Norton Safeweb

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Taste and Smell (and Wine)

Our sense of smell is able to recognize thousands of odors even if they're very faint. We have millions of olfactory sensors in our nose. Of the five senses (smell, taste, hearing, sight, touch) we remember smells the longest.

By comparison, our sense of taste is very rudimentary.  How does this all play into enjoying wine?

image from positivehealth.com

Most of what we call flavor is derived from smell. This sense starts to deteriorate by the time you hit your 20s. I suppose this is why kids hate green vegetables, but later in life you decide they're not so bad. Things like age, sinus infection, smoking, head injuries, medications, and diseases are adversely effect your sense of smell.

Our sense of taste is evolutionary and is there to keep us safe with what we ingest. The sensors on our tongue taste sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory. Of course, sweet is good as it means ripe. Sweet, salty, and savory all mean something is nutrient-rich. Sour or bitter can mean it's poisonous or rotten. Savory is a fairly new description of taste--think of beef broth or cheese.

So if a wine's first impression is sweet or savory your taste buds say "good." Wine judging is based on that first taste. Don't think wine makers aren't aware of this. Many will talk about making "points wines," that is a wine that satisfies on the first sip or two. These wines are often described as "round" usually meaning lower acid, a bit sweet, and higher alcohol levels.

The wines that usually age best and pair well with food happen to be higher acid and have no residual sugar. The first thing your taste buds may say is, "Wait, this wine is sour or bitter" when it's just a reaction to the natural acids in the grapes. Luckily, after that first reaction they adjust to the flavors of the wine.

So are these soft wines that make a good first impression on your sense of taste bad? Well, not if that's what you like, of course, but personally I find these wines:
  • Boring by the end of the first glass. Maybe if you're only having one glass then it's fine.
  • Don't pair with food well. You need acid, not a Dr. Pepper-esque flavor. Of course, some drink soda with their food; certainly a burger or pizza with a Coke is common.
  • Don't age. I discovered this after buying high alcohol Zinfandels and trying to age them. However, most people don't age their wines, but buy them for consumption within the next day or two.
I've learned not to let that first swallow determine what I think of a wine, but look for wines that get better with each sip.