Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A Little More on Color and Odor Identification
Any day now we are going to get to that second s. But first.........

The effects of color on odor identification were tested under color appropriate, inappropriate, and blindfolded conditions. Subjects made fewer errors in identifying solutions that were colored appropriately (e.g., red-cherry) than in either the blindfolded condition, where there were no color cues, or the inappropriate color condition (e.g., red-lemon). Identification accuracy was greatest for typical odor-color combinations (e.g., red-cherry) compared with appropriate but nontypical odor-color combinations (e.g., red-watermelon). Response latencies were fastest for odors in the appropriately colored solutions. Subjects also rated appropriate color-odor combinations as most pleasant. However, this effect is probably due to the increase in identification accuracy of the appropriately colored solutions. In all three conditions, correctly identified odors were liked more than odors that were not correctly identified. Thus, color is an important perceptual variable in odor identification because it biases subjects toward a color category that facilitates identification if the color is "correct". This ability to identify an odor in turn influences the affective response to the odor. Influence of color on odor identification and liking ratings. Zellner DA, Bartoli AM, Eckard R., Am J Psychol. 1991, 104:547-61.

I hope I'm not coloring anyone's ideas about just how important, and potentially influencial, color can be?

Monday, April 26, 2004

Is Wine Tasting Perceptual Illusion?
(Jeez, we haven't been given the second S, and he's already coming up with this stuff!) Sorry!! But.....

Take 54 undergraduates from the Faculty of Oenology of the University of Bordeaux give them a white wine W (AOC Bordeaux 1996) containing semillion and sauvignon grapes and a red wine R (AOC Bordeaux 1996) containing cabernet sauvignon, also give them a list of odor descriptors and ask them to pick which descriptor is most intensely presented in each wine. Allow them to provide their own odor descriptors as well. One week later invite them back and give them the list they personally determined that described the wines (i.e. their individual list of chosen descriptors for the two wines) and ask them to apply those descriptors to two glasses of wine, wine W from the previous week and wine WR which is wine W colored red with purified grape anthocyanins (previously determined not to provide any odor to wine W).

What do you get? Well the number of terms used to describe wine W over the two tasting sessions is very similar. But in the second tasting for wine WR the subjects use many more odor descriptors of red wine than for white wine (about 3 to 1), even though the only difference to wine W is an odorless red color! What is also interesting is that in choosing odor descriptors in the first test they picked words represented by red or dark objects to describe wine R and yellow or clear objects to describe wine W.

OK, no big deal these are kids, albeit the future of the European wine industry. We all know what we are tasting, don’t we? Our tasting descriptors aren’t influenced by color, are they? Well the stimulus for this little test was an analysis done of the words used to describe red and white wine from 4 different sources; 3000 tasting comments by Jaques Dupont in La letter de Gault & Milan, a random selection of 3000 tasting comments from 32,000 in Guide Hachette du vin (a guidebook by a small group of professional tasters), 7000 comments from the Wine Advocate (Yes, Mr Robert Parker, Jr. himself), and 2000 tasting comments from a French winemaker. The most common characteristic was the use of odor descriptors for red or dark colors for red wine and yellow or clear descriptors for white wine.

(Morrot G, Brochet F, Dubourdieu D, The Color of Odors, Brain and Language 79 (2001) 309-320.)

Now, of course, its quite possible that the ODORS in red wine are best described by terms describing red or dark colors. After all who would argue with Mr P’s nose when it comes to wine and especially from Bordeaux? Well there are these 54 students at the Faculty of Oenology of the University of Bordeaux…………!!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Seeing Red
The post for today is not the second of our 5 s’es, but rather a comment on a book I have just started to read. It’s The Accidental Connoisseur by Lawrence Osborne. I’m only through the first chapter, Introduction: A Matter of Taste, and I’m ready to put it aside. Why? Well on page 9 the author states “the human tongue doesn’t vary from individual to individual; its anatomical structures are constant.” Really! I guess Mr. Osborne needs to read the extensive literature on human perceptions of taste and odor in wine. As long ago as 1993 Linda Bartoshuk of the Department of Surgery (Otolaryngology) of Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, wrote “Genetic variation in taste ability occurs across and within species. For example, about 25% of humans are relatively unresponsive to a variety of sweet and bitter compounds (non-tasters) while another 25% are unusually responsive (supertasters). Supertasters have about four times as many taste buds as non-tasters and have smaller and more densely packed fungiform papillae.” (Genetic and pathological taste variation: what can we learn from animal models and human disease? Bartoshuk LM., Ciba Found Symp. 1993;179:251-67.) More information can be found on Tim Jacob’s site. Perhaps even more interesting is Dr Bartoshuk’s criticism of the Tongue Map in the same article; “The study of patients with taste disorders (i.e. 'experiments of nature') suggests that the old tongue maps (e.g. sweet on the tip, bitter on the back) that often appear in textbooks are wrong. If they were correct, severing the taste nerves that innervate the front of the tongue would result in a loss of the ability to taste sweet, etc. This does not occur.” Richard Gawel has an interesting discussion of this.

I'm hoping that Mr Osborne's search for an understanding of taste turns out to be better than his ability to do literature searches.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

'O' well, so much for the Stem
I go to all that trouble of describing how to hold a wine glass using the stem. And what happens? Reidel comes out with a stemless wine glass. Its called the 'O' and its an exact copy of the Reidel Vinum bowl shape, minus the stem. That means you can get the tall Cabernet/Merlot, or the shorter, squatter Pinot/Nebbiolo, or the tiny Chardonnay/Viognier. And once you have those you might as well get the the squat and really fat Burgundy/Montrachet, the much narrower Zin/Riesling/Sauvignon blanc, and the tall and tight Syrah/Shiraz. These glasses are being marketed as ideal for drinkling everyday wines, and even non wine beverages. But why stemless? Well the argument is that they take up less cabinet space and fit more easily into the dishwasher. The second point is probably true, although its not necessarily a good thing to wash wine glasses in detergent, especially if it has an sort of odor. A good wash in hot water and a thorough drying with a lint-free cloth is all that is necessary. As to a stemless glass saving cabinet space! Not unless you stack them and the 'O' does not look like it will take being piled one upon the other.

Nice try Maximilian. That's Maximilian Riedel, an 11th generation Reidel, for whom the 'O' represents his first glass series.