Friday, May 25, 2007

TASTE: More Than Just Swallowing

"Taste" doesn't mean only what we sense with our mouths.

The words also describes the quality of critical discernment, judgment and appreciation that separates most of us from animals at a trough.

We taste the joy of victory and the bitterness of defeat. We savor life and we sample the flavor of an experience.

Scientists tell us that our taste buds can discern only four basic flavors: Sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

What we think of as taste, however, is a much more complex sensory experience that combines what our taste buds tell us with the senses of smell and touch.

Yes, I said touch. The feel of the wine in your mouth, its sense of lightness or weight, a quality that may range from watery-thin to viscous and oily is very much a part of the experience of tasting wine.

Sourness is a fault in wine if it reeks of vinegar, the sign of a spoiled beverage (fortunately, you'll rarely find it nowadays).

In the form of crisp, sharp acidity, however, a sour sensation is a desirable trait, offering a brisk, acidic taste that's as amiable a companion to fish as a squirt of fresh lemon.

A wine with too little acid, on the other hand, may seem mellow at first, but it's bland and uninspiring, lacking the verve to stand up to food.

Sour and sweet tastes are mixed in many California Chardonnays, which at their best are crisp, almost dry, with just enough fresh-fruit sweetness to soften the cutting acidic edge.

Finally, sweet dominates the sour in "late harvest" and other dessert- type wines, in which a penetrating sweetness identifies the style, but the sugar is balanced against sharp acid that keeps the wine from cloying.