Oral sense of Touch… (and a bit of Hearing)
from LIFE THE SCIENCE OF BIOLOGY 2007
We’ve been through most of the important 5 senses taking part on wine tasting: Sight, Smell, Taste, including a light “touch” on the sense of Touch, since touch plays a key role in experiencing taste it “deserves” a separate chapter.
Oral touch sensations, include those generated by pressoreceptors, mechanoreceptors and thermoreceptors sensory cells of the oral cavity.
The bodily sense of touch is the first sense to develop. It supplies, major means of information from the proximal environment. The human hand is one of the most important adaptations in our evolutionary history, mainly because we are the only primates able to perform opposition between our thumb and the fingers allowing us the ability to perform minute highly accurate digital manipulations.
The Oral somatosensation plays a crucial role in many aspects of our multisensory perception of food wine and flavour sensation. The tactile stimulation we receive in our mouth supplies informs of food and beverage from the temperature of a food through to its texture. Food texture has been defined by Bourne as: ‘the response of the tactile senses to physical stimuli that result from contact between some part of the oral cavity and the food’. Other researchers included the contribution from other senses, like olfaction, vision, even hearing, and kinesthesia in their definitions, (Kinesthesia is the awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body using sensory organs). In terms of describing texture of food or wine, these may appear sticky, grainy, sandy, smooth, creamy, harsh, spicy hot or temperature changer (hotter or colder than our body temperature), all of these are felt in the mouth.
When it comes to the tactile experiences associated with the consumption of food and drink, they are obviously important. Oral-somatosensation is recognized as taking a major role in our overall experience of food and drink.
The multisensory aspects of texture
It is, however, not always so easy to ascertain exactly which sense is actually doing the work in terms of giving rise to specific aspects of our multisensory experience of food and drink. We assume that the experience of bursting bubbles of fizzy drinks in the mouth is due to the CO2 bubbles popping in the oral cavity, it turns out that sensation of carbonated or fizzy bubbles on our tongue is not solely tactile but rather a result of the stimulation of the sour taste receptors on the tongue. The perception of fattiness in a food or drink is sensed by tactile receptors, However these sensations do not solely come just from the ability of the oral-somatosensory receptors to sense texture of food or drink consistency, but an accumulation of perception from the olfactory and gustatory receptors. Wine astringency or phenols in fruits and vegetables like brewed tea leaves, squeezed pomegranate or tannins of young red wine, is actually a tactile sensation, although many think of it as part of the wine taste and flavour.
Oral touch sensation is also responsible for the sensation of what we call “mouth-feel”. A menthol candy may evoke a cool mouthfeel sensation, a bite on a hot chilly evokes a burning sensation, alcohol evokes heat sensation etc. Jowitt defined mouth-feel as: “the textural attributes of a food or beverage responsible for producing characteristic tactile sensations on the surfaces of the oral cavity.” (Jowitt, R., “The terminology of food texture”. Journal of Texture Studies, 5:351-358, 1974)
“The tactile stimulation of the oral cavity is also very important for another reason: it turns out that where we localize a tastant follows the location of the tactile stimulus drawn across the tongue and not the point where the taste stimulus itself happens to have been transduced on the receptor surface, the fact that people localize the flavor of food to their mouth, despite the fact that the majority of the information concerning flavour comes from their nose i.e. smell. So smell is likely to attribute in large part to the tactile stimulation that they experience in their oral cavity while eating”
There is also a connection between temperature and taste. Researchers found that simply by raising or lowering the temperature at various surface points on a person’s tongue, temperature changes elicit sensations of sweet, sour, salty and bitter – that is, the four main basic tastes.
Touch sensation and information regarding food or liquid in the mouth are transferred to the brain by means of the Trigeminal nerve (), which projects directly to the primary somatic sensory cortex. This projection carries information concerning touch, texture (mouth-feel), temperature, and proprioception (not to mention nociception or oral pain, and chemical irritation) from the relevant receptors in the mouth. All appear to be represented in the Orbito frontal cortex as well as in several other brain areas.(from: Food Texture and Viscosity: Concept and Measurement M. C. Bourne 1981)
The entire oral cavity has various degrees of the sense of touch, but the parts most sensitive to the “tactile impressions” of wine are the upper, centre part of the tongue and the soft areas of the palate, the inner upper lip, the pharynx, the larynx and the gums. The centre of the tongue contains the filiform papillae (singular: papilla) are one of the four types of lingual papillae (see: https://wine4soul.com/2013/03/16/sense-of-taste-and-wine/ ), they are small prominences on the surface of the tongue.
