Just as a bottle of wine improves with age, it can also improve our ability to distinguish the subtleties of its aroma. Changes in the composition of our saliva and the amount we produce appear to intensify our perception of the smoky and spicy aromas in red wine, new research suggests.
The findings could lead to the development of wines more tailored to specific groups of consumers. “We could diversify wine production to make more pleasant wines based on the physiology of consumers,” said María Ángeles del Pozo Bayón, from the Institute for Research and Food Science of the Higher Council for Scientific Research of Madrid, which led the research.
Although people can be trained to appreciate the subtle aromas and flavors of wine, the perception of them is also linked to memories and experience. “If we are very familiar with an odor that has an emotional connection in our mind, we will recognize that odor regardless of physical conditions,” said Federica Zanghirella, vice president of the UK Sommeliers Association, who was not involved in the research.
Our perception of wine is also determined by physiological factors such as the shape of our mouth, or the composition of our saliva, which transports and dissolves the aromatic compounds in wine, in addition to transforming some of them through the action of the enzymes it contains. .
Previous studies have suggested that our saliva becomes less abundant and more concentrated as we age. To better understand how these changes might influence people’s perception of wine, Bayón and his colleagues recruited 11 people between the ages of 18 and 35 and 11 people over 55, and trained them to recognize and rate the intensity of aromas. in wine. . They also took samples of their saliva and evaluated how much they could produce, as well as their pH, protein content, and the activity of various enzymes.
Next, the volunteers’ ability to perceive smoky and spicy aromas in red wine was evaluated. Older people were more sensitive to these aromas and rated them more intensely and for longer than younger drinkers. The research was published in Food quality and preference.
The findings dovetail with Zanghirella’s experience as a professional wine taster: “However, not only can age affect the perception of particular aromas, but also the content of a taster’s last meal, whether on an empty stomach or eating carbohydrates. , proteins, acidic or salty foods, “he said.
As for why the saliva of older people could improve their ability to detect smoky and spicy flavors, Bayón explained that the amount of saliva they produce could affect the dilution of aromatic compounds, with lower volumes resulting in a greater amount of aroma molecules that are released into the air flow. and come into contact with the olfactory receptors of our nose when exhaling.
Various proportions of enzymes in your saliva can also metabolize these molecules in different ways, or trap them, lengthening the amount of time that people perceive them. If older people are also more perceptive of other aromas in wine it needs further exploration, Bayón said. His team is also exploring how the food we eat can alter our saliva, and therefore our perception of wine.
However, just as storing wine for too long can spoil it, there may also be a sweet spot for wine appreciation. Other research has suggested that people’s sense of smell dulls as they move into their nineties. So if you’ve been saving a good harvest and are approaching a ripe old age, it may be worth consuming sooner rather than later.
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