Taste is the third and last tool in the tasting process.
The human sense of taste is based entirely on the taste
buds present on the tongue, which are capable of perceiving
four basic flavor components: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salt.
While the sensation associated with taste oftentimes seems
grander than the four aspects listed, your taste buds are
only designed and arrayed to recognize these four simple
traits. So why do I taste raspberries or wild flowers? Well,
the human body provides two pathways to the
olfactory epithelium, the organ that senses smell. One is
directly through your nostrils. The other is through passageways
in the roof of your mouth that lead indirectly into the
So how do I use my taste buds, knowing that much of
what I’m tasting is actually more aroma sensations?
Use your taste buds to focus on the following aspects of
a wine: Structure and Balance.
- The structure of a wine is defined
by the overall weight/body of the wine combined with the
presence of a substance called tannin.
- The balance of a wine is defined by
the ratio of sweet to sour and whether a wine’s base flavor
is harmonious with all of its components.
- The weight/body of a wine is evident
by the fullness, or lack of fullness in the mouth. Wines
that seem “heavy” on the palate are illustrating a trait
of full-bodied wines.
- The level of tannin in a wine is indicated
by the presence of “bitterness” on the sides of the tongue.
Tannin will give the impression of dryness in the mouth.
Suck briefly on a used tea bag and you will know exactly
what the sensation of tannin is like.
- For balance, look for the sensations
of sweet and sour on the tongue. Some grapes have a greater
potential for acidity, but that acidity is usually kept
in check by a winemaker’s ability to bring out either
the natural fruit sweetness in the variety, or perhaps
by leaving a small amount of residual sugar in the wine.
Wines that are too sharp or wines that leave a cloying
feeling on the palate illustrate wines that may be out
I mentioned that some of the taste sensations are actually
aromas picked up through internal nasal passages and passed
to the olfactory. Once you have assessed the true taste
components and tried to render an opinion about the structure
and balance of the wine, you should now concentrate on examining
the taste aromas in the wine.
A key technique for enhancing these taste aromas is called
“mouth aeration.” Mouth aeration is a process whereby a
sip of wine is held in the mouth, while air is drawn in
through tightly pursed lips and “mixed” with the wine. The
process takes some practice and can be a little dangerous
for the beginner, since there is the possibility of inhaling
the wine by accident.
Mouth aeration essentially is the same action as swirling,
except the volatile odiferous elements travel directly to
the olfactory through passages in the palate. Mouth aeration
usually enhances the strength of these aromas, by concentrating
them within your mouth. Your body temperature also causes
more aromas to be released through warming the wine itself.
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