Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Fifth Taste: A Wine with Umami

For those of you who have never heard of umami, it's the fifth taste. In addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter we have umami--a savory taste intensifier that is the un-namable thing in many foods that makes us say "yum" and go back for seconds.

Parmesan cheese is inherently rich in umami. So is soy sauce. I'm not sure I've ever tasted it in a wine before now. But with my latest foray into the wines of the Valle d'Aosta I took a sip of a red wine and knew that what I was tasting was hit of umami reminiscent of soy sauce.

The 2006 Les Cretes Tourrette cost a bit more than my usual wine. It was $27.99 from K & L Wines. Even at that price this was a very good QPR wine because it was so different, so memorable, and so darn good. As I told you when I announced that January was devoted to the Alpine Valle d'Aosta, it's hard to find wine from this region of Italy. That's a shame, based on my tastings, because the wines are very distinctive.

Made from Petit Rouge, a grape grown only in the Valle d'Aosta, I loved this wine's aromas of cherries, thyme, and crushed rocks. There were flavors of cherries and raspberries, too, along with this marvelously savory, soy sauce note. The aftertaste was juicy, and the wine was lighter in body like a Gamay. If I had to describe it to someone, I'd say it's a Gamay with with a dark side, since the thing about Gamay wines is that they are so bright and lively. This wine had all the brightness, but it was coupled with his great depth and complexity.

I had the best intentions of making a traditional Valle d'Aosta dish to go with this wine but in the end we had Rachael Ray's "deconstructed lasagna"--a house favorite for hitting all the flavor notes of the famous baked pasta dish without all the headache and planning ahead. The browned sirloin and parmesan cheese used in the dish really helped to pick out the umami in the wine, and the bright fruit flavors were a nice complement to the tomato sauce.

Has anyone else out there had a Torrette made from Petit Rouge? I'd be interested to know if you tasted that same, savory note.


Richard Auffrey said...

I have never had this type of wine but will definitely see if I can find one to try.

I also wanted to add a quick fact about "umami" which the article you referenced did not fully explain. Umami technically means more than just "delicious."

The name "umami" derives from two Japanese words. First, "umai" (which means "delicious") and "mi" (which means "essence."). So, it is more properly defined as the "essence of deliciousness."

Taster B said...

I haven't tried a Petit Rouge either. But, I do recall picking up what I called umami in a Bart Park Merlot 2005. :)

Anonymous said...

The AIS guide actually says that wine is 70% petite rouge and 30% other varieties. I've tasted a couple of vintages of this wine in Italy and a couple from other wineries. Spry, light, spicy, and savory are some of the tastes I remember. Delicious and non-palate-fatiguing..all-stainless steel made...

Vandy-Montana said...

NIce work. I'll have to go out and try this to see what I get.

dhonig said...

Great review- I've got to find some of this stuff. Umami. What a wonderful word for an indescribable "I know it when I taste/feel it" sensation.