Is an ability to taste wine come from our DNA? A new study has concluded that certain individuals are born with a heightened sensitivity that gives them the edge when it comes to tasting wine.
“Wine Expertise Predicts Taste Phenotype,” by Profs. John Hayes and Gary Pickering separated over 300 participants into two groups—”wine experts,” (professionals in the wine industry), and regular consumers—and gave them a paper disk treated with drops of the chemical 6-n-propylrhioueacil (PROP). They were then asked to taste it.
Some people find PROP tasteless, and others mildly or extremely bitter. The Professors wrote that PROP testing “…has been widely adopted as a marker of genetic variation in taste” and that some recent studies showed “…those who experience PROP as being intensely bitter not only experience heightened overall oral sensation, but also may be more acute tasters, with the ability to discriminate smaller differences between oral stimuli.”
Hayes and Pickering conclude that the differences in PROP sensitivities between wine experts and non-experts “may suggest a possible discordance in judgments of quality and value between the two groups”—that wine experts have a naturally different sense of taste than the consumers they serve. Because of this, “wine consumers may wish to apply additional caution in adopting wine expert endorsements,” the authors wrote.
François Chartier, author of Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine and Flavor thinks the study is a load of old bollocks (my words, not his): “…this only means that some [experts] are potential supertasters of PROP, nothing more. Everyone has a nose and a tongue. If you work hard on aroma recognition and on taste, you will become a good taster,” he said.
Yeah, I’m not exactly on-board with this study. I don’t think I’m the best wine taster in the world, but I’m probably “better” (however you want to define that) than 99% of the general public. This has only come through experience.
A scientist I am not, but I do agree that people are sometimes born with varying degrees of taste perception. I would also say that anyone can be taught to become a better wine taster. Some people are great tasters, but have a problem putting their thoughts into words. Some people are mediocre tasters, but BS through a wine tasting to make others believe their palate is superior.
I’ll end on a random note…
To disprove the myth that wine tasters are born, I’d love to take a “good ‘ole boy” who doesn’t know the difference between a Cabernet and a Chardonnay and turn him into a fully-fledged “wine taster.” I think it’d make for really good TV!