The Filiform papillae are thin, long (upside-down) “V”-shaped cones that don’t contain taste buds but are the most numerous, covering most of the dorsum (upper surface). These papillae are mechanical and are not involved in taste sensation, but tactile sensation only. Swirling wine in the mouth is a second stage (after sniffing) which helps to pinpoint the sensations of wine texture, temperature, astringency, body alcohol content and the “touch” from carbon dioxide in sparkling wines.
Wine Body: is a tactile term which expresses the feeling of weight of a wine in the mouth. At times the impression of full-body is almost like that of a solid substance even thought we are concerned with a liquid. It is created mainly by alcohol sensation which may lean to the “heavy” side due to higher viscosity than the water constituent of wine the higher the alcohol content the “fuller bodied” the wine . Wine dissolved solids (sediments before settling) also contribute to the sensation of “body” in the mouth.
Wine Texture: this refers to the touch of a wine, how it feels in the mouth. It includes sensations such as smoothess, viscosity; watery or rich dessert wines and is with high combination of sugar, glycerin or the “touch of alcohol.
Wine Astringency: caused by high concentration of phenolic substances in young red wines, responsible for the “dry” sensation caused mainly by the tannins present in the wine at this stage. The ageing process reduces astringency due to oxidation, and will be less evident in mature or older wines.
Temperature: refers in this context to the sensation of warmth created by ethyl alcohol, which increases with the wine’s strength.
Fizziness: a prickly sensation is caused by the presence of carbon dioxide bubbles.
Mechanical characteristics are subdivided into the primary parameters of hardness, cohesiveness, viscosity, elasticity, and adhesiveness, and into the secondary parameters of brittleness, chewiness, and gumminess. Since popular terms are used to describe texture they often point only to a degree of intensity of these characteristics rather than an objective description.
Studied showed that: The in-mouth “chalk-like” texture of wine was strongly associated with anthocyanin concentration and was negatively associated with alcohol level and acidity. The astringent sub qualities of “velvet-like” or “emery-like” roughing were mostly related to polyphenol levels. Wines that elicited a “puckery” sensation were characterized by relatively low anthocyanin levels, high acidity, and high pigmented polymer and tannin concentrations. So both acidity anthocyanin and alcohol concentrations affect tactile sensitivity and perception. As currently defined, wine taste sensations fall into four, or possibly five categories: sweet, sour, salty, Phenolic compounds include several hundred chemical compounds that strongly influence taste, color, and mouthfeel. Tannins and anthocyanins pigments. Some of these are naturally present in the fruit and some are created during the winemaking and aging processes. Phenolic compounds such as Resveratrol have been linked to many of the health-beneficial properties of grapes and grape products.
In the case of wine or juice, mouthfeel combines sensations related to the product’s viscosity as well as sensations related to the product’s chemical properties, such as astringency
Sulfites are sulfur-based compounds occur naturally during wine fermentation, but are also often added before, during, or after fermentation as sulphur dioxide (SO2), to protect wine from oxidation and the activity of undesirable microorganisms, particularly bacteria. Sulfites are added at higher levels to white and/or sweet wines to prevent browning and/or spoilage.
Methoxypyrazines are a class of chemical compounds that produces herbaceous odors (e.g,. green bell pepper, leafy, or vegetative). In white wine, the odors can be desirable. However, in red wines high levels of methoxypyrazines are very undesirable. Although this is an element of “flavour” it has an influence on our mouthfeel of wine touch…
Press play to hear music, music by Daphne Sarnat – http://daphodil-music.co.uk/
To include all 5 senses in the experience of wine drinking or wine tasting the sense of Hearing is added in the form of the hearing ringing sound of glasses touching at the raising of a glass, wine glasses toasting is a very closely observed part of drinking culture. In company, no one should drink a sip of alcohol before having toasted every other person at the table by touching each others glass with intention a look into each other’s eyes… the talk around the table about the wine being drunk or tasted, sound of a popping champagne bottle, wine being poured into a wine glass, and the sound of a wine glass or God forbid… a wine bottle shattering in the background. All thought the ear our hearing sense organ with it’s center and specialty sense receptors in the Middle ear connected to our brain via the Auditory nerve – Cranial nerve Number 8.
All of our 5 senses take part during wine drinking, appreciation, and wine tasting. All of these arise in the head area; they all have specialty sense organs which are connected to our brain via one or more of the 12 Cranial nerves sometimes simultaneously by several cranial nerves. What a wonder our body is, what a wonder wine is…it is indeed a symphony of senses (see: https://wine4soul.com/2012/05/11/symphony-of-senses/ )
Drink, Sense, Enjoy.
