Expert wine ratings irrelevant to majority of wine consumers?


Woman tasting white wineWine experts are more sensitive to tastes than the rest of us, according to researchers, throwing into question whether their recommendations are relevant to most consumers.

“What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different,” said John Hayes, assistant professor, food science, and director of 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?”

Wine critics typically rate wines on a 50-100 point quality scale, noting subtle floral tones or hints of tobacco, but the majority of wine consumers may be biologically unable to discern slight differences between flavors.

“It’s not just learning,” said Hayes. “Experts also appear to differ at a biological level.”

The rating system was developed by wine critic Robert Parker in the 1970s for his publication, The Wine Advocate. Since then, other influential publications have adopted the system or a variant of it.

The researchers compared the ability of wine experts and non-experts to taste propylthiouracil, an odorless chemical used to measure a person’s reaction to bitter tastes. They found that wine experts were significantly more likely to find the chemical more bitter than non-experts, who found it only slightly bitter or tasteless.

“Just like people can be color blind, they can also be taste blind,” said Hayes.

The study was published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.