by Fred McMillin
for May 25, 1998

The Capsicum Caper


Smell is the oldest and most primitive of all the senses. The 'smell-brain,' with its direct contact with the memory areas, can act as an immediate catalyst of recognition and identification, which can be relied upon by experienced wine tasters.

...J.M. Broadbent in Wine Tasting

Most of what we sense about wine involves our ability to smell. Some experts claim the nose is ten thousand times more sensitive to odors than the tongue is to tastes.

...Andrew Sharp in Winetaster's Secrets

Our nose can recognize some 10,000 different odors. A wine can give off several hundred of them. In a study of the two compounds responsible for the fragrance of green pea shells, it was discovered that a slight rearrangement of either molecule produces an aroma characteristic of capsicums and merlot wine.

...Alan Young in Making Sense of Wine

The Rest of the Story

Capsicums??? Capsa is Latin for box. Capsicums are tropical plants with their seeds in box-shaped pods...i.e., chilies, peppers, etc. So my panel decided to get a good Merlot and try to sniff out the capsicums. We used the current release of the USA winery that has made Merlot the longest, the 1995 Louis H. Martini. There was lots of blackberry, but behind that a peppery, herby scent. We figured we found the capsicum.

The Wine

1995 Merlot, North Coast
Louis M. Martini Winery, St. Helena, Napa Vly.
Winemaker—Michael Martini
Rating—RECOMMENDED in its price range
Food Affinities—Smoked fowl, pork, beef, robust pasta
Contact—(800) 321-9463
Price—$10 (good value)


If you can't catch the capsicum the first time, just wait. Expert Andrew Sharp tells us that the olefactory (Latin: olfacere, to smell) neurons are changing constantly so that in a month you'll have an entirely new set for a second try.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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