Of the five senses, namely, seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, the last is by no means the least important. It is a wise provision, this sense of taste, in that it enables us to relish our food, and also to select that which is suitable at the same time. If we took no pleasure in eating we should probably cease to eat at all, and die of starvation. And if we had no taste we might eat that which was unsuitable. In illness, almost the first things that the sufferer will complain about are that he has lost all desire for his food, and that everything tastes alike to him. The true taste impressions are limited to the following, namely, bitter, sweet, sour, and salt. The best substances to mark these four varieties of taste are quinine for the bitter, honey for the sweet, vinegar for the sour, and table salt for the last. The sense of taste is closely associated with that of smell; indeed, the sense of smell has nearly all to do with the perception of flavour. There is an inseparable connection between the two senses of smell and taste, for when anosmia or loss of the sense of smell occurs, all taste, except for bitterness, sweetness, sourness, and saltness, is completely lost, so far as ideas of flavour, etc, are concerned.
Brillat-Savarin, the high-priest of gastronomy, quaintly puts it that smell and taste form only one sense, having the mouth as laboratory, with the nose for the fire-place or chimney; the one serving to taste solids, the other gases. George Dallas, too, the gifted author of The Book of the Table, also expresses the association of taste and smell in an apt way. He makes reference to the fact that the other senses are not dependent on each other, but that the hearing becomes more acute in a blind man. On the contrary, taste is made for marriage, and smell is its better half. Taste loses, as he says, all its delicacy when it cannot mate with a fine olfactory nerve. The late Dr. Druitt has likewise noted that the union of smell with taste is essential for the enjoyment of wine.
From the foregoing it will be seen that when we speak of taste we refer to a complicated and extremely delicate process. There is this also to be remembered, that it is a sense which can be cultivated to a high degree; and in the wine-taster it is brought to the very pitch of excellence. Yet, notwithstanding all this, it must be a matter of every-day experience, that people will profess to an ability to judge wine when they know absolutely nothing of the various points, so to speak, to be looked for. What I mean is this, that there are many different things to be observed when a wine is tasted, and that each one requires to have proper judgment bestowed upon it. What these are I shall endeavour to speak of in due course.
Wine tasting is a tine art as seen with the courtiers or experts who are employed by the large houses in Bordeaux. There are exceptional qualifications required for this office, for its holders must possess a delicate and highly trained palate, and an exquisite and perfect sense of smell, while at the same time a lengthened experience and unerring discrimination in the value of the wine submitted to them are also called for. Mr. James Smith, in his prize essay, already referred to, quotes with approval the following passage from a French authority:-"The courtage of wines is, then, a true "science, which is acquired by long observations, by nu-"merous tastings, extensive practice, and a correct judg-"ment; a science which has rendered, and is daily render-"ing, true and important services to our vinicole depart-"ment (that of the Gironde); for, by this means, intelligent "classifications have given to our grands crus a universal "reputation, and have made our best wines known and "appreciated throughout the civilised world. In the judg-"ing of wines, therefore, at least four essentials are neces-"sary : two of the senses - the taste and the smell must be "perfect - while great experience and special knowledge "must be equally present."
Now, there is an old saying, de gustibus non est disputan-dum, and consequently every person has a perfect right to like what pleases him; so that in this way anyone may prefer to drink whisky, or any other form of spirits, and he is quite entitled to believe there is nothing so good for him; but, on the other hand, an habitual spirit-drinker must not claim to possess a correct judgment in estimating the qualities of a good wine; for, as a matter of fact, the daily influence of whisky on the palate is absolutely fatal to its delicacy of perception. There are none of the graceful flavours, none of the delicate ethers, none of the perfumed bouquets in whisky that belong to a wholesome wine. No, there is only the coarse spirit which benumbs the palatal nerves, and renders them incapable of picking out these vinous attributes. Moreover, it would almost seem that a person's very thoughts are controlled by his customary beverage. It is evident, indeed, that Richard Bentley, one of the greatest scholars of modern times, believed in this doctrine; for did he not make this memorable remark to one of his pupils: " Sir, if you drink ale, you will think ale"?
Is it not true, also, that with many people champagne is regarded as the highest type of wine ? This is more likely to be the case with those who are beginning to realize the pleasures of life. Indeed, as it has been acutely remarked, a youngster from college, when invited to dinner, thinks himself badly treated if he does not get it. Now, it is not to be denied that champagne is, in its way, an imperial drink, and that it has a specially exhilarating effect. But, at the same time, it must be remembered that it is on the other side of the champagne stage of life that the appreciation of really great wines begins.
Take, for instance, a comparison of the wines of Bordeaux and of Burgundy. These are two distinct classes of wine, and, according to Mr. Sept. Berdmore, should be imbibed on different days. That they are entirely distinct wines might only be expected, seeing that the geographical positions of the two districts are so far apart. The Bordeaux wines come from the south-western or Bay of Biscay side of France, while those of Burgundy belong to her eastern portion. It is almost universally a matter of belief that the red wines of Bordeaux should be warmed gradually - taking some hours - before they are drunk. The temperature of these wines should be as nearly as possible the temperature of the dining-room itself. The finest clarets are often utterly spoiled from the fact that this has been disregarded, and they have been brought to table without any preparation. In the case of Burgundy, however, an opposite treatment is required, and by many connoisseurs it is considered to be best when brought up from a cool cellar shortly before use. All these are matters of considerable importance, and show that the judging of wines requires something more than a mere off-hand opinion.