IN JANUARY I participated in a wine trade panel discussion regarding taste and sensory evaluation, where the focus was on evaluating wines and ratings,among other things. . . .
For my part, I was asked to discuss how we at Wine Spectator taste and critique wines and how we finally hang a number on a wine and what it means to us. . . .
For me, the 100-point scale is a pleasure scale and its beauty lies in its simplicity, since most of us know from our school days that getting a 90 means you earned an A-, and that getting an 88 means you earned a B+ and so on. . . .
But I cautioned that I wouldn't beand don't recommend that consumers bea slave to the numbers. . . .
Use them as a general guide and a handy reminder, but ultimately you should never rely on someone else's palate to determine what you like or don'tlike. . . .
TWO THUMBS DOWN from Siskel & Ebert aren't going to stop me from going to see the next Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood or Chevy Chase movie. . . .
I use critics as guides for movies and restaurants, but I'm going to see the film and taste the food myself before I make up my mind. . . .
At one point during the discussion, I mentioned the fact that many people don't have good taste and I wasn't talking about those who dress poorly. . . .
There are people who simply don't have very sensitive taste buds and I've learned this from many Wine Spectator readers over the years who've written or told me about their problems relating to taste. . . .
BECAUSE THEY DON'T have sensitive taste buds many of these people rely heavily on ratings because their spouses and/or friends like wine and they like to pour wines that have a lot of flavor, depth and character. . . .
These are the kinds of people who might be totally reliant on ratings for advice because they're unable to distinguish the subtle flavor nuances in wines that people with more sensitive palates pick up on. . . .
Moments after I mentioned this, the next speaker, Dr. Jacqueline Beckley, a sensory expert for Nabisco, spoke and one of the first things she said was that I was rightmany people don't have sensitive taste buds. . . .
According to her research, about 25 percent of the population fits into this category, a surprisingly high number, I thought. . . .
JUST LAST WEEK, a new study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science was published indicating there are three categories of tasters out therethe non-taster, the average taster and the supertaster. . . .
A single gene may determine who is a supertaster, a mere taster or a non-taster. The study indicates that about one-fourth of the population are non-tasters and another 25 percent are supertasters, with a majority of latter being women. . . .
Genetic supertasters, the study says, react much more intensely than others to sweeteners, bitterness and the creamy sensation of fat in food. . . .
Supertasters find the caffeine in coffee more bitter and seem to eat fewer so-called "cruciform" vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, which to them taste super bitter. . . .
SUPERTASTERS ALSO FIND alcohol more distasteful and some evidence suggests non-tasters. . . .
One survey of women, for instance, found that supertasters tend to be a little slimmer and have lower overall cholesterol in their blood as well as a better ratio of good cholesterol to bad. . . .
No one is sure why, although one possibility is that when supertasters taste food it tastes so good they don't need to eat more. . . .
Male supertasters tend to like more fat and sugar in their foods, according to the research, while female supertasters do notfor reasons unknown. . . .
Scientists identify supertasters by putting a small quantity of a chemical called PROP (for 6-n-propylthiouracil) on people's tongues. Supertasters find it intensely bitter. . . .
AVERAGE TASTERS FIND it somewhat bitter and non-tasters taste nothing at all. . . .
While PROP is not easy to find, you can do a rough simulation at home using a drop of ordinary blue food dye, a standard gummed reinforcing ring used to strengthen the holders in binder paper and a magnifying glass, according to researchers. . . .
Just put the ring on the tongue near its tip (but not on the tip), dab some blue dye in the hole in the middle, remove the ring and count the tiny pink circles amid the blue background, says Linda Bartushuk, an experimental psychologist at Yale University. . . .
If there are more than 40, the person is probably a supertaster; between 20 and 40, a taster; and under 20 a non-taster. . . .
THIS HELPS EXPLAIN why some peopleyes, childrenfind some vegetables so awful, while others think they're pretty good. . . .
Genetically, Bartushuk said, it would be common for parents who are both average tasters to have kids who fit into any of the three categories. . . .
It apparently takes two supertaster genesone from each parentto be a supertaster oneself, while one gene makes a person a taster and no genes creates a non-taster. . . .
Now you know that when someone says they have no taste they really mean it. . . .
I DECIDED TO administer the test to myself with the help of my wife and we followed the steps accordingly, with my wife counting more than 40 tiny rings on the tip of my tongue. . . .
Next we tried the test on her and she had far more rings50 or morebut I already knew she had good taste. . . .
Now it's your turn, so give it a try and let me know how yours turned out, even if there are fewer rings than you'd hoped for. . . .
E-mail your test results to firstname.lastname@example.org. . . .
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