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…………!!