Most importantly for wine, we use our tongues for taste. Our taste buds are pretty incredible. There are over 2,000 taste buds on every tongue. And each taste bud has over 50 taste receptors. That means, at minimum, there are over 100,000 taste receptors in your mouth right now.
Now, most of you are probably familiar with the traditional “tongue map.” If not, or for a little fun, you can watch this Mr. Wizard video from sometime in the ‘80’s (the first three minutes are all you really need to watch).
Going beyond these five basic taste concepts, however, our tongues have a vast ability to taste all sorts of flavors. Add to that our sense of smell, and humans are capable of recognizing over 10,000 tastes and aromas. The sense of smell is another story for another time, though. Our taste buds are pretty powerful little organisms and you shouldn’t underestimate them. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people say they can’t recognize all those tastes in wine, because we can. We all can, it’s just a matter of training and paying attention. When I started tasting wine I couldn’t recognize nearly all the tastes that I can pick up on now. It’s taken lots of practice. And it takes time to move from the five basic taste sensations to a more complex understanding of how those tastes come together to form something quite incredible.
So what kind of experiences have you had with each of the taste sensations: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami? I’d love to hear about it. And it doesn’t have to be just wine related. Since most of us have more experience with food than wine, describing food is a great place to start.