On your path to discovering the wonderful world of taste & aromas, your best friend is your tongue (and also your nose, but that’s for another post…). If you wish to understand the different parts of your taste buds, you will need to do a couple of things first.
In my previous tutorial, The Grape Tasting, we have already done so, so you can skip to the next paragraph if you have done it already. Otherwise, fasten your seat-belt, we’ll go fast through the various parts of your tongue.
The four Basic Tastes are the following:
I can see you, sushi fans, arguing about “umami”, the so-called “fifth flavour”, we’ll get there another day. Let’s focus on the basic four first. Your tongue is sensitive to these four and will react in different ways, leading your brain to the conclusion: “Oh that is sweet” or “Jaysus…that’s too salty”…
The Map of your Tongue
You will need: some water, some sugar, a teabag, one lemon and some salt
Experiment #001: Mapping your Tongue: “Sweetness” Receptors
Fill a glass with water
Add a couple of teaspoons of caster sugar & stir to dissolve it
Have a sip of this solution
Concentrate on the tip of your tongue…is it watering?
Yes, the tip of your tongue is where most sensors for sweetness are located. An easy way to remember it for wine is that:
If the tip of your tongue is watering, then the wine is sweet
If the tip of your tongue is dry, then the wine is “dry”, as in not sweet.
Wine Tip: Still struggling to identify sweet wines? Check this out!
Experiment #002: Mapping your Tongue: Acidity Receptors
Rinse that previous glass & rinse your mouth with clean water
Fill the glass with pure water
Squeeze half a lemon into it & stir until it is dissolved
Have a sip of this solution and let it roll around your mouth (you can spit it out if you don’t want to drink it)
Concentrate on the sides of your tongue…are they watering?
Yes, the sides of your tongue are home to the receptors for acidity. In wine, especially in white wine, acidity is a key structural element. A higher acidity makes a fuller-bodied wine, and as we will see later, helps disguising a higher sweetness.
Wine Tip: Acidity & Climate
If you are doing some blind tastings, acidity is a great way of guessing where the wine comes from. Like all fruits, grapes, as they ripen, lose some of their acidity to create more sugars (think of a very ripe apple and a slightly unripe one…).
Most of this ripening process is due to the sunlight bathing the fruit as it grows, and hotter climates tend to ripen the fruits more than cooler climates. So knowing all of this, you can say:
A wine with a higher acidity is made of underripe berries grown in a cooler climate area (generally speaking, the Old World, Europe…)
A wine with a lower acidity is made of riper berries in a hotter climate (i.e New World).
Experiment #003: Mapping your Tongue: Bitterness & Astringency Receptors
Often confused with bitterness, astringency is not quite the same thing. First, let’s understand what bitterness is: it happens at the back of your throat, think of that first sip of beer you enjoyed the other day, think of the little tickle on your throat that made it feel thirst-quenching…this is bitterness.
Astringency receptors are found around your gums and backsides of your tongue. Let’s locate them!
Fill half a cup with boiling water
Throw in a teabag
Forget about it and go do something else for about 30 minutes
Go back to it and have a sip
How are your gums? And the backsides of your tongue?
This is astringency, guess what, tea contains tannins! In fact, nearly all plants do, it is their way of protecting themselves against parasites. This bitter/astringent/dry feeling isn’t really nice if left on its own. It needs to be balanced by sweetness or creaminess.
Wine Tip: Big Bold Reds & Creamy Dishes
Actually, let’s try something now that will show you why red wines with high levels of tannins react well with creamy dishes. Grab some milk & pour it into that cup. Have a sip, the Astringency is lowered isn’t it? Milk contains lactose (a type of sugar) and some fat that will bind with these tannins and create a soft mouthfeel. That is why creamy dishes & big rustic reds tend to love each other.
Experiment #004: Mapping your Tongue: Saltiness Receptors
Very few wines can be said to be salty, but lots of foods are, and it’s all about balance!
Fill a glass with water
Pour 2 teaspoons into it & stir until it is fully dissolved
Have a sip of this solution, let it roll around your tongue (you can spit it out if you don’t want to drink it)
Two-third down, from the tip of your tongue, from the sides to the middle, an area is watering…
This is where your receptors for saltiness can be found. You can probably notice that this salt made you thirsty? Salty dishes can be a great combination for slightly lighter wines (with low ABV), because people will tend to drink more with them. Perhaps having a glass of water on the side wouldn’t be such a bad idea instead…
Now that we understand our own tongues, let’s take a look at the elements that make wine what it is!
Certified Sommelier (CMS)