by James Nevison

We identify four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. A fifth taste is also now well established: umami. But how do each of these basic tastes present in wine?

I t’s easy to overcomplicate wine, but one simple way to enjoy it and discover what you like is to start by focusing on taste. Taste is the perception of flavour on our tongues. We identify four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. A fifth taste is also now well established: umami. But how do each of these basic tastes present in wine? Sweet Wine is made from grapes, and grapes contain natural sugars that we taste as sweet. During the fermentation process— in which grape juice is transformed into wine—yeasts introduced to the grape juice digest the glucose and fructose, converting those natural sugars into ethanol. If any sugars remain in the wine after fermentation, it tastes sweet. Sometimes the magical wine- producing yeast naturally peters out on its own before all the sugars have been converted. Or, as happens with off-dry Rieslings, winemakers purposely cool down the fermentation to stop the process. Or, in the case of port and other fortified wines, winemakers add distilled spirits to kill off the yeast and arrest the fermentation process. Regardless of how the fermentation process is stopped, sweetness in wine presents as, well, sweet. Technically

speaking, wine sweetness is measured in residual sugars (the sugar that remains after fermentation). In BC, a dry (00) wine has 0 to 5 grams per litre of residual sugar. A semi-dry/off-dry (01 or 02) wine has 6 to 24 grams per litre. Then we get into dessert wine territory: sweet (03 to 07) wine has 25 to 79 grams per litre, while very sweet (08 to 10) wine features 80+ grams per litre. Many people consider sweet wines to be simple, less complex and less structured. However, this is not true. Fortified wines, of course, must be sweet by winemaking tradition. As well, sweet wines are delectable when balanced by acidity. Sour Admittedly, “sour” and “wine” are two words you typically don’t want to appear together—they are mostly associated with vinegar. The volatile acidity in vinegar is caused by high levels of acetic acid. But sometimes acidity in wine can be a marvellous thing, whether to counter sweetness or simply to refresh the palate or add depth and dimension. Indeed, the presence of tart malic, tartaric and citric acids (all naturally occurring in grapes) has become a hallmark of a number of wine styles. Wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Vinho Verde just wouldn’t hit those lip-smacking

tendencies without an evident dollop of acidity. Red wines too—for example, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese—benefit from food- friendly lower pHs to round out their taste. Salty Saltiness in wine tends to be subtle, not to mention subjective. Some people swear that wines produced near the seaside are imbued with salinity, a briny quality that speaks to terroir and a sense of place. More common, however, is the association of a salty taste with mineral notes in a wine. The definition of minerality is somewhat contested, but it describes tastes like “wet earth” and “stony,” which at times certainly feel apt as taste descriptors. Does a wine that tastes like chalk or slate or like licking a wet stone sound appealing? Anyone who has sipped a bright Muscadet or Roussillon Blanc while eating freshly shucked oysters would reply with a resounding yes. Yet, there’s no denying this taste is tricky to explain. With saltiness and minerality, more esoteric qualities of taste are at work. Bitter Many people have a natural aversion to bitterness, a sort of fight-or-flight reaction to the taste. It’s true that bitterness can herald unbridled alcohol—never a good



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