Tasting Components (Lesson 2 of 4)

After a short time off for a relaxing spring break, I’m back for Lesson 2. Are you all ready? Last time, we got a nice easy intro with salt. We’ll stay on the front of the tongue this time to discuss “sweet.” We’re getting a little more into it now, so be prepared for more detail this time. But this is probably a topic you all are much more interested in, right? Everyone likes sweet to some extent.

Like I said, we’re staying with the front of the tongue. The area of your tongue that senses sugar is the very tip. Think of it this way, when you want to lick the icing off of a cupcake, what part of your tongue do you use? I, for one, do not go in with the side. My friends would think I’m crazy (even more than they currently do). It’s always the front.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwehermann/132244825/

As a palate primer, you can have all kinds of fun here. Find your nearest sugar cube, plum, cupcake, box of Frosted Flakes – you name it – and dig in. Just pay attention to where you’re getting the sweetness on your tongue. One thing to note, don’t confuse sweetness and sourness! Many foods that are sweet, are also sour – lemons for example. We’ll get into sour another day.

WARNING: Science Stuff! Sweetness in wine is often referred to by its residual sugar (or “RS” if you really want to geek out). Residual sugar is simply the measure of the amount of sugar left in the wine after the fermentation process. It’s measured in grams per liter (g/l). Even the driest wines will still have 1 or 2 g/l, though this is imperceptible to humans. This is often converted to % for ease of understanding, so 2g/l equates to 0.2% sugar (just some simple division, if I haven’t put  you to sleep yet). Generally, the human threshold for residual sugar is around 1 or 2% depending upon the palate.

What you need to know is that dry wines are about 0.2-0.3% sugar, off-dry wines are in the 1.0 – 5.0% range, and your sweet wines are up around 5.0 – 15.0% sugar.

The next time you have a glass of wine, keep your palate primer experiences in mind. If you’re drinking a red wine, odds are you won’t notice any sugar tastes. Many white wines are also very low in sugar such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. However wines such as Riesling or Muscat have a touch of sweetness, and of course dessert wines are often quite sweet.

For those of you who like dry wines, I highly recommend branching out. Mainly, because it’s fun. But also, many of you will find that you like wines that you had written off before. Some of you may find that you don’t like it often, but sipping one after dinner is a good change. Give a riesling, or a muscat a chance. Maybe give a demi-sec (semi-sweet) sparkling wine a try. Or try a Gewurtztraminer for something sweeter still. Let me know what you think!


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