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Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine

Gordon M. Shepherd
Copyright Date: 2017
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In his new book, Gordon M. Shepherd expands on the startling discovery that the brain creates the taste of wine. This approach to understanding wine's sensory experience draws on findings in neuroscience, biomechanics, human physiology, and traditional enology. Shepherd shows, just as he did inNeurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, that creating the taste of wine engages more of the brain than does any other human behavior. He clearly illustrates the scientific underpinnings of this process, along the way enhancing our enjoyment of wine.

    Neuroenologyis the first book on wine tasting by a neuroscientist. It begins with the movements of wine through the mouth and then consults recent research to explain the function of retronasal smell and its extraordinary power in creating wine taste. Shepherd comprehensively explains how the specific sensory pathways in the cerebral cortex create the memory of wine and how language is used to identify and imprint wine characteristics. Intended for a broad audience of readers-from amateur wine drinkers to sommeliers, from casual foodies to seasoned chefs-Neuroenologyshows how the emotion of pleasure is the final judge of the wine experience. It includes practical tips for a scientifically informed wine tasting and closes with a delightful account of Shepherd's experience tasting classic Bordeaux vintages with French winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet of the Chateau Petrus and Dominus Estate.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-54287-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Sociology, Health Sciences
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION A New Approach to Wine Tasting
    (pp. 1-6)

    There are many books onenology, the field of wine and wine tasting. They describe growing the grapes, producing the wine, marketing the wine under the labels of different vineyards and vintages, and discriminating the tastes of thousands of wines and vintages (for example, Marian Baldy,The University Wine Course: A Wine Appreciation Text and Self Tutorial;Désiré Gautier, Initiation à la degustation des vins;Ronald Jackson, Wine Tasting: A Professional Handbook; Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding,The Oxford Companion to Wine ; and Michael Schuster, Essential Winetasting: The Complete Practical Winetasting Course). Anyone seriously interested in wine tasting needs...

  5. PART I Fluid Dynamics of Wine Tasting
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 7-14)

      Most books on wine tasting focus on the sensory sensations because that is what we are most aware of. However, as indicated in the introduction, all the sensations created by the brain are due to the movement of the wine in our mouth and throat and the movement of the volatile molecules released into the air in our respiratory tract. The relations between them are shown in figure I. 1 for an instant in time when the wine drinker has wine in the mouth and is breathing at the same time. These movements generate the activity that stimulates the brain....

    • CHAPTER ONE Sip and Saliva
      (pp. 15-21)

      Fluid dynamics of wine in the mouth, we have seen, means the factors that move the wine from the initial sip through the mouth to the throat and into the esophagus and stomach. This entire sequence, from sip to swallow, is calleddeglutition(literally, the transport of contents out of the mouth). The key questions for neuroenology are, first, how the fluid stimulates the mouthfeel and taste systems in the mouth and, second, how it gives rise to volatiles that contribute to the wine taste through retronasal smell.

      Modern studies of deglutition started in the 1950s and focused mostly on...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Tongue: Moving the Wine
      (pp. 22-29)

      As soon as it is sipped, the wine needs to be moved in a controlled manner throughout the mouth to stimulate maximally all the senses, facilitate the delivery of volatiles to the back of the mouth, and participate in swallowing. These biomechanical steps are critical to the wine taste, and the tongue is the master tool for doing it.

      As shown in figure I. 1 and in further detail in figure 2.1, experts have identified different parts of the tongue that are involved in moving food and liquids from their point of ingestion to their point of exit. Each part...

    • CHAPTER THREE Respiration and Wine Aromas
      (pp. 30-37)

      Respiration, like the beating of the heart, is one of the vital functions essential for life. Unlike the others, respiration is special because it is intimately involved in the sensory experience of food and wine. The breathing rhythm is automatically generated in the brainstem, though it can be modified by voluntary will. It consists, obviously, of a continuous sequence of breathing in (inspiration, inhalation) and breathing out (expiration, exhalation).

      Wine drinkers make selective use of that sequence. When we want to sense the bouquet of the wine before we drink it, we hold the glass near and breathe in. The...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Pathway for Retronasal Airflow
      (pp. 38-47)

      The pathways followed by retronasal air currents have not received as much attention as the orthonasal currents. We introduce them here to provide a basis for understanding retronasal smell and the internal wine aroma covered in chapters 13 to 15.

