Category Archives: Wine lessons

Making Sense of the Senses

Which of the five senses is the most important to enjoying wine? The luscious taste? The sight of a brilliant color? The feel of alcohol warming you up? The sound of the cork popping? The smell of heady aromas?

For Mary, the aroma is what draws her in and keeps her coming back. But the taste is what brings Brynn back to a favorite wine.

Let’s explore what the five senses can tell say about a wine, and whether you’re going to love it or not.

We’ll start with the sight of the wine. The color and the clarity of a wine can be very telling. For instance, if the wine is dark in color, the skins of the grape — which have all the color pigments — will have had prolonged contact with the juice from the grapes during the fermentation process. Some skins are denser than others. Syrah and Cabernet are thicker than Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, so they naturally have more color and more tannin.

Color can also indicate how old or how young a wine is. Reds tend toward a purple/red color when young. As they age they get lighter in color, shedding their purple robe and taking on a ruby red, then brick red, (by now hopefully you’ve enjoyed it) then after more time a red/orange color and lastly an orange/brown.

Whites on the other hand go the other way. They start out very pale, almost straw in color and with age they end up with a golden brown color.

Often, the sound of the cork popping can get your tongue salivating. But other than the great conversation or music, the sense of sound isn’t used too often when drinking a good wine.

By the time you reach the sense of taste, you will know if the wine is sweet, dry, tannic, bubbly, balanced and/or acidic. Add to this the megabyte of flavor descriptors that could be applied to any given wine, and this could take you into the next century to explore them all.
A person’s mouth can sense a smooth wine that has a lot of body — or a light, delicate mouth feel. Concentrated wine gives makes the mouth feel weighty.

Next is aroma. The sense of smell can tell you if the wine is great, good or off with the first whiff. This is the sense that, worldwide, people will agree on the most often, regardless of if they prefer red or white, sweet or dry, or young or old wine. Inhaling aromas can bring a person back to a summer of picking berries, or grandmother’s apple pie laced with vanilla, or the pungent aroma of freshly ground black pepper on a Caesar salad.

A wine’s aroma also changes when it comes in contact with air. Swirling the wine, or decanting a bottle, oxygenates the wine. This allows air into the wine, which releases the esters — all the better to smell the wine. If allowed, prolonged contact with air causes the wine to break down because of bacteria in the air. With enough exposure, wine will turn to vinegar.

So, swirl, swish, sniff, savor. Salute.

Try the lesson: Remember when we said to line up five different glasses and pour the same wine in each glass, then find a favorite glass? That was a test of taste and smell.

The bowl of a glass will affect the bouquet of a wine. For example, an open bowl — like a martini glass — will make it harder to decipher the aroma of wine because there is nothing to trap the bouquet in the glass. By comparison, a large bowl with a narrow opening, like a Burgundy wine glass, will trap the aroma within the bowl, allowing the nose to blossom.

The glass size and shape also affects the way the taste of wine is perceived. Remember the suggestion to try a jelly jar, a wine glass with a big bowl, a glass with a rolled rim and a coffee cup? The wine tasted different in each of those, right? That’s because the shape of the glass is letting the oxygen in, which affects the taste of wine.

Wine glass makers aren’t trying to pull one over on consumers when they make glasses labeled for specific wines like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chardonnay, Syrah, etc. They truly are crafting glasses meant to compliment those styles of wine. The way they are made is meant to direct the wine to a specific spot on the tongue for the most pleasure.