Monday, October 29, 2007

Smell and taste: in the twilight years

~Our frequent commenter on the blogspot version of this blog, Jack, at Fork and Bottles, had a question for me regarding what age does to our ability to smell and to taste.

(Jack, I replied to your email but it was returned to me as undeliverable, a particular annoyance with aol…)

~Jack has read, as have I, that the older we get, the weaker our ability to smell and taste.
~In fact, the science that I link below seems to indicate that we lose our sense of smell more so than our sense of taste as we age, and, men seem to lose it before women—wouldn’t you know; boys mature later than girls, and men peter out sooner; must be a message in it somewhere!
~Anyway, Jack’s question is whether, at 47, he should start opening those wines in his cellar and stop collecting any more wines that have a 20-year aging window.
~On the basis of the science, that sounds like a good idea, but…
~First, I am considerably older than Jack, but slightly younger than the seeming-start date in the studies done on smell and taste. If anything, my sense of smell and taste seem to be better than they were when I was in my thirties.
~I believe the main reason behind what seems to me like a better sense of smell and taste these days are the years of training that I have behind me, coupled with a natural heightened sense of both sensations. My sensitivity to so-called off odors is quite active, and my sensitivity to various taste stimuli at times seems over-active. Perhaps, practice helps retain the senses for longer.
~Also, pharmaceuticals have a way of messing up our natural sense of smell and taste. I avoid taking pills unless it is a matter of grave concern.
~Therefore, I am not so sure I would clean out my cellar based on personal evidence. Nevertheless, I already have stopped buying long aging wines, but not because of my fear of losing the sense of smell or taste.
~A few years ago a friend I had known since our youth, and who was my age, died suddenly of a heart attack, and after having had a clean bill of health issued after a physical check-up.
~It occurred to me that there are no guarantees on this earth.
~Then, last year, a neighbor and friend, with whom I had spent many years sharing food and wine, was killed in a car accident. In an instant, she was gone—no more sharing recipes and new wine finds with her.
~It occurred to me once more that there are no guarantees. It also occurred to me that saving wine for decades is rather futile unless you are guaranteed that you will get to drink them.
~I have some wine around that is age-worthy, and I will slowly empty those bottles. I will also pick up bottles of wine here and there that will have the ability to age, but won’t necessarily need 20 years.
~To me, living means today: not yesterday, for I can’t change that and not tomorrow, for I can’t predict that.
~It is, however, comforting to know that there may be a more concrete reason for my attitude—and it might have no smell at all…

These two studies might interest you:

Study1 Study 2

To anonymous:
~I have a problem dealing with so-called anonymous comments on my blog: I dislike conversing in a vacuum. Plus, I am suspicious of people who are afraid to lay claim to their own words.
~In any event, I will respond to the anonymous commenter regarding my comments about sulfur dioxide by pointing to some of my quotes with references to blog entry dates, plus some Web sites with information.
~I am responding because he or she has misunderstood and misrepresented my comments. (I have posted the anonymous comment, under the old blogspot entry that it references.)

VinoFictions, Oct 9, 2007
“I’ve read that about 1% of 4 million asthmatics in America are the only people at risk of serious sulfite-induced side effects, and there is hardly any record in the U.S. of serious side effects connected to SO2 and wine.
Yet, few anti-sulfite conversations concern dried fruits or packaged foods, which likely contain as much or more SO2 than wine?”

VinoFictions April 11, 2007
“The reason for concern over SO2 is that in its gaseous/airborne state, the chemical can negatively affect the respiratory system of asthmatics. But the levels allowed in wine have never been proven to be cause for concern, whether added to the wine or in there naturally.”

VinoFictions, December 1, 2006
“The main problem with the sulfite warning on the wine label is that it doesn't provide much in the way of information. The warning says nothing about quantity, you know, like, how much SO2 does the wine contain? More important, wine is not alone: bread, cheese, yogurt, and just about every packaged baked food also contain sulfites. Call me a nitpicker, but if the government is going to warn me, I’d like the warning to have meaning.

To be sure, asthmatics respond negatively to sulfites but they don’t all respond in the same manner or to the same level of SO2—estimates in the United States are that about .02% of the adult population may react negatively to sulfites and not all of them are known wine consumers. Generally, the regulated levels of SO2 in wine pose little threat to the majority of consumers. Further, the SO2 levels in wine are usually lower than they are in packaged baked goods; you know, the foods without the sulfite warning.”

~You may notice that I continually point out that asthmatics are at risk. The problem is, most numbers presented are estimates plus, if a government “at risk” level has been determined you wouldn’t know it from the wine label warning.
~But I am repeating myself.
~Anonymous: take a look at these other Web sites.

SO2 Again etc.

etc

etc

etc

etc

and etc

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
October, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

2 comments:

Jack said...

I think the key paragraph in those two links is this: "While we estimate that less than 2 percent of Americans under 65 have meaningful olfactory loss, approximately half of the population between the ages of 65 and 80 does. Over the age of 80, three quarters of the population experiences this problem."

Thanks for finding this! I think it indicates that a wine enthusiast would be smart to drink their best cellared bottles by age 65. Do you agree?

Thomas Pellechia said...

If you believe the report, and if you are fully confident that nothing will prevent you from making it to age 65--yes, I agree. But there are no guarantees, which is why you should be sure to leave the good stuff in your will, preferably to me!