Neuroscience: a SISSA study revealed the olfactory ability to recognize wines
To recognize the production geographical area of a wine is a matter of nose, according to a study which has been recently published in the journal “Food Quality and Preference”, conducted by the International School for Advanced Studies Sissa in Trieste by researcher Francesco Foroni, now working at the Australian Catholic University, along with a team of academics led by Sissa neuroscientist Raffaella Rumiati.
The study, also involving the University of Padua, investigated the olfactory ability to recognize the terroir, as defined as the experts: the characteristic “wine signature”, which is peculiar of a specific variety of grape and a specific area of production. “This is the first study on the ability to distinguish two wines only by their scent” said Professor Rumiati.
“The research involved 32 volunteers including experts - wine producers, connoisseurs and sommeliers - and lay people. We investigated wine olfactory discrimination ability using a computer-controlled olfactometer. Participants had to smell the scents of Doc wines (Denominazione di origine controllata meaning Controlled designation of origin) produced in 5 different vineyards located in the Berici and Euganean hills, in Veneto, Italy”. The test consisted of 96 trials where the volunteers were asked to decide whether the two scents belonged to two different wines or by the same wine. The wines differences could be in grape varieties - for example a Cabernet and a Merlot -, in different terroirs or in both the elements. “The results highlight the complexity and sophistication of the human olfactory abilities” explains Francesco Foroni.
“Volunteers did very well in recognizing the differences between two wines that diverged both for variety and terroir. Moreover, both experts and lay people were able to pick up the differences due only to terroir”. Being a unique combination of physical and chemical factors that are peculiar of a specific area, this peculiar “signature” not only affects the taste, but – as shown in the study – also the olfactory components of the different wines.
This research is part of a larger multidisciplinary project called “VeneTerroir” attempting to describe terroir as an interactive combination of soil chemistry and biological elements. “This study demonstrates that we can “Smell the terroir"! It is an important result that gives us more information about wine perception and appreciation. Moreover, it opens new interesting scenario in order to improve the quality of these products and guarantee an even greater pleasure in drinking”, concluded Raffaela Rumiati.