There’s a whole lotmore to sensing the properties of wine than youmight imagine.
n recent years, my experience has been that many new entrants into the wine industry prefer to operate “organically” as first choice. There is no question about it. Pesticides have fallen from grace and in many cases it’s with good reason.
Sensory evaluation was a
fundamental part of my education, first in dairy products and then in the wine industry. I recently read a book that showed me how little I know about the muscles, nerves, and brain cells that enable me to taste, smell, see, hear and touch:
Shepherd, G. M. 2017. Neuroenology. How the brain creates the taste of wine. Columbia University Press, New York. 163 pp. ISBN 9780231542876 (ebook). The book has three sections, 20 chapters. The first section deals with the fluid dynamics of wine tasting. It goes far beyond the sniff, swirl, slurp, and spit that we accept as the usual course of wine evaluation. Every detail of the wine journey from orthonasal sniffing, through salivary dilution, retronasal detection, and movement past the epiglottis into the esophagus is tracked. Voluntary and involuntary muscle action, and a host of nerve signals from the brain enable us to optimize detection of wine flavour and aroma compounds.
The author’s discussion of human anatomy and physiology is reinforced by comparison with other animals. What can the long snout of a dog accomplish that we can’t with the short pathway of our stubby little nose? Why does a dog sniff in short little bursts when he’s examining a smell? I had never considered that swallowing involves 25 muscles of the jaw and neck, and I still can’t recite them all. If I ever need to look them up I know where to find them. The important point is that swallowing is a complex process with a lot of pre programmed muscle coordination.
British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall-Winter 2017 25
By Gary Strachan Is it a matter of tasting or smelling?
Even though we may believe we are in control of whether or not we swallow, there are a great many muscle movements that happen without our intervention. For example, the tongue flattens and presses against the top
of the mouth and then moves the wine backward toward the pharynx. The thyroid cartilage of the larynx moves upward and the epiglottis closes off the trachea so that the wine moves into the esophagus instead of the lungs. A swallow only seems to be simple.
The second section of the book relates our sensory anatomy and physiology to the conventional evaluation processes that are typically used when we evaluate a wine: visual (wine colour), smell (orthonasal), touch (mouthfeel), taste (tongue), smell (retronasal), sound (swishing in the mouth) and finish (retronasal).
Each of the five senses: vision, touch, taste, sound, and smell are discussed in detail as they relate to sensing wine properties.
There is also an interesting
discussion of the similarities between visual and olfactory imagery. For example, we can have “smell” dreams that are just as realistic as visual images. We can experience hallucinations of either visual or olfactory images. Just as we remember visual images, we also remember smells. The memory can be enhanced by familiarity and expertise. Touch is more difficult to describe. The concept of
mouthfeel is depicted in a mouthfeel wheel, analogous to the more familiar wine aroma wheel. In general, the touch sensations of wine are
divided into two categories — feel and astringency.
The mouth-feel wheel is
organized into the familiar bullseye format of flavour wheels, with general descriptors in the centre and specific descriptors in the outer ring. An additional short table lists the wine components that contribute to mouthfeel.
There is a detailed discussion of the five primary tastes — sweet. sour, salty,
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