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UCD researchers tip their glasses to role of taste buds

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(from Wine experts seek to make wine industry more consumer friendly)

UC Davis – For consumers around the world picking out a bottle of wine can be nearly as intimidating as the LSAT, but uncertainty may soon be put to rest with the help of research in tasting methodology.

Wine expert Tim Hanni has been on a 20-year long quest to make wine much simpler for consumers with mentors Dr. Michael O’Mahony and Dr. Rie Ishii from UC Davis’s food science and technology department. Hanni was one of the first Americans to become a master of wine, the highest credential attainable in the wine industry – a title that only 279 people hold worldwide.

O’Mahony and Ishii’s research shows that differences or changes in descriptive wording for food and wine can have an immense impact on how culinary judges rank taste during competitions.

The descriptive wording used in the wine industry and how the human brain works to describe metaphors for wine are not congruent, resulting in a lot of people pretending to know and recognize tastes, Hanni said.

Varying amounts of taste buds add more confusion to wine consumers. Ranging between 500 and 10,000 per person, the number of taste buds plays a critical role in personal taste preference.

Depending on the combination of a number of taste buds and personal preference for tastes such as salt and sugar, wine consumers can be divided into four categories: tolerant, sensitive, hyper-sensitive and sweet tasters.

“It’s like you’re at a store that sells hundreds of different styles of shoes, and no shoes fit you because no one has realized that people have different size feet,” Hanni said about the importance of taste bud count.

“Tolerant” tasters have the fewest taste buds, and can typically handle stronger flavors or extreme tasting beers. “Sensitive” tasters are the most adventurous, and have the greatest ability to move from one taste to another.

People with the most taste buds, typically those who add salt to everything are “hyper-sensitive tasters” and those who stick to sweets and those who consider Heineken adventurous are “sweet tasters.”

The upcoming Consumer Wine Awards in Lodi, now in its third year, uses the tasting methodology developed by O’Mahony, Ishii and Hanni. Rather than a panel of professional judges, consumers will decide the winners at the wine awards.

University of Wine founder and Consumer Wine Award co-founder G.M. “Pooch” Pucilowski suggests taking a wine class or swapping wine with fellow enthusiasts to learn more about wine.

“Finding the right wine bottle can be hard and intimidating,” said UC Davis student Thomas Valdez. “My method every time I go down the wine aisle at CVS or World Market is to try something new, and if I like it, I tend to write down the name and year.”

Unbeknownst to most consumers, the bottle shape is an indicator of taste.

“There are only four or five bottle shapes, and most wineries put the same style of wine in the same bottle,” Pucilowski said. “If you learn little tricks [of the industry] you’re off and running.”

Hanni estimates that up to 80 percent of the potential wine market is discouraged from drinking wine because of wine intimidation and uncertainty.

“Our ignorance of taste physiology results in driving people away from wine and toward cocktails instead,” Hanni said. “We’re looking for new ways to train the industry to custom fit certain wines to certain people.”

To find out what kind of taster you are, visit consumerwineawards.com

GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

Written by Gabrielle Grow
Staff Writer
Published on February 9, 2010
Filed under
Campus News

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