Sensory panels often avoid the evaluation of mouthfeel sensations in wine, since it implies (for many non-wine experts) complex, and abstract concepts. However, mouthfeel is an important dimension of wine quality, and it is, therefore, necessary that these properties are also included in routinely sensory tests. In our recently completed Winetech funded research project IWBT W13/02, “Rapid descriptive sensory methods for wine evaluation – special focus on further optimisation of rapid methods and streamlining of workflow”, we have developed two useful protocols for the assessment of mouthfeel in wine that can be used by sensory panels in the industry and research. This article describes the protocol that is based on the classic descriptive analysis (DA) method. In line with the objectives of project IWBT W13/02, we also optimised a rapid sensory method, polarised sensory positioning (PSP) to evaluate mouthfeel in wine. The rapid method does not require a trained DA panel and can be completed in shorter sessions. The protocol for the rapid method is discussed in a subsequent article.
What is meant by mouthfeel?
Mouthfeel refers to the sensory perceptions experienced in the mouth when a wine is consumed. Wine judges often describe wine as “full and round with good concentration, and length”, thereby implying that the product has good mouthfeel properties. While these phrases are commonly used in the popular media, people differ in their understanding of what exactly is meant by them. In scientific publications, several terms are grouped under so-called in-mouth sensations; these include fullness, heat, complexity, balance, length and mouthfeel.
Evaluation of mouthfeel by sensory panels
It is a challenging task to train a sensory panel to evaluate wine mouthfeel sensations. DA is one of our most accurate sensory test methods and provides two important outputs. Firstly, all the sensory properties that are perceived in a set of wines are identified and named by a panel of trained tasters. Secondly, panellists also score the intensity of each property on a line scale (ranging from 0 to 100, for example).
Physical standards are used to train a panel for the first task (identification of sensory properties). For example, a fresh lemon can serve as a standard for the lemon character in wine aroma. It is clear that all the panellists must have agreement on the sensations of the lemon character, as well as the particular word that describes the specific character, before the panel can proceed to assess the wines. With abstract concepts, such as length, complexity, and balance, there are no so-called physical standards, and an alternative plan must be made during training of the panel.
Another major challenge is to calibrate panellists to rate the intensities of the mouthfeel sensations on a line scale. It speaks for itself that the line scale must be used consistently by different panellists and on independent sets of wines; otherwise, comparative studies are not possible.
To illustrate these challenges: in this Winetech project, we wanted to evaluate the mouthfeel sensations of old-vine Chenin blanc wines (produced from vines 40 years and older) with the DA method. It is well known among wine experts that the old-vine Chenins have much more complex mouthfeel properties, compared to some younger vine Chenins. For panellists to use the line scale consistently to showcase these differences, they need to have in-depth experience and knowledge of the entire product category. This is seldom the case. Also in dealing with this challenge, adjustments had to be made to the standard DA protocol …