Your Dog Could be Trained to Find Wine Defects Far Faster and Easier than a Sommelier

WineryGuide wine tasting dog photo
Your experience of wine comes primarily from your sense of smell.

Once the wine gets past your sense of taste “the gatekeeper” the details are almost all aromatic. Given a trained palette is a trained nose (olfactory system) the average dog can detect odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than a human can. That hint of oak smells like an oak forest in a hurricane to a canine. According to Rachel Herz, a leading authority on olfaction, a dog’s ability to smell is equivalent to being able to detect the aroma of a drop of chocolate in an area the size of Philadelphia.

The typical human nose can discriminate the difference between 10,000 and 40,000 aromas. Professionals (Chefs, Perfumers, Master Soms) can discriminate up to one hundred thousand. Discriminate and describe are not the same. So humans have the advantage of being able to speak and describe an aroma, although there are some cultural differences that create problems. One man’s grapefruit is another man’s cat pee. The average human can describe about 1,000 different aromas, a sommelier about 2,500, and perfumer closer to 10,000 due to their primary focus on odors alone. Recent research demonstrates that humans have far more neurology dedicated to vision as a percentage of our cortex than dogs. Why, you ask.

Dogs have hundreds of millions more cells devoted to detecting smells than humans. Depending on the breed, dogs have between two hundred million and one billion receptor cells compared to the average human with six million. Yes the dogs with the longest snouts tend to have the most receptors. Dogs also have over 800 different kinds of receptors so they can encode more discreet information than humans. Think about that for a second. The human eye uses three receptors to draw the colorful scan of a Hawaiian sunset in your mind. With 800 receptors the possibilities for the “odor Landscape” are nearly beyond human understanding.

A dog’s olfactory bulb is not as large as one might expect given a dog’s dependence on their sense of smell to navigate the world. Their olfactory bulge takes up about 2 percent of a dog’s brain. Think of this as two pennies to a dollar vs a human’s bulb being one thirtieth of a penny. Of a dog’s total 19,000 genomes, almost 5% provide the blueprint for smell receptors. Dogs have 1,100 olfactory receptor genes, with about eight hundred of them being active. The inactive genes are called pseudo genes. Dogs have about 20% of their olfactory genes inactive whereas humans who not only have fewer olfactory receptor genes more than half are pseudogenes.

I wonder why one of the companies that trains bomb sniffing dogs doesn’t train some dogs to find cork taint (TCA). I could imagine a herd of miniature toy poodles trained to find the wines with cork taint with ease.

** This blog post originally appeared on medium.com/wineryguide