If I like Sweet Wine Do I Have an Immature Palate?

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Image attributed to Von Vino

Ever wonder why you loved Twinkies and moon pies when you were younger and, now they taste way too sweet? When I was a kid I used to hate anything bitter, now I eat brussels sprouts and kale. What happened?

Your perception of taste changes as you physically mature and you rewire your brain through experiences. From birth up to around the age of ten or eleven humans are slow growing mammals. As children, we put “things” in our mouth that can kill us. So we are all more hypersensitive to bitter and sour to help us stay alive. Remember poisons are bitter and acids are sour. It is not genetically adaptive to eat poison, and acids can literally burn your throat. Some children are born more sensitive than the rest of us.

As you grow older you physically “mature”. Taste sensitivity tends to change with age depending on the unchanging number of taste buds you were born with and secondarily your positive and negative associative memories that come from what you experience.

Twenty thousand years ago humans lived in “food scarce” environments. This means they ate whenever they could find something to eat. The genes didn’t change much in 20,000 years. While you body is growing your brain recognizes simple carbohydrates (sugar) as “cheap energy”. So we tend to like to eat sweet things while our bodies are still growing. Sugar has only been cheap and plentiful for a few hundred years.

You reach physical maturity around twenty-five (some of us younger some older). When your body is fully grown your preferences for the taste sweet things can change. If you associate sweet foods with pleasure that tends to keep the preference going. If you have 11,000 taste buds, you like sweet wines because the sweetness masked bitterness and bitter things tell you’re mid brain stem to “spit out the poison”.

Men and women are different. Men are still genetically hunters and are testosterone poisoned from before they were born. Women are still genetically gatherers. A man hunting 10,000 years ago would decide whether the meat of the antelope he killed was “good” or “bad” by looking and smelling. No need to put the meat in his mouth to determine whether it was safe. So his sensitivity to bitterness was a somewhat mute point to survival. A woman 10,000 years ago would “gather” fruits, nuts, vegetables, and berries. If she gathered the “wrong” berry, because she was unable to taste bitterness, she and the rest of her tribe could die from poisoning. Non-bitter sensitive gatherers could eliminate a gene pool in one generation. This is one of the reasons women seem to like white wines more often and men like red wines. Eighty percent of supertasters are women.

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Sommelier Madeline Puckette – Image attributed to Winey Folly

Women are also hypersensitive to everything when they are pregnant. Pregnant women are vulnerable because they can’t outrun or outclimb a mountain lion. But they can out “sense” one. Their sense of smell, taste, hearing, vision and touch are at their peak when pregnant and to a lesser degree during menstruation.

So a “mature palate” has little to do with whether you will no longer like sweet wines. To a large degree your sweet wine preference is a built in result of gender and genetics. Sweet wine preference has nothing to do with your level of sophistication or knowledge about wine. It is to say the least nearly impossible to “wine educate” your genetics.

** This blog post originally appeared on medium.com/wineryguide

Your Dog Could be Trained to Find Wine Defects Far Faster and Easier than a Sommelier

WineryGuide wine tasting dog photo
Your experience of wine comes primarily from your sense of smell.

Once the wine gets past your sense of taste “the gatekeeper” the details are almost all aromatic. Given a trained palette is a trained nose (olfactory system) the average dog can detect odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than a human can. That hint of oak smells like an oak forest in a hurricane to a canine. According to Rachel Herz, a leading authority on olfaction, a dog’s ability to smell is equivalent to being able to detect the aroma of a drop of chocolate in an area the size of Philadelphia.

The typical human nose can discriminate the difference between 10,000 and 40,000 aromas. Professionals (Chefs, Perfumers, Master Soms) can discriminate up to one hundred thousand. Discriminate and describe are not the same. So humans have the advantage of being able to speak