Wine Talk

Snooth User: shsim

Wine Experts' Palates 'More Sensitive than Others', Study Finds

Posted by shsim, Mar 6, 2012.

Wine Experts' Palates 'More Sensitive than Others', Study Finds

Results suggest expert opinions may be irrelevant to consumers

March 6, 2012 — A new study found that wine experts might be more sensitive to taste than average wine consumers, according to Penn State Live.

According to John Hayes, director of Penn State University’s sensory evaluation center, an average wine consumer’s biological inability to pick up on the subtleties tasting experts can easily identify might make expert recommendations irrelevant to the masses.

In the study, both wine experts and non-experts tasted an odorless chemical called propylthiouracil, used to measure one’s reaction to bitterness. Researchers found that wine experts were much more likely to identify the chemical as bitter than the non-experts. Hayes said this difference in tasting ability could be attributed to biological factors.

 

NOW then.

So what do the consumers do now? Do we try more wines to refine our palates ? Leading to the question, can palates be refine? If not, we should just stick to the simple wines that we enjoy and are not expensive. Why get the expensive complex bottles when you cannot taste the complexity? So what happens to the expensive stuff? Reserved for only wine experts or people who think they are or those who are willing to spend or a combination of those?

Well first we have to question the science. How valid and is it reproducible? If it is, then likely it speaks reality. But if not, us consumers have a chance of experiencing the complexity of wines. Maybe. Depending on our biological attributes of how good our palate is. Then I wonder how food comes into play with those who eat a variety of food. What about asian spiciness which is said to kill the palate as a kind of pain? Do people who go through that have no chance of recovery?

Guess I will never appreciate 2009 Chatau Latour like RP.   

1 2 next

Replies

190
235
Reply by shsim, Mar 6, 2012.

In 1931, Synder L. H did a published his work in Science confirmed a previous study that certain persons apparently have no ability to taste para-ethoxy-phenyl-thio-urea (PROP)-bitterness and it is genetic due to a single recessive genes. The proportion of so called 'super tasters' to those with taste deficiency is roughly 70-30 according to his study. If anyone is interested in the paper, you can find it on science, or just shoot me an email.

Also there are plenty of other scientific papers that are trying to see what it means for the people with the recessive genes and without. People without are more able to taste apparently but I have not read through the rest of the papers as thoroughly.

41
3012
Reply by outthere, Mar 6, 2012.

Nah, they're just better BSers.

20
6658
Reply by dmcker, Mar 6, 2012.

This story's been circulating for a couple of weeks now and keeps getting picked up by different media organs and bloggers. There is something to say for the 'supertaster' phenomenon, which I've clearly, undeniably seen in action before. There's also a lot to be said for memory, and the patience to take the time to recognize a difference that your memory will provide a name for, whether it's a flavor or a specific region and grape and winery.

All that being said, winewriters (and even plain ol' tasters) have been known to have an agenda or two...  ;-)

0
3009
Reply by gregt, Mar 6, 2012.

It's a nonsense study that gets repeated every so often.  Who are "experts"? People who work in the biz? People who call themselves experts?

Then what about learning?  Take the average tone-deaf American who can sit thru "American Idol".  The people can't sing in tune and the judges are so clueless they don't know so they invent a word called "pitchy".  Can't tell if it's sharp or flat of course.  Give that judge or average Joe some basic ear training and suddenly they'll listen with new ears.  They'll be able to tell that this or that performer is off key. 

Same with wine.  I've had bright people tell me that "it all tastes the same."  Then you point out the dif between this one and that. And you give them words to talk about it. Anyone can learn to taste, just like anyone can learn to hear.

190
235
Reply by shsim, Mar 6, 2012.

yea this story is huge.. every media is picking it up. I wonder how that will affect the wine trade and peoples opinions about 'expert' opinions. And dmcker, I do agree with you that there are all those components that make a wine expert an expert.

