Tasting wine engages more of our brain than any other human behaviour, according to the findings of a leading neuroscientist in the US.
From the first sight of the wine bottle to manipulating the wine in your mouth and then swallowing it, there is a ‘tremendous range of sensory, motor and central brain systems involved in a wine tasting’, says Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd.
Taken all together, these processes involve more brain activity than listening to music or solving a complicated maths problem, he argues in his book, Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine.
The book explores all of the many complicated neural processes involved in tasting and appreciating wine, including the visual assessment of the bottle and the wine in the glass, and the interplay between the liquid, oxygen and saliva in the mouth – involving complex movements of jaw, tongue, diaphragm and throat.
Molecules in the wine stimulate thousands of taste and odour receptors, according to a report on Shepherd’s book on the NPR website, ‘sending a flavour signal to the brain that triggers massive cognitive computation involving pattern recognition, memory, value judgement, emotion and pleasure’.
Unlike a maths problem – which requires a limited amount of brain activity – assessing wine engages multiple sensory systems, including seeing, smelling and tasting.
Shepherd’s findings come after a study was reported last September in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal, arguing that Master Sommeliers require so much mental agility to make the grade that the sensory part of their brains becomes physically thicker.