Question from a Winemaker

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tiffanzsolti

New member
Jul 17, 2019
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Hello Guys!

I am a winemaker by profession. Tasting wines during production and aging, evaluation of the product due to quality management purposes is crucial for me.

I am an intermediate pipe smoker who smokes let’s say a bowl or two daily. I don’t usually get tongue bite but it happens sometime esp. with dry VaPers. However, I do feel a slightly sore tongue some mornings quite often. This could be bad in itself, I hope others experience this too thus I’m not alone. Or maybe I’m still just a quick, wet and hot smoker and need to progress more.

Now, I know pipe smoking is bad for your health etc. I am fully aware and that the health issues are argued and not yet fully researched. I assume we all know that. Perhaps you can help me out though.

My question is whether you think pipe smoking can affect the olfactory, retronasal smelling and the tasting buds in the mouth or on the tongue. Did you experience a general weakening or numbing effect? If so, does it recover when quitting the pipe for a few days?


Those people who smoke pipe and enjoy drinking wine since decades, what do you think?

Maybe we have other winemakers, professional tasters around here? :)

Thanks!

Zsolt
 

gamzultovah

Preferred Member
Aug 4, 2019
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Hello, I’m sure a lot of forum members will chime in, but the one you truly want to hear from is @jiminks . Jim is a “super taster” by all accounts, and would have the best answer to your question.

As for me, while I do get tongue bite/numbness from time to time, it has never interfered with my ability to taste. The aftertaste of some heavy Latakia blends have lingered in my mouth for longer than I liked and might have mingled with the taste of food and wine, but never sublimated them. Enjoy.
 
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stokesdale

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Apr 17, 2020
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I know what you mean, and yes it will unless you do what I do which is lightly brush your tongue at night when you brush your teeth (don't brush too hard though because that can have the opposite effect). Ever since I started doing that roughly 15 years ago, I have had zero issues losing my tastebuds. Plus, you aren't leaving all of the bad stuff on your tongue for long periods of time...I'm assuming it's that bad stuff that could lead to cancer on your tongue.
 
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cachimbero

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Apr 9, 2019
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Two professional wine tasters I know, with many awards here in Spain, are cigarrette smokers. Go figure. One of them told me he didn´t smoke anything in the three hours previous to the sessions. Of course, almost any taster I know in Jerez (Sherry wines) whose work is to taste the evolution of wines to decide on the solera management or to decide if the young fermented wine will become fino, amontillado, oloroso etc. (that is to decide the type of "crianza" (sorry, don´t know the word in English), wheter biological, or oxidative) , is, or was, since it´s been some years, smoker. I find moderate pipe smoking does not detract to my ability to taste, although it does after sessions of heavy smoking, as club meetings or competitions. Smoke irritates your mouth, but so do brandy tasting, and even some of the generous wines that are produced in southern Spain (which can have up to 21º ABV). Just my experience.
 

tiffanzsolti

New member
Jul 17, 2019
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Two professional wine tasters I know, with many awards here in Spain, are cigarrette smokers. Go figure. One of them told me he didn´t smoke anything in the three hours previous to the sessions. Of course, almost any taster I know in Jerez (Sherry wines) whose work is to taste the evolution of wines to decide on the solera management or to decide if the young fermented wine will become fino, amontillado, oloroso etc. (that is to decide the type of "crianza" (sorry, don´t know the word in English), wheter biological, or oxidative) , is, or was, since it´s been some years, smoker. I find moderate pipe smoking does not detract to my ability to taste, although it does after sessions of heavy smoking, as club meetings or competitions. Smoke irritates your mouth, but so do brandy tasting, and even some of the generous wines that are produced in southern Spain (which can have up to 21º ABV). Just my experience.
Jerez wines are amazing!
 
