Wine interacts with the five human senses in ways no other beverages can.

In last week’s article we looked at the two most obvious senses associated with wine: taste and smell.

However, wine has the ability to involve the other senses – sight, touch and hearing – in unique and wonderful ways.


You can often tell a bad wine just by looking at its color, and that was even after it has been poured out of a Night Train Express bottle.

One of the most common wine faults is oxidation, the chemical process whereby oxygen interacts with the wine and changes it molecularly. The accepted notion that wine turns to vinegar is because of oxidation. Some oxygen is necessary in wine making, and is in fact crucial in the making of certain wines like Sherry and Port.

Spain’s Rioja traditionally was consciously allowed to oxidize, and the practice of aging wine in porous oak barrels allows oxidation to an accepted degree in most red wines and some white wines, particularly Chardonnay.

Oxidation causes the color of wines to lose their brightness. Red wines turn brownish and white wines turn dark yellow or brownish. At the same time, oxidation causes the bright fruit flavors to be replaced with flavors of nuts and dried fruits like raisins and prunes. Although some older fine wines are expected to taste that way, if you have a seven-year-old bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in your kitchen cabinet and it’s the color of amber, then it’s probably not going to taste good.

Older red wines like good Barolo or Bordeaux, which can take a decade or more to mature, will often take on a brownish tint on the rim (the surface of the wine in the glass, which is most easily seen by holding a glass up to light and tilting it at a 45-degree angle), while the rest of the wine in the glass remains dark red. If it exists, this brownish rim will give you a good idea of the age of a wine.

A wine’s “legs” can also be determined by sight. Swirl wine in a glass and watch as small, seemingly clear beads then trail back down the inside of the glass. Many people think a wine having many legs is a sign of quality, but it’s really just a sign of a wine’s alcohol and/or sugar content. Just as legs aren’t necessarily a good thing, they’re not necessarily a bad thing. If the wine isn’t sweet and has good legs, they’re telling you to go easy because the wine has a higher alcohol content.

Regardless, legs are fun to look at, even when they’re in a wine glass.

Looking at the wine is one of the five senses. Has it got legs?
Looking at the wine is one of the five senses. Has it got legs?


It is generally not recommended to touch wine with your fingers. Little of importance can be discerned about wine through your fingers that could not be better determined in your mouth, and your fingers will not enjoy the experience nearly as much as the tongue, gums, lips and the rest of the oral cavity will.

Beyond taste, wines interact with the mouth in several ways. There’s texture, for one. Some wines have a creamy texture. Champagne, for instance, because of its prolonged contact with dead yeast cells – called “lees” – often exhibits this creamy texture.

The bubbles in Champagne and other sparkling wines will also create sensations of feeling, with larger bubbles being more noticeable than the gentle tickling of finer bubbles.

Many red wines will have a soft, velvety texture, while others wines, especially when they’re young, will feel abrasive. Tannins, which come from grape skins and are only present in red wines, have an astringent, drying quality. If you were to gently swish a sip of tannic red wine in your mouth, similar to the way you do with mouthwash, you would immediately feel this astringency, especially on the big surfaces on the sides of your mouth.

The acidity in certain white wines can have a stinging sensation on the lips and in the mouth, so much so that they’re considered “food wines” – in other words, wines that should be drunk in combination with a meal because they’re too acidic to enjoy on their own.

Wines with high alcohol content – about 14.5 percent alcohol by volume or higher – can also leave a stinging or burning sensation in the mouth to go with the dizzying sensation you might feel in the head.

How to carry on like you know something.
How to carry on like you know something.


Have you ever put your ear to a glass of wine and listened? Have you heard aggressive tannins interacting with the surface of the glass? Or exuberant fruit flavors bursting from the glass? No? Well, that is a relief because wine itself does not make a sound, at least still wine doesn’t. If you put your ear to a glass of sparkling wine, however, you will notice a distinct fizzing sound and believe it or not, depending on the intensity of that fizzing sound, it could tell you something about the quality of the wine. A gentle fizzing could indicate a better wine than one that has louder fizzing.

Of course, no one really puts a glass to their ear, but if you truly want to baffle others at a tasting, try doing it while saying, “This wine sounds amazing,” just to see if anyone else will do the same.

The fact that wine does not make a sound, with the exception of sparkling wine, doesn’t mean that sounds aren’t associated with wine. And just like people-watching can be fun and interesting, people-listening at wine tastings or parties can be just as entertaining.

At a highbrow wine tasting, for example, you will often find the attendees speaking in awed whispers, as if talking at a normal volume would somehow impinge on the experience.

If it were a televised event, you’d expect to have two announcers speaking in hushed tones like they were at a golf tournament:

Announcer 1: Mal Beck prepares for his final taste of the afternoon, a 1989 Château Haut-Brion.

Announcer 2: He’s surveyed the decanter and he’s now going to reach for a classic Bordeaux glass in which to take this taste.

Announcer 1: He’s poured about 3 ounces into his glass and he’s giving it a good swirl.

Announcer 2: This wine should be in its maturity wheelhouse right now, but Mal is eyeing the rim intently for signs of oxidation and taking a good sniff of the glass.

Announcer 1: Mal Beck lines up the taste. Now he’s paused and takes a deep breath. He’s raised his glass and … it’s in the mouth!

Announcer 2: Oh, he’s got to be happy with that one!

Announcer 1: You can tell by his smile that this wine’s everything it’s supposed to be.
Of course, there are parties where the sounds are quite different:

Party-goer: This wine is great! Can I have a top-up?

Party host: Sure, which wine is that in your glass now?

Party-goer: Oh, it doesn’t matter. Just give me some of that one. It’s all going to end up in the same place and besides, most wines are blends anyway, right?

Unless those doing the drinking are taking wine much too seriously, wine events should sound like fun and should usually include laughter. That even goes for when you’re drinking wine alone!

Wines with high alcohol content – about 14.5 percent alcohol by volume or higher – can also leave a stinging or burning sensation in the mouth to go with the dizzying sensation you might feel in the head.

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