Wine tasting can be an occasional pleasant past time or a time-and-resource-consuming passion. It can be conducted casually or formally,stiff or loosely. No matter what level of orientation or dedication is involved, some basic background knowledge and a logical approach can greatly increase individual enjoyment and satisfaction. Most wine drinkers cheat themselves by not knowing how to taste; many talk the talk but fail to walk the walk, so a lot of ordinary-tasting wines gets sold at extraordinary prices.
Wine tasting is actually a complex proposition involving much more than simply sipping some fermented grape juice. There are many variable factors that affect an individuals perception of flavor in wine. There are chemical, physical, mechanical, physiological, and psychological variables we must respect to get the full appreciation of the said beverage or food.
The type and quality of the wine itself is only one aspect of tasting. Others are the size and shape of the wine glass... the individuals impartial physiological ability to smell and taste, as well as his individual flavor preferences... the temperature of not only the beverage itself, but also the ambient temperature and humidity of the tasting site... mental condition, how hungry, happy,sad,grumpy, tired, and attentive the taster is can also affect relative judgment, as well as any preconceived notions and other psychological factors.
And yet of all of our senses,taste with smell,such as nature has created it,remains the one which on the whole gives us the maximum delight.
1. pleasure of eating and drinking is the only one, which enjoyed in moderation is not followed by weariness.
2.Because it is of all times all ages and in all conditions.
3.Because it happens of necessity at least once a day and may with out inconvenience be repeated twice,or three times within the same space of time.
4.Because it can be enjoyed in company with all other pleasures,and can even console us for their absence.
5.Because the impression which it is receives are at once more durable and more dependant on our will.
6.When we eat and drink ,we experience an indefinable and particular sensation of well being.
The FOUR ELEMENTS of FLAVOR
To understand these variables, let's first look at the phenomenon of TASTE from a physiological standpoint. Flavor, although it may have slightly differing meanings, depending upon who is using the term, always refers to food. A food chemist may use "flavor" only to refer to aroma, while a chef is likely to include taste, texture, temperature, appearance, and arrangement in his context. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines flavor as:
"Complex combination of the olfactory, gustatory and trigeminal sensations perceived during tasting. The flavour may be influenced by tactile, thermal, painful and/or kinaesthesiceffects."
While the senses of smell and taste are truly most important, flavor is not an experience limited to these, but a combination of experiences from the senses of smell, taste, touch, and, less obviously, sight
The nose can sometimes even beat the eyes in the race for setting up the tasting expectations. An aroma can carry from one room to another, beyond the line of sight. Of the five senses, smell is the most acute, approximately 1,000 times more sensitive than the sense of taste. As a result, what is termed flavor is influenced by roughly 75% smell (olfaction) and 25% taste (gustation) in healthy individuals. Ever notice how foods seem to taste bland or less distinctive when the nose is blocked by a cold?Us humans in societies with markets to tell us when our food will spoil with use by dates our sense of smell got places on the back burner of importance when dealing with basic survival. Doing so we also lost the gift of a well developed olfactory nervous system. Have no fear you can exercise said "muscle"and flex the new found strength in your nose.
Smell and taste are the chemical senses because their receptors are stimulated by chemical molecules, rather than by energy from light, pressure, or sound, trippy huh?. As little as one molecule in a million may be detected by the nose, but it takes a minimum of one part per thousand to stimulate the tongue. As sensitive and accurate as this organ is, relatively few people ever realize its potential for sensory enjoyment by learning how it works and the language of smells. Professional food and wine tasters and perfumers use analogies to common experience to describe aromas. Experts are those that practice and use their sense of smell most frequently.One of my favorite analogies I use to describe a Santa Cruz Mountain Cab is as follows....I'm in fourth grade with my lips covered in cherry cola lip Smacker while I'm in the back of the class sharpening my lead pencil after a long sweaty game of soccer on a hot day. Whaaaaa. OK lets break it down. Cabernet has dark fruit notes and some times cola notes with a flinty finish(pencil lead and lip smacker)there is also mineral notes that wafts in a well aired Cab that would be me the sweaty kid. After a good soccer game I'm gonna smell sod and dirt just like the earth qualities in the Cab. Don't know why but my memory analogies always are childhood memories. Paging Dr. Freud....OK back to the factoids.