GregT, i would not call it nonsense. The actual study itself does not call anyone expert and they just define people who are more sensitive to taste PROP-tasters (they taste the bitter chemical PROP very well) and non-tasters. So they are not calling anyone experts. They just happened to group the people at a winetasting event into two groups. It can be bias in that sense. But statistics says alot although there are always outliers and the statistics they did, they could have more samples (1000 samples is the best for statistical reasons). It is actually the media that conveyed the implications of the studies not the study itself. So it is actually pretty valid. And if you care to read other peer-reviewed papers about the topic since 1931, there are plenty to show that this genetic, recessive genes thing is indeed true and some people are more sensitve to taste than others. 

It is a nature vs nurture question right? which I asked. if one can be trained even if one possess the recessive gene. So we know the genetic part about tasting bitterness but we do not know if a person can be trained. The problem I have with this is that, the studies have traditionally and still focus more on bitterness, alcohols and sweetness. So what about others? Also, another thing is that if one has the recessive genes, how can you train to taste something that you cannot actually taste? Are you then guessing?

Just some thoughts.

190
235
Reply by shsim, Mar 7, 2012.

I just came upon some papers on how people twig their genotype by making themselves learn about certain things.. like making our bodies get used to alcohol by introducing alcohol and then it learn how to detoxify your body of alcohol. In a sense, yea, our genes does not necessarily determines what happens. But then, if you already have a certain genes, you are better inclined at doing something than another without.. but that is where hard work come in, you make your body learn. There are also research that shows that hard work can go only that far though and in alot of ways, i do agree with that.. you cannot really fight 10000 years of evolution. It is like a person who is gifted in music, to use your example GregT, they can do so much more. It is truly incredible.

0
3009
Reply by gregt, Mar 7, 2012.

But that's not what the study said. They actually did in fact call one group "experts".

"What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different," said John Hayes, assistant professor, food science, and director of Penn State's sensory evaluation center.

There are obviously genetic differences between us that make it difficult to go from the general to the specific.  But if we're going to draw general conclusions from the specific, which is what science does, we should be able to justify all of our assumptions going in.  And what they did was take a self-selected group of "experts", check the sensitivity of the group to PROP, and state that the recs of the group may not be relevant to the public at large.

"The subjects also completed a short questionnaire regarding willingness to try new foods, alcoholic beverages, and wines as well as level of wine involvement, which was used to classify each one as a wine expert (n = 111) or a wine consumer (n = 220)."

I'm not sure what the study tells us other than what we already know. Some people are more or less sensitive to PROP. Is that to be extrapolated to other tastes?  As far as I know, and I'm not a physiologist, the sensitivity is to a specific molecule that is picked up by specific receptors we have. Are those individuals more or less sensitive to sweet or salty flavors?

Moreover, it's not clear what the relevance is.  Due to the specific physical make up of your rods, cones, and nerves, you may see the color blue as something that I might consider more green, or vice versa.  There's no way we can ever know that but it makes sense that the color sensitivity of some people is different from that of others. But we'd both be talking about the same thing, although we'd both be experiencing that thing in our own individual ways.  For example, my wife is hyper sensitive to flavors, has extra taste buds, and hates bitterness. So last night I opened a bottle of wine and thought it had slightly dry, but young and ripe tannins. She agreed completely and then opened something else since she couldn't drink it.

The point is only that you can compare experiences, even though they're not going to be identical. In the case of the music, I wasn't referring to gifted people.  You don't have to be Mozart. I was just suggesting that the average Joe can learn enough to make him more acutely aware of things. And in the case of "experts", we're in a whole nother world. One of the most fundamental flaws with these kinds of tests isn't that there is no truth to what they're "finding", it's that they're not really finding it with the methods they use, especially insofar as said methods involve self-reporting. 

It's true that "wine experts" describe wines as having all kinds of flavors and aromas.  Do they really really really find them?  I know plenty of so called experts and I have to say, I really doubt it. But as long as we're speaking about wine and economics, here's a link that offers a nice perspective!  Enjoy.  Cheers!

http://wine-economics.org/journal/content/Volume2/number2/Full%20Texts/richardquandt.pdf

 

 

190
235
Reply by shsim, Mar 7, 2012.

