Mythmaking and wine palates

wine palates, super tasters

Do you have to be a super taster to enjoy wine?

The latest research seems to confirm the newest trend in wine — that some of us are better at tasting wine than others. The study, conducted by researchers at Penn State and Brock University in Canada, found that the so-called experts can taste subtleties in wine that the rest of us can’t.

This is just another in a long line of studies about wine palates that separate the world into people with various degrees of wine tasting ability. A Yale scientist, Linda Bartoshuk, divides the world into three groups: Super tasters, about 25 percent of the population; tasters, about 50 percent; and non-tasters, about 25 percent. The first group is above average, the second is average, and the third is below average.. Women are a little more than twice as likely to be super tasters as men, according to her work.

The Wine Curmudgeon is not here to argue with the science behind this research. There is little doubt some of us taste wine better than others, just as some of us jump higher or dance better than others. But what does bother me is the assumption too many people take from these studies, and especially from the news reports of these studies — that if you’re not a super taster, you can’t possibly enjoy wine.

I was quite possibly the worst softball player in the world. I couldn’t throw, my swing was slow and powerless, and I ran like a cardboard box. But I loved playing softball, whether it was in gym class or recreational leagues. Yet, by applying the logic that is inherent in so many of these stories about wine tasting ability, I should not only should not have enjoyed softball, but I never should have played it because I was so bad at it.

This is silly, and it’s one of those things that drives me crazy about wine — and goes a long way toward explaining why more of us don’t drink wine. Why bother to drink wine when we’re told only an expert can appreciate its flavors? It’s more or less what this story implies, and I run into it almost every time I talk to wine drinkers about drinking wine.

The first two things most of them do is apologize for not knowing more about wine and for drinking what they assume is crappy wine. Then they ask me how I can possibly taste all the flavors in wine; I must be special or something. (Obviously, they never saw me play softball.)

In other words, they are intimidated by my wine knowledge. That I have been drinking wine regularly for more than 25 years doesn’t make them feel better. Or that I taste almost 500 wines a year. Or that I talk to winemakers and other wine types all the time, asking questions and learning things. The consumer side of the wine business is so screwed up that most wine drinkers don’t see a difference between how I approach wine and how they approach it. That they only buy wine a couple or three times a month at the grocery store isn’t enough to explain why I know more than they do. It must be their fault; they must be flawed in some way.

Their only flaw, as my pal Dave McIntyre has admirably pointed out, is that they don’t pay as much attention as we do. But they have a ready made excuse. They myth, as perpetuated by the experts and their allies in the Winestream Media, is that that they can’t possibly appreciate what they’re drinking.

Or, as a wine drinker named Allison Davis put it so brilliantly last fall: “There is no safe place to really learn about wine. There aren’t any places where you can ask a stupid question. If you ask a question, it’s as if the attitude is, ‘Why don’t you know this already?’ instead of ‘Why would you know this?’ Because wine is so complicated, and there is so much to learn and who has the time to figure all this out?”

So they don’t bother. After all, they don’t have a good enough palate.

One day, perhaps, the wine business will figure out that everyone is entitled to enjoy wine, regardless of palate. Until then, I’ll keep reminding everyone that wine, like softball, can be fun regardless. And who better to know than someone who ran like a cardboard box?

One thought on “Mythmaking and wine palates

  • By Milpa -

    My wife’s palate is much better than mine. Yet, she enjoys drinking white Zinfandel from Beringer’s only (as a daily wine). I won’t touch the stuff but my palate might be able to tell the difference between an 80 and 90 point wine. Just because you have a good palate does not mean you will only enjoy great wines. Even though I can’t discriminate as well as she does, doesn’t mean I don’t prefer a great wine.

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