Let’s now consider the sensation of “taste” (or “the palate”). Certain soluble molecules of food pass through saliva and bind to receptors in the oral cavity, mainly found in the hundreds of taste buds that coat our tongue *.
Where does the taste of wine come from? From the soil, where vines obtain their nutrients? From the air, which anoints the grapes with the precious yeast that will officiate during the fermentation process? From the wooden barrel in which the wine slowly matures?
Sparkling carbon dioxide, spicy mustard that prickles the nose (allyl isothiocyanate), the heat of chilli * (capsaicin), the scratch of olive oil at the back of the throat (oleocanthal), the cool of mint (menthol), the astringency of tea (tannins), and also the temperature of food – all these sensations derive from the trigeminal nerve, independently of the gustatory and olfactory pathways.
Let’s bring a morsel of food up to our mouth. Volatile molecules escape and enter our nostrils to caress our olfactory receptors (the “ortho-nasal” route) – hence the talk of “odours” so dear to perfumers.
Once the food is in the mouth, we chew – and other volatile compounds escape inside the oral cavity, only to end up joining the self-same olfactory receptors (this time via the retro-nasal route). Now we speak of “aromas”, much prized by gourmets, who strive to chew food as long as possible in order to fully extract its aromatic properties. (It may well be that the “long finish” attributed to certain wines is partly due to the interaction of its aromatic components with salivary proteins, which retain some aromas longer than others.)
The gastronomic meal, such as it has been practiced in France for centuries, is obviously an occasion for eating and drinking well. But it is also a social event, one which structures French life and society, sharing more than just nourishment for the body.
While a festive meal in France is gastronomic by definition, certain rituals must be observed concerning the service and table setting. No detail is too small…