Dreaming of Northwestern wines

April 3, 2013 

There is no better place to taste the widest possible variety of wines than a visit to the wine-making regions of Washington, Oregon, or Northern California. So, when my son recently informed me that he was moving to Idaho, I thought that it was so he could more easily explore all those famous wine-making regions and improve his ability to discern the different flavors commonly found in wine.

I began to dream about all the wineries that he could easily visit, and was becoming quite envious that he was going to be educated first-hand on how our eyes work in conjunction with the nose and tongue in determining how something tastes. If you have either said or heard, don't worry about how it looks, it tastes good -- then you understand this concept.

Why is it that when the first bite from a piece of chocolate cake with a rich icing hits your tongue you immediately recognize that you're eating something sweet? It is because the human tongue contains four different taste sensations: sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. Taste buds on the tongue are activated as food or wine enters the mouth based upon which sensation is present. These tastes buds occupy different areas of the tongue, with sweet and salty being near the front center, sour on each side and bitter near the back.

You can do a simple experiment to determine which taste buds on the tongue react to the different sensations by taking a drink of something that is sour -- such as lemon juice and swirling in your mouth. Then follow it up with some

thing sweet -- sugar water, salty -- salt water, and bitter -- unsweetened chocolate or strong coffee.

Basically, flavors are a combination of taste and smell. Test this by pinching your nose closed and then take a bite of your favorite food. Did you notice a difference in the way that it tasted, as opposed to the flavors that you normally associate with that food?

The wine glass that you use also plays a major role on how you process the aromas and flavors of wine. Wine glasses come in different shapes and sizes for a reason. The shape of the glass is designed to direct different wine varietals to the area of the tongue that enhances the particular flavors of the wine that you are drinking. Although a typical wine pour consists of 4 to 5 ounces, a wine glass should hold two or three times that amount. A small glass does not trap any aromas, while the larger glass allows your nose to immediately begin working as you place it to your mouth and start to take a drink.

To my astonishment my dreams quickly ended when my son stated "Wine Country? No Dad, it's so I can improve my BASE jumping abilities!" According to my son, Idaho is a renowned place to hone those skills. To the contrary, I hope he has a spare bedroom for dad because I think Idaho will be a great jumping off spot to quickly visit all those famous Northwestern wine regions.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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