Your team of dedicated wine professionals at Cool Springs Wines & Spirits has been on a renewed expedition to get to the bottom of some of the most intriguing issues related to wine. In this post we are going to explore flavinoids and flavor. Aren’t they the same? Hmm, read on.
Researchers at Yale University’s Yale-New Haven Hospital have been looking closing at the health benefits believed to be derived from drinking wine. Specifically, red wine has the most beneficial compounds. There are a number of antioxidants found naturally in red wine, including flavinoids, which may very well provide specific positive heart health benefits by lowering LDL cholesterol (bad) and boosting HDL cholesterol (good). The Yale research also cited research at the University of California at Davis that specified specific grape varietals that had the highest levels of flavinoids. UC Davis is quoted as identifying Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, and Pinot Noir as having the highest levels of flavinoids by varietal. Their study also showed that the sweeter the red wine the lower the levels of flavinoids and the drier the red wine the higher the levels of flavinoids.
Okay, what does this have to do with taste? Yes and no. Wine has hundreds if not thousands of chemical compounds that provide color, taste, aroma and mouth feel. Other compounds protect the wine and give it the ability to age. Phenols and polypenols are the first chemical steps in the odyssey of wine. From these come the antioxidants such as flavinoids and non-flavinoids. We will stick with the flavinoids. Phenolic Acids are found in the pulp of wine grapes, while other phenols are found in the skin, seeds and pips. All of these phenols as well as vanillin, which is a phenol released by oak barrels during barrel ageing, that give wine a vanilla like taste and aroma, impart or play a part in aroma, flavor and mouth feel.
There are over 100,000 taste buds in a human mouth and not all of them are on our tongues. Humans can detect four basic types of taste. 1. Bitterness. Examples of bitter foods and drinks are unsweetened cocoa, beer, olives and chicory. 2. Saltiness. Examples of salty foods are pickled foods, sea vegetables like kelp and salted nuts. 3. Sourness. Examples of sour foods are lemons, fermented foods, grapes and some melons. 4. Sweetness. Examples of sweet foods are licorice root, strawberries and honey. Recently a fifth taste element has been added. 5. Enami. This recognizes savory and meaty flavors such as cheese but is also present in grains and tomatoes. There has been a long standing model that these basic flavors were detected by specific taste buds located on the tongue. Recent research conducted at Yale University is beginning to cast some legitimate doubt on this and may reveal that these basic tastes can be detected anywhere in the mouth taste buds are located.
A minimum of eighty percent (80%) of the human sense of taste is actually sense of smell. This is one reason why we smell a wine’s aroma before tasting. We pique of senses with the wine’s aromatics and then allow our taste buds to do their job.
Sweetness seems to have the highest recognition threshold and is one of many reasons why sweeter wines are more popular. A wine maker will decide to make a wine sweeter or dryer. The amount of residual sugars left in the wine by the wine maker allows for small or big fruit flavors to be detected. Bitterness has many detractors but is an influential part of the wine experience. Part of this comes from extended skin, seed, and pip contact during maceration. Saltiness does not play a major role in wine flavors but can allow for what is perceived to be minerals or earth accents in a wine. Sourness is an interesting aspect of wine flavors. Naturally occurring acids in wine are ususally the culprit when a wine is called sour. However, acidity plays a major role both in flavor as well as preservation in wine. The thousand pound gorilla in all of this is the newest member of the basic taste spectrum, enami.
Detecting savory nuances in wine is critical, especially, in well crafted wines. In varietals such as Syrah and Pinot Noir the savory elements allow these varietals to stand out and allow them to be exceptional food partners.
With all of the science behind tasting wine, what does this all mean for the average middle Tennessee wine drinker? If you just like to drink wine simply knowing the basic taste elements and being able to communicate these to a CSWS wine sales team member is great and will allow for enhanced enjoyment. If you are curious and want to learn more, you begin a life long journey that will reveal many details. Regardless, tasting wine is fun, rewarding and educational.
Cool Springs Wines & Spirits provides such experiences for our customers through in-store wine tastings every Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon. CSWS also hosts more specific educational tastings in our tasting room overlook above the store. These wine tastings do require reservations but are free of charge. Drink, eat and be merry and always enjoy what you taste.