Wine Glasses and the Taste Map of the Tongue

Have you seen the array of wine glasses that are sold in different shapes and sizes from the same company? Each glass claims to bring out the best in one specific wine. It’s a great opportunity for companies such as Riedel to sell you five or more sets of wine glasses rather than just one.


I remember attending a special wine/glass tasting evening last century at the old Michelin starred Harvey’s Restaurant on Denmark Street, just up the road from where the Bristol Skeptics in the Pub now meet. Upon arrival, representatives from Riedel presented us all with four fantastic glasses and a map of the different taste regions of the tongue. Deafening alarm bells should have be sounding in my head at this point, but alas this was before I really knew what it meant to be a skeptic.

It was explained to us how the glasses were shaped to direct the wine to the correct part of the tongue to bring out the best taste for that wine. For instance, according to the taste map of the tongue the tip of the tongue detects sweetness, so a sweet wine would be drunk from a glass which tends to drive the wine quickly over the tip of the tongue to avoid it tasting too sweet so that the more subtle flavours would then be enhanced because the wine goes straight to the bitter, sour and salt detecting regions.


Somehow it all seemed to make sense to me at the time, even before the multiple glasses of wine had had any effect. All of the glasses were indeed shaped so that the wine they were intended for was directed according to the taste map of the tongue exactly as the Riedel representatives suggested.

It is common knowledge now what researchers have known for 40 years: that the taste map of the tongue is complete rubbish, and that all tastes can be detected on all parts of the tongue. Riedel’s glasses have remained the same shape since this revelation though. Riedel’s literature now places its emphasis on the effect that their glasses have on bouquet, texture, flavour and finish. They don’t dwell on the fact that the glasses were carefully designed around this fallacy, although they haven’t abandoned their roots completely. On their web site I still found this quote: ‘This delivers and positions the beverage to different “taste zones“ of the palate.’

I had a really great evening eating and drinking quite a lot of wine from my four glasses that night, and I still cherish the glasses I got on that evening and wheel them out on special occasions.

-Anthony Wood


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