      With orthonasal smell, we saw that air sniffed in flows through the nasal cavity, generating eddy currents that carry the odor molecules up to the smell receptor cells at the top of the cavity. While many laboratories have documented these patterns, few have studied the patterns when breathing out. One such study, carried out many years ago in human cadavers...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Swallow, Aroma Burst, and Finish
      (pp. 48-56)

      Swallowing is one of those automatic house keeping functions we do without thinking about it, to clear the saliva we produce throughout the day, as well as food and drink. As such, it seems a rather humdrum activity; how could it be impor tant for a sophisticated function such as evaluating and enjoying a wine? Ironically, however, swallowing is one of the most crucial functions for wine tasting.

      Surprisingly, it was one of the first bodily functions studied by early physiologists. In 1836, François Magendie in France reported that swallowing consisted of three parts: an initial stage of preparing the...

  6. PART II How Sensory Systems Create the Taste of Wine
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 57-58)

      One might think that an account of the sensory systems creating the taste of wine would start with the taste system. Ironically, taste as a sensory system actually plays a limited role in wine taste. By contrast, smell plays a large role through both the orthonasal and, especially, the retronasal routes. But before either taste or retronasal smell can begin, the first sensation we have from the wine in our mouths is the touch of it against our lips, mouth, and tongue. But even before that, we look at the bottle and examine the color of the wine, which makes...

    • CHAPTER SIX Sight: Creating the Color of Wine
      (pp. 59-68)

      Except for those who are blind and during blindfolded tastings, the experience of wine begins by seeing the wine before we drink it. With food, it is said that “we eat with our eyes”; with wine, we can say that “we taste with our eyes.” As with every food and beverage, the product is marketed to have a maximum appeal to the consumer. This involves all the strategies of advertising, such as a convenient package, attractive labeling in bright warm colors like red and yellow, a good feel when holding the product, and a nice smell upon opening it. Eons...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Orthonasal Smell: Wine Molecules Meet Smell Receptors
      (pp. 69-79)

      After examining a wine for its color and consistency, the next step in wine tasting is to lift the glass to the nose and sniff. This carries the volatile molecules released by the wine into our nasal cavity, where they stimulate receptor molecules in our olfactory sensory cells, which eventually leads to our perception of the smell.

      The importance of smell to the flavor of wine cannot be overemphasized. In the authoritativeThe Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding state, “The ‘smell’ of a wine may be its greatest sensory characteristic, but is also the most difficult...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Orthonasal Smell: Creating a Wine Aroma Image
      (pp. 80-87)

      We have seen how the information contained in odor molecules is transferred to the receptor cells to form the basic information units, the “primitives,” of the sense of smell. How does the brain build the perception of a wine aroma from this beginning?

      Rome was not built in a day, and the perception of smell also takes many steps, as summarized in figure 8.1. In chapter 7, we discussed how determinants on the smell molecules take the first step by activating different smell receptor molecules in the receptor cells. In this chapter, we show how a series of brain circuits...

    • CHAPTER NINE Orthonasal Smell: From Odor Image to Aroma Perception
      (pp. 88-97)

      The aroma “scene” in the olfactory bulb is the brain’s way of representing the stimulating molecules. Its function is to encode the properties of the molecules.

      The brain must next convert this fractured pattern into a pattern representing the entire mixture of molecules. This is analogous to taking the “primitives,” the fundamental ele ments of a visual scene (lines, angles, corners), and reintegrating them into a neural representation of the visual scene. For this, the brain needs to transform the scene from the language of the senses to the language of the brain. In vision, this means creating agestalt,...

    • CHAPTER TEN Touch and the Mouthfeel of Wine
      (pp. 98-105)

      We have noted that when we take our first sip of a wine, the touch of the wine to our lips fixes the wine to our mouths, and our brains from then on interpret all the sensations of the wine as coming from our mouths.

      Our detection of the presence of the wine in our mouths is often called touch or feel or tactile sense; scientifically, it is calledsomatosensation; that is, all the sensations that come from thesoma, meaning “body.” It includes all the sensations that arise from sensory receptors in the skin or, in this case, the...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Taste Modalities and Wine Tasting
      (pp. 106-114)

      When we use the word “taste” to apply to wine, we think we know what we are talking about: the experience of the wine in our mouths. But as we explained at the start of the book, the experience is partly an illusion. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the word itself can be misleading. For some guidance through this terminological thicket, let us start by consulting the experts on words, the Oxford dictionaries. Here you will find a series of definitions of “taste” as a noun that make the problem clear. We adapt them for application to wine...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Creating Taste Perception
      (pp. 115-121)

      The taste nerves end on a cluster of cells in the brainstem called the nucleus of the solitary tract. Here, the first pro cessing occurs to transform the taste signals from the language of the sensory world to the language of the brain world. It is also a major integrative station. We have already seen in chapter 2 that the central pattern generator for chewing is located in close proximity, where it can integrate the sensory input from the chewing muscles with the sensory input from the taste cells.

