Now I Know My Wine-Phabet: U is for Umami
In this new series called “Now I know my Wine-phabet”, I will explore letter by letter wine and what I believe are some of the most important and/or influential aspects in the world of wine. Since I am only choosing one topic per letter, many will be missed. Hopefully these posts come across as being whimsical and informative.
The Japanese always seem to get it right. With the introduction of Umami, the Japanese improved our sense of taste. Umami is normally associated with food. But have you ever tasted a wine and in your best Uma Thurman Pulp Fiction voice said,
“GOD DAMN! GOD DAMN!”?
That is Umami! When you eat a nice piece of Kobe that just melts in your mouth and leaves that flavor which is not bitter, not salty, not tart and not sweet; that is Umami! An overall pleasurable sensation in the mouth.
But in wine? Sore wa dono yō nideshou ka? (How could it be?)
Umami is usually associated with protein whether it be beef, mushrooms or soy sauce. You can sense Umami smack dab in the middle of the tongue. Wine is full of proteins. Proteins come from the phenolic content of a wine. The phenolic content can give a wine more color and more mouth-feel, or umami! Many wine makers remove the protein when they decide to fine and filter their wines.
When I blind taste I try to check for a wine’s Umami to decide its quality. Many people are gonna go and get a big Napa Cab and go “DUDE!, that’s got Umami!” All the time the wine is big on the palate and the tip of the tongue is over-stimulated with alcohol. Sorry, big wine drinker, that is not Umami! Big does not equal Umami. Just because you got big hands and feet it does not mean …you know what I mean.
Umami, is something more complex. It is kind of like Taoism. A Taoist cannot put a name to the spirit or energy that governs all. In order to explain the concept they call it the Tao, the energy that brings everything together and creates harmony. Umami is exactly that. It is not tannins, it is not alcohol and it is not residual sugar. Umami is the all! It is the Tao of the tongue.
Umami is balance, it is explosive, it is roundness, complexity, and the list goes on. In order to understand Umami, it needs to be experienced. So my advice to you is drink more wine and search for Umami. When you find a wine with Umami, stick with it and share with your friends (and send me a bottle, please).