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(Helmut Riegel/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Helmut Riegel/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How do you know when a wine has ‘flavours of cigar box’? Have you licked one? Add to ...

The question

You’ve used “flavours of cigar box” more than once, and I would like to know how you established what the flavour of a cigar box really is. Did you lick the cigar box? Boil it then sip the broth? Burn it then put ashes in your drink? Colour me curious.

The answer

I gather some cigar aficionados lick the full Montecristo before lighting up to help prevent a potentially dry wrapper from unravelling, but I grant that cigar boxes are another matter.

In short, no, I have not licked, boiled, burned, sautéed or otherwise cooked or consumed a humidor. It’s a great question. My justification is this: One need not taste something on the tongue to arrive at its flavour. Though many people equate taste with flavour, the two are not synonymous. The tongue in fact can detect only five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and the savoury essence known as umami. (Though I should point out that a team of U.S. scientists recently postulated that there is a sixth taste, and it happens to be my favourite – fat.)

What we commonly refer to as flavours are the result of taste buds working in tandem with other receptors sensitive to such things as smell, texture and heat. There are, for example, no rosemary or lemon or chocolate receptors on the tongue; we sense those ingredients mainly through the nose. That’s why when you resort to that old trick of plugging your nose while eating, you don’t get much flavour from the food. I used that trick a lot as a kid while forcing down dreaded vegetables.

I have, obviously, smelled a cigar box, which is commonly made of Spanish cedar. The combination of aromatic wood with heady tobacco is what I’m talking about. It’s a classic aroma (and, yes, flavour) found in certain red wines, such as cabernet sauvignon. The sometimes bewildering flavour associations don’t stop at cigar box. I and other wine critics have in fact used descriptors for many other inedible objects, including asphalt and manure. For the record, I’ve not consumed either of those substances, though in a schoolyard once I was implored to eat the latter.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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