Some Champagne makers trust their nose more than their palate to compose their latest cuvee.
When it comes to whisky tasting, it's all in the nose according to 'tasting' chapter in Malt Whisky 'The Complete Guide' (Mitchell Beazley, Fall 2011) by Charles MacLean.
He starts by quoting Aenas Macdonald bemoaning lack of appreciation for malt whisky in the 1930's:
"Let us number their sins. Foremost amongst these is that they drink not for the pleasure of drinking nor for any merits of flavour or bouquet which the whisky may possess but simply in order to obtain a certain physical effect. They regard whisky not as a beverage but as a drug, not as an end but as a means to an end...Whisky suffers its worst insults at the hands of the swillers, the drinkers-to-get-drunk who have not organs of taste and smell in them but only gauges of alcoholic content, the boozers, the 'let's-have-a-spot' and 'make-it-a-quick-one' gentry, and all the rest who dwell in a darkness where there are no whiskies but only whisky-and of course, soda."
The author then moves on to note in 'sensory evaluation' that "whisky 'tasting' is something of a misnomer, since most of the work of evaluation is done by the nose not the palate, Professional whisky tasters are themselves called 'Noses'. We should really be talking, more correctly, about 'sensory evaluation', for the proper assesment of a glass of whisky employs four of our five senses- sight, smell, taste and touch."
His take on the importance of 'Smell':
Although it is under-used in daily life, smell is our most acute sense, and can have a powerful subliminal influence upon our reaction to a place or a person. The acuteness of our sense of smell is demonstrated by the fact that scientists have identified 32 primary aromas, while there are only three primary colours and four primary tastes. Smell is also the most evocative trigger for memory- think how scenes of childhood can instantly be conjured by certain smells- and professional whisky noses and wine tasters consciously store their memories with key aromas, with standard norms and exceptions to the rules."
The chapter concludes with two pages on 'the chemical derivation of flavour' (where do flavours come from) illustrated by whisky wheels of 'aromas' and 'taste and mouth feel'.
Next chapter is dedicated to Whisky Regions followed by Directory of Whisky Houses including some now defunct.
Malt Whisky, the complete guide by Charles MacLEAN is a book to sip slowly.
(* Excerpts from Malt Whisky, the complete guide by Charles MacLEAN-published by Mitchell Beazley- 2011- all rights reserved)