How to Taste

Most of our taste buds are on our tongue and are stimulated by the tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salt – all actual 'flavours' are picked up by our aroma receptors. While recent research is starting to challenge current perceptions, the belief is still largely that tastebuds which pick up one of the four tastes are located in different areas of the tongue.

Wine is an incredibly good digestive aid in the the stimulation of the taste buds increases the among of saliva and digestive juices produces and it also speeds up the movements of the stomach.

The following are all actually picked up in the mouth (or at least give the impression of being detected there):

Sweet
This is the actual presence of some sugar and is not the same a very fruity, ripe flavour. These taste buds are located in the bottom half of the tongue. Also worth noting that one of the nastier tricks of those in the business of making confected, manipulated alcohol from grapes as opposed to real wine; is to leave just a pinch of sugar, in order to hide a multitude of sins. And because sweet is the one taste we are born liking (the others are all acquired) and in the modern world we are so used to all manner of ready meals, fast foods, snacks etc having sugar as an ingredient, sadly, this often works.

Sour
In wine tasting, the 'sour' tastes come from the acidity in wine – an absolutely essential ingredient, giving the wine it's shape, structure and style. So, whether what you are drinking is very crisp and zingy or much rounder and softer will, to a large extent, depend on the acidity. These taste buds which pick this up tend to be located along the the sides of the tongue, towards the back.

Body
When we talk about a wine's body, we mean the weight of it in the mouth. This is largely determined by the alcohol content but the amount of fruit flavour also has some influence here.

Tannin
This is the 'furry', slightly astringent texture found only in red wines. It is actually a component of grape skins which is extracted during red wine making and the amount of tannin present is an important factor in determining the style of red wine. A 'soft' red will be much lower in tannin than a 'structured, powerful, muscular' red.

Fruit character/flavour
As discussed, the aroma receptors at the back of the throat and in the nose are responsible for picking out the actual flavours. It is for this reason that we help them out by letting the wine fall to the bottom of our mouths and then breathing air in over it in order to give them a really good hit.

Balance
Are the structural elements – i.e the acidity, tannin and alcohol, in balance with the flavours, weight and texture or does one or more of them stick out at odd angles from the body of the wine?

Finish and length
What is the flavour that remains after you swallowed the wine? Is it delicious and does it make you want to drink more? Or not? How long does the flavour go on for?

With many cheaply made, manipulated wines, the flavours seem to end almost before you have swallowed the wine – it is all concentrated at the front. Sadly, this does not mean that the finish is not deeply horrid.

If you would like to learn more about wine tasting, why don't you get a group of people together to do our 'How to taste wine like a professional' session?