Wine and the Five Senses

** UPDATE: The damage from the recent earthquake that hit Napa Valley over the weekend impacted with wine cellar and vineyard damage (check out this tweet from David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak). Growers are in the midst of a major harvest, brought on several weeks earlier than usual because of drought. But fortunately for us, winemakers say that the quake will do little to disrupt their 2014 harvest. There are likely to be an additional 30 to 70 small aftershocks with magnitude 3 to 5 within the week. I hope that everyone stays safe throughout the aftermath of #NapaQuake. **

Thought I’d share some tips on Wine and the Five Senses that I learned through the Guild of Sommeliers.

Tasting wine is about sensation and perception. Sensation is our immediate response to stimuli and perception is how our brain interprets the sensation.


The sense of sight is the most familiar and used and gives some important information about the wines through color and hue.

  • Pale yellow-greens: can indicate a cool growing region or unripe grapes
  • Deep golden yellows: can indicate a warm growing region or barrel age
  • Amber golds: indicate an oxidized or maderized white wine
  • Inky purples: denote a young red
  • Brick reds: denote an older, mature red
  • Rusts: indicate an oxidized red wine

Intensity of color (or lack thereof) can show a wines weight and body.


Humans can detect 10,000 different odors. A person can be trained to identify 1,000 of these.

If a wine is excessively chilled, you will not be able to detect many aromatics.

Wine Type Temperature

  • Sparkling & Sweet Wines 45-50° F 7-10° C
  • Dry Whites and Rosés 50-60° F 10-15° C
  • Light-Bodied Reds 55-65° F 13-18° C
  • Full-Bodied Reds 62-68° F 17-20° C

Swirling the wine will increase the wine’s surface area and release more aromas.

In normal breathing, only an estimated five to ten percent of the air inhaled can be sensed. Therefore, it is necessary to sniff deeply when evaluating a wine.


Taste can only give us information on Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Savory (Umami). Of these, only sweet, sour and bitter can be perceived in wine.

We are most sensitive to bitterness and least sensitive to sweetness.

What we perceive in food and wine as “Taste” is actually a combination of tasting, smelling and feeling.redwine


We have sensors in the mouth and nose that help us “feel” wine.

Viscosity: aka, weight, body, mouth feel. The higher the sugar, alcohol and or extraction, the more body the wine will have.

  • Light Bodied Wine = Skim Milk
  • Medium Bodied Wine = Whole Milk
  • Full Bodied Wine = Heavy Cream

Astringency: Young reds with high tannin levels are said to be astringent. This is the “dry” sensation you sometimes feel when you drink wine.

Heat: Wines that are high in alcohol will give a “hot” feeling. This is why wines that are high in alcohol do not pair well with foods that are spicy.

All Wines are going to have different representations of these components. Some may be more acidic than others, some may have no tannin at all and some may be higher or lower in alcohol


When we raise our glasses and toast, we have engaged all five senses in our wine tasting experience. In times past it was said that the clinking of glasses warded off the next day’s hangover.




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