"Can't we just get rid of wine lists? Do we really have to be reminded every time we go out to a nice restaurant that we have no idea what we are doing? Why don't they just give us a trigonometry quiz with the menu?"-Jerry Seinfeld
Enophiles may whine, but a new study in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture suggests that average folks have little use for expert wine commentary. And it's not because they're philistines, either—the taste buds of ordinary people may simply be less sensitive.
The study measured the ability to taste propylthiouracil, or PROP, a chemical whose bitter flavor can be detected only by certain people. Before the experiment, the participants were been split into two groups: "wine experts," including sommeliers, wine writers and viticulturists, and "non-experts," which included everyone else. The researchers found that the experts were "significantly more likely to find the chemical more bitter."
So if you get confused when a sommelier comes to your table to talk about bouquet, body and mouthfeel, it may be because the two of you detect taste differently.
"Just like people can be color blind, they can also be taste blind," study co-author John Hayes, food scientist and director of Penn State's sensory evaluation center, said in a written statement.
Interestingly, the authors wrote in the study, people who gravitate toward the wine industry may do so because of their taste bud "superpower."
"Supertasting," which sensitivity to PROP may indicate, is a condition that gives people far greater ability to taste than average. It is associated with higher-than-usual numbers of fungiform papilla, mushroom-shaped projections on the tongue that contain taste buds. Being a supertaster may seem like fun, but there are downsides; Smithsonian Magazine notes that "Some scientists have speculated that supertasters don't eat enough bitter vegetables, which are believed to protect against various types of cancer."