Les 5 du Vin

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The phenylthiocarbamide test@DWCC13

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Tim Hanni MW – above and below:


There was no doubt that Tim Hanni MW was the most interesting and engaging speaker at the recent Digital Wine Communicators Conference in Logroño.  We so enjoyed Hanni’s talk that we invested in his new book – ‘Why You Like the Wines You Like – changing the way the world thinks about wine. To date I have only had time to dip into it.


We also tried out the phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) test that Hanni had mentioned during his talk and is also covered in the new book. We licked a small piece of paper that had been impregnated with PTC.  It is thought that 25% of the population find that PTC has no taste, 50% find it ‘somewhat bitter and unpleasant but not that bad’, while 25% ‘immediately found the compound tastes horribly and intensely bitter’. The 25%, who have this violent reaction, have been classified as ‘supertasters’, the 50% in the middle as tasters and the 25%, who have no reaction, have been classified as ‘non-tasters’.

Carole and I both found the substance mildly but not objectionably bitter, whereas Lizzie Shell (Chêne Bleu), who was with us, had a rather stronger reaction. She didn’t, however, find it violently disgusting, so presumably none of us are so-called ‘super-tasters’. Anyway Hanni considers that ‘super-tasters’ is a misnomer. Having lots of receptors on your tongue can be a distraction – too much white noise!

Being able to spot a corked wine is often seen as a commendable attribute and clearly some people are more sensitive to cork taint than others. Is this necessary a good thing? Someone, who has a heightened tolerance of TCA, may be lucky as, providing they find the wine pleasant, they are likely to pour fewer bottles of ‘tainted’ wine down the sink and are less likely to suffer the intense irritation when finding that a treasured bottle is corked. Clearly this doesn’t apply, if you find the wine disappointing/disgusting but are not sure why?

Here we have just one demonstration that our tastes because of what we can taste, through our genetic make-up, as well as our experiences are very different, so implications for the relevance of our tasting notes and wine scores.


Exquisit (left) liscío (right)

Over the past few days I have been tasting red wines from a new glass called liscío and, as a comparison, have been trying the same wine from a Stölzle Exquisit. I have always been rather skeptical about the Riedel approach to the need for a different glass for every different type of wine. I do try to avoid the small Paris goblet and have also tended to move away from the standard ISO glass for tasting and, more particularly, enjoying wine at home or in a restaurant. I now prefer to use larger sized glasses, while avoiding huge glasses better suited to house goldfish or small sharks. The Exquisit are about 8.5 inches high, while the liscío is over 9 inches.

I have been struck by how different the same wine tastes and smells from these two glasses. The Exquisit with its more tapered bowl emphasizes the aromas. On the palate the liscío delivers sweeter fruit, whereas on the Exquisit the acidity and structure are more evident. One could argue that the liscío ‘Parkerizes’ the wine by emphasizing sweet fruit. So if I publish a tasting note do I need to indicate the glass that I used? An added complication bearing in mind that what and how we taste may well be genetically different!

Clive Coates MW has just published a new book – My Favorite Burgundies (University of California Press). Clive lives in Burgundy and is a highly regarded specialist on the region’s wines. I estimate that a good 65%-70% of his 500-page book are tasting notes. Undoubtedly a truly heroic effort but if we are tasting from different glasses and don’t have the same number of receptors on our respective tongues how relevant are these notes? Then, of course, the wines will have evolved further in bottle…

Are we ‘wine critics’ just a deluded species then … may be the liscío glass I thought I was testing was really this!

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Journalistes en vin

15 réflexions sur “The phenylthiocarbamide test@DWCC13

  1. Interesting shape tp your Liscio glass Jim. Have to try tasting with this one !

  2. Probably best done in private!

  3. More serioulsy Jim, I have also been struck by the considerable differences in smell and in taste that one obtains from dufferent glasses and the same wine. Although I also agree about the absurdity (or rather impracticability) of the Riedel approach, ie, one glass par type of wine. Unlesss of course your are very rich with a large house and an in-house cabinet maker to boot. And someone to hand-wash and dry glasses.

    • David. Perhaps it is a question of what style of glass suits your palate or wine preference and sticking with it. The liscío is a very thin, fine glass and despite the manufacturers’ reassurances I worry about drying it up by hand, especially ass it retails at £35 a glass. Jim

  4. How about sticking to your own glass as long as possible, despite it’s name, shape, fabrics ? I’m sure that a MW expert tasting Chambertin in a Duralex (that never breaks) all his life will never change his mind… Joking of course. Except I intend to use the same tasting glass (even traveling) as long as I can so that my benchmarks do not alter that much. It’s like keeping the same mug for your tea ;-)

  5. Always a fascinating topic Jim – and I have to say that I tend to agree with Michel on staying with the same glass. I’ve been using Riedel’s Chianti glass as an all-purpose red wine glass for years, but like you and David, I have doubts about their varietal-specific approach. Also noticed that the Stölzle Exquisit seems to be about the same shape & size as the Riedel Chianti glass. I guess because I too prefer not to Parkerize every wine I taste! ;-)

    • Russell. The Exquisit is a think a little more squat than the Riedel Chianti, which is one of the Riedels that I like. However, at around £28 for six glasses it is substantially cheaper than the Riedel, although the glass is less delicate.

  6. I, for one, prefer to drink out of a crystal bowl. It helps me predict a wine’s future!
    A bit in the Daft Punk’s way, “I’m up all night to get batty”!

    • Luc. How good to hear from you! I’ll admit to becoming a little concerned over your welfare and wondered whether you hadn’t embraced retirement… Thankfully not!

      • Jim, you behave like a mother for me. I’d be concerned, if I were Carole, but she knows better, of course. Maybe the Loire winemakers you are familiar with embrace other habits, but in October and most part of November, I have lots of professional businesses to attend to. This leads to something very similar to Sándor Ferenczi’s combat exhaustion: work overdosis. It took me the expert advice of British cycle racers to overcome it: they sent their pharmacist to Corneilla for two weeks and now I find myself climbing the Mont Ventoux on two wheels much faster than the French government pays ransom money! I can’t wait for the next TDF to head the pack in the yellow shirt myself.
        See, it might be better when I shut up my big mouth.

      • Excellent vintage Charlie! La chasse est déjà terminé?

  7. The dark side of Léon… Luc is dressed in black now :-)

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