Lookbook | ARTICLE #3

Tasting, a matter of memory

How does our memory work when it comes to tasting? We asked neurobiologist Gabriel Lepousez, a researcher for the “Perception and Memory” Unit at the Pasteur Institute and co-founder of the Ecole du Nez.
July 2021

Is this what distinguishes an expert from a novice?

Yes, it is. The strength of the expert is the richness of their memory and their ability to recall this memory. Indeed, after years of expertise, their brain has built a rich, precise and organised memory, as well as an ability to activate the two paths that connect to the memory: that of emotions and that of analysis. By relying on these two ways of thinking, they will multiply the means of accessing their memory and the associations established: I have already encountered this smell and it reminds me of this situation, this place, this person… this is the recall mechanism.

As soon as they taste, the expert compares: they use their memory and rely in particular on the emotions they feels to connect the elements together and identify what makes up a wine.

Some experts sometimes prefer a purely analytical approach, highlighting only the analytical characteristics of what they are tasting while putting aside the subjective emotion that tasting brings them.

"Humans have 400 basic olfactory sensors. This is staggering in terms of coding capacity and discrimination!"

What are the keys to improving one’s memory and one’s tasting skills?

The challenge is not to record exact references and data to memory, but to be able to recall them, i.e. to accurately use what you have learned to better analyse the present situation.

Neuro-oenology” shows that the art of tasting is a task that requires an essential organ: the brain. A novice taster has not yet organised and optimised their memory, which is partly why they have difficulty associating smells with memories. The expert, on the other hand, has the ability to recall a memorised element with precision, to distinguish it correctly from another nearby element and to verbalise it. It is a question of training.

You have to feed your memory by repeating tastings and without neglecting any detail or information. Like any organ, it can be trained and optimised. The more you taste, the more the access paths to the memory will be optimised and the easier it will be to find the connection to a given memory. The brain will also multiply the access routes to the memory by creating multisensory associations: emotional, olfactory, visual, gustatory, tactile, contextual aspects… Thus it will use these associations to better retrieve all the information stored for a given wine.

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