GregT, yea, you are right about that statement, I did not read that part carefully. The difference with this study and the rest is that they showed that the so called 'experts' (the people in the trade- so not everyone is actually an 'expert' however one defines it) are more sensitive to PROP and the rest statistically less. I did not read the statistics part of their paper.. but I also wonder how significant are the difference. And they have done studies on whether PROP tasters are more or less sensitive to sweetness and alcohol. What I gather from the studies is that yes they are more sensitive. However, they can still learn to enjoy higher alcohol content beverage etc (acquired taste?). Well, guess i will have to read more to learn more! 

I do agree with you about everyone having different experiences from the same thing. That is why wine tasting is subjective and you find people who have the same palate to share your wines with. We do not taste the same thing and also we have preference for some flavors more than others. I mentioned before that even if a wine is given 100 pts by an expert, one might not think its good. I always wonder about the points system, because sometimes I just dont believe something is 93 points. But then, what do I know. 

Haha I ask that question too. I look at the description of a wine, try it and wonder about whether blueberries are really something I taste. You are spot on about there are no real truth about what they are tasting. But when you get a whole bunch of them tasting a series of the same things, you start to wonder again, oh so how did they do that? I doubt they copied notes. Haha or maybe it is a conspiracy.

You know, whatever it is, we all enjoy wines in our own way. I enjoy my wines just fine and I am sure you guys too! I am glad to talk about this though because I am an amateur wanting to learn from people with more experience! Cheerios!

 

0
3009
Reply by gregt, Mar 7, 2012.

All good points. I've been tasting for a long time and I always wonder how the hell someone sitting next to me is finding graphite and "white flowers" and whatever.  I mean, people actually talk like they taste color!! 

Anyhow, I hope you know I wasn't picking at you at all.  Or even the study, because it's interesting on its own, I just don't know that they can claim anything about expertise or experts.  It may be, as suggested, that the people who are interested in wine and/or food self-select because they have heightened sensitivities to flavors and aromas. But at this point, there are ample opportunities for everyone to taste plenty and learn on their own. Best!

190
235
Reply by shsim, Mar 8, 2012.

Hahaa definitely. I never understood what all those meant too.

Nahh, it is great to hear different opinions! It is a good exercise to understand each point of view. I definitely enjoy good science and reading more about it. Yea, they just wanted to see if there was any statistically significant difference between them I guess. It is probably true though that people who are in the trade know alot more about wines in general than the usual consumer. Although that does not make them experts.

Haha agreed! I cannot wait to taste my first Chianti for the Sangiovese GTI! :-D

20
6658
Reply by dmcker, Mar 9, 2012.

Steve Heimhoff has his yea and nay sayers, but he nails one problem with this study: consumers (and even expert 'peers') will always look to figures of authority for guidance, particularly in complex markets. This is a central pillar of modern-day marketing and PR. Hell, why does something like Snooth exist, anyway?  ;-)

 

From Heimhoff's March 8 blog posting:

I wasn’t going to write about this study when I first read about it 2 weeks ago. My first impression was that it was really stupid, and didn’t seem worth writing about. But it’s gained a lot of traction, not just in wine blogs but the national media and overseas as well. So it’s time to add my two cents.

To summarize the study: “Wine experts’ recommendations are of no use to most drinkers because their [i.e. 'most drinkers'] palates are not sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtle flavours,” as the subhead of The Telegraph [London] put it. “The fundamental taste ability of an expert is different,” explained one of the study’s authors, John Hayes, which surely is incontrovertible. But then he extrapolated from that a statement that is wildly misleading, and fails to grasp the essential truth of why people listen to experts in the first place: “And, if an expert’s ability to taste is different from the rest of us, should we be listening to their recommendations?”

