and flavors of the Southern Rhône and Provence in its mix of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes plus a splash of Carignan. Ripe raspberries show up first in the aroma, but juicy black plums are there too, with notes of freshly ground black pepper showing as the wine opens up in the glass. Flavors mirror the nose, red and black fruit with mouth-watering acidity and soft tannins; a touch of stony minerality appears with balanced fruit and acid in a long finish. U.S. importer: Boisset America, St. Helena, Calif. (Nov. 26, 2020) (Sept. 11, 2021)

FOOD MATCH: Well-balanced fruit, acidity, and tannins make for a food-friendly wine, and this one passes that test. Roast beef or steaks, lamb, or even roast chicken should serve it well; the winery suggest pairing it with barbecued pork ribs. It was delicious for us with a simple bowl of pasta in a fresh, garlicky tomato sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: This wine is delicious right now, so there’s no need to wait; but balance and sufficient tannins suggest that it should hold under good cellar conditions for three to five years.

VALUE: lists a $14 average U.S. retail for the similar Cotes du Rhone Reserve de Bonpas.

Here’s the winery’s fact sheet in English.

For more information, check this fact sheet from Importer Boisset America.

Oddly, shows only Canadian vendors for Bonpas Grande Réserve des Challières Ventoux.

If the Ventoux Grande Reserve de Challieres is hard to find, check Wine’Searcher for the similar Cotes du Rhone Reserve de Bonpas.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for dozens of other wines from Ventoux.


Wine Focus: Wine 401 – Syrah and its close friends Grenache & Mourvedre

Today’s featured wine previews our Wine Focus topic for October a bit early. We don’t have a link for you yet, but if the wines of the Southern Rhône and Provence (and other “GSM” blends around the world) interest you as much as they do me, feel free to start tasting and hanging on to your notes now.

Meanwhile, our Wine Focus on Zinfandel continues through September. Bring your Zin, or a Primitivo, or even a Crljenik if you can find it, and let’s talk about Zin! Here’s your link: Wine 303 – Zinfandel and its family


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!

Thirty Second Wine Advisor

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