Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation

If I think I’m going to make any progress creating a next generation wine description system, it might help to take a look at the current work about aroma in other disciplines. One of the great required readings is Adam Jasper & Nadia Wagner’s Notes on Scent from Cabinet magazine in their winter 2008/09 issue. They weave a beautiful narrative through philosophy into different aroma classification systems and between delicious factoids about smells & smelling.

Secondly, for more heavy duty reading, The Impact of Expertise in Olfaction was really interesting. Papers like this are important to the distiller because the distiller is an expert due to their unique sensory experiences and this impacts countless decisions they make day to day. Expertness implies a unique reality because unique contrast detection skills and very personal thresholds of perception of aroma compounds because of repeated exposure (contrast enhancement phenomena). So in effect, expertness can even be a handicap to creating consumer products in certain cases.

Solo organoleptic evaluation isn’t always valuable because of the expert phenomenon so its useful to construct tasting panels and this great paper, Sensory Analysis in Quality Control: The Gin as an Example, is a wonderful primer. To my knowledge, most new distilleries are not correctly using tasting panels or maximizing what they could do with them. The new American distillery is a busy, overworked and on the go place. Staff pretty much need to set up little assignments for other staff members as quality control procedures so as many minds as possible can be brought into the process.

Lastly, the paper that is blowing my mind is Understanding the Underlying Dimensions in Perfumers’ Odor Perception Space as a Basis for Developing Meaningful Odor Maps which is fairly cutting edge being from 2009. The paper is sort of dense and takes a lot of concentration and repeat reading to get through. Odor perception space refers to the points of tension that exist in odor perception. The paper analyzes multiple databases constructed by researchers and perfumers then performs multi variate analysis to cross examine existing aroma categorization ideas and maps proposed by other researchers and professionals. This sort of analysis would be at the heart of the Vino Endoxa project and would be at the heart of more deeply understanding the botanical formulas that make up spirits categories like gin, absinthe, or vermouth. I pretty much should take the time to dissect the paper in its own post, but I’m pressed for time and I’m too interested in tracking down references in its bibliography and pursuing those.

The first major split in organizing flavor language or more specifically categorizing aromas is to differentiate descriptors that relate to affects and descriptors that relate to sensations. Refreshing pertains to affect and while acidic pertains to sensation, yet they both typically pertain to the same stimulus. I haven’t yet determined if the term balance pertains to affect or sensation but I’m leaning on affect.

The world of cocktails seems to be in love with affect and so does my earlier writing where I explored concepts like emotional content that I borrowed from abstract painting criticism. Emotional content, for me, was the spectrum spanning elation to repulsion and typically looked at the tension between multiple sensations like sweetness and acidity. It seems like as we juggle multiple sensations an overall effect is more salient that the individual, challenging to parse, sensations.

I remember reading a book long ago called Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs that examined the affects of certain food sources. This book broke aphrodisiacs into more categories than just one, which would make you horny, but rather multiple which were typically grouped in trilogies to arrive at a horny conclusion. Camphorous mint or spicy chilies would flip your temperature getting you hot and bothered while coffee or chocolate got the heart racing and cinnamon or saffron got blood flowing to the genitals. Coffee and chocolate can both be categorized as bitter but they can both also be categorized as stimulating and that effect might be more salient and easy to articulate than the bitter sensation.

Cocktails have been promoted by effect since the beginning. They used to be mustache twisters, eye-openers, corpse revivers, or anti fogmatics. Affect makes better adcopy than describing the individual multi-variate sensations. When I developed the craft keg cocktail way back when, the proof of concepts were quickly coined as panty droppers and party killers. Besides the new keg format, I was also exploring freeze concentration methods to increase aromatic extract which lowered or perhaps overshadowed the perception of alcohol. So should I have been dispensing high extract sours or should I have been dispensing panty droppers? And what the hell should Vino Endoxa include?

Affect seems like it is less data-mineable than sensation, but then it might just be the best way to categorize sensations in wine that just can’t be grounded in other common sensations. When wines have that highly regarded stink, is it more helpful to call them olfactory-umami or to call them erogenous? I’m suspecting for aromas that have no strong co-experience, categories of affect might be the way to go.

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