For the past two years, I’ve been working intermittently on developing a new wine tasting model to be included in the book I’m writing on the philosophy of wine. I’ve finally gotten around to working it up into something publishable at least on a blog. So I will be devoting some posts to it over the next several weeks.
Current tasting models used in tasting notes and in certification programs are focused largely on aromas and flavors, and we have a well-developed vocabulary for describing them. It is obvious why tasting models focus on aromas. Aromas are the signature of a wine—they provide important clues about the varietal, where the grapes were grown, and how the wine was made. Because the paradigm of wine assessment is blind tasting with a goal of inferring origins from a wine’s properties, the identification of aromas is important for that task.
As important as aromas and flavor notes are however they are not the whole wine. Blind tasting aside, our enjoyment of a wine depends crucially on mouthfeel but also on a dimension of wine that is seldom emphasized in our tasting models—the movement of the wine on the palate. In fact, I want to suggest that a wine’s perceived movement on the palate is not only one determinant of wine quality but is central to a wine’s personality. Distinctive wines have a distinctive manner in which their tactile qualities unfold. Yet, our way of describing these features is not nearly as well developed as our description of flavor notes.
Thus, my primary goal in developing a tasting model is to provide an analysis of this dimension of wine tasting. Essentially, I’m arguing that individual wines have a rhythm and I’m trying to describe the various rhythms that wines exhibit. I won’t be ignoring aromas or flavors but rhythm and mouthfeel will get equal billing.
So stay tuned.
Palate structure (which incorporates viscosity) is my obsession as a winemaker. The terms we use in the winery don’t have much traction with the wine-drinking public, but consumers certainly react unconsciously to textural elements of a wine.
When you taste with French wine professionals, they inevitably bring up glycerol as the key to wine texture. That is almost certainly NOT the case, but I now let them use that term as a proxy for palate weight/viscosity, without cringing.
I asked a flavor scientist friend of mine if we know what compounds are associated with the increased palate weight associated with white wines that are barrel-fermented, compounds that are independent of MLB metabolites AND yeast autolysates. (I make a Riesling that is fermented but not matured in barrels, and the main difference between ot and the conventional stainless steel version is texture.)
He immediately asked if the phenomenon I was referring to was detected only upon moving the wine around in the mouth, to which I replied yes, to which he replied that we don’t really know yet.
Thanks for your comment. I didn’t know references for glycerol were suspect. Thanks for that bit of information. And that is fascinating about the added texture from barrel fermentation. With all the great wine science we have I’m always astounded by how much we still don’t know.