Wednesday, September 22, 2004

by ADAM GOPNIK (The New Yorker)
What do we talk about when we talk about wine?
.......As Calvin Trillin explained in these pages a while ago, if you simply put red food coloring in white wine, even experienced drinkers can’t tell it from red wine. And, according to scientists who study smell and taste, that’s just the beginning. Rachel Herz, a professor of psychology at Brown, conducts research into the effects of “frames” on the perception of smells. (Wine tasters are “noses” first of all.) Smells, she reports, “are so malleable when it comes to verbal context that when reasonable verbal information is available it will override and even replace the olfactory information.” The effect is pronounced when the smells are, in some way, ambiguous—tell people that they’re smelling vomit, and they’ll smell vomit; tell them that the same smell is Parmesan cheese, and they’ll smell Parmesan cheese. With wine, the most basic verbal categories (it comes from France, it comes from America, it’s cheap, it’s expensive) seem to be able to throw even an educated nose off track. The illusions, Herz suggests, “work the way, in a familiar illusion, arrowheads either going in or feathering out extend or shorten straight lines. Word labels on smells are the same kind of context effect, and these context effects are markedly more powerful with nose sensations than they are with other kinds.”............MORE->

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