Its a matter of taste
August 10, 2006
There are many influences that affect the way you judge the flavor of a wine that are unique to every individual. To begin with, the taste buds we all possess may be of differing levels in identifying a certain taste. Nerve receptors, or taste buds, are shaped like onions, and each contain between 50 and 100 taste cells and there are about 9,000 of them on your tongue. Initially it was thought that the buds were grouped in the mouth by type of taste that it perceived. New research has found that the buds are not grouped by taste type. Therefore, taste, saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness, can be tasted everywhere in the mouth. These tastes may be perceived with different intensities at the different areas of your mouth, however. The ability to perceive certain intensities of specific tastes varies from person to person. There are actually people who are taste blind; those individuals have muted taste buds which gives the impression of bland for highly spiced flavors. Culture and your upbringing will also effect the way you taste a wine, as well as your own tasting experiences.
The flavor of wine can be affected by the food you eat with it, or by the food or beverage you had an hour before your first sip of wine. The environment of the area you are drinking wine in will also affect your flavor perception, after all, at least 80 percent of taste is derived from smell. So if there are strong cooking odors, smoke, or the bouquet of flowers present, the wine will show flavors accordingly. The shape of the glass that you are using will also affect the wines flavors and aromas. Some wine glasses are narrower at the lip, which will produce more concentrated aromas and flavors, conversely wider glasses will lessen these aromas and thus the flavor will be dissipated. The temperature the wine is served at will also affect its flavor. A wine served cold will give the impression that it is less sweet with more acidity and astringency than the same wine served at a warmer temperature.
The same wine will taste completely different when enjoyed with various foods. In food, the predominate flavors and textures will alter your flavor perception of a wine. That is why that favorite buttery and oaky Chardonnay will somehow seem a little more fruity when sipped while nibbling on salty olives than when you last drank it. The manner in which that food was prepared will also change the wines flavor impression. A grilled salmon has lots more flavor than a delicate poached salmon. Therefore, to enjoy the subtle flavors of the poached salmon you may want to have a lighter-weight, non-tannic, and acidic wine like a pinot grigio. A fruitier, oaky chardonnay or a grenache would go great with the grilled salmon, but would overpower the poached salmon. Drinking a crisp and fruity sauvignon blanc with its palette-cleansing effect enjoyed with a salad with a citrus based dressing and goat cheese will open your taste buds for each bite. And if you sip that same acidic wine with a dish that has a lemon buerre blanc sauce that wine will taste creamier and softer.Salty dishes will make a tannic wine taste bitter, and make a slightly fruity wine seem sweeter. Foods that are sweeter than the wine will make that wine taste tart and lean.If youve sampled a wine with spicy foods and did not care very much for that wine you may want to revisit it under milder conditions; highly seasoned foods will numb the palate, making it difficult to really enjoy the flavors of the wine. Vinegar and pickles will make the wine more astringent and less flavorful. Sampling the same wines with different foods, at differing temperatures, and in a variety of glassware can be very interesting and informative. It might even be a great theme for your next get-together.Janice Jones is a Truckee resident and wine aficionado.