Peculiarities of Perception

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Time flies when you’re having fun (or better put: time flies when you’re having rum).

A watched pot never boils.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

It seems—at least from the platitudes we often use—that we all understand that perception is relative. Time does seem to fly by when you’re having fun, but every  second spent while stuck in traffic drags by endlessly.

This vagary of perception is equally easy to understand when applied to taste. For instance, I love coffee, but when served black it’s too bitter for me. Once I add a shot of milk, I don’t notice the bitterness as much (and I drink at least three cups every morning). I also like Earl Grey tea, but only if there is a spoonful of sugar and a squeeze of lemon involved, making it taste less tannic and (in my opinion) richer and smoother.

Wine enthusiasts experience these peculiarities of perception with just about every taste – despite the fact that we don’t always know or recognize it. First-time sippers of Sauternes often have an immediate reaction to the sweetness of the wine (some even recoil from it). However, Sauternes is typically quite acidic in addition to its more obvious sweetness. We just don’t notice it (unless we are truly focused on finding it), as our perception of the acidity is masked by the sweetness – especially on the attack (the first few seconds of the tasting experience).

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Sweetness (residual sugar) in a wine really does a number on our overall perception of that same wine, and can be credited with the following peculiarities on the palate:

  • Suppresses the perception of acidity
  • Suppresses the perception of bitterness
  • May suppress the perception of astringency (tactile dryness)
  • May enhance the perception of viscosity

And then there are those factors that cause a quirk in our ability to perceive true sweetness (residual sugar) in a wine:

  • Acidity, tannin, and/or bitterness may suppress the perception of sweetness
  • High(ish) levels of alcohol enhance the perception of sweetness
  • Bubbles in sparkling wine tend to suppress the perception of sweetness
  • Aromas of oak and/or vanilla mimic sweetness
  • Oak-derived lactones: mimic sweetness
  • Fruity aromas tend to mimic sweetness
  • Cold temperatures suppress the perception of sweetness
  • Glycerol (glycerin) has a sweet taste (but is not sugar)

Most of this only really matters if you are trying to analyze a wine (as in a blind tasting or when writing a tasting note), or when you are trying to develop your palate and improve your wine tasting ability. If this happens to be one of your idiosyncrasies, perhaps you’d like to check out the attached chart (see below) that lists the peculiarities of the perception of sweetness in wine, as well as some for bitterness, tannin, and acidity.

I hope it makes the time fly!

Check out the chart here: The Peculiarities of Wine Perception – the Bubbly Professor

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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