Wine Talk

Snooth User: jamessulis

Notes on Wine to the Palate

Posted by jamessulis, Mar 26, 2010.

I've done a study searching for answers and this is what I've come up with, perhaps this will educate some of my wine beginners and intermediates. If the Pros disagree or want to embellish, feel free to post me .

There are only 5 tastes that a human can sense:
1) sweet
2) sour
3) bitter
4) salty
5) spicy.

What the wine reviewers are talking about are aromas. A really good way to understand this is to pinch your nose and taste a tiny bit of vanilla extract. Then, as you swallow, release your nose. With your nose pinched, you taste nothing but bitter. But as your release your nose, the aromas give you an impression that you are tasting the floral aromas of vanilla. This is because your nose and mouth are part of one system.

Wine is the same way. Hold your nose and taste the wine. You should only be able to taste one of the 5 tastes. Release and swallow and you will be able to experience aroma and texture sensations.

There are other components to wine besides just grapes. Tanins come from grape stems, skins and seeds. Tanic acid is found in these. A tanic wine produces a "dry" sensation in the mouth. It will also give you a false sense that the wine tastes bitter. Wine is often aged in wood casks. The wood will impart woody aromas to the wine in addition to bitter taste.

Yeast is another component that gives wine aroma. The aroma sensations can vary greatly. Wines often have floral, woody, fruity, etc. aroma characteristics.

Sugar content gives wine texture. A sweet wine will make the wine "rich". "Loud" wines are wines where there is one dominant characteristic that lingers for a while. "Soft" wines have subtle characteristics.

From a more chemical angle, heres more for you to digest.

Wine is the fermented juice of grapes, which chemically is actually quite complex. The idea that the sugar + yeast just turns into alcohol is a real over-simplification of the actual chemical process, and many other compounds are created, including terpenes, phenols, and other highly flavorful and aromatic compounds that can echo the tastes and scents of other substances. Also, many wines are aged in oak barrels - which frequently have been 'toasted', which creates nutty / woody and even caramel notes.

Cedar is probably a flavor that comes from oak aging (wood flavor, no surprise)
Dark chocolate is because wines contain bitter tannins - it's a 'preservative' contained in the grape skins / seeds / stems which are found in red wines (dark chocolate is also pronouncedly bitter)

One example of one of those 'weird' things you can taste in wine, particularly Chardonnay, is buttery flavor. Most chardonnays are put through a secondary fermentation process after the sugar to alcohol part that converts malic acid to lactic acid, and also produces a compound called 'diacetyl' which is basically what gives butter its flavor, and also is manufactured as an artificial flavoring to make fake butter for popcorn.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that the wine is way more complex than just the grapes, although there's more to the grapes than the average person realizes.   


Pacific Northwest

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Reply by Rupert Degas, Mar 27, 2010.

Great post Lefty.

May I add that sweetness can only be sensed on the tip of the tongue and cannot be smelt.  Try melting some sugar in a glass of hot water and you'll see what I mean.

You can also guess at the alcohol level of a wine by how much heat is generated at the back of the tongue and in the throat.

Furthermore if you want to gauge how acidic a wine is, try giving it a good slosh around the mouth, especially the sides of the tongue, spit (or swallow) and then hold you mouth slightly open.  Just wait and see how quickly the saliva builds up under your tongue.  The sooner you have to swallow it back down, the higher the acidity of the wine, and because acid acts as a better preservative than sugar, you can guess at the approximate age of the wine.

You can try the same trick with gauging tannin levels.  Slosh some wine around your top front teeth and gums.  The drier your mouth is, the higher the tannins.

As you say, it's way more complex than just the grapes - let's not forget climate, weather, soil, topography, viticulture, vinification and maturation.


Reply by Peppino, Mar 27, 2010.

I thought there were 4 tastes but have heard of a 5th being umami.. most people do confuse what we can taste in wine vs what is due to olfactory senses... great post

Reply by jamessulis, Mar 28, 2010.

I may have published slightly wrong info on the 5 tastes, ok.

Eliminate spicy and add umami:

There are three major umami substances: glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate. Glutamate is a common amino acid found abundantly in nature. Nucleotides that contribute the most to umami taste, inosinate and guanylate, are also present in many foods. These major umami substances were discovered by Japanese scientists, and now umami taste is a universal taste in various foods in the world.

I'm not so sure about umami as personally I don't believe I have experienced umami, nor have I experienced being suspended on a flag pole singing "O solo mio".

Anyone shedding additional info on umami please do, then I can explain it to udadi .



Reply by amour, Mar 28, 2010.

You have most likely experienced umami and just did not realise it.

I will be back on the subject.

