Wine can have a savory taste, I've experienced it countless times. It is not specific to a grape variety, I find, more to certain places and techniques of wine making. For example, Jura wines, some red and almost every white have a certain umami taste to me. And most Sherries aged under flor. Many Champagnes too. Where does this umami taste in wine come from?
It is glutamate that gives the savory or umami taste in food. Parmesan cheese, fermented foods like fish sauce and miso paste, clams, tomatoes, meat and bones - these foods are high in umami taste. Japanese scientists have studied the umami taste for a long time. One of their discoveries regarding food might help to explain the savory taste in wine. Quoting the wikipedia article:
One of (Akira) Kuninaka's most important discoveries was the synergistic effect between ribonucleotides and glutamate. When foods rich in glutamate are combined with ingredients that have ribonucleotides, the resulting taste intensity is higher than the sum of both ingredients.I'm not suggesting that there are glutamates combing with ribonucleotides in wine. Is there glutamate in wine? Ribonucleotides? I don't know, but I doubt it. There must be something else going on. But maybe there are certain molecules that combine with others to heighten whatever umami taste there might be in certain wines. For example, Sherry and Champagne both come from very chalky soils. Maybe something of this chalk combines with something that happens under flor to bring this taste. (Jura wines raised sous voile have the most umami taste too - could the yeast layer be imparting something that acts on our tongues the way glutamate acts?) And in the case of Champagne, the chalk combined with extended contact with lees?
Sorry, but I am asking questions that I cannot answer. Just been thinking about this lately, that's all. And the other night I experienced something that really got my wheels spinning. I was eating dinner at Tsukushi, a great Japanese restaurant in midtown, and the chef served a small bowl of tofu and simmered daikon radish, both topped with a type of seaweed that I've never seen before. When it was still dry it looked almost like tangled olive green string, like the material one might use to make hair for a child's doll. When wet, it turned brown. There was a bit of broth at the bottom of the bowl which to me tasted like dashi that had been liberally infused with white pepper.
We were drinking 2005 Domaine de Montbourgeau Savagnin, $35, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. On it's own the wine was fragrant with orchard fruit and very mineral, with an oxidative complexity and length - just delicious. But with the tofu and daikon dish, the seaweed and the dashi broth interacted with the wine to amplify the umami character of the food and to bring the savory character of the wine to an intense level. It felt during that dish as though I had chicken broth in my glass. And yes, this was a highly pleasurable experience.
If you can explain this sort of thing, I'm all ears. I definitely appreciate the science behind taste. And then there is also a part of me that simply wants to lose myself in the experience, to leave the mystery unsolved, and to drink a lot more Jura wine at Tsukushi.