Before taking Introduction to Sensory Evaluation of Wine at UC Davis, I thought of taste as a rather two-dimensional trait. Something either tasted good, or it didn’t. Yes, I could evaluate the flavors (to a certain degree) but taste in wine really came down to whether I liked it or not. Don’t get me wrong, whether or not you like how a wine tastes should be a major factor in what you drink, but there’s more going on in our mouths than meets the eye, or tongue as it were.
Our taste buds give us a great deal of information about the wine we drink, but they can be easily fooled. The alcohol content of a wine influences our perception of its sweetness. High alcohol means high sweetness and fruitiness, at least it tastes that way. But as the title of this post suggests, there’s more to wine than what our taste buds are telling us.
Another factor we should pay attention to when wine tasting is the mouthfeel the wine has to offer. Mouthfeel is a term that refers to the oral sensations we feel when tasting. Not flavor, but other traits in the wine such as texture, sharpness, softness, temperature, and astringency. Astringency, for example, refers to that dry feeling we get in our mouths when we taste red wine. The dryness is caused by the tannins in the grape skins of red grapes. The effect that tannins have on our mouths is cumulative, so if you’re settling in for a marathon tasting be sure to take breaks and cleanse your palate or you won’t be able to trust that tongue of yours.
Next time you enjoy a glass of vino pay attention to the play of your tongue as the wine moves around your mouth. See what you can pick up that goes beyond your first taste impressions.