08 Mar 12 Wine experts: what good are they to us ordinary drinkers?
A study has found that specialist oenophiles have a much more acute sense of taste than the rest of us – and it may even be in the genes. And thus the findings raise this question: just how useful are their judgements for ordinary wine lovers? According to a report in The Telegraph, the findings mean that apparently even over-the-top descriptions of wine by critics such as “pear drops”, “liquorice” or even “rubber” may not be wrong just because ordinary people cannot taste them.
It could simply be that their palate experiences the flavour of a wine in a completely different way. Researchers suggested that the findings may call into question the whole raison d’etre of wine experts.
Prof John Hayes, director of Pennsylvania State University’s sensory evaluation centre, said: “What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different.
“And, if an expert’s ability to taste is different from the rest of us, should we be listening to their recommendations?”
Taste tests found 110 wine experts showed more sensitivity to tastes than 220 average consumers. Participants sampled an odourless chemical – propylthiouracil – that is used to measure a person’s reaction to bitter tastes.
People with normal tasting abilities tend to the find the chemical either tasteless or slightly bitter but wine experts, endowed with a more acute palate, were significantly more likely to find it extremely bitter than non-experts, according to the findings published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.
Evidence that experts taste wine in such a different way may mean that the 100-point quality scale used by critics – incorporating characteristics such as tartness, sweetness and fruitiness – is pointless for ordinary consumers.
Specific descriptions of wines, such as having grapefruit or grassy notes, or the balance of sugar and acid, may also be too subtle for most drinkers.
Scientists say that while prior experience matters, biology appears to play a role.
Previous studies have shown biological factors may explain the acute taste of experts. Many may be drawn to careers in the wine industry based on their enhanced ability to taste. While learning plays a role in their expertise and other factors matter, such as how they communicate their thoughts and opinions on wines, some may have an innate advantage in learning to discern small differences in wine.
Professor Hayes said: “It is not just learning. Experts also appear to differ at a biological level.”
Source: The Telegraph