The Essence of Wine: Umami

Image © 2012 Leigh Beisch

The fifth taste. The molecular expression of savory deliciousness that explains what bacon, chicken soup, and sautéed mushrooms all have in common. Unlike many of the things we taste, which are more aromas than tastes, the flavor known as umami is perceived directly by the taste buds. Perhaps for this reason it can be just as much a sensation—a sudden rush of mouthwatering goodness—as an actual flavor. Originally discovered by a Japanese researcher looking to explain one of the distinct qualities of his country’s cuisine, umami exists everywhere. Sometimes the product of cooking, sometimes the product of nature alone, we are drawn to this flavor in all its incarnations. In wine, umami can assume any of its many foodish guises, but quite often shows up as notes of olive, miso paste, soy, and more. Red wines, more often than white, seem to employ this flavor, especially as they age. But umami can show up in nearly any glass, usually with welcome results.

Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France
Domain Marcel Deiss “Burlenberg” Pinot Noir, Bergheim, Alsace, France
Montenidoli “Sono di Montenidoli” Red Blend, Tuscany, Italy
D’Arenberg “The Coppermine Road” Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Nicolas Catena Zapata Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina
Tournesol “Proprietors Blend” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, California, USA
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse Lalande Bordeaux Blend Pauillac, Médoc, Bordeaux, France
Henschke “Hill of Grace” Shiraz, Eden Valley, Barossa, South Australia
Domaine Skouras “Synoro” Red Blend, Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece
Abacela “Paramour” Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon
Takler “Regnum” Red Blend, Szekszárd, Hungary

This is part of an ongoing series of original images and prose called The Essence of Wine