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The 9 words you need to describe wine mouthfeel|Wine Tasting Tips #14
January 31, 2019

Issue #14

The 9 words you need to describe wine mouthfeel

If you thought describing wine aromas was challenging, hang on, mouthfeel is even more challenging. Why? Mouthfeel is one of the most complex sensations to describe in wine. There are not a lot of reference standards wine experts can agree on and verbal descriptions are often elusive.

In this issue

  • Discover how Uruguyan researchers figured out the 9 words to describe wine mouthfeel
  • Get my 3 wine tasting tips on wine mouthfeel
  • Learn about the big change in my business

  • Let's learn from Tannat Wines

    Tannat wine, the flagship red wine of the Uruguayan wine industry, is a good model to study for mouthfeel. Its principal mouthfeel attribute is astringent. Reading the scientific definition of astringency does not entice you to experience such a sensation while drinking wine. It goes as “the complex of sensations due to shrinking, drawing or puckering of the epithelium as a result of exposure to substances such as alums or tannins” (ASTM, 2004).

    Leticia Vidal and colleagues attempted to capture the key words that would best describe Tannat wine astringency.

    First they asked consumers how they would describe Tannat wine mouthfeel. Not surprisingly, they had only few words in their vocabulary to pick from. As described in another article, we human beings are trained to eat with our eyes first and do not have a lot of vocabulary for other perceptions. Most of the 125 study participants used “rough” or “dry” to describe this sensation they perceive on the tongue or the palate, usually after drinking the wine, and this sensation could be persistent. So astringency is what sensory scientists call a temporal sensation, because it changes with time.

    Secondly, this Uruguyan research team used sensory evaluation techniques to better characterize Tannat wine mouthfeel.

  • They recruited 9 panelists with previous experience in sensory evaluation of wine or with wine tasting experience as professionals.
  • The panel participated in 81 sessions of 20 minute long, first to get train on the methodology used, and second to assess 40 commercial Tannat wines, from different wineries.
  • To capture the temporal aspect of the sensations, they applied a time intensity measurement technique.
  • To understand astringency sub-qualities, they asked panelists to check attributes from a list taken from the literature.
  • Results showed few differences among the wines on the perceived intensity of astringency, more differences were noted at the start of the perception after sipping and on the duration of the perception.

  • The majority of the Tannat wine samples were described as “dry”, “rough” and “mouthcoating.” 

  • The sub-qualities of the perception provided more differentiation among the 40 wines: some samples were described as “velvety”, “silky” and “suede”, whereas others were associated with intense astringency and described as “hard”, “harsh” and “aggressive.”
  • A silky wine seems more appealing than an aggressive wine, doesn’t it?

    So what are the 9 words that you need to describe Tannat wine mouthfeel?

  • Generically: dry, rough and mouth-coating
  • At low astringence intensity: velvety, silky and suede
  • At high astringence intensity: hard, harsh and aggressive

  • These words only described wine astringency, this physical reaction occurring in the mouth and caused by wines rich in tannins. Wine tannins are extracted from the grape skin and dry the mouth by reducing the effect of the saliva lubrification mechanism, and making your cheeks pucker.

    My 3 Wine Tasting Tips

    Wine Tasting Tip #1:How do you recover quickly from a persistent astringency? I use a fruit pectin diluted in water; its thickness and viscosity helps moisturize the mouth mucosa. Any pectin sold for thickening jams will do. In Vidal’s work, panelists were using stirred plain yogurt. Don’t forget to rinse your mouth with water before tasting another wine.

    Wine Tasting Tip #2: What if I don’t know what astringency is? Here is a recipe to prepare a reference to experience this sensation: alum solution (5 g/L alum).

    Wine Tasting Tips #3: Are there other mouthfeel sensations? Yes there are more than 9 words to describe mouthfeel. Gawel and collaborators created a red wine mouthfeel wheel including 53 terms. However these terms also comprise aroma and taste descriptors.

    References used in this issue

    Sensory characterization of the astringency of commercial Uruguayan Tannat wines

    How do consumers describe wine astringency?

    ASTM (2004). Standard definitions of terms relating to sensory evaluation of materials and products. Annual book of ASTM standards. Philadelphia: American Society for Testing and Materials.

    A ‘Mouth-feel Wheel’: terminology for communicating the mouth-feel characteristics of red wine

    InnoVinum now operates

    Effective January 1, 2019, InnoVinum LLC manages Dr. Noble's Wine Aroma Wheel operations. This is a new chapter in our journey to help YOU handle every wine tasting experience with confidence.

    I have been working with Ann for many years and we agreed that my company, InnoVinum LLC, will take over her business once she fully retired. I am very grateful of our partnership of 18 years and I am committed to respect her vision to provide simple tools and instructions to help wine tasters appreciate the wonderful complexity of wine aromas and flavors. Here is the article I wrote about the wine aroma wheel creation .

    Meet your Wine Tasting Coach

    I was asked to share more about my professional path and experience training wine tasters. This is what I wrote in this updated article.

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