I beg to differ, Aged wines? Yes please!
Thoughts on Matt Kramer’s recent essay: Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore? (Subtitled: Wines have changed and so have our palates).
On January 8, 2013 Matt Kramer; an American wine critic since 1976 and a regular contributor to Wine Spectator Magazine, who has been described as “perhaps the most un-American of all America’s wine writers” “HAD AN ENLIGHTENMENT “, an insight to the true nature of reality. (As far as I know, He is not a practicing Buddhist)
He rushed to write an article titled: Is It Worth It to Age Wines Anymore? Wines have changed and so have our palates. This was posted in his column drinking out loud in the wine Spectator web site, read it on:
“My greatest wine dream, was a wine cellar, so full that I could easily forget about whole cases of wine for years at a time, the better to let them age to a fantasized perfection. That dream came true… I was motivated, obsessed even, by a vision of what might be called futuristic beauty. How soaringly beautiful it would be in 15 or 20 years! I wasn’t wrong—then. But I wouldn’t be right for today. What’s changed? Surely me of course.(He says), I’ve had decades of wine drinking to discover that my fantasized wine beauty only rarely became a reality. But I had to find that out for myself. And I’m glad I did…. In recent years it’s become obvious that an ever greater number of wines that once absolutely required extended aging no longer do”
Really? And if so, I am quite sure that if only one odd GREAT wine on his “list of grandeur”, it was still worth it. I bet you that this is the only wine he really remembers most, a memory that focuses on the finest, minute detail of taste, flavor, aroma and even appearance, from all the other hundreds even thousands of wines he had since 1976. After all, he had all the great wines of the 60’s 70’s 80’s and 90’s of the 20th century to sample and enjoy. He continues in saying: “Simply put, most of today’s fine wines—not all, mind you—will reach a point of diminishing returns on aging after as few as five years of additional cellaring after release. Stretch that to a full 10 years of additional aging and I daresay you will have embraced fully 99 percent of all the world’s wines, never mind how renowned or expensive”.
I agree that less than 1 percent of world wines are really Great, but how many bottles of wine is 1%? Well, in 2011 248 million hectoliters of wine were produced, 1 hectoliter = 100 liters, that is 24 trillion 800 million liters of wine, more than 33 trillion bottles, one percent of which is 330 million great bottles! each year! That is a lot of great wines (if 1% is an accurate measure according to Kramer). Between us 1% of excellence in anything is reasonable, when counting the number of wine writers or any other group of professionals who really know what they are talking about (1% would be just right). When excellence is the sought after, high quality of 1% is a very good starting point, and ultimately this is not such a small quantity. Allow me to beg to differ yet again, on the “5-10 years at the most will improve by aging” maybe this is the best American wines can get to (I am no expert on American wines so I will take Mr. Kramer’s word for it. Is it the trends in new world winemaking methods that initiated Kramer’s Enlightenment? Is it an American way of always looking at their own as a reference for the best of the rest? or maybe it is the odd, rather new “varietal taste” that had led to this horrific conclusion?
He continues: “Well, what about them old great Old world wines (he lists French, Italian from great wine regions). Yes, all of those wines and still others, such as German and Alsatian Rieslings, Napa Valley Cabernets and Hungarian Tokajis, reward aging. But let me tell you something: With only a handful of ultra traditionalist exceptions, the modern versions of even these wines don’t require anywhere near as much aging as their forebears.”
And I beg to differ again, after all these “ultra traditionalist exceptions”, are the reference wines for all “great wines” of the present and future, the summit all those “modern versions” strive to achieve, copy, imitate, taste like, feel like, affect our senses like… of course, most imitations are “groupies” of the real thing. They may succeed in each and every aspect of excellence separately but Alas fail to stand out as a complete product, lacking the overall balance that separates between the many: good, very good, excellent and EXTRAORDINARY wines.
“… it’s that fine wines have universally changed, sometimes radically so. And our tastes have changed, too… Modern wine offers us a fuller, richer, more rewarding view sooner. Think of an old oil painting carefully and respectfully cleaned of an obscuring varnish, allowing both color and texture to leap out almost three-dimensionally, and you’ve got it.
