Essence of shed snakeskin? Really?

Bringing the romance of vineyard tasting rooms to consumers in the comfort of their own home has been the Traveling Vineyards pillar for over a decade. At a Traveling Vineyard tasting, everyday consumers and wine enthusiasts are encouraged to “taste” wine and let their own palates decide what is right or wrong for them. However, a recent article found consumers are “taste blind” to many of the subtleties of wine in a recent University study. The findings indicate that expert recommendations in wine magazines may be too subtle for average wine drinkers to experience.

“What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different,” said John Hayes, assistant professor at Penn State’s sensory evaluation center. “And, if an expert’s ability to taste is different from the rest of us, should we be listening to their recommendations?”

The Traveling Vineyard free home wine tasting has found over many years that the expert subtleties are indeed hard for the average consumer to identify. Rick Libby, of The Traveling Vineyard notes, “The average consumer palate decision is influenced with a simple pairing of sweet or sour. We’ve found over the years that if consumers are not tasting wine, then most are purchasing based on recommendations, price points and label artwork. Letting their palate make the decision is the best way for a consumer to be completely satisfied with their purchase.”

Will Parker wrote a blog that outlined the recent study.

Wine critics typically rate wines on a 100-point quality scale that incorporates a range of characteristics, including tartness, sweetness and fruitiness, varietal typicity and overall liking, among others. Their descriptions of the wines can be specific, highlighting grapefruit or grassy notes, or the balance of sugar and acid.

However, according to Hayes, average wine consumers probably cannot discern these subtle differences between wines. While prior experience matters, biology seems to play a role. “Statistically, the two groups were very different in how they tasted our bitter probe compound. Just like people can be color blind, they can also be taste blind,” said Hayes. “It’s not just learning, experts also appear to differ at a biological level.”

The research involved two groups. The first made up of professional winemakers, wine writers and wine judges and the second being wine consumers, or non-experts.

The participants in the study sampled an odorless chemical (propylthiouracil) that is used to measure a person’s reaction to bitter tastes. People with acute tasting ability will find the chemical extremely bitter, while people with normal tasting abilities say it has a slightly bitter taste, or is tasteless. The findings, in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, show that wine experts were significantly more likely to find the chemical more bitter than non-experts.

Francis Sanders, Traveling Vineyard Wine Director blends wines for Traveling Vineyard based on a number of factors including, The appearance of the wine in the glass, the nose, both swirled and un-swirled, and the structure of the wine.  Francis firmly believes that the ability to find the finer subtleties in wine is hereditary. Francis can taste shed snakeskin and the essence of quince on any given day.

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