What are the flavours in wine?
Have you ever wondered what gives wine its flavour or what a good wine tastes like? In this article, you’ll find all the information you need about the flavours in wine when it comes to doing a tasting or pairing it with your food.
Here at El Coto de Rioja, we’ve been giving you some basic wine-tasting lesson for some time now. Have you seen them?
With our WineClass videos, we want to help you learn and enjoy wine with all five senses. Now, in episode six, we want you to learn about the flavours in wine and how to pick them out. Hit play and make sure you're taking notes!
The five flavours of wine: salty, bitter, sweet, sour and umami
As we’ve mentioned before, a wine tasting has a visual stage, a smelling stage and, lastly, we come to the tasting stage. The aim of the latter stage is to recognise the different flavours and how intense they are in each wine to see if we have balanced and harmonious wines.
In our mouths, tongues and throats, we have sensory receptors that can pick up on signals and send them to the brain to know what we are eating or drinking and what flavour it has. This way, we can pick out 5 different flavours that we detect on different parts of the mouth and tongue. Let’s take a look at where they are.
Sensory receptors for wine
The middle of the palate is where we detect bitterness. Do you want to know if you can detect this flavour? Try it with a bit of tonic water and pay attention to where you feel this flavour on your tongue!
If you're tasting a wine, you should know that if this flavour is very strong, it might mean that the wine is off. As a rule of thumb, it’s not an easy flavour to detect, and this will also depend on whether you have a young wine, a Crianza or a Reserva wine.
We pick up on sourness on the sides of the tongue. To pick up this flavour in your mouth, you just need to drink a glass of lemon water with the right among of citric acid to do this exercise and learn to detect it in your wine.
Sweetness is most present on the tip of the tongue. Try our white semi-sweet wine and check if you are able to pick up on this sensation on this part of your tongue.
In turn, you will pick up on saltiness on the front parts of the sides of your tongue. In a wine, this flavour could come from the minerals in the earth where the vines were grown or from vineyards near the sea. However, there aren’t many wines that have a very strong salty flavour.
The fifth and least known flavour is umami, which we could describe as a “savoury taste”, which we detect on the centre of the tongue, although it can fill the whole mouth. To see if you can tell this flavour apart from the rest, try a bit of soy sauce or a slice of pancetta.
What gives wine its flavour?
Each of the different flavours can come from one particular aspect of the wine. For example, alcohol is what provides sweetness in a red wine, as well as the sugars that the grape has, which might be more or less present depending on the variety.
Sourness generally comes from the grape. This flavour is caused by acids such as tartaric acid or citric acid. What's more, wine also takes on some sourness during the winemaking process, where some acids are created such as lactic acid and acetic acid.
Bitterness is caused by the polyphenols, which are mainly present in the skin and seeds of the grapes, which includes phenolic acids and tannins. Tannins soften over time, which means that wines left to age in the barrel for longer are generally smoother, more aromatic and less astringent in the mouth.
Regarding umami, which is the flavour of glutamate, is caused by the fermentation process. It’s quite difficult to pick up in this flavour in wine, but we can recommend not pairing any umami-rich dishes with young wines that are rich in tannins and could be very astringent. They go better with a reserve wine or a Crianza.
Lastly, as we mentioned before, saltiness comes from the minerals that the vine absorbs from the earth.
As our WineClass expert always say, “the best wine is the one you like most.” That’s why here at El Coto de Rioja, we have so many varieties and options for all mouths and tastes.
A little tip: flavour is subjective, but the balance of a wine can be what sets it apart. In your mouth, you’ll be able to tell if there is a balance between the sweetness, sourness, tannins and alcohol level
Did you enjoy our lesson on the flavours in wine? Don't forget to watch all of the WineClass episodes on the official El Coto de Rioja YouTube channel. To be the first to know when we bring out a new video, don't forget to click on the bell icon.
For a lesson like this on flavours in wine, you can’t miss our recommendation for pairing it with dishes and finding the perfect match for a wine.