"Fuel your body...Delight your senses"
Stephanie Brina-Herres, MS, RD, CDN
Stephanie is an American Heart Association award winning Registered Dietitian (RD) and NY State credentialed Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist (CDN).
With solid expertise built over more than three decades of practice and spanning six states, Stephanie's background includes being a seasoned clinician, consultant, educator (including full-time professor), presenter, author, researcher, program coordinator, consumer scientist (including recipe developer), advocate, counselor, coach, and mentor.
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Since we are about to head into the Holiday season, it is quite likely that you might be considering food and wine pairing when planning any holiday meal(s). It seemed like this might be a good time to share some thoughts about sensory perception and wine evaluation as you start thinking ahead to any Thanksgiving Celebration and beyond.
Local wine stores or perhaps actual wineries (if you happen, like me, to live in or near a wine growing region) may feature special holiday tastings and celebrations. You can taste a variety of wines and make notes about any tastings and then decide what you might like to buy to have available to go with your Holiday meals.
I’ll go into actual wine pairing with food per se in another post, but today let’s focus on first appreciating the sensory qualities of wine and let’s go over some of the basics involved in wine evaluation.
I do not pretend to be a highly trained wine connoisseur or sommelier, however, if you want to see a “Fine Wine” tasting sheet developed in conjunction with input from wine experts, I do know where you might possibly find one available as of the date this article was first published.
Before we talk about actually writing down any wine tasting notes, however, let’s first talk about how to approach wine tasting.
When I’ve had the pleasure of cruising, I’ve been exposed to a firm that promotes using specific glass shapes and sizes to pair with specific types of wines to help bring out the optimal sensory experience when savoring the wine.
Please note that by merely mentioning this line of glassware (Riedel), I am only making readers aware of its existence. I do not happen to own any of these glasses and I am not suggesting that anyone else will need to own them, but it can be fun to be aware of them and perhaps some of you might actually find you really like them.
When one evaluates wine, one uses some of the same sensory principles that one might use when evaluating food items, although certain principles will be specifically focused for evaluating wines as opposed to say evaluating broths, reductions, sauces, gravies, glazes, etc.
Something as simple as the relative humidity and temperature in one’s environment can sometimes affect our sensory perception of both food and wine, so sensory perception really involves an interaction between the entire human organism and his or her environment.
Just as to a certain extent we “feast with our eyes” so-to-speak, we also involve more of our senses in a “Wine Tasting” experience. Such “tasting” really involves using more than just your sense of taste! All of your chemical perceptions of the wine can be recorded, as well as your visual impression of it.
Wine Tasting Notes are how wine aficionados officially record their impressions of the wine and choose some very specific words to do that.
Let’s look at how a professional sommelier might suggest that you evaluate the chemical and physical properties of any wine prior to recording them, along with any other impressions you might have of any wine you taste (I’m calling the approach the Five “S’s” of wine appreciation: See, Smell, Sip, Swallow and Savor):
- First, look at the actual color of the wine;
- Next, swirl the wine in the glass and allow the air to open up the bouquet of the wine (this is sometimes called allowing the wine to “breathe” so-to-speak);
- After that, begin the process of evaluating the aromatic qualities of the wine by first taking in a deep sniff of the aroma at the bottom of the glass, then sniff the aroma at the top of the glass, and finally sniff the aroma eminating from the middle of the glass;
- Next, take a sip of the wine and literally sense the flavor on your palate–which involves giving your taste receptors a moment to perceive the taste elements of the wine, then slowly swallow the wine to allow for the rest of the flavor notes of the wine to be perceived by your olfactory receptors;
- Also remember that after you swallow the sip of wine, you should exhale through your nose so that the full olfactory sensory experience is appreciated. Take your time and really enjoy the wine’s finish.
Taste only involves the taste receptors (sensors) on the surface of the tongue (you’ve heard of them referred to as taste buds) which transmit sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami taste perception information to your brain; while where the back of your nose meets the back of your throat is the area where thousands of olfactory receptors can capture much more information and transmit those subtleties to your brain–subtleties of FLAVOR.
Flavor is a very complex perception that involves olfactory receptor neurons. Flavor, not taste, is why different ripe fruits such as berries, for example, have different aromas and complex flavors, in spite of all of them being basically sweet in taste (with the exceptions of a few naturally bitter ones like cranberries). Flavor is actually a construct of the brain, based on a food’s taste, smell, appearance, and texture; flavor perception involves odorant binding proteins, etc.
Remember that wine is meant to be savored! A little bit of the right wine for any occasion, including as a complement to a holiday meal, can go a long way towards providing much delightful sensory satisfaction.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I do not pretend to be a wine connoisseur, however, if you desire to peruse a “Fine Wine” tasting sheet, below is where you might possibly find one (available as of the date this article was first posted). One of my hobbies happens to be machine embroidery, so I originally came across this tasting sheet/wine judging template some years back as a result of reading in regard to that hobby.
Go to CME Magazine’s offering related to Fine Wine and look for the words “Click here” on the page to download the wine judging template…
That sheet will mention a number of perceived quality elements upon which wine judging is based with a bit of detail that I can’t include here (since it is their tasting sheet and not mine), which can be grouped under category headings of: Sight; Aroma aka Smell; Taste; and Overall Quality. I would add to that “Aftertaste” which can include impressions of being sweet, acidic, fruity including lemony, spicy, or smooth.
Studies have shown that certain functional components of plants found in red wines, known by the umbrella term phytochemicals, and further classified as polyphenols, may have protective cardiovascular effects. These include both resveratrol, which is in a sub-category of polyphenols known as stilbenes; as well as proanthocyanidins, which are in a sub-category of polyphenols known as flavonoids.
Some studies have explored potential cancer protection qualities that certain polyphenols may also exert, but the data is a bit more sketchy and mixed at this point in time.
One also has to consider the alcohol content of wine in any discussion of incorporating wine into any holiday meals or into one’s typical diet, including the caloric contribution of that alcohol plus the caloric contribution of the sugars in any wine.
Enjoy your upcoming holiday celebrations and if a wine pairing will work for you and your guests, then I hope you will keep some of the elements of this post in mind. Salut!
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