Although related, flavor, aroma, and taste are not exactly interchangeable. But, you already know what they are, you just haven’t necessarily applied the right labels to them. Learning the difference and labeling each of them as particular, distinct experiences will make you better at “listening” to how to adjust your cooking, as well being a more attentive to what you like and dislike in wine. The knowledge and separation of these ideas is the beginning of what’s sometimes referred to as “flavor literacy”. Sounds delicious, I hope!
- Taste refers to the senses inside our mouth including our tongue
- Aroma occurs inside our noses and relates specifically to our sense of smell
- Flavor is when taste and aroma converge
What is Taste?
Taste happens only inside our mouths. Taste has everything to do with how our tongue and mouth interact with food and drink. Our tongue has two kinds of receptors. One receptor type is for taste, aptly named ‘tastebuds’ which can be found all over our tongue. Mouthfeel is sensed by free nerve endings all over the inside of our mouth and tongue. We “touch” wine (or sauces or anything we ingest) in this way, and are able to perceive its texture.
- Taste focuses primarily on sweet, salt, bitter and sour. There are also two disputed tastes: “umami” (i.e. deliciousness) and “metallic” but it’s contentious as to whether or not either of them constitute a true taste, or just a combination of textures and tastes (i.e. a flavor).
- Mouthfeel focuses primarily on viscosity (i.e. body), tannins, and the overall texture of the wine.
What is Aroma?
The words aroma and bouquet are actually just pleasant words used to describe odors (i.e. what we use our nose to detect). Odors are tiny volatilized compounds (meaning: they float in the air) and our nose has receptors to identify them. Since alcohol evaporates quickly, it carries aromas easily. Perfume is made with alcohol as its base for this reason. Wine also has alcohol in it, obviously!
Odors are sensed in our brain by the limbic system which is an evolutionarily ancient part of our brain that also deals with emotion, behavior, motivation and long-term memory. Smells can often trigger vivid remembrances of long-ago experiences and are particularly linked to emotion. When we smell liquids, we can do it two ways. One way is through our nostrils and the other is through the back of our throat and into our ‘retronasal’ cavity. When we’re sniffing a glass of wine, this is the former method, but tasting a glass of wine is more the latter. Some research has shown that the right hemisphere of our brain is better at discriminating smells. Maybe this is the reason you think that your right nostril smells better than the left?
What is Flavor?
Flavor is the overall impression of a wine or food, the combination of both aromatics, taste, and mouthfeel. Flavor is how our brains synthesize aromas, taste, and texture into an overall experience. The difficulty comes when we need to communicate the idea of flavors (i.e. the wine-y-ness of the wine). Unsurprisingly, the language often used around flavor can be very confusing, but if you keep these ideas straight, you’ll be able to work your way though any flavor.
How to apply this to everyday
Do you love a particular wine? Well, you might actually like a particular flavor profile, something that can be found in many different wine varieties. Suddenly, you have a whole world of wine and food to explore!