Wine tasting is often carried out with the sense of sight taken away by a blindfold. Whilst the taster takes a blind approach, there is usually a form of competition surrounding the process too, where competitors will take on the challenge of guessing the wine origin and ingredients without their sight. It is usually routine for professionals who are ensuring the quality of the wine, or for the aid of a professional certification.
Our sense of taste comes from sensory cells in the taste buds. Taking into consideration the fact that we have over 5,000 taste buds when one sense is closed off and your sight is restricted these buds become heightened. But what really happens when we take to the vino without our vision?
Senses and Sensations
The sensory cells in our taste buds are responsive to one of five groups of chemicals, each linked to a fundamental taste. Alkaloids give bitterness, sugary sweetness, ionic salts saltines, acids give sour and amino acids savoury, and with parts of our tongue being more sensitive to certain flavours, the various flavours in wine make their journey in diverse ways.
The chemical sense of taste is supported by the sensation of liquid in our mouths and the physical and chemical reaction occurring on our tongue, but what transmits the flavours and temperature of wine is the sense of touch in our mouth, which is responsive to the particles from the liquid.
A Higher Processing
The ‘flavour’ of wine is an interpretation of all the sensory stimuli by our brain. When we taste wine, the brain experiences something similar to a sensory overload, where we can find it difficult to pinpoint different flavours and aromas. This is where your brain relies heavily on the previous memory of wine, preconceptions and what you would ‘expect’ from it. For example, if a white wine with lemon and apple flavourings was to be dyed red, the taster might describe ‘red berry aromas’ even though there aren’t any.
This process links to the olfactory bulb, an area in our brain which is linked to emotions and memories, meaning both smells and tastes can trigger them and influence the way we perceive wine. Similar to this, this part of the brain affects our emotional state as well, which explains, for example, why wine is better enjoyed in good company.
So, Why Blind Taste?
Fortunately for wine lovers, blind tasting can help overcome these higher processing issues for many reasons. Firstly, it can remove the over sensitivity of the olfactory bulb, and, secondly, by encouraging us to focus our senses on taste rather than any other sensations, it helps us to hyper focus on sensory stimuli and evaluate our taste carefully.
In refining the senses and any knowledge of price, colouring, bottle or any other information, the taster becomes much more conscious of not only the richness of the wine but other complex flavourings and secrets within it.
Speaking the Language
By engaging in wine tasting in a more intellectual way, the taster will not activate their limbic system, the set of brain structures for emotion, behaviour, motivation, memory and olfaction, but will make the cognitive part of the brain more active and alert. The act of describing what flavours we are experiencing in the wine during the tasting is by far the best tool we have to communicate our experience, and through this act we consciously alter the previously mentioned parts of our brain, making additional connections to flavours and our brains, refining our ability to taste and think about wine., The Australian-British philosopher, Wittgenstein, once described this as “the limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
Blind wine tasting is not only a well-known competitive activity but it can also be great to get friends and family involved at home or during an evening out. Why not quiz your brain’s ability, get a bottle from your Spiral Cellar and test the taste buds?
Here at Spiral Cellars, we have a range of exceptional wine cellars and wine rooms to keep your collection safe, making sure that when you come to blind taste, all the flavours, tastes and aromas are well preserved and in perfect condition.