Tasting wine

Humans (and other animals) have evolved  three independent molecular sensors to probe their environment and to convert the detection of chemicals into specific patterns of brain activity.  And so allow us to separate a young from a mature cheddar and to take pleasure from the subtle differences between the 2007 and 2008 Treeton Estate Shiraz. 

The taste sensory epithelium (‘taste buds’) of the mouth provide an immediate sampling of the ionic, calorific and potentially hazardous properties of food and drink: the classical taste components of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (ionic glutamate).

The main olfactory epithelium (MOE) lining the back of the nasal cavity can detect several thousand small volatile chemicals at very low concentrations.

The vomeronasal organ in the nasal cavity  is more specialised in the detection of certain complex chemical signatures called pheronomes.

As we eat and drink, chemicals released in the mouth and throat reach the nasal cavity and stimulate our sense of smell 

The result is a rapid stream of taste and smell information, which merged in the brain, generates the essential components of what we perceives as the taste of food:

 “Smell and taste are in fact but a single sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and whose chimney is the nose ….” (J-A Brillat-Savarin, 1825).

A classical model of taste discrimination has long proposed that the tongue has a coarse organisation between the five different taste detector cells.  This model has proven to be inaccurate, with each specific taste detector cell found in all regions across the tongue.

We cannot rely on our taste buds or or nasal detectors to work alone. Fine-tuned wine discrimination occurs only after information processing in the brain.  It is for this reason that we should take time to fully savor the taste of our wine.  When tasting , separation of  ‘front palate’ and ‘back palate’ does not reflect the physical location of wine in our mouth but the timing and integration of of new information received by the brain from aromatic chemicals stimulating the MOE.

So find somewhere to relax and good friends to share the experience.  Talk about the wines being tasted and learn together.

Good health!

John Simmonds