Thursday, October 21, 2010


Wine Report

Wine writer Jancis Robinson recently reported on a study by Master of Wine Tim Hanni and Dr Virginia Utermohlen, MD, Associate Professor at Cornell University.  The study found that, according to Hanni, "physiology plays a major role in determining wine preferences."  He goes on to say the study showed that "drinkers of wines such as White Zinfandel ... are often the most sensitive tasters."  Hanni says these findings indicate "glaring errors in understanding by the wine industry (which) have led to the disenfranchisement of millions of consumers."

To boil it down, the study shows that traditional thinking on what determines a wine's quality may have to be thrown out the window.  Since your palate is determined by physiology - and thus varies from person to person - it may be that there's no way to say what constitutes a good wine.  One person's Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape is another person's White Zin.  And, if the findings of this study are true, all the criticism that lovers of White Zinfandel have endured for not being "serious" wine drinkers will have to be thrown out the window as well.

In the article, Robinson explains, "Utermohlen and Hanni developed a means of segmenting the wine market into four basic phenotypes - Sweet, Delicate, Smooth and Tolerant - based on physiological and behavioral criteria."  Your assessment of a given wine's perceived quality depends on which of these phenotypes describe your preferences.

Hanni says, "'The industry message to consumers who prefer light, delicate and sweet wines is that they need to become more 'educated' and 'move up' to higher quality wines; ie dry wines.  Our study reveals distinct physiological differences in human sensory anatomy and indicates that the people with the greatest taste sensitivity may well indeed be White Zinfandel drinkers and not the consumers of highly rated, intense red wines.  The industry is guilty of alienating a large segment of consumers who frequently opt for other sweet beverage options or even stop drinking wine altogether."

The message to the wine industry might well be "Hey, those White Zin drinkers aren't a bunch of know-nothings after all!  Better start inviting them to the party."  That might be good advice, since White Zinfandel accounts for around 10% of all supermarket wine sales and supermarket wine sales are said to account for 40% of total U.S. wine sales.

For as long as I've been interested in wine I have said, "The best wine in the world is the one you like best."  A 99-point wine is no good at all if you don't like it.  So drink what you like.  Those wine scores may be coming from someone in a whole different phenotype.

Read Jancis Robinson's article on this study here.

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