By Gregory D. McCluney
Why Tasting Wine Is a Brainy Task
In terms of exercising your mental powers, few wine lovers are aware that the process of tasting is quite taxing. It’s more than the “sight, swirl, sniff, sip and swallow” we all learned in Wine Tasting 101. As it turns out, the brain takes its wine tasting quite seriously, using more grey power than when it’s listening to classical music, shooting a basket or working on a calculus problem.
In fact, wine tasting is one of life’s most challenging brain activities, engaging the interplay of tongue (which has eight muscles of its own), jaw and throat. The mouth alone sends its take on thousands of taste and odor (nose) receptors to the brain. Your brain then compares this taste to hundreds or thousands of others and determines the value and pleasure of a given bottle, including the all-important finish.
While most wine writers and reviewers concentrate on what went into the wine – location, soil, weather, grape variety, etc. – what really gives the wine its value is how each person’s brain perceives and interprets it. Much like a great painting, classical music or the moves of a stellar athlete, the grey matter is where the buck stops.
How the brain interprets the flavor of a given wine is also influenced by how we breathe and, yes, the composition of a taster’s saliva. Mood and emotions play a role as well. Remember that great wine you tasted in Napa? You brought a bottle home for a special meal with family and friends, but somehow it didn’t taste like the same wine you enjoyed at the winery. For some reason, it just wasn’t as special. Most likely, your brain tricked you, for all the reasons above.
Greg McCluney, Wine & Travel Editor
Editor’s Note: A great opportunity to exercise your grey matter and trade tasting notes is Vino Venues’ stellar event, “Discover France” on September 24. It often sells out, so call 770-668-0435, ext. 703, to secure your ticket. Not only will you be able to taste and compare many of the notable wines of France, there are many French foods to pair and compare. Forget the science and just enjoy.