The odor vapor must contact receptors which cover the organs of smell, a pair of olfactory membranes. Located deep in each uppermost nasal cavity, they are brownish-yellow, roughly the size of a postage stamp, about two centimeters thick and covered in a thin layer of mucous, which the molecules must penetrate. There are 200 distinct kinds of nasal receptors. They function using 50 million olfactory neurons, each with cilia that extend into and through the mucous. On the cilia are the receptors that capture the scent molecules, signaling the neurons to send the scent message to the brain for interpretation.
The sense of smell is ancient and primal, one of the earliest senses evolved, for locating food, warning of danger, and regulating sexual behavior. Unique among the senses, the scent message passes directly through the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, on its way to conscious identification in the cortex. Reaction to certain smells may be instinctive; identification of those smells requires a certain amount of experience and training.
Fatigue and Adaptation
While smell is the most easily stimulated of the human senses, it is also the most fragile. Most of us have experienced detecting the aroma of cooking, maybe even from outside the house. In pursuit, we trace it to the kitchen where it becomes stronger. After standing there for a few minutes, however, the cooking odors may no longer be noticeable. This fatigue of the sense of smell is part of sensory adaptation: the self-adjustment to a constant level of stimulus in an environment, so that the individual retains sensitivity to changes. This adaptation also occurs for the sense of sight in a darkened theater or hearing in a noisy city.
Some adaptation is short-term; recovery and return to the degree of sensitivity prior to exposure may only take a few minutes. Research has also demonstrated that constant environmental odor exposure can cause adaptation that lasts for days or weeks, even after removal of the odor source.
Ever notice a perfume counter with all those viles jars and bottles full of adapted molecules ready to overwhelm your system. There are little bowls of coffee beans to bring your senses back to zero when the over stimulation has rendered you useless to choose your scent purchase. Short lived solution best to leave and rest your nose and try more another day. The shop doesn't want to lose your sale so gives you a false sense of olfactory security.......Heap of beans I tell ya.
There is a great variation between individuals in the elements to which they are sensitive. A person's absolute threshold is the smallest amount of stimulus required to produce a sensation. Once that threshold is reached, unless trained, the individual can only recognize and unconsciously catalog the smell as either "familiar" or "new". Scientists have proven that the nose can detect and distinguish between thousands of different smells, depending upon individual aptitude and training.You always can recognize the smell of your spouses farts...
Even individuals lacking the ability to smell specific odors (1anosmia) can often be induced to learn them by repeated exposure. Very little research has been conducted to either explain or rectify serious sensory problems of smell or taste, which can arise from congenital defect, illness, or injury, and may effect one of every 150 human beings. When I was young my Mom had a girlfriend who wasn't fond of her husband. He had due to illness or injury had lost his sense of smell. So moms girlfriend realised she didn't need to create elaborate meals for him and on occasion when he pissed her off a can of ALPO was cooked up as a "tasty stew"....
Aroma Theory not therapy
To date, scientists have cataloged over 17,000 different smells. About 10,000 can be distinguished by humans, although no one knows just how this ability works. In the early 1900s, a researcher named Henning suggested there are really only six categories of smells, combinations of which account for all the detectable odors and aromas.
Henning arrayed these categories into a three-dimensional prismatic map whereon, his theory suggests, all smells could be plotted to some point on one of the surfaces. For example, it should be possible for something to smell fruity, putrid, resinous, and burned, but impossible to have a smell that is putrid, spicy, and resinous. The combinations are interesting to plot and contemplate.
The chemical make-up of wine includes many trace elements that contribute to the combination of smells. Some of these same elements are also found, frequently in higher concentrations, in other familiar foods, spices, flowers, etc. Consequently, wine smells may often bring to mind these other familiar things, albeit with more subtlety and much less obvious or instant recognizably. With training, concentration, and practice, nearly anyone can learn to dissect and describe these elements of complexity.
