Wine for a brain workout?

When I started this website in 1994, I wrote that it would be dedicated to the premise that fine wine is a feast for all the senses – including the mind.

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Twenty-five years later, a brain scientist confirms this simple and seemingly obvious premise. “The taste of wine engages more of the brain than does any other human behavior,” Yale University neuroscientist Gordon M. Shepherd reports in his 2017 book, Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine.

According to the book’s publisher’s blurb on, Shepherd “comprehensively explains how the specific sensory pathways in the cerebral cortex create the memory of wine and how language is used to identify and imprint wine characteristics.”

Despite its scientific nature, the publisher reassures us that Neuroenology is intended for a broad audience, from amateur wine drinkers and casual foodies to sommeliers and seasoned chefs. Ultimately, it declares that “the emotion of pleasure is the final judge of the wine experience.”

Neuroenology is available on for $17.55 in hardcover, a 30 percent saving from its $24.95 list price.

Neuroenology is available on for $17.55 in hardcover, a 30 percent saving from its $24.95 list price.

In an interview on National Public Radio’s The Salt: What’s on your Plate, NPR’s Mark Schatzker interviewed Shepherd about his studies.

Quoting from the interview, The Salt reported: “The apparently simple act of sipping Merlot involves a complex interplay of air and liquid controlled by coordinated movements of the the tongue, jaw, diaphragm and throat. Inside the mouth, molecules in wine stimulate thousands of taste and odor receptors, sending a flavor signal to the brain that triggers massive cognitive computation involving pattern recognition, memory, value judgment, emotion and of course, pleasure.

“Whereas most wine writers tend to focus on the various elements that go into the wine itself – the grape, the oak, terroir, the winemaker – Shepherd’s subject is the drinker. He explores biomechanics, physiology and neuroscience to describe a journey that begins as wine passes the lips and ends with a lingering finish that can last for minutes.”

The interview is fascinating. It wouldn’t be fair for me to quote it all, but I encourage you to click to The Salt and read the whole thing. I can’t resist sharing the final paragraph, though:

Schatzker: “What’s the best value in wine for under $20?”

Shepherd: For table wine, we stick to around $10 or $12 per bottle, and it’s a fun challenge to find a wine in that range. … For more interesting wines, we like Sancerre because it seems to have an edge to it. … One of the reasons I prefer European wines is they have a slightly lower alcoholic content. There is research that shows people prefer wines with less alcohol. This is important, because global warming is driving alcohol content up, not down.”

He’s talking my language here! What’s more, by strange coincidence, the wine report I have for you today features an exceptional Sancerre. I paid a little above Shepherd’s usual price range, and my own, for this quality Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Reverdy 2017 “Cuvée ‘Les Coûtes'” Sancerre, and it was worth it. You’ll find my tasting report below.

Neuroenology is available on for $17.55 in hardcover, a 30 percent saving from its $24.95 list price. You can also buy the Kindle edition for $13.99.

You can also get Shepherd’s earlier volume that laid the groundwork for this one: Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, published in 2013, for $18.04 in hardcover, a 28 percent saving.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Not only is Sancerre a good choice for a brain workout, if we take Gordon Shepherd at his word; it is also a good fit with this month’s Wine Focus in the WineLovers Discussion Group, Back to Basics with the Loire. Try a Sancerre, or any Loire wine, and drop in on the forum before the end of the month to share your report and talk about the wine.

Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy 2017 “Cuvée ‘Les Coûtes'” Sancerre ($28.99)

Reverdy Sancerre

This straw-color wine is unfiltered but appears perfectly clear in the glass; watch for light, harmless sediment to appear with age. Its appealing aroma begins with a breath of musky melon and crisp, tart apples, soon joined by limey citrus. Juicy lime on the palate signals a brisk, acidic flavor, with distinct notes of stony minerality in the background. It’s a nicely balanced, mouth-watering and intriguingly minerally white with 13.5$ alcohol, demonstrating how Sauvignon Blanc arguably shows at its best in the Loire. U.S. importer: Weygandt-Metzer, Unionville, Pa.; a Peter Weygandt Selection. (Aug. 22, 2019)

FOOD MATCH: Fresh, good quality oysters on the half-shell are the classic match, but simple seafood dishes in general as well as light summer salads will serve well. We enjoyed it with bite-size crab cakes and a salad dressed with chevre.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s enjoyable now, but this is one of those uncommon white wines that’s likely to gain complexity and additional flavor interest given a little time. Don’t try to keep it for decades, but four or five years in good cellar conditions can’t hurt.

This fine Sancerre from a well located old-vines property commands a respectable price, but I think it’s worth it at’s $26 average retail and even my slightly higher local retail.

Here’s a detailed fact sheet on this wine from Chapel Hill Wine Co. in North Carolina.

Locate vendors and check prices for Reverdy “Cuvée ‘Les Coûtes'” Sancerre on

For an excellent overview of Sancerre and its wines, including links to dozens more Sancerres and vendors, browse this Wine-Searcher link.


More affordable wines

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!

  • Laroque 2016 Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
  • Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
  • Alamos 2015 Salta Torrontés ($9.99)
  • Alamos 2015 Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
  • Caposaldo 2014 Chianti ($8.99)
  • d’Arenberg 2012 McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
  • Oveja Negra 2014 Maule Valley Cabernet Franc – Carmenere Reserva ($9.99)
  • Côté Mas 2016 “Rouge Intense” Sud de France Pays d’Oc ($12.99/1 liter)

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