(Only recently, one of Donald Trumps's chefs was extending my understanding of molecular gastronomy and also umami.)

Reply by GregT, Mar 28, 2010.

I think it's debatable that there are only four or five tastes.  That's what some western scientists thought in the past but today it's not as accepted.  How does one describe the taste of caramelized onions or of chili peppers or iodine or the sulfuric tastes that one finds in many wines? 

It's a bit like saying that there are only three colors - red/blue/green.  On your TV or computer, maybe that's the case, but somehow you can see a lot more colors than that because the sum of them in different proportions yields something entirely different than the component parts.  So I don't think it's necessary to talk about precisely how many tasted one human may discern as compared to another.

Moreover, tannins are from grapes, as you point out, but also from the wood barrels in some cases.  A lot depends on the age of the barrels and the size and the question of whether or not they're toasted, etc.  But many wines pick up those tannins and little from the grapes themselves.  In any case, they can by drying, but if they're ripe, they're not necessarily bitter.  The barrels incidentally, can also contribute to the buttery flavors in some wines, as can the strains of yeast used.  The various yeasts impart their own aromas and flavors, so you pick up different things from the exact same grapes, depending on how they're fermented and what the yeast added.

Anyhow, cheers!

Reply by zufrieden, Mar 28, 2010.

Statistically speaking, you are looking at a near-infinite combination of the 5-6 primary taste senses available to homo sapiens, the problem of tast and olfactory combination is, well, not that simple...

But as a certain jailbird puts it, "that's a good thing" - especially when it comes to the aesthetic appreciation of food and drink.

The idea of differentiating between "taste" and "smell" is a good one - scientifically - even though the two senses cannot be separated neatly from the experiential point of view.  

That's why this is a great discussion - the comments show that we don't just accept what's said; we investigate.

This is not a subject that ends easily, so lets have more discussion. Those of you who doubt the power of human senses should become executives at Gallo (see the thread on this winery).

Until then, bottoms up!


Reply by amour, Mar 29, 2010.

Definitely, GregT......Well said!

Even barrel - size makes for differences and nuances........

Take again the late Didier Dagueneau who gave his own spacial barrel specs.....(peculiar to some wine-makers!)

Reply by amour, Apr 2, 2010.

Will devote some time after the holidays, to get into umami.

Perhaps others would have alot to share on umami, as well.

Meanwhile, for those who can recognize umami,

the following pair well.




Pinot Grigio



Sauvignon Blanc


Chardonnay (un-oaked)



Pinot Noir




Reply by zufrieden, Apr 3, 2010.


Reply by zufrieden, Apr 3, 2010.

Well, that last remark was a little thin.  Perhaps it is better to ask: "how do these wines go well with umami?"  While I agree that some may not recognize this flavor profile, perhaps you could add a few remarks to flesh out how umami might be recognized and why it might pair well with wines in your extensive list - even if you must be a bit circumspect or tangential in your remarks.

For such pairings are certainly not without interest...

Reply by zufrieden, Apr 3, 2010.

Something else might be worth thinking about as well.  While umami was chemically identified and linked to the biology of taste in primates over a century ago, I'm not sure that this fact efficiently informs taste descriptions.  Taste is highly person-specific and therefore subjective.  That means that descriptions have to contain enough shared ingredients to touch a nerve or two in the outside world.

The fact of umami as a primary taste may not be in doubt at the level of physical process (I'm no biochemist so leave that to the reader).  But whether descriptions like "meaty" or "savory" cleanly distinguish umami from other taste combinations such as salt, sugar and metal is a moot point.

On the other hand, if umami is a taste experience linked to seaweed broth or its active component monosodium glutamate (as it was originally), then we get a lot more specific.  With that kind of specificity one might be able to start talking about pairings - even if such pairings are hard to come by.

I think we need to zero in more closely to the actual taste with more description that, intersubjectively speaking, allows for some discrimination from generalities.  Otherwise, the discussion may be less than informative. 

Reply by amour, Apr 3, 2010.

Happy Holiday Everyone!

I joined Snooth for fun and relaxation, buth within recent times, several members are exerting pressure and fortunately, I am energetic and equipped to respond.

I trained as a journalist in London at the reputable Thomson Foundation but I did not intend to be a wine-journalist.

(I also trained in London as a lawyer.

I currently work pro-bono.)

As a result of this pressure on Snooth, I will make a grand entrance.

In that context, I will present to my readers full authenticity, sources and so on.

More importantly, I will be getting into photographs and interviews conducted by me.

Thank you.

Anyway, for today...... Chef KURTIS JANTZ.

(I promised that I would tell you a bit about what he told me about this umami taste.)

He is a chef at Trump at Sunny Isles Beach, Miami.