Well, I think the beauty of an old painting is in the craftsmanship rather than it’s cleanliness. Please do not clean or fix Michelangelo’s or Da Vinci’s work, don’t fix the Sphinx’s broken nose and don’t tell me that modern wines can even be compared with the good old traditional wines of the old world made by hundreds of beacon bearers around the world, if that’s the wines you like fine just don’t tell me “our (my) palate have changed”
The bottom line: Today’s wines are far more drinkable, far more gratifying, far more rewarding when drunk younger than their counterparts of 20 years ago.Can they age as long? Yes, I think they can. But that’s not the issue. Rather, the key question is: Do they need to? I think not. Only a very small handful of even the best wines truly require more than five years aging—10 years tops—in a cool space.
I find most “modern wines” harsh, over alcoholic, lacking in Elegance, Finesse and Balance, still they are designed to fit a general taste those so called modern winemakers “brainwashed” their consumers to like, basically they are sales orientated and I expect respected wine critics not to fall in the same trap which is a PR stunt directed at wine novices rather than “wine experts”.
Of course there are wines today that stubbornly withhold their favors, such as Vintage Port and those few white wines that do not go through malolactic fermentation, such as Trimbach Rieslings, Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay or the white Burgundies of Maison Louis Jadot.
How can you put in one sentence Wine Houses that make very few wines mostly single vineyards (Trimbach make only 4 different wines) to Maison Louis Jadot (with all due respect) that produces approximately 150 different wines each year many of which from the general area?
…I am now convinced that today’s wine lover is well advised to buy fine wines, cellar them in a cool space for five years—10 years, tops—and then drink them in secure confidence that the great majority of their full-dimensional goodness is available to you. After that, it’s all just fantasy—and the very real likelihood of an increasingly diminishing return on your already delayed gratification.
Kramer describes in one of his books how he began his career as a wine writer in 1976, then a food writer of a weekly paper, in a meeting with his publisher. As the advertising department had altered the food page contents to include a “wine of the week” column, to the advertisers’ approval, Kramer was told that he would write this new column. Kramer resisted, saying, “But I don’t know anything about wine”, but the publisher replied, “That’s all right. Neither does anyone else”. Kramer went on to become a respected wine writer yet I hope his publisher did not convince him, because I for one do know quite a few who know A LOT about wine! Most of who have a gift of extra sensitive sense of taste and smell and flavour, I envy them from time to time and know that they do poses a gift that make them better judges of overall quality of wine in a broader sense than I would ever achieve.
Kramer once criticized wine critics in his New York Sun column, pointing to “almost desperate attempt by some of today’s wine tasting potentates to bolster their credibility by suggesting a physical superiority”. Kramer summarized that, “suggesting a linkage of taste buds to wine judgment is like confusing eyesight with insight”. Robinson later addressed the issue in an article that suggested Kramer may not have read Robinson’s own account before publishing his column, stressing that to suggest physical superiority “was the last thing [she] was attempting” (from Wikipedia)
Since Jancis Robinson cannot suggest physical superiority herself, let me say that without a doubt she and a few others I know do poses it, they should not be ashamed with the gift they possess, it is a blessing, Kramer and I can only be envious! Some people poses better sensibility in various sense organs you must admit you heard of people with absolute pitch, perfect pitch when it comes to the sense of hearing/sound, some people have a perfect sense of smell or taste and when combined with knowledge be it perfumes or wine or food, they are better judges! Their vocabulary is richer!
Thank God for wine writers like Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator, if only more and more people will be convinced in this assertive fallacy, more well aged and sublime wines will be left for us wine lovers (of excellent aged wines whose palates have not changed overnight) at more sensible prices. I for one, promise not to “touch” wines from their list, as long as they leave my 1% of suitable wines to enter the “aged wines” list alone. All the wines in my “top ever wine list” that I remember with pleasure and longing, are wines of well over 15 years of “aging”.
Wine is a live commodity, it keeps changing in time and the ones that change for the better are worth all the patience and endurance, they are the hope of every winemaker, the completion of his aspirations and his expression as an artist of wine making and not simply a maker of wine.
Kramer by the way is the guy who wrote: “How to Really Taste Wine, The six most important words in wine tasting” He very sensibly lists: Complexity, Texture, Midpalate Density, Proportion, Finesse and Balance as his “six pillars of wine tasting wisdom”…quite a good reading (and writing) http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/47792 , I do not know what came over him recently but when one has many followers/readers, they should be careful with the effect of the written word on the less informed.
I beg to differ is: a polite way of saying that you disagree with something that someone has said (from the free dictionary dot com) and so my friends, allow me to BEG TO DIFFER! (I hope Mr. Kramer will take it in the polite way it is intended), I agree to disagree!