How many times have you got home after an unpleasantly stressful day at work and decided to ease the strain with a really lovely glass of wine? But rather than sinking into the velvet depths of a beautiful and much anticipated bottle of red, your first sip reveals itself as bitter, hard and thoroughly disappointing. The cherry on the cake of a really shoddy day.
I hate to say it but there is an important lesson there; your mood can play havoc with your taste receptors. Stress and anxiety greatly heighten your perception of bitterness and astringency, thus opening a bottle of tannic red wine when you are angry and frustrated will cause the wine to appear excessively aggressive and hard edged. That same bottle, had on a lazy Sunday surrounded by the gentle repartee of your loved ones will appear elegant and nuanced.
The same can be said of white wine, when you are stressed, oak will become far more prominent, dominating the fruit and the perfume. So what to do to sooth the strains of the day? Rather reach for a beautiful Kabinett from the Mosel; let the touch of residual sugar take the edge off your angst, and the crystalline acidity boy your flagging spirits. With no oak to fight with you it will be a far smoother ride.
If you are thinking red, then look towards softer, low tannin wines with little or no oak influence, much like you would if you were pairing a wine with a spicy curry. Think soft, fruit driven Grenache from Australia, velvety unoaked reds from Alentejo, or juicy, perfumed whole bunch Cinsault from South Africa and save the Barolo and Bordeaux for when you are in your happy place. Next time you are in a foul temper, you will know what to do to open, pour and be yourself once more.
So what exactly is happening in your mouth to make it react so fiercely to the tannin and oak? Studies’ have shown that heighten levels of stress make one more sensitive, thus heightening the awareness to sensations such as astringency. This is because taste buds themselves are targeted by stress hormones. A study conducted by Anxiety.org showed that in the case of acute stress, your adrenal glands immediately ‘release glucocorticoids (GCs). GCs flood into the blood stream and then travel throughout the body where they have significant effects on cells and tissues that express the GC receptor. We found that GR is … selectively expressed in the type of taste cells that respond to sweet, umami (savoury), and bitter taste stimuli.’ The plot thickens.
This sensitivity is compounded for those of us known as ‘super tasters’. Sadly this this not quite as auspicious as it sounds and is not a one way ticket to blind tasting glory but is more accurately described as a ‘hyper taster’. More specifically still, it is a hypersensitivity to certain bitter compounds that you are either born with or not. A final layer to the conundrum, highlighted by Dr. Jamie Goode is your saliva flow rate. Those people who have either a high or low saliva flow rate are far more sensitive to astringency than someone with a medium saliva flow.
So rather than debating whether you should be roasting or searing your duck to ensure you are creating the perfect pairing for your wine, maybe you should first be considering what your physiology and state of mind is telling you; if you are a highly stressed hyper taster with a very low saliva rate, beware of drinking a highly tannic, heavily oak red wine after a tough day!