Wine Tasting Tool Box
Part 3: Taste
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 nasal passage.
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 of balance.
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.