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.
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!