Mapping Out Your Palate: The 5 Taste Sensations

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Think of your mouth as a happy little world of taste buds. Population? 10,000.

These sensory taste receptors populate your tongue, mouth and throat. When chemicals from food and drinks dissolve into your saliva, your taste buds let your brain know what they’re tasting and feeling. Pretty awesome, right? Without these receptors, tasting wine wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

There are five different continents on your tongue that represent four of the five different taste sensations. While all five taste sensations can be detected by all of your taste buds, buds that live in certain parts of your mouth have lower thresholds for certain sensations. Here is a little geography lesson:

  • The mid-back palate is where you sense bitterness. If you’re not sure what this sensation is like, drink some tonic water and focus on that part of your tongue. Bitterness in wine is usually considered undesirable, and at very high thresholds can render a wine undrinkable.
  • On the sides of your tongue, right in the middle on each side, is where sourness is perceived. In wine, this comes from acidity, and this sensation can cause you to pucker the sides of your mouth. It can also cause a natural mouth-watering sensation.

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  • The front of your palate is where sweetness becomes apparent. Taste a dessert wine or off-dry Riesling, and see if you can feel the sensation that occurs at the front of your mouth. This is triggered by carbohydrates like fructose, but can also be triggered by artificial sweeteners, too.
  • Lastly, saltiness can also be perceived at the front palate, but this sensation stretches a little farther the sides of your front palate. In wine this is described with the term salinity, and can be relative to minerality and/or a vineyard’s proximity to the ocean.

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