      From this cluster, the cells in turn send their fibers to...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Retronasal Smell: The Hidden Force in Wine Tasting
      (pp. 122-128)

      Until now, every thing we have sensed about the wine has been conscious: the sight of the wine, its aroma as we sniff it in the glass, its touch as it enters and fills the mouth, and its taste as it stimulates the taste buds on the tongue. Now, with the wine in our mouth comes a new sense: the internal smell that is due to the retronasal pathway. Of this pathway we areunconscious, yet it is responsible for the major part of what we call “the taste of the wine.” Being unaware of it, most wine tasters fail...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Retronasal Smell: What Is So Special?
      (pp. 129-134)

      In this chapter, we flesh out the framework for understanding retronasal smell in wine perception. Box 14.1 contains the main steps. Note that they follow closely the steps for orthonasal smell outlined in chapters 7 to 9 until reaching the olfactory cortex, where the retronasal pathway begins to combine inputs from the other senses. These steps are the basis for comparing the initial wine aroma in the glass with the retronasal aroma as it contributes to the full flavor of the wine in the mouth and throat.

      We have noted that carrying out experiments on the sense of smell is...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Retronasal Smell: Creating the Multisensory Wine Flavor
      (pp. 135-142)

      In our discussion of orthonasal smell, figure 10.1 shows a straightthrough pathway for the neural basis of smell perception. But flavor is multimodal, combining smell with the other senses. To understand the aroma of wine, we need to understand when and where combining occurs. One possibility is that merging of the senses occurs only at the highest perceptual level in the neocortex. However, nature is usually more opportunistic than that and allows for different systems to begin interacting at lower processing levels. A key system for combining with smell is taste. In chapter 12, we described how the taste pathway,...

  7. PART III How Central Brain Systems Create the Plea sure of the Taste of Wine
    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Wine Tasting, Gender, and Aging
      (pp. 145-150)

      A paradox: wine tasting is one of the most rewarding food experiences we humans have, and we have seen that much of this is due to both orthonasal and retronasal smell. Yet at the same time, we believe our sense of smell to be quite inferior to that of most animals, ascribing this to a decline during evolution, when vision became more important.

      Fortunately, evidence increasingly shows that the human sense of smell is much stronger than believed. In 2004, I expressed this notion in “The Human Sense of Smell: Are We Better Than We Think?” The answer was yes!...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Memory and Wine Tasting
      (pp. 151-156)

      The importance of memory to smell was shown by a pioneer in the perception of smell and taste mixtures, David Laing, now at the University of New South Wales. In 1989, Laing and G. W. Francis were interested in how many components a person can identify in an odor mixture. This ability is obviously impor tant for neuroenology and wine tasting. They trained subjects to identify seven individual odors and then tested them with various mixtures of the odors. Sound easy? Figure 17.1 shows the result. The subjects could identify each odor separately 82 percent of the time, but when...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN The Language of Wine Tasting
      (pp. 157-161)

      The preceding chapters have presented all the brain systems that engage in creating the flavor of wine. It is a daunting array but also an exhilarating one. We have claimed that the combination of motor, sensory, and central brain systems constitutes a flavor system in humans that is unique in the animal world. The next step in this system is our unique system of language, which enables us to describe our experience in words, both for our own use and for communicating with others.

      Anyone who has tasted wine knows that describing the perception in words is one of our...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN Pleasure: The Final Judge in Wine Tasting
      (pp. 162-167)

      In describing how the brain creates the perception of the flavor of wine, we have focused on the contributions of the different motor and sensory systems. However, the final outcome of perceiving the flavor is to decide if we like it and if so, why. This essentially involves how much pleasure it gives us. Pleasure, one of the basic emotions, gives meaning to life in general and to specific activities, such as wine tasting, in particular. It, too, is created by the brain. Like its opposite, pain, pleasure does not exist in any particular object:pleasure is created by the...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY Practical Applications of Neuroenology to the Pleasure of Wine Tasting
      (pp. 168-174)

      If pleasure is the main criterion for wine tasters, how do wine makers produce wines to satisfy this criterion? The focus we have described on the brain is beginning to provide intriguing answers.

      We now know that the flavor of a wine is created in a consumer’s brain. As we noted earlier, wine preferences are due to many factors, including price, attractiveness of the label, previous experience, word of mouth, and bottle size and shape. Wine makers, for their part, try to produce wines attractive to these consumer tastes based on decisions about many factors, including the density of vines...

  8. APPENDIX: A Wine-Tasting Tutorial with Jean-Claude Berrouet
    (pp. 175-184)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-192)
  10. Index
    (pp. 193-206)