Hayes may be a college professor, but he doesn’t understand the role of experts in a complex consumer culture. The consumer is overwhelmed with choice. Want bread? A hundred brands. A car? Scores of manufacturers and models. A DVD player? Smart phone? Even salt now comes in a range of colors and salinity. Going to the movies this Saturday night? There’s probably 50 different flicks playing within ten miles of my house. And don’t even get me started about wine. Thousands of bonded wineries in the U.S. alone, not to mention imports, and most of those wineries produce a whole bunch of different wines, sometimes even of the same variety.

This is where experts come in. Experts are modern-day America’s gurus, shamans and soothsayers. We read the entrails of the slain beast and interpret them. This isn’t in a religious or spiritual sense, obviously; but the first humans “invented” priests because they needed somebody to interpret the vast, confusing world around them and help guide them through it. Religion evolved from that.

If the world of our primitive ancestors was confusing, ours is beyond confusing. So we too have “priests” to help us get through without falling or failing or getting hurt or (in this case) spending money on junk. We read or listen to film critics we trust because we don’t want to shell out ten bucks on a piece of crap. (At least, I don’t.) We trust restaurant critics because if we’re going to eat out, we want to be as assured as we can be in advance that we’re going to like the place. And, Mr. Hayes, people listen to wine critics because they want and need all the help they can get in making that selection.

The reason we trust critics, be they film, restaurant or wine, is precisely because “their fundamental ability is different.” Duh! If an expert’s ability in his or her field isn’t different and better than everybody else’s, he wouldn’t be much of an expert, would he? And nobody would listen to him. So to say that “We shouldn’t be listening to a wine critic’s recommendations because his ability is different from ours” not only misses the entire point, it’s beyond dumb.

 

He again states the obvious, something we've dealt with in several threads here in the Snooth forum, by saying:

"There’s also a phenomenon in the news business where, if you put out a study, chances are it’s going to get a lot of articles written about it. News organizations have an insatiable appetite for content. I’m sure Professor Hayes knew his study would be spread around the English-speaking world for 15 minutes or so."

 

Duh. But then he follows up with:

"Fine, but I would hate to think that anyone is going to take home the implied message that “A study proves that the evaluations of experts are meaningless and their word is no better than yours or anyone else’s.” That’s true in the strict moral sense (you’re entitled to your beliefs) but it’s not true if you think that a non-expert’s evaluation of a wine is as good as an expert’s. It’s not. We do live in a culture that increasingly questions the concept of “expert” as elitist..."

 

OK, Greg(s)... I'm waiting!   ;-)

75
2762
Reply by JonDerry, Mar 9, 2012.

I think Greg mainly questions authority in general more than thinking it elitist...

There was a comment on GDP's article of the top 10 sangiovese producers, requesting a downloadable pdf of his recommendations to help with shopping for wine. Now that's a great idea for Greg and Snooth to help solidify their authority.

20
6658
Reply by dmcker, Mar 9, 2012.

I wasn't commenting on all the points made by Greg and sshim, who've been the main forces in this thread, but rather looking at it from an angle I've been grappling with professionally for the last year and a half in another lifestyle context than wine. Most people feel most comfortable with 'authority' figures in their life who can simplify their lives by helping them navigate through tricky waters, whether economic or otherwise. Better yet if that authority can, besides opening eyes (and gullets), provide some edge of coolness or the esoteric that many others can't access, at least as quickly.

To your other point, Jon, there was also a comment, in that 'forum improvements' thread I started, requesting 'printable' versions. PDF solves both problems....

0
3009
Reply by gregt, Mar 9, 2012.

Steve makes a point. Not always my favorite writer, but I think he's right that people look to others for advice.  "Authority" can be someone more experienced, not necessarily "expert", although a lot of that hinges on how one defines "expert".

But it's even simpler than that.  Parker and the WS have both written on occasion that one role of a critic is ismply to start a conversation.  Put a stake in the ground, announce "this is what I think", and generate discussion. It's why people post their thoughts on Twitter and Facebook and places like Snooth. That of course, argues that in fact, we pay attention to people who are no more expert than you and I and then it's not true that "If an expert’s ability in his or her field isn’t different and better than everybody else’s, he wouldn’t be much of an expert, would he? And nobody would listen to him. "

In fact, people listen to non-experts all the time.  Look at all those food and performance reality shows on TV and listen to sportscasters and talk show hosts, particularly those like Oprah.  Millions listened to her and what was her expertise? It's why I questioned the def of "expert" earlier.