I eat his superb cuisine at Neomi's grill.

They have recently introduced SUSHI LOUNGE and serve quite delicious fare. I enjoy sushi.

(Relatives of mine stay at Trump and I go is near my Miami villa.)

I personally questioned Jantz  on umami.

I spent an entire mid-morning with him and a friend called Cissie, who is  a culiunary expert and works for Macy's cookware department at Aventura Mall,  at a presentation in Aventura last year.

I also interviewed Cat Cora, from Iron Chef America on another encounter.

I have been meeting with famous chefs all of my adult life,

and  had many famous chefs stay in our private island resort.

From them I learnt a lot.

I would always share with my Snooth members  !

Jantz explained, among other things,  that umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate which is a type of amino acid.

He said that it occurs naturally in many foods....meat, fish, dairy products, vegetables.

He further explained that because the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavours,most people do not recognize umami  when they encounter it...but they do experience it as they will find that there is a delicious special kind of taste.

He mentioned that umami is experienced when eating...seafood, sea-weed especially, small dried sardines, mackerel, squid, oysters, also soy-sauce, oriental fish sauce and my very favourite Worcestershire sauce.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Snooth house, I thank you for reading my words and appreciating me as much as I appreciate you.

Once again THANK YOU.


amour with love in excess!


Do not ask me if I personally understand umami...I am not so sure that I do, but as I said before, I offer intellectual as well as light culinary, food and wine stimulation to everyone and so I am writing with good intentions. I did not originally raise umami but I love responding to threads and again here I am with something first-hand to offer.

I could go on but I am off to have a good time drinking wine and cheering the sick.


By the way, umami is now known as a 5th taste. It is a japanese word.

Reply by zufrieden, Apr 3, 2010.

Thanks a lot for that informative posting, Amour.  I know you have a great deal to share so we look forward to more jewels of this kind based on your experiences.

Did those culinary experts have any suggestions for wine with sushi (more friendly pressure, I'm afraid)? Just wondering as I have a hell of a time with that.

Reply by amour, Apr 3, 2010.

Thanks for asking.

I intend to discuss the wine aspect with Chef Jantz when I go to Neomi's .

I am very interested to know myself because I mainly have had sake

with my sushi at two other good joints in Miami...MYAKO in the RK

Centre on Collins very near TRUMP INTERNATIONAL.  It offers EAT ALL YOU CAN EAT!....

And SUSHI SIAM in Aventura Mall....near me again,...their prices are fairly steep but it is excellent food in a reasonably  elegant setting.

But, in my humble opinion, not very many of thesushi items at MYAKO are excellent.....So, I only take a few particular is their cod and rice in Japanese style, and another  other is their crab rangoon.

Outside of Japan, the best sushi I have eaten is in London / England.

I have to say London really offers great food; over the last decade it has improved tremendously.


(I add in details just in case any sushi Snoothers are coming to Miami!)....only trying to be helpful!

Reply by amour, Apr 3, 2010.

May I also add that among the  reasons I also know a thing or two about umami, is that Nirupa Chaudhuri of the University of Miami School of Medicine has actually made history by isolating and characterising the umami taste receptor......I read this in the Miami Herald.

The MW Tim Hanni has also written articles on umami in the context of wine. 

I was told that of the wines which I mentioned previously in a list on this thread...that it is the most matured of them that would pair well with umami.

I have equally heard that soft, fruity, one-dimensional wines also pair.

I once saw on the internet that KALIN CELLARS/Marin County /California showed an interest in promoting  some of their wines as going well with umami...rather interesting.

Use your own powers of critical analysis, my friends !

Reply by dmcker, Apr 3, 2010.

So where is sushi good in London? It's horrid on the Harrod's Food Floor, that's for sure... ;-)

After long experience with unending series of disappointments, I've pretty much stopped eating sushi overseas, though the best I have had abroad has been in Southern California, first, and NYC, second.

Umami is just another taste, if you believe it truly exists. Asking about wine for it is like asking what wine goes with sweet, or sour or salty or bitter, and like those no one tries to make a dish that merely expresses umami. It's most commonly used as a base in Japanese cuisine working from kombu dashi (a stock made from kelp). A lot of its fans, however, tend to go overboard and it takes on a lot of pyramid-power-like attributes when unbridledly expressed by its most vociferous proponents. Supposedly its what makes tomatoes taste good and is the basic reason for the international success of Italian cuisine... ;-)

Reply by zufrieden, Apr 4, 2010.

Since the California and BC Rolls were actually invented in Vancouver (we have the Japanese-Canadian chef still here plying his trade), there is some reasonable North American style sushi in this city - as there is those US locales you mention.

