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Every wine enthusiast has at one point or another dealt with one of life’s constants: The Wine Snob. You know the one I’m talking about: He travels with his own tasting glass (if he has good taste it’s our patented Vino2 Glass, wink wink). He’s attended “how to” seminars for wine swirling. When everyone else tastes hints of berry and smoke in the wine he is detecting notes of “quince” and “black currant” (what even is quince?). And inevitably, while tasting, he will drone on about the importance of “The Dominant Nostril.” We can all agree, there’s nothing more unbearable than an obnoxious wine drinker, but this does lead us to one of the universe’s biggest unanswered questions: Do our nostrils matter?
Ok maybe not one of the biggest, but certainly a question that has been long debated in the wine community. Does everyone have a dominant nostril and how does it affect our wine drinking experience? To answer this we first need to know the basics.
What is the Dominant Nostril? The concept that everyone has one nostril that is more adept at picking up scent. Several communities refer to this as Nostril Rivalry, similar to Binocular (eye) Rivalry or even having a dominant hand. For example, if someone throws a ball at you most likely you will reach up to catch it with your dominant hand without giving it a second thought. Your nostrils, while similar in theory, are slightly different. How so?
#Science. How does the scientific community explain this phenomenon? Your nose is a fascinating machine, and like any other machine it has a cycle – The Nasal Cycle to be exact. Though we have two nostrils, they do not take in odors at the same time or amount. Rather, they shift from one to the other. Not only do they shift, they also have two different airflow levels, one taking in air quickly and the other quite slowly. Why is this important? Odors vary in the amount of time they take to dissipate. Fast dissolving odors are easily detected in the fast moving air stream, while slower odors can be picked up more readily in the slower airstream. Thus, the combination maps out the entire bouquet for our brain to take in. Fascinating stuff right? But how does it relate to wine?
Don’t hate, rotate! The idea of having one singular dominant nostril is a myth. In actuality, our nostrils rotate their dominance. According to scientists this occurs anywhere from every forty minutes to two hours. How should this affect our tasting experience?
Use your Essssses! When beginning our tasting experience, many of us were familiarized with the concept of the 5 S’s. See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor. These are all integral to the wine tasting experience and are a topic all their own, but for now let’s focus on number 3: Sniff. The senses of Taste and Smell are very closely related. Interaction and combination of these two senses greatly impact the flavor of our food and drink. That is why it is essential to breathe in our wine before we taste it. The goal here is to detect any subtle aromas that will enhance the overall palate when we reach our next step. We may pick up a citrus, berry, or even smoky scent. Whatever we detect will deepen our appreciation when we reach the tasting step.
A Pearl’s Opinion. There is no doubt that breathing deeply out of our current dominant nostril will help us to better detect those scents. Yet it is important for us to remember that our dominant nostril rotates every couple of hours. The idea of one consistent dominant nostril is a myth (and frankly quite mean to the other nostril! Hang in there buddy, we’re all rooting for you). To truly benefit, rotate your nose back and forth within the glass, see which one is picking up a better aroma, and go with that. And don’t forget to go up to that wine snob at your next soiree and make sure he knows his nose was created different but equal!
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