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The Neglected Senses of Wine-Tasting

Posted by perle0 on 2005-02-09 23:53:57 (8858 views)

[The Pedestrian Wine Drinker]
If you enjoy every sensory aspect of a wine, it's that much more enjoyable. So strive to appreciate wine with all your senses…sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. Sound is the only one that rarely makes it into a tasting note, because wines generally sound the same as each other. But you should still make sure to appreciate that gleeful gurgle in a pour, that almost inaudible drip of the last drop going into a glass, that faint swish as you twirl a red in need of breath around in your decanter to aerate it better, and for sparkling wines, that delicate hiss of the bubbles streaming to the surface. It will enhance your experience, and prime your ears for the witty conversation or lovely music that will hopefully follow the sounds of wine.

Since we don't generally paddle our fingers around in our wine (at least not in public), touch generally presents itself in the limited area of "mouth feel," which is a subtle quality. Both acids and tannins have a tactile effect on the mouth; acids have a "zing" that you can feel, and tannins produce a sort of drying pucker, particularly on the roof of the mouth. Both of these have flavors as well, though, that are probably easier to detect and focus on than their tactile components. So the primary aspect of wine that you will notice by feeling is weight, or body. This is literally how "heavy" (or light) the wine feels in your mouth. Some wines are quite light, and feel very close to water, while others feel more thick and syrupy. Generally speaking, body is a factor of the amount of alcohol in a wine. The more alcohol there is, the thicker and more viscous it feels, because alcohol is significantly more viscous than water (which makes up 85% of most wines).

You can taste the difference easily by examining two sweet wines. A Moscato d'Asti is a sweet, lightly sparkling ("frizzante") Italian white wine, like a sweet and less-fizzy Asti Spumanti. The bubbles help give it a light feel, so you might want to let it go flat for the purposes of this comparison. It's low in alcohol, generally 5-6%, yet it's quite sweet. Tasting it, you will see that it feels very light in the mouth. To compare, choose a fortified sweet white wine, perhaps an Australian one, like R. L. Buller & Sons Victoria Muscat. You'll find that this wine, although sweet like the Moscato d'Asti, has a much thicker, more syrupy feel to it. That comes from the 18% alcohol it contains. I chose these examples because you might be tempted to think that the syrupy feel of the fortified wine comes from its sugar content, but it's not--the Moscato is also quite sweet, but not the least bit syrupy. You can confirm the alcohol content by checking out whether the wine forms legs (discussed in the column on the look of wine).

So be sure to devote some of your attention to the neglected senses of sound and touch with every wine you sample. Discussing the quality of body or weight shows that you're very thorough taster. And if you occasionally pay tribute to the sound of a wine, you'll have a tasting note that treads into highly exotic territory. You'll be wild, bold, and different. People will admire you and look up to you, and ask for your opinion on wines. Okay, at least your tasting notes will be more interesting.

We'll save taste for the next column.


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