But the serious stuff likely remains in Japan though I don't really know for sure since I married into a family that's not big on fish - even when we travel abroad.  That has cramped my experience a bit.

The wine paring thing may also be an empty hope - though I am always ready to try suggestions should something crop up - which explains my question.  As things stand at the moment, I just wash sushi down with green tea (or sake or beer).


Reply by amour, Apr 5, 2010.

Nobu London is fantastic...but I must admit, it is pricy.

It is located at the Metropolitan Hotel, 19 Old Park Lane...

the restaurant looks out to Hyde Park....lovely indeed!

We often went walking in Hyde Park afterwards...hand - in - hand!!!!!

As I said, I love what I love..(Don't we all).... and so I do not mind paying for pleasure foods and wine!

Nobu London opened in the late 1990's and so you may not know of it.

It is the concern of Nobu Matsuhisa, a  famous Japanese chef.

If only because of that , everything served is authentic and truly beautiful and delicious.

I have actually eaten there often.

I started going from the time it opened.


(I can remember telling friends that it looked too yuppie for me with its minimalism and so devoid of character...I do love my old rustic, slightly untidy but clean London Pubs!!!...Especially ones that serve great food and many there are!)

However, a wonderful friend of mine loved to take me there and so ....

I got into the habit and have no regrets having taken my own friends there from time to time!

Of couse, it is less expensive by day. (This is usually the case everywhere obviously.)

If you are going to try it, go by day, and do make reservations first.

There is a sister Nobu in NY. And also a more ritzy one on Berkeley Street/ London.

The menus are cod with miso, any hand roll you could desire...Cali.roll with crab and avocado, Negri Toro...fatty tuna with scallion, soft-shell crab roll  and Oshinko...pickled radish.

I love just about all!

The sushi & sahimi selections are extensive...akami, sea urchin, salmon eggs, sea eel, abalone, squid, Toro, yellowtail....

I definitely love eel and cucumber Unakyu

and Salmon skin.

One can order many Champagnes including the moderately priced Billecart-Salmon Brut NV which I enjoy.

Le Mesnil is always available !

Reply by dmcker, Apr 5, 2010.

I know Nobu himself, and have eaten in the New York and Tokyo shops, but not London. I don't consider his place really sushi, but more about showmanship and presentation to 'foreigners' (gaijin, in his mindset).  I liked what he was doing best when he was just at Matsuhisa in L.A., and have had some special meals there. Once was given a Valentine's Day dinner at the Tokyo franchise where we could barely breath because our side of the room was taken up by sumo wrestlers and their foreign guests. Not my idea of sushi, though it can be a fun party.

Lacking various other alternatives, though, I can see where Nobu can be quite enjoyable, and is certainly better than the Horrible Harrod's I mentioned.

Any place else in London? And when you're next in LA, stop by Matsuhisa, and let me know what you think...;-)

Reply by amour, Apr 5, 2010.

My step-son, the banker is there right now!

I used to be there a lot as China Airlines took me to TAIWAN

quite often from LA...non-stop in Dynasty or First-class!

Of course, I make friends and converse on flights, eat well and then.....sleep beautifully, peacefully!!!!!

Anyway, back to SUSHI talk....

I usually arrive with no jet-lag at all!!!! Remarkable!

Within recent times, the ITSU chain opened in London...I remember  the novel idea of conveyor belts of sushi sliding past, and viewing this for the first time through the store front's glass-window...I think that that first Itsu was near China Town in London...I do not know how many branches have cropped up but their offerings at that original one were good.

Friends have mentioned UMO in Mayfair (Bruton Place) as a good place for sushi at  lunch.

To be quite honest with you, I think of sushi as a snack!

I also think of Dim Sum as snacks.

I am a bit old fashioned......When I talk about getting myself specially dressed-up and pefrumed!!! and totally relaxed after a good sleep...all fresh and calm!!...................

I think of being nicely escorted to an elegant/ fine spot... if it is in Miami...The Biltmore  or  the Cardozo  or  my  little  Le Provencal and  having  a  really  great  ESCOFFIER experience  or  as close to that as  possible!!!!

In London, it used to be Claridges or The Churchill Intercontinental

not far from Baker Street station. And the Langham Hilton at Great Portland the country CHEWTON GLENN.....and on and on!!!!! Fine wines all the way....GLORIA, Gigondas, Chateau Margeaux, DRC......! You know what I mean! Morey-Saint-Denis...Clos de Tart!

....not to be friends and their dinner parties in the COTSWOLDS!!! I am getting nostalgic!!!


Meanwhile, I love various light japanese dumplings and hand rolls with various types of Sake, but I am hoping to get some appropriate  wine suggestions on Snooth!

I really enjoy the salmon skin things!

Thanks in advance!

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