TWO - TASTE: (Mid century or post modern is the question)Categorization and Individual Sensitivity
While there may be a vast array of aroma categories, generally only four tastes have historically been considered: bitter, salty, sour, and sweet. There really is no precise definition of "basic taste"; these four only differentiate and describe common taste sensations. Bitter tastes come from alkaloids, such as contained in coffee and quinine (tonic water). Salty tastes, by far the most common in prepared foods, come from sodium chloride (table salt), sodium nitrite (especially in smoked meats or fish), sodium bicarbonate (especially in baked goods, canned foods), and sodium benzoate (especially in soft drinks and packaged beverages, jellies and preserves, margarine and fast-food burgers). Sour tastes come from acids (citric in oranges, grapefruit, etc., malic in apples, pears, lactic in dairy products). Sweet comes from sugars, primarily sucrose in the American diet, although there are many others (fructose, glucose, lactose, etc.).
Taste has historically been one of the least understood sensory mechanisms. Tastes are sensed by nerve receptors called buds and there are about 9,000 of them on the average tongue. Misinterpretations of research conducted in the late 1800s, led to "tongue maps" that suggested that the basic tastes are sensed primarily by specific areas, such as the tip or center.
Although taste buds were noted to be of different sizes and shapes, depending upon their location, subsequent investigation proved that all of them contain the same kinds of taste receptor cells (papillae) that supply the sensations of taste. The entire top surface of the tongue can sense all of the various tastes.
Combinations of basic tastes, along with the accompanying various aromas, account for different flavors. Taste compounds have smaller molecules than those of odors and, unlike odors, must be water-soluble (hydrophyllic) to cause sensation.
Sensitivity to specific tastes varies considerably with individuals. It is possible in fact to be taste-blind. The test uses a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, which tastes extremely bitter to some persons and quite bland to others. Some research has suggested that there is higher alcoholism incidence among the genetically taste-blind.
Additional theories of taste perception come into Western consciousness from Eastern thought. Asians generally add "hot" (the capiscum or capsaicin taste of peppers; see chemesthesis below) to the four basic tastes. At the beginning of the 1900s, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda identified this sensation as more complex and variable than merely hot. He isolated one element that causes this taste in meat, milk, mushrooms, and seaweed broth as the amino acid glutamate and called the sensation "umami."
Rather than a specific taste, umami is best described as a distinctive quality or completeness of flavor. The nearest English equivalent would be "savory" or "delicious." Oriental food often gets umami, its "complete" flavor, by the addition of monosodium glutamate (MSG).
The scientific journal Nature published an article in the Spring of 2002, that American scientists Charles Zuker and Nick Ryber have identified a taste receptor for amino acids, supporting the idea of Umami. Wine typically contains from one to four grams of amino acids per liter. While still controversial, there are ongoing studies of umami and it is an emerging consideration in food and wine circles.
THREE - FEELING: (not the song from the 70s)Texture, Body, Tannin, Alcohol and Temperature
The sense of touch figures in the overall flavor impression by conveying temperature, texture and pressure, the feeling differences that exist between cold iced tea and hot coffee, between plain fruit punch and carbonated soda, between filtered and unfiltered apple juice, between smooth pudding and crunchy cookies, or between the burn of jalapeño or the cool of menthol. These sensations of touch, irritation, or thermal differences are called chemesthesis and may be experienced in the eyes, mouth, nose, or throat. Much of the touch information of flavor is conveyed to the brain through the trigeminal nerve.
The body of a wine is felt as light or heavy, thin or full, rich or crisp. Body is one of the most often misunderstood components of wine. The description "full bodied" is frequently applied to wines that are high in either alcohol or tannin or in both, without the actual texture and weight of the wine being "full" at all. Body should be thought of as the relative "thickness" or viscosity of the wine.
One of the most prominent elements of wine "flavor" is tannin, more a sensation of touch rather than taste. It is also a significant flavor component of tea, chocolate, soy, pecans, walnuts, and the skins and seeds of many fruits, other than grapes, such as blueberries, dates, kiwi, peaches, persimmons, pomegranates, raspberries and figs. Tannin leaves a puckery, astringent feeling on the tongue, gums, and cheeks and can sometimes also taste bitter. Wine tannins come primarily from grape skins and oak barrels (see Red, Red Wine on the "Winemaking" page) and vary in strength and character. In the mouth, tannins can feel fine, round, and smooth or gritty, coarse, and angular. Tannins are one of the few flavor elements in wine that cannot be smelled.
