Wine on Wednesdays — How to Taste Wine, Part 2

Last week, we discussed how to look at wine and how to smell it. Today, we will examine how to assess how a wine “feels” and how it tastes.

We perceive taste in a number of different ways: The olfactory gland in our nose has a huge impact on how our brains assess flavor. The other primary factor is the taste buds on our tongues.

The tongue can distinguish four primary tastes: sweet, sour or acidic, bitter and salty. In addition to these four, there are an infininte number of variations that we can taste on our tongues.

When we taste wine, where it is on our tongue and in relation to our olfactory gland determines how it tastes. That means that the same wine will taste differently depending on where it is in your mouth.

That’s why in order to get all the flavor from a wine, you must work the wine around in your mouth before swallowing it. This is known as “chewing” the wine.

Wine also tastes differently when it is combined with air. On the next sip, chew the wine and then purse your lips and suck a little air through the wine two or three times before swallowing it. This aerates the wine and releases even more aromas.

If you are tasting multiple wines, you probably are going to want to spit out the wine after tasting it, otherwise you can get pretty drunk depending on how many wines you taste. At traditional tastings, it can be up to two dozen wines!

Finally, the feel of the wine on your tongue also affects how we perceive its quality.

The biggest factor to a wine’s feel is its alcohol content. Wines that are higher in alcohol have an airy feel, while low-alcohol wines have a watery mouth feel.

The temperature of the wine impacts how we perceive it. If white wines are too chilled, they will have far less flavor than if they are at the perfect temperature of 48F-52F.

Red wines should be around 59F-63F, which is usually about room temperture. But if it is very hot where you are, the wine will be warmer and the flavor will be flatter and have less of a bouquet.

The tongue also has nerves that can sense the texture of a wine. Some wines taste silky or velvety while other wines can actually feel harsh on the tongue.

Many wines have a little carbon dioxide spritz to them, even when they are not sparkling wines. I find this a lot on pinot grigios and even sauvignon blancs. While they aren’t as bubbly as a champagne, you can definitely feel an effervescence on your tongue.

Finally, the wine’s astringency can be sensed on the tongue. Many red wines — especially bold flavored wines like zinfandels and cabernet sauvignons — have strong tannins, which have the effect of almost seizing up the tongue, gums and palate.

One of the most wonderful things about tasting wines is that for every wine, each of the combinations of these things will be different. Even with the same wine, the way your senses perceive it can change based on how you taste it, its temperature, how long you let it breathe and a host of other factors.

Once you start tasting wines more frequently, it’s a good idea to keep a wine diary. This is simply a record of the wines you tried and what you thought of them. It’s helpful because it allows you to record your impressions on a particular wine and you can refer back to it long afterward.

There are commercial wine diaries you can buy and even websites that will let you record all types of data about your wine tastings. But a simple Excel spreadsheet is the simplest and most inexpensive option and gives you everything you need — date, name of the wine, what you thought of it.

Tasting wine is a great way to use all of your sense to appreciate wine. By paying attention to the minute details of individual wines, you can enhance your wine drinking experience and live a fuller, richer life.

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