BTW  - while he has some valid points, he destroys his credibility as a gustatory arbiter with this: "Want bread? A hundred brands". 

Brands?  Bread?  Sigh. If people buy brands of bread and actually put that into their mouths, they really do have no taste.

190
235
Reply by shsim, Mar 9, 2012.

Hmm Steve definitely has a point there. Although I have to agree with GregT with the expert part by making another point. There a plenty of people who claim they are experts at something but are actually not exactly what we think they are, 'experts'. And I agree that ' "Authority" can be someone more experienced, not necessarily "expert", although a lot of that hinges on how one defines "expert".' I am not a food expert but enjoys eating and trying new places /recipes alot. And my friends ask me for recommendations all the time. Perhaps the general thought about an 'expert' is a person that actually works in the trade? It is not exactly a good definition but it works in that we expect people who work in that trade to know alot about it. Although that is not always true.

Haha about bread. I might be wrong but clearly not everyone turn to experts for their selection because they rather try it out themselves or rely on friends who they know have the same taste. Alot of times people tend to ask around for who have tried something and has good reviews. Word of mouth is a powerful thing and you dont need no expert there! It applies for wine too!

75
2762
Reply by JonDerry, Mar 9, 2012.

I like the whole putting a stake in the ground analogy, think it's a good stance to come from. With how much the average person works these days, simplification, or at least some kind of guide becomes a necessity for most.

Regarding Greg questioning authority, that was a nod to a couple of the DIY cellartracker "superstars" that have been brought up recently.

20
6658
Reply by dmcker, Mar 9, 2012.

Clarify your second paragraph in the post before this, Jon, please.

North America, and to a lesser extend western Europe, are cultures where that stake planting is most popular. Even there, though, authorities make their appearance (even if they're not authorities but just celebrities adding their cachet to a brand, in some of the silliest instances) as a way to make consumers more comfortable with a product. But in other cultures, it can get to the point where authorities of a certain caliber aren't even to be questioned, and can thus more easily guide consumers to the cash register.

You do realize, of course, that another part of reality-ish shows where non-experts make fools of themselves is that it adds to that comfort because viewers can feel superior... ;-)

And I'm with you on the bread. However, that's a luxury where you live, and also not always an option in other cultures.

75
2762
Reply by JonDerry, Mar 9, 2012.

Not sure which point you mean, or if there was much of one. The DIY superstars referenced are Jennings and Leve.

Alternatively, I hadn't heard of the idea for Snooth to come out with downloadable PDF's until I noticed a comment in the top 10 Sangiovese producers article. Whoever came up with it, just would like to see Snooth do this. Of course, that might mean more success for Snooth, and more traffic to the forum.

20
6658
Reply by dmcker, Mar 9, 2012.

I'd guessed who you meant, just wasn't sure exactly what you are saying regarding Greg's intent regarding them. I haven't seen as many Leve notes as Jenning's, but I find the latter's remarkably unsatisfying. Too many attempted TNs means too little meaningful content, I guess.

0
1
Reply by Citizen Sane, Mar 9, 2012.

I think, for this study to be valid and actually mean something, they would need to test the palates of these people before they got into wine as well.  It is my experience that one's palate develops over time and with repetition.  It's just like with anything, including food.  Not to say that some people are more sensitive to certain flavors than others.  But to say that one cannot develop an ability to differentiate between subtle flavors that are mostly dictated by the sense of smell anyway is bunk.

1 2 next



Continue to the end of the thread to reply
Back to Categories

Top Contributors This Month

125836 Snooth User: dmcker
125836dmcker
72 posts
324443 Snooth User: outthere
324443outthere
51 posts
847804 Snooth User: EMark
847804EMark
35 posts

Categories

View All




Snooth Media Network