Wine Word of the Week: Umami

By Kori ~ August 9th, 2011.

This week’s Wine Word of the Week is umami.

Official definition from Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine:
Umami is a Japanese term derived from two words meaning ‘delicious’ and ‘essence’ and used to refer to what some consider to be the fifth primary taste. More a quality than a specific flavor, it is variously described as ‘savory’ or ‘meaty’ and is found in high levels in foods such as soy sauce, Parmesan, fresh tomato juice, tuna and seaweed. Umami levels in other foods are increased by the addition of monosodium glutamate. ….

The level of amino acids in wine is thought to be affected by the ripeness of the grapes and the process of fermentation. However, it is extremely difficult to isolate the taste of umami in wine because of the way it interacts with the other four primary tastes.

Proponents of umami suggest that its presence brings a ‘completeness’ to the flavour of a wine but warn that it may increase the bitterness and astringency of some tannic reds.

Layman’s terms from Kori:
Umami is a Japanese term meaning savory, which is one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

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