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In the previous posts we've examined how to evaluate and enjoy wine using our eyes and our nose. Now it's time to round out that experience and get to the fun part.

 

When we taste wine - or anything for that matter, we employ 2 senses simultaneously; taste and touch (believe it or not, we also smell when we taste, up through the back of our mouths to our nose). Our sense of taste interprets flavors (this you already knew), but our tongue perceives texture and weight and temperature; sensations associated with touch. Two wine-drinker words for these sensations are 'mouthfeel' and 'body'.



TASTE
Our sense of taste works through flavor receptors in our tongues. Basically we perceive four broad flavor groupings; sweet, salty, sour and bitter. While scientist argue over whether or not we only taste specific flavors in specific areas of our tongue, my experience tells me that certain flavors are more noticeable on specific parts of my tongue.

 

-Sweet kicks in right on the front tip of the tongue.
-Salty shows itself on the sides of the front half.
-Sour kind of smacks the back half of my tongue on the sides.
-Bitter triggers the very back and center of my tongue and is most unpleasant.

 

It is also important to consider when these flavors reveal themselves. Some flavors, like sweetness, I notice immediately, while sour flavors don't register until after I've swallowed, almost like a tart echo of flavor. Bitter flavors linger the longest, perhaps an evolutionary warning sign to stop drinking.

 


TOUCH
That wine has texture and that our tongues perceive texture in such vivid detail is why - I think - we find wine so compelling. Yes the aromas are intoxicating and food and friends make wine memorable and meaningful, but there is no other beverage that quite does to our tongues what wine does.

We don't just discuss a wine in terms of taste, we talk about how it feels. Wines can feel velvety or plush or tingly or zippy. Wines can feel round, powerful and decadent or linear, lithe and delicate. These textures take on dimension and shape and direction. They conjure descriptions whose associations reach far beyond wine.

 

A wine's texture is informed by its weight or body. Plainly put, your perception of how heavily or lightly the wine weighs on your tongue. 'Full-bodied, medium-bodied and light-bodied' are wine drinker speak for this sensation.

 

Tannin and alcohol content are the most significant contributors to a wine's body. Usually, the thicker the grape's skin and the riper the grape (more sugar to convert to alcohol), the more full-bodied the wine will feel. Conversely, white wine grapes with thinner-skins and lower sugar content are generally lighter-bodied.

 

 

There are of course exceptions to every rule and I encourage you to go out and find them.


 

 


Now that we've covered all the phases of wine tasting - color, aroma, flavor and texture - I urge you to go forth and taste! Be present, be active and most importantly, enjoy. And remember, tasting doesn't happen in a vacuum. All of our senses work together and inform each other when we taste. The more senses we bring to bear, the more completely we can understand and enjoy wine. Hopefully this means knowing not only whether or not we like a wine, but why we like it. This 'why', sets up a unique journey for exploring wine, one that I hope you will all pursue and enjoy!

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