Taste – your mouth may really matter


If you read my article earlier this year about heroic microbiologists, you will know that I am increasingly fascinated by microbes and their role in wine: in viticulture, especially in the interaction between vine and soil, and in winemaking. For example, the new, 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine included for the first time entries on soil biota and microbial terroir

Today I read on Becca Yeamans-Irwin’s excellent website The Academic Wino a summary and review of a fascinating study published last year in Food Chemistry by C Muñoz-González, C Cueva, M Ángeles Pozo-Bayón and M Victoria Moreno-Arribas: ‘Ability of human oral microbiota to produce wine odorant aglycones from odourless grape glycosidic aroma precursors’. 

As Yeamans-Irwin points out, this is a very small-scale study. However, the results suggest that the microbial population in your mouth – which is probably unique to you – could affect the aromas you detect in a wine because these microbes are able to transform odourless aroma precursors in a wine into volatile aromatic molecules.

This potentially means that we would all have a slightly different experience when tasting a wine. Then we might be taking into consideration not just bottle variation but also oral-microbe variation.

The image shows Actinomyces naeslundii, a bacterium that, according to the study, produces compounds that are associated with floral aromas.