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Tasting, Wine, 2, 3, Tasting

Written by Jennifer Jordan
Filed Under: Wine Tasting

If you're like me, you've probably wondered how some people can willingly eat the foods we despise. Take for instance, refried beans. According to my taste buds, refried beans are disgusting: they smell bad, they taste bad, they are the epitome of everything sinister in our world. But, others don't see it this way: some people actually eat them willingly.

In the past, a disagreement such as this would have been attributed to different strokes for different folks: simply, people like different things. But, as new studies emerge, there may be more to taste that meets the mouth. Research has now discovered that people actually taste things differently. A notion to this degree not only has the capacity to revolutionize the food industry - overthrowing refried beans if we're lucky - but it also could change the wine industry, causing winemakers to think outside the box, or at least outside the bottle.

The way we perceive wine is quite simple. The aroma of the wine couples with its taste to help our brain perceive flavor. The actual tasting occurs at the "taste bud," buds that contain between 50-150 receptor cells. These receptor cells are perpetually replaced; most live no longer than 14 days. They also each have a strong reaction to one of the five sensations: salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami, or savory. Therefore, different taste buds focus on different things.

While the majority of people are working with similar biology - most of us have taste buds and most of us can perceive flavors by using our mouth and our nose - there are some things that will alter taste right away, causing the same type of wine to taste dramatically different to two separate people. A few of these factors include age – many people's sense of taste weakens as they become older; vision impairments; medications; chewing gum or brushing teeth; eating certain foods; having a stuffed nose; and hormones, which helps us to understand the pregnant woman's hankering for pickles and ice cream. However, even when these variables aren't factors, two people can drink from the same glass of wine and taste entirely different flavors.

This is not to say that one person will necessarily like the wine and one person will hate it. Both people may like the wine, fighting over who gets to chug the contents of the glass or both people may hate it, pouring it in a house plant when no one's around. But even if these two people agree on the wine's level of enjoyment, they might taste something entirely different. One man's pear is another man's peach.

There could be a variety of reasons why people taste things differently. People could have been born genetically predisposed to likes and dislikes, or they could have developed preferences over time. Some people could be reeling in the long past sweet-tooth coveting of childhood, where others could be masochists, gulping down tart wine whenever they have a canker sore. Some people may even have psychological experiences subconsciously controlling their choices: if anyone ever found a toe nail floating around in their Riesling, their taste for it would probably be permanently altered. Many of the reasons why we taste things different may be laden with ambiguity, but, from a scientific stance, some answers are available.

One of these answers was discovered a few years ago in Israel by researchers at the Weizmann Institute. These researchers discovered 50 odor-detecting receptors that are turned"on" in certain individuals and turned "off" in others. These receptors allow the nose to perceive aromas and then tell the brain how to perceive taste. Thus, a person with certain receptors turned "on" will taste things dramatically different than a person with those receptors turned "off."

On the Brink of a Revolution

According to their study, the Weizmann Institute scientists concluded that the pattern of active and latent odor-detecting receptors are different in nearly every single person; essentially, taste is as individualized as fingerprints. They also discovered that ethnic groups may perceive smells and tastes differently, explaining why different cultures often consume vastly different dishes.

The impact this discovery could have on the wine industry may be anything: it could be minimal or it could be powerful, but no matter what, it will be interesting. To begin, wine makers may start to target certain wines genetically, aiming one type of wine at people with most odor-receptors turned "on" or aiming at those with most odor-receptors turned "off."

The industry may also perform more studies to help them find the taste patterns of their target audience. For instance, if a wine maker in California caters to the Beverly Hills elite, they may perform a study to find the wine that would best appease the taste patterns of this group.

The way wines are described may also change. Presently, wines are often described with very few adjectives: woody, cherry-flavored, and leathery, for instance. However, the more wine makers start to realize that their bottle of woody, cherry-flavored, and leathery wine may taste nutty, apple-flavored and oaky to some people, the more liberal descriptions of wine may become. After all, if we each taste something different, the flavor of wine can't really be labeled.

This, of course, also reprises the controversy surrounding ratings, causing all of us to scratch our heads in wine wonderment: if we are all tasting something different, can a wine really be rated? A Pinot Noir, for instance, may be a 91 to some people, but a 19 to others. A Chardonnay may receive laudation from some, but criticism from many. A Merlot may taste like the greatest grape of all to one person, and cooking wine to another.

Stepping a tad further into the vineyard, one could even go as far to argue that wine ratings make people with different taste patterns question their ability to properly taste wine. If a wine is given a 90 by someone with odor-receptors turned "on," it probably won't taste like a 90 to someone with a different taste pattern. Should this person feel like less of a connoisseur just because they think a so-called 90 point wine tastes like a 70, at best? Should they be looked down on by sommeliers, pointed at and labeled a "Bad taster" or, even worse, Little more than a beer drinker? Of course not. After all, they are tasting something entirely different. To them, a 90 point wine may taste flat, sour, or, perhaps, just like chicken.