Alcohol also is mainly experienced as an irritation of the touch sense. When the proportion is too high for the other flavor elements, alcohol may give a "burning" sensation in the nose as well as a "hot" feeling in the back of the throat or the roof of the mouth.
Wine served cold gives a taste impression that is less sweet and more acid and astringent than the same wine at a warmer temperature. This is one reason to serve fruity wines chilled, while dry, astringent ones are best near or just below "room" temperature.
The phenomenons of fatigue and adaption discussed earlier regarding smell are also considerations with taste. Astringency and bitterness require up to ninety seconds recovery in order not to influence the flavor of the next wine. This can be a very long time between tastes. A good swallow of water or bite of bread helps. Sugar also takes a while to fade from the tongue. Chocolate, which combines astringency, bitterness and sweetness, has an extremely long aftertaste, can foul the palate for wine evaluation, and is not recommended within three hours prior to serious tasting. Cheese also clouds the ability to judge wine; as wise old French wine merchants say, "Achetez avec l'eau, vendez avec le fromage" (Buy with water, sell with cheese.)
Individual Preference and Cultural Bias can throw a big ole wrench in this discussion....
Another influence on taste besides individual physiology and ability is individual psychology and preference. Culture and upbringing provide sensory experiences that certainly influence adult taste preferences.
Americans raised in the last half of the 20th Century typically drank milk, or increasingly soft drinks, sweet and sometimes carbonated, as mealtime beverages. The longtime adage of wine marketers has been that "Americans talk dry but drink sweet". Each culture has a similar taste bias. Coca-Cola employs 200 global research and development staff, two dozen of them specialists in flavor development to pinpoint local taste preferences and adjust their product formula to local conformity. They have found that Germans like spicy, Mexicans like citric and Italians want a little bitterness. These cultural flavor preferences may also dictate wine choices to some degree.
FOUR - SEEING: Clues Only;TUT TUT... Don't be Fooled
This idea of sight affecting flavor is not hard to grasp if one thinks of some food which looks unappetizing, but then tastes amazing. The reverse is also true. How often is an item selected from a buffet that appears very tasty but turns out to be blahh or worse? This expectation based on appearance often psychologically sets up our taste buds. In wine, this sight prejudice leads us to expect that transparent and bright wines will be good-tasting, and wines that are cloudy or dull in color will not. Although this does not necessarily hold, still our sense of sight sets us up psychologically for gustatory enjoyment or disappointment.
Color can be an indicator of what the nose and the mouth might expect. Clues as to the grape varietal identity and the age of wine can be revealed by its hue and transparency or opacity. White varietal wines may appear from very pale greenish and brightly clear (suspect youth and bone dryness) to deep golden brownish and approaching translucence (probably well-aged, possibly nectar-like). Red varietals run from brickish red and nearly transparent (may be older, mellow) to deep opaque bluish-purple (expect young, brash, tannic). Bright pink rosé or blush wines are often youthful, while orangey-bricky ones are usually past their point of prime drinkability.
Although they may appear to be in a range of either red-purples or green-yellows, wine grapes are referred to as black (noir ) or white (blanc ), depending on the color of their skins at ripeness. Ripe Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Mourvedre skins range generally in tones of red to reddish-brown and wines made from these varieties tend towards a garnet or brickish tone. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Barbera are more bluish-black when ripe and can make wines so inky-purple they could refill fountain pens. The hues of the black grapes are consistent but they become nearly transparent when made into rosé or blush-style wines. Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc tend to be green. Semillon and Viognier are generally more yellow. Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris (Grigio ) can have a light tannish-grey cast if allowed to fully ripen before made into wine. Most unnamed varietals fall in between these color ranges.
Sight may set up initial expectations in the other senses, or serve as confirmation after smelling, tasting, and feeling a wine's properties. When aromas of tomatoes, bouquet of earth, flavor of dried cherries in a texture of velvet with light tannins all lead to suspicions of Pinot Noir, the garnet edge may confirm it.
