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Measuring your palate

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Ever go to a winetasting with a friend? Of course. Ever notice how his or her perception will differ from yours? Not just in whether you like the wine or not, but how the wine actually smells or tastes? He/she may think the wine is very tart while you don’t even pucker. He or she may think it’s as bitter as tree bark but you find it smooth as silk.

This is because of how we—or at least our sense organs--are built. For a lot of reasons, while we may taste the same beverage as our friend, we don’t perceive it the same way. This is because of our individual thresholds for smells and tastes. Some of us can perceive beverage acids at a very low level while others need a lot more of it to notice (or, in a preference context, be bothered by or pleased by) it.

If you’ve been tasting wines for several decades, an understanding of your sensory parameters may just be luggage you don’t want to deal with. But if you are relatively new to the game, you might want to look into just how you are built.

Try measuring your ability to pick up one of the five tastes -- acidity -- in, for our purposes, wine.

Acidity in wine comes primarily from tartaric acid. The level varies depending upon the climate (cold climate grapes retain more acidity than warmer climate ones), the grape itself (Sauvignon blanc and Riesling, for example, are more naturally acidic than, say, Sémillon or Gewürztraminer) and winemaking practices (laws allow for the addition of acids to assure balance in wines).

If you have access to a winemaking supply store and can get some tartaric acid, that would be ideal (try Chiaruggi Hardware on West Taylor or Bev Art on South Western). But a handy lemon or lime will do (I know: that’s citric acid; but we’re looking at levels of intensity here). The tartaric acid from a store will come in grains, like salt or sugar, which are easily measurable. Put 5 grains in the 2nd glass, 10 in the 3rd and so on. Lemon juice just needs to be squeezed and then measured with an eye dropper.

Have 5 similarly shaped glasses ready for the test. The first glass will contain an unadulterated wine, poured straight from the bottle. The second glass, to its right, will have a small addition of our subject substance. The third glass, to its right, will have twice as much of our substance as the second glass and so on through the next two glasses. Make sure all the amounts of wine in the glasses are the same and that the grains disappear into the wine.

The question is, as you taste from left to right, when do you first notice an increase in the substance? Some folks will notice the increase at glass two, others at glass three and so on. If you notice it right away, in glass two, then your threshold for that substance is very low (that is, you can perceive it at a lower level); conversely, if you don’t notice any change in taste until glass 4 or 5 than your threshold is higher.

Realize above all that this doesn’t mean much about your ability to enjoy wine; it just means what you are more –or less-- likely to sense in a wine than your friend. It’s the same with cheese, beer, sauce, tea or anything you smell or taste.

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