"aroma wheel" developed at the University of California in Davis to formalize the categories ofsmell in wine tasting. If you had to describe what vanilla tastes like how would you do it? What about melon or the smellof woodland pastures on a spring morning? Its not as tough to describe what a melon or a pasturelooks like. This is the quandary facing wine tasters that leads to the seemingly absurd descriptorsutilized to evoke wine aroma and flavor. Everything from blackberry and mint to tar, coffee, pencilshavings, black licorice and even cat's pee on elderberry. Some descriptors seem to make sensebut others are outlandish ... until you try for yourself. If there are 10,000 and more possibilities itseems inevitable that eventually you'll have to use odd combinations of words that get as close aspossible to what you're perceiving. And even then, there is no certainty that your perceptions areidentical to another taster's. When it comes to taste, a separate sensation that turns out to be integrated with smell, there arefour, or perhaps five flavor components to deal with; sweet, salty, bitter, sour and the recentlyadded umami. These flavors are picked up by the taste buds that are on your tongue and in yourmouth. Most foods and drinks excite more than one of the five flavors but some are pretty one-dimensional and can be agreed upon to characterize the flavor. Lemon juice is sour, white sugar issweet, radicchio is bitter and salt is, well ... salty. What about umami? Umami is a Japanese word.It's a pleasant savory taste that can be detected in meat, fish vegetables and dairy productsalthough it is rarely as distinct and separable as the other four. Umami blends with other tastesensations to add dimension and roundness so, I'm personally still on the fence about whether it isa distinct fifth flavor. Flavors are, however more objective, and they can be more readily agreed upon, but in yourmouth food vaporizes and rises up through neo-nasal passageways to find, once again yourolfactory bulb. Thus, as you "taste" you also smell, and taste is greatly magnified by the aromasthat accompany it. That's why your sense of taste seems to be so blunt when you're congested.Your tongue is tasting without the benefit of the olfactory stimulation. Recent studies have concluded that all our sensations work together and that emotion andmemory really plays a part in how we perceive and interpret the world around us. When we eatand drink we cannot entirely ignore cultural disposition or personal attitudes. Some of us don't likespicy things, some don't like astringent things, some of us are put off by aromas, textures orflavors that others find irresistible. It has even been shown that our values and assumptions canbe confused by simple tricks like dying white wine red or being told that a cheap item is actuallyvery expensive. There are different theories of how and why we form our tastes. Some would say there are"tolerant tasters" and "sensitive tasters", "expectant palates" or "experimental palates". All wouldagree that these characterizations are external models that may or may not exactly fit the reality ofyour individual, internal tastes. It is also becoming clear that even disciplined, experienced tastersdo not consistently reach the same conclusions in repeated tests. That, to me is the ultimate proofthat your taste is your own. My final advice would be to indulge your taste and eat and drink mindfully.