Posts Tagged ‘wine glasses’

Tongue Maps Are A Myth: How Taste Really Works

May 21st, 2010 No comments

Last week, we talked about Claus Riedel’s obsession with designing the perfect wine glass.  One of his objectives was to direct the wine to the “correct” part of the mouth so that the right taste buds would make first contact.  Well, that seems logical–we all remember those “tongue maps” like the one below from elementary school science class, right?  But here’s the catch: your tongue doesn’t work like that.  And what’s more, researchers have known it for at least 30 years.

tongue map diagram showing supposed tasting areas

The myth: 1. Bitter 2. Sour 3. Salty 4. Sweet

Riedel‘s advancements in glass design have made a huge impact on the wine industry.  Many experts, we at Vintage Cellars among them, agree that enjoying your wine from the correct glass can make a huge difference in the aroma and flavor of your wine.  Check out our post on the subject to learn more.  But please don’t believe any glassware’s claims to direct the wine to the “right” area on your tongue, because there isn’t one.

Want to know how your sense of taste really works?  Here’s a little science:

You know all those tiny bumps covering the surface of your tongue?  Those aren’t your taste buds.  They are called papillae, and your taste buds sit on some of them.  When you take a sip of wine, it mixes with your saliva and enters small openings on your tongue to come in contact with your taste receptors.   (You have many different kinds of receptors; they are what help you sense heat, noise, light, and everything else in the world around you.)  The taste receptor cells send information through your seventh, ninth, and tenth cranial nerves to the areas of the brain that process and interpret taste.

diagram of taste bud

Schematic drawing of a taste bud

You have between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds that can sense at least five tastes: sweet, salty, biter, sour, and umami (or savory).  Although there is some variation, all of your taste buds detect the five tastes more or less equally, regardless of their location on the tongue.

So then how did the myth get started?

In 1901, a German research paper on taste by a scientist named D.P. Hanig was mistranslated by a Harvard academic.  Hanig had simply concluded that sensitivity to various tastes seems to vary between different tongue locations.  From this paper arose the infamous tongue map.  No one challenged this interpretation until 1974, when a scientist named Virginia Collins re-examined Hanig’s paper and found that all five tastes can be detected anywhere there are taste buds.  Put a little sugar on the back of your tongue.  Even though according to the tongue map, it’s the front part that perceives “sweet,” you’ll find that you can taste it no matter where it’s placed.

Collins’ conclusion: there are indeed variations in how receptors in different parts of the tongue detect tastes.  But the variations are so small that they are insignificant.  Unfortunately, wine glass makers have chosen to promote the first part, prolonging the myth, and ignore the second part.

So by all means, go out and shop for the best wine glasses for your favorite wine, whether it’s Chardonnay or Cab.  The correct shape and size can do wonders to improve the flavors of your favorite wine.  But shop wisely: any claims a company makes involving your “tongue map” are simply ludicrous.

The Right Wine Glass

May 19th, 2010 No comments

There are a lot of wine accessories and contraptions out there.  It can be tough to tell which ones are just a waste of money, and which can really enhance your wine-drinking experience.  One thing that’s not a gimmick?  The idea that different wines should have different glasses.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with having just the standard four varieties of glasses: red wine, white wine, port and champagne.  But having specific glasses for different grape varieties, styles, and even ages of wines can really make a difference in your tasting experience.  The right glass can bring out nuances of flavor and aroma that your standard tasting glass wouldn’t.

Claus Riedel was the first person to was the first wine glass designer to recognize that the size and shape of the glass can affect the tasting experience.  He began designing wine glasses specifically engineered to help get the most aroma and flavor out of different types of wine.  Riedel (pronounced “Rhee-dell”) is widely regarded as the world’s premiere wine glass producer.  Tests have been done, and the majority of experts and amateurs alike agree that using the “right” glass for the wine is well worth it.

Riedel worked with tasters to determine:

  • Which glass sizes emphasize the appropriate aromas in different wines
  • Which shapes and sizes exhibit the appropriate fruitiness levels
  • Which shapes and sizes exhibit the appropriate tannin levels
  • Which shapes direct wines to the “right” part of the tongue

The ability of any wine glass to obtain any of these qualities should be taken with a grain of salt.  For example, the idea of a “tongue map,” or that specific parts of the tongue taste specific flavors, isn’t supported by science (but we’ll save a discussion of this issue for a future post).  But the size and shape of the bowl, at least in the opinions of many experts, can definitely influence the way you perceive the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel of the wine.

Riedel offers a huge variety of wine glasses, at all different price ranges and for all different wines.  Check out a small selection of their glasses below.  Their most popular series is the mid-price range “Vinum” glasses, which are made of over 24% lead crystal and retail for between $40 and $60 each.  Check out Riedel’s impressive “glass guide,” which allows you to see all their glass options for a particular varietal as well.  If you’re interested in purchasing Riedel glassware, check out the Vintage Cellars’ selection of Riedel glasses and decanters–most glasses are on sale for about 20% less than on the Riedel website.

For the average wine drinker, buying an entire collection of glasses–a set for each kind of wine–seems too overwhelming, let alone expensive.  But no fear–you can still match the appropriate glass to the wine without breaking the bank.  Here are some basic guidelines for matching glasses with wines that can help you get the most enjoyment out of your wine:

For white wines:

  • Use a glass with a narrower bowl.  This keeps the surface area, or the amount of wine exposed to the air, at a minimum, so that it stays chilled longer.  White wines taste best and have the most aromatic bouquets when chilled to the appropriate temperature.
  • The opening of the glass should also be narrower.  A narrow bowl keeps the subtler aromas of white wine more concentrated, so that when you waft them towards your nose, they don’t dissipate as much, and are detectable.
  • For lighter wines like Pinot Grigio and Riesling, use a glass with a narrower bowl and a narrower opening.  (These wines should have limited exposure to oxygen so that they maintain their subtle flavors.)
  • For more flavorful whites, such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, use a glass with a slightly fuller bowl that narrows towards the opening.  (These wines benefit from the aeration provided by the fuller bowl–it helps bring out their flavors.  Both lighter and more flavorful whites need a narrow opening to help keep them chilled and aid in wafting.)

For red wines:

  • Use a glass with a wide bowl to let the wine breathe.  The exposure to oxygen will mellow the tannins and bring out the bold flavors of red wine.  A wide bowl also allows the aromas to collect, giving you the maximum opportunity to sense them.
  • Use a glass with a wider opening.  Besides allowing more air to come in, a wider opening allows room for your to dip your nose right inside the glass for a proper tasting.


  • Always fill glasses one-third full.  This makes sure oxygen can get in, and leaves you room to swirl the wine, with helps it release aromas for you to enjoy.
  • It’s best to wash wine glasses with very hot water only–if you have to use detergent, limit yourself to a few drops.  Soap causes buildup in your glasses that interferes with the tastes of the wine.

Investing in a collection of wine glasses suited to many different types of wine is a big decision.  But it’s no gimmick: in wine tasting, size and shape really do matter.