METHODOLOGY: Putting it all together
Evaluating the physiological factors and chemical properties helps devise methodology to get the most from tasting wine. The taster can control serving parameters to intensify the experience and consider and maintain an awareness of elements which are beyond control but nonetheless affect the tasting occasion.
First, to make sure enough vapor is present to get a strong sense of the wine's smell, use a glass shape that can concentrate the molecules, filled only one-third full or less to allow space for the vapors to be contained. Tilting the glass over an opaque white surface and observing the liquid's edge is the best way to judge hue and clarity. Next, swirl the wine to toss some of those molecules into the air and to increase the size of the liquid surface area from which the molecules can escape.
Then take a big, deep sniff of the wine to reach the deep-seated nasal receptors and cross the threshold of sensitivity. That first impression of a wine is really important. Close the eyes and concentrate to form an initial judgment before fatigue and adaptation set in.
Put enough wine, one-half to a full ounce, in the mouth and slosh it around to make sure as large an area of the tongue as possible has a chance to judge the wine's elements. Feel the viscosity and tannins. Allow the wine to settle in the lower jaw, letting it warm slightly while pursing the lips to breathe in a small amount of air. Continue sucking in air, making a slurping sound as the wine and air mix. This volatilizes the wine and sends it to the back of the nasal cavity, intensifying the smell and flavor experience. After swallowing, notice which flavors and feelings are left and how well they linger
Tasting several wines on the same occasion can somewhat alter the tasting procedure. Different contexts call for different techniques. When faced, for example, in a "blind" tasting, there are a couple of possible approaches. Whichever is comfortable and works best for the taster is proper
One method is to sample and evaluate each wine completely and separately, before moving to the next one. For some people, this gives them a complete and memorable picture of the individual wine. A large "cocktail party" tasting event, where one glass, carried from table to table, is used to sample many wines, dictates this manner of tasting and is more entertainment than education.
A different technique may be used at "sit-down" wine tastings with "flights" of two or more wines. In this situation, it's possible to smell and evaluate all of the wines, before tasting any of them. Proceed through once, smelling each in order, then return to those that left the weakest impression for a second chance to coax more from them. Classify the wines, based on aromas, from "weak" to "strong" to "defective" to set the order of tasting. It requires discipline to delay tasting the strongest or most appealing wine, but it provides a chance to form a more definite impression of the lightest-smelling wines, without being overwhelmed by the "bigger" wines. Wines that have suspected defects, such as hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg), or TCA (corkiness), are postponed until last, to avoid "polluting" the senses.
TERMINOLOGY for Communication and Memory
Describing specific smells and flavors of wine is not important to the average consumer; most decide that a wine simply tastes good or not. Critics and judges, however, need to learn and apply standards of terminology. Consumers can enhance their tasting experience by learning these terms in order to communicate better with their fellow tasters, their wine merchant, and, perhaps most importantly, to develop a memory of their likes and dislikes
Many of the smells and flavors in wine are described in terms of other fruits. Gas chromatography enables separation and identification of elements in a compound, according to the constituent's volatility. This technique has enabled chemists to establish that there are, in fact, several odoriferous molecules that are shared by wine and apples, pears, currants, raspberries, oranges, or bananas. These include acetic and butyric acids, the alcohols propanol, terpinol and hexanol, the carbonyls ethanal, acetone and diacetyl, and the esters isoamyle acetate, ethyl caproate, and ethyl butyrate. Different combinations and amounts of these and other compounds give fruits their distinct aromas and flavors and provide great variety in wine
A wine palate is part ability and part experience. The individuals preferences for and sensitivity to smell and taste elements, along with the memory of their taste history, combine to form the palate. In developing this personal wine palate, remember to consider the temperature, the texture, and the feel, as well as the flavors. Besides judging the wine, learn to recognize which flavor elements help you arrive at that judgment and use accepted terms to describe them. Use the swirl, sniff, and slurp method to enhance your tasting ability. When you find yourself absent-minded swirling, sniffing, and slurping your milk glass, coffee cup, or soda can, you have reached the first level of expertise and commitment to appreciating fine wine.