The Art of Tasting: Your Brain on Wine

There is no beverage in the world that holds as much mystery, flavor, texture, color, and history as wine. It is a drink that has traveled through both space and time — from the dark, dank caves near a small Armenian village where it was being dedicated to the dead and pressed for the first time, 6,100 years ago, to the slender crystal Zalto glass sitting to my left as I write. From the moment Pablo Neruda tried to poetically convey how the light from a bottle of wine falls onto a table in “Ode to Wine,” or Claude Monet tried to capture with paint the still- ness of an afternoon after a lunch with wine in his paint- ing, Still Life with Bottle, Carafe, Bread and Wine, the very nature of wine and our relationship to it has stayed mysterious, vivid, and undefined. Yet it is not only the poets and artists of our past who have struggled to capture this mystery — it is also the neuroscientists and neurophysiologists of our present who wish to under- stand how wine affects our brains in ways that change our behavior, cognitive functioning, and sense of self. But in order to understand how wine changes us we must first recognize how we change wine.

Flavor is not in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. It is created by our brains. The flavor, smell, taste, and even color of wine are all variables, dependent upon how we approach the drink emotionally and behaviorally. The field of science that explores how flavor, along with a wide array of other factors inherent in consuming food, is cognitively and affectively developed and processed within our brains is neurogastronomy. Researchers in the field of neurogastronomy, and, more recently, “neuroenology,” have shown that the neuro- and biomechanical process of ingesting wine engages more networks of the brain than any other human behavior.

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