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madox07

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Dec 12, 2016
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My question is whether you think pipe smoking can affect the olfactory, retronasal smelling and the tasting buds in the mouth or on the tongue. Did you experience a general weakening or numbing effect? If so, does it recover when quitting the pipe for a few days?
A few years back when I undertook studies to become a sommelier, I do remember a Parisian late 19th century book on wine tasting that stated tobacco, in small amounts, was actually good in between glasses, as tobacco helped cleanse the palate, preparing ones mouth for the next wine. I remember actually asking my professor back than, and he - an AIS (Associazione Italiana di Sommelier) graduate himself, was totally against it. He did agree that this was a common practice in the old days, but it is a big no no today, and this is coming from a former pipe smoker that did understand my pain.

Now to directly answer your question, if you make wine as a hobby, you shouldn't have any problems due to pipe smoking. Oh and by the way, with time you will pace yourself and the sore mouth in the morning should no longer be an issue. If, on the other hand, you do this professionally, as in you work for a large wine making company, and your job is oenology, I do believe that smoking causes bias in your taste ... but if this be the case I guess you already know this but are not ready to face the truth.

As a sommlier, I never smoked before a presentation. I never did many professional presentations in my day, since my company's contract with a large wine maker lasted only for about a year and a half, but when I did present for them in my region, especially when the new labels came out, I didn't smoke the whole day before the presentation, or perhaps I did have a fag with the morning coffee but that was about it. Then again, I didn't eat spicy food before a presentation, nor did I have coffee or tea just before. Some habits are perhaps placebo, and some are relevant to the very refined of sommeliers, which I am not but adhered to non the less, but as far as smoking ... yes, you can feel a difference in taste if not smoking, or if you have a sip just after you dragged from a cigar/cigarette/pipe, or if you continuously smoke while drinking versus not smoking while drinking at all . This is my experience ... I hope it helps.
 

wintergarden

Member
May 12, 2019
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Two professional wine tasters I know, with many awards here in Spain, are cigarrette smokers. Go figure. One of them told me he didn´t smoke anything in the three hours previous to the sessions. Of course, almost any taster I know in Jerez (Sherry wines) whose work is to taste the evolution of wines to decide on the solera management or to decide if the young fermented wine will become fino, amontillado, oloroso etc. (that is to decide the type of "crianza" (sorry, don´t know the word in English), wheter biological, or oxidative) , is, or was, since it´s been some years, smoker. I find moderate pipe smoking does not detract to my ability to taste, although it does after sessions of heavy smoking, as club meetings or competitions. Smoke irritates your mouth, but so do brandy tasting, and even some of the generous wines that are produced in southern Spain (which can have up to 21º ABV). Just my experience.
man I hate Sherry/Jerez - I used to love the stuff - I'd rather drink vermouth and that's disgusting too :) but to chime in For years I was a serious wine taster myself averaging hundreds of dollars a week - smoking anything DEFINITIVELY gets in the way of the olifactory and sensations of taste - without a doubt - I'll tell you as my recent 11 months off from all forms of smoking was a dream when it came to tasting food and drink - that's gone already.
 
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rushx9

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Jul 10, 2019
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As a cicerone CBS that started taking tasting seriously as a non-smoker, started back on cigs, then switched to the pipe, I can say I noticed a big difference in my ability to perceive subtle nuances while smoking cigarettes, but with pipes it's a bit more complicated. When I first made the switch, I noticed my olfactory senses recovered greatly from the harshness of cigs, and that alone improved my ability to taste. BUT!, when I first started I got tongue bite more often and a bad case of bite will absolutely wreck your tastebuds. Also, heavily flavored aros, Lat Bombs, heavy perique, heavy Dark Fired leaf, and pretty much anything very strongly "flavored" will will linger on your palate and affect your taste buds.
Conversely, learning to smoke slowly and carefully enough so that bite is never an issue, and learning to pick out and identify flavors and aromas in Virginias and Orientals is a great exercise in honing and focusing your palate. Picking out different fruit aromas in a red Va isn't all that different from picking out various fruit flavors in a red wine or an unfruited rood bruin. The trick is to not smoke too hot. Smoking too hot can irritate your tastebuds and sinuses, and possibly lead to scarring and "hard-palate". If you keep the ember burning cool the smoke is far less irritating and becomes just another thing to pick apart and search for flavors, just like a good beverage or food.
 

mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
30,603
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What an interesting question. My guess is that you have an unusually good sense of taste and smell, which gives you the ability to do winemaking as a profession, to begin with. How much range of sensory ability can you compromise before you lose your edge for your work? I would think you have the best assessment of that, probably the only adequate assessment. Unless these senses are diminishing from some other cause, I can't imagine that a few bowls a week would change them, though I don't actually know. If I remember correctly, I believe overuse of aspirin can diminish hearing slightly or decidedly, as an analogy. I'd come up with some subtle nuances that you regularly discern in your work, and use those as a gauge of how you're doing, and cut back on bowls in your pipes as necessary, and see if that brings back your taste/smell. It's like musical talent -- how much would drinking or smoking enhance or diminish that? We're talking high art here.
 
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tiffanzsolti

New member
Jul 17, 2019
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What an interesting question. My guess is that you have an unusually good sense of taste and smell, which gives you the ability to do winemaking as a profession, to begin with. How much range of sensory ability can you compromise before you lose your edge for your work? I would think you have the best assessment of that, probably the only adequate assessment. Unless these senses are diminishing from some other cause, I can't imagine that a few bowls a week would change them, though I don't actually know. If I remember correctly, I believe overuse of aspirin can diminish hearing slightly or decidedly, as an analogy. I'd come up with some subtle nuances that you regularly discern in your work, and use those as a gauge of how you're doing, and cut back on bowls in your pipes as necessary, and see if that brings back your taste/smell. It's like musical talent -- how much would drinking or smoking enhance or diminish that? We're talking high art here.
There is one crucial thing I did not tell in my post: I was a cigarette smoker for 7 years. This was during the time I actually got into the wine business and yes, I consider myself a good taster. It did interfere with my buds however. Not so much I could not do my work properly and it went away after a few day break. Pipe smoking gives the same negative effect but much much less so. Actually from the production side (not from a sommelier one) you’re more technical in wine tasting. You taste the grapes, taste the fermenting and aging wines regularly throughout its lifespan. All this because you have a goal in yor mind, you want to create a wine which expresses your ideas and your wine region. Subtle fruit and other notes whatsoever is a job of the consumers and sommeliers :) There are tons of excellent winemakers in the world - many of whom I know - who smoke cigarettes (not before sessions though) and did not complaim about the issue. It’s rather a problem for older winemakers who report loss of olfactory senses above 70. So yeah, I am not that worried, even if the problem in the post turns out to be true, I’d still smoke a pipe for its relaxation-philosophical benefits and because I love the diversity of tobacco :) Since as I said I am yet an intermediate pipe smoker, just wanted to ask your opinion and I am less worried now.
 

krizzose

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Feb 13, 2013
1,361
1,636
Michigan
I’m a low volume pipe smoker, about 3 or 4 bowls a week. I think my senses of smell and taste are affected immediately after smoking, especially if I’ve had a few bowls, but that effect goes away. I haven’t noticed any permanent loss
 

Epip Oc'Cabot

Member
Oct 11, 2019
130
223
My opinion is that pipe smoking ( or, hell, for that matter, anything that you ingest orally or nasally) will affect you sensory perception of wine. Yet, I do not think it is a hindrance as long as you do not view flavor/olfaction as absolutes. The mind has the ability to adjust to flavor/olfaction variations. So, from that perspective, I feel it would not HINDER your abilities, but it may need for you to adjust your perceptions of how you view the “right” flavor/olfactory components in a “good” wine vs. a “lesser” wine.... meaning you may need a while to adjust how you interpret the components.
 

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