Understanding Wine Mouthfeel and How It Impacts Your Drinking Experience

Are you familiar with wine mouthfeel? Understanding how wines feel in the mouth is essential to appreciate them more thoroughly.

What is Wine Mouthfeel, and How Does it Affect Your Tasting Experience?

Wine mouthfeel is a term used to describe the texture and physical sensations you experience when tasting wine. It is an integral part of the overall tasting experience, as it can affect how you perceive the flavors and aromas of a particular wine. 

This article explores what wine mouthfeel is, how it affects your tasting experience, and some tips on identifying different types of mouthfeel in wines.

Understanding the Different Components of Wine Mouthfeel

You may not have heard about wine mouthfeel before, but you likely have heard or read the term wine body. Wine reviews often describe a wine as light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied.

Wines can also be described by their viscosity, especially when they contain high residual sugars or glycerol concentrations.

You may have also heard about wine astringency, sometimes called "tannins." A high level of tannins most often imparts astringency. Tannins are polyphenolic compounds found in red wine grape skins. They can be extracted from oak barrels during wine aging.

When the alcohol content is high in a wine, it can lead to some irritations or burning perceptions in your mouth.

All in all, Body, Viscosity, Astringency, Burning/Irritation are perceptions you can feel in your mouth, hence the term wine mouthfeel.

Researchers have defined wine mouthfeel as "the group of sensations characterized by a tactile response in the mouth." DeMiglio and collaborators, 2002.

Yes, a tactile response refers to your sense of touch. All five senses are involved in wine tasting: vision, olfaction, gustation, hearing (to a lesser extent), and touch.

What Wine Body feels like?

Body is a combination of the viscosity and weight of the liquid in the mouth.

TIP: Think of having a glass of full-fat milk and how it feels in your mouth compared to a glass of fat-free milk.

  • Full-fat is thicker, and
  • the fat-free is thinner in its perceived consistency in the mouth.

If you are new to wine, you may have searched the web for a definition of "wine body." Google search listed 20 relevant articles on the first two pages. 

Most popular wine sites define wine body as "the weight of the wine in your mouth" or "the viscosity in your mouth."

However, when listening to wine experts, I realized they tend to add other components, such as alcohol and flavor concentration.

Wine Tannins or Astringency

Astringency is another set of complex sensations. Sensory scientists define it as a sensation "due to shrinking, drawing, or puckering of the epithelium as a result of exposure to substances such as alums or tannins" (ASTM-Sensory Division)

TIP: Drinking black tea or non-sweetened cranberry juice will illustrate quite accurately what astringency is.

However, other sensations, such as bitterness and acidity, may interfere with it. 

Remember that astringency is a tactile sensation, i.e., some physical reactions occur in your mouth, dryness, irritation, etc.

Tannins are the main culprits of astringency in wine. These polyphenols extracted mainly from the grape skins and stems impart this drying mouth feel.

Wine writers or winemakers rarely use astringency to describe a wine. They would refer to tannins (the origin of the sensation), green tannins if the wine is particularly astringent, and mature tannins when the sensation is less intense; that's my interpretation of these adjectives. 

There is no universal definition of what green or mature tannins are.

Burning Mouthfeel

The burning sensation in wine is due to the alcohol irritating a nerve innerving the whole oral cavity (but also your eyes and nose), called the trigeminal nerve. This nerve responds to irritants.

Although the burning sensation in wine is not as intense as it could be in spirits, feeling a burn in your mouth can happen with wines containing more than 13.5% alcohol.

The mouth's inner membrane, called mucosa, absorbs the alcohol. The alcohol molecules can reach the nerve endings easily to make you feel a burning sensation.

TIP: To get read of the burning sensation, rinse your mouth with water and bread or unsalted crackers. You may also want to eat yogurt to cool down the feeling, as you would do with spicy curry dishes.

How to describe Wine Mouthfeel?

I find mouthfeel more challenging to characterize than aromas or tastes because these perceptions are somewhat diffuse in your mouth. You cannot quickly identify them as single entities.

Sensory scientists use taste solutions or aroma kits to train people to identify tastes and typical wine aromas.

  • Learning the five basic tastes is easier by sipping water solutions containing one single tastant. 
  • Similarly, smelling food product aromas (e.g., strawberry jam) or aroma kits (e.g., strawberry essential oil) illustrating one aroma category helps to memorize the sensations.

It is different for wine mouthfeel: References are not readily available to describe the diverse attributes of wine mouthfeel.

Is there a tool similar to the Wine Aroma Wheel?

  • Yes, there are two Mouthfeel wheels, in fact, but they are not available to the public for sale. 

    The first wine mouthfeel wheel was developed in Australia and focused on red wine mouthfeel.
  • A white wine mouthfeel wheel came out of Canadian research several years later.

Learn more about these two mouthfeel wheels.

Categories: Tasting education, Wine Language

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Isabelle Lesschaeve

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Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.

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