Tasting Wine Uses More Brainpower than "Any Other Human Experience"

As if we needed an excuse to drink more wine
The Taste of Wine Is All in the Brain
Photo: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table

What if those oak-y notes or nods to cherry or stone fruit that you pick up when you taste wine weren't in the glass at all, but rather in your head?

That's what Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd explains is happening in his new book, Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine. "When you take wine in your mouth and experience the flavor, most of that flavor is due to a kind of internal smelling," he tells NPR. “Flavor is not in the food, wine taste is not in the wine; it’s created by the brain,” Shepherd added in an interview with Vinepair. It's similar to how the brain interprets and creates colors, he says:

The objects we see don't have color themselves — light hits them and bounces off. It's when light strikes our eyes that it activates systems in the brain that create color from those different wavelengths. Similarly, the molecules in wine don't have taste or flavor, but when they stimulate our brains, the brain creates flavor the same way it creates color.

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Saliva also plays a role in the way you taste wine. When the wine interacts with saliva it changes, creating new compounds that aren't in the bottle. This can also help account for why different people taste wine differently.  

The act of interpreting and tasting wine requires a lot of brainpower. Shepherd writes in his introduction, "Creating the flavors of wine engages more of the brain than any other human experience.”

Please excuse us while we go "work out" our brain with a glass of orange wine.


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