Outtakes on how we taste wine (or don’t)

Some stories are especially fun to research and write. Like this one, about the sensory aspects of wine, how being in planes or a loud restaurant, or listening to music, might affect our perceptions of what we’re drinking.

As often happens, especially with a cool topic, I ended up with waaaaaay more material than I could use. Ergo, here are some outtake highlights:

Andrea1• Andrea Robinson, Delta’s consulting master sommelier, was delighted to learn that, despite the often-adverse effects of tannins and acid on airplanes, she still could recommend wines that weren’t fruit bombs. “There certainly is allure with [jammy domestic wines],” she said. “Even though fruitier wines show well, there are others that do, too, wines that will have achieved roundness and are harmonious. I have luckily had several opportunities to bring in other wines with confidence that they show well.”

• Robinson also discussed the differences between what is served in first class and the cramped confines of what my way better half called “steerage.” It’s about quantity of passengers more than quality of wine. “The volumes that those cabins burn through by virtue of sheer size, we have to be very nimble. Andrea2We tend to go with regions that have a lot of quantity, like southern France, Chile, California. For economy we’re able to offer 187s (small bottles with just over 6 ounces) from the Wente family. We might be the only carrier offering estate-bottled wine in economy.”

• She’s even more delighted that she’s been able to give some passengers a preview of their destination. “The menu that we just launched includes dedicated South American wine selections on Latin American flights.”

• Sensory scientist Steven Orfield decried wine critics “biased by their own knowledge. They believe they know a lot about the Steven2subject and don’t think other factors can affect the tasting experience.” Instead, he noted, we might encounter “masking because of brightness or noise. Every sense can mask another sense. For example, during a nice hot shower, you pinch yourself and you won’t feel as much pain.”

• That’s why being in an environment with a lot of distractions, Orfield added, ” is sort of what children have with an iPad or iPhone: constant interruptions, no adaptation time, and so they never get any zen experiences.” His preference is to “go into a quiet, spiritual restaurant and sit down and have a focus on the meal and the wine. I can often taste more clearly at home, in a quiet place where I can focus on what I’m drinking.”

Steven3• Age matters, Orfield (shown in the world’s quietest room at his Minneapolis lab) said. “As you get older, your senses become less sensitive. Your ability to discriminate is less, your adaptation time gets longer, and the power of interruptions get stronger.”

• So might the type of noise in the setting. “Some studies show that the louder a restaurant is, the more you’ll tend to taste wines that are sweeter, and the more you encounter low-frequency noise, the more you’ll get a bitter taste. With a higher frequency, the wine tastes sweeter.”

Leave a Reply