Although the taste buds detect only a very small number of basic and nonvolatile flavours, the truth is that they play a key role in wine assessment. The five primary flavours that can be differentiated by the taste buds are sugar, acidity, bitterness, salt and umami.The taste buds also register the tannins and the acids astringency, the tannin rudeness, the subtlety of glycerol and three other crucial aspects in the evaluation of any wine, the weight or body, the balance of flavours and the final length.
The weight or body is detected through the alcohol, the glycerol, the sugar tannin and through other non-liquid elements that when together are known as extracts. Bearing in mind that the tongue has different areas and that are supposedly sensitive to each of the primary elements, it is important to rinse the wine in your mouth when you taste it in order to maximize the exposure to all taste buds present in your mouth.
Taste versus drink
Drinking wine is essentially recreation, a moment of satisfaction and pleasure that delights us with sensations without having to think about them too much. Tasting wine implies a deliberate act of examination and observation, a merciless assessment of the defects and virtues of each wine. Whereas drinking is pleasure, tasting is work. Whereas drinking implies searching and enjoying the virtues of wine, tasting involves the search for and identification of any imperfections.
The four fundamental components
It is essential to understand the primary flavours, its origins and consequences in what concerns the wine flavours.
The bitterness is reflected in the degree of acidity, found in great abundance in the lemon juice and in vinegar. While the excess acidity is shown to be deeply troublesome, adding an unpleasant sour feeling, the acidity in itself is one of the most important wine constituents, providing freshness and a light spicy overtone. Sweetness and acidity are two factors that usually go hand in hand in the fruit and in the wine. They are essential to complement and balance each other. Finding the perfect balance between sugar and acidity is one of the most important tasks and, at the same time, one of the most difficult tasks in the world of wine.
The greater the degree of sweetness of the wine, the bigger is the need for a high acidity to help counterbalance the sweetness. The most striking characteristic of a good sweet wine is the degree of acidity found to counterbalance the sweetness. A wine that is extra dry should be thriftier in acidity, otherwise it can become acrid and sour.The acidity is especially important in the universe of white wines since, in the absence of tannins, it appears as the essential element in the formation of the wine structure.
The fermentation of the grapes, the transformation of grape juice into an alcoholic beverage, represents the transformation and consequent unfolding of sugar contained in grapes into alcohol. However, and despite being much drier than the initial grape juice, the wine may still contain some sugar, known as residual sugar, the amount of sugar that has not been converted into alcohol. The wines can be dry, medium dry, extra, sweet or too sweet, depending on the quantity of sugar that persists in the wine. Even the extra dry wines contain, even though they don’t show it, a small percentage of sugar. The sugar content may vary from less than one gram to more than two hundred grams, it is acknowledged that most dry wines are in a range between two and five grams of sugar per liter. Alcohol, as well as glycerin, potentiate the feeling of sweetness and help to soften the wine, making it softer and silkier.
You should be careful not to confuse the sense of bitterness with tannin, different impressions that are easily confused. The bitterness is a flavour while the tannins are a tactile sensation. The origins can be multiple, from the wine grape variety to unripe tannins, excessive extraction or wood that is too new. Unlike the acidity and the sugar, the bitterness is not fundamental to the structure of the wine.
Despite being usual and vital in food, the salty taste is rarely identified in wine, being universally considered less relevant in evaluating the wine flavour. The dry wine of Jerez represents one of the few wine styles in which the salt perception is usually present.
One of the easiest wine ingredients to identify, capable of inducing strongly unpleasant sensations in certain occasions, are the tannins. Tannins or polyphenols that may come up in the wine through the seeds, the skin, the stalk or, in the case of the wines which are ageing in wood, through the wooden barrels where the wine is aged.
The presence and identification of tannin is particularly evident in black tea. The sensation caused by the tannin is often rude and coarse, drying the gums and drying and thickening the mucous membranes, offering an aggressive sense of bitterness that when it is excessive can be absolutely nasty.
Just like white wines destined to be aged need a pungent acidity at their adolescence, the red wines require vehement tannins in their youth, acting as a natural preservative that prolongs the life of red wines. But the tactile sensations are not only originally from tannins. Alcohol is also decisive in the perception of the body or lightness. Frequently, the higher the alcohol content the greater the feeling of heaviness, whereas the lower the alcohol content the greater the feeling of lightness which can be disturbed by the presence of sugar in the wine or by the presence of carbon dioxide.