Five senses… let’s use all the five!
Why do we say “five senses wine tasting”? Despite what most people think every single human sense is actually involved in wine-tasting! Yes, also hearing! How is that possible? Let’s find out…
When we approach wine tasting each sense is stimulated following a very specific path. The first one is hearing: this sense plays an unexpectedly important role as the very first information about wine are gathered through the noise we hear as we pour it in a glass.
First of all, the typical noise of a bottle being uncorked (though we should never listen to any “pop”!): people loves the sound of the cork and glass friction as it’s predicting you’re about to taste something (hopefully) good! Then the sound of the wine itself as you pour it in the glass: a dry, whipping sound is typical of a young, light-bodied wine, maybe a good acidity one, whereas a round, smooth and deeper sound reveals an aged, well-structured wine. Try it if you can: close your eyes and let somebody else pour Passito di Pantelleria or a good aged Porto in a glass, then repeat the procedure with a light Prosecco or a light sparkling wine in another glass. Hearing will unmistakably guide you understanding a lot of information. Yes, the sound of carbon dioxide is also very distinctive: do you think a premium Champagne would “taste” as good without the sound of a thousand popping micro-bubbles ?
The second sense involved in five senses wine-tasting is definitely sight: most people don’t stop by watching their glass of wine. Wine ain’t just red or white: colour, intensity, vivacity, limpidity as well as consistency and fluidity tell us a lot about it. For example: the behaviour of the liquid moving in the glass (is it rapid and more watery-like or slower and more homogeneous?) is very useful while assessing these parameters: when you’re experienced enough, just a glance and a swirl of the glass will make you able to estimate wine youthfulness or age, health or disease and so on. An accurate evaluation of all this visual parameters could even lead to grape variety identification, in some cases.
Right after sight there is smell: we have hundreds of olfactory receptors, each one binding to a particular molecular feature, which should make us distinguish between as many as 10000 different smells. Nevertheless, each perceived smell is catalogued and “labeled” in our mind as it’s compared with already known smells, depending on our life experience: for example, only if we get the chance to smell a real particular fruit, such as lime, we’ll be able to identify it in future during wine tasting. It’s clear that we need a lot of practice to build a good, as wide as possible, database of smells in our brain to recognize them when we approach wine tasting. Experience is very important: many of the smells we find in wine seem somehow familiar though we cannot name them cause they’ve not been “labeled” in our brain before. Once our smell is well-trained, we’ll be able to understand many more characteristics of a wine!
As soon as we take the first sip, taste becomes protagonist. This is much easier to understand and practice: we receive and recognize tastes through sensory organs called taste buds, concentrated on the upper surface of the tongue: there are five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. The part of the tongue which is most sensitive to sweetness is the tip, whereas the bitter flavours are most strongly tasted at the back of it; sour and salty are mostly perceived at the side. In a good wine we always look for a good balance of each taste compared to each other.
A few seconds after the first taste sensations, touch reveals itself. Wine offers a wide spectrum of tactile sensations: just think about the prickliness of a sparkling wine, the pseudo-warmth sensation given by alcohol, the real service temperature, the astringency provided by tannins and the velvety sensation given by sugars and polyalcohols… each one helps us describe the wine and understand its characteristics.
What to look for in a five senses wine tasting? Balance. Balance between each sense and each sense’s perception. Balance between each factor we mentioned.
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Article inspired by a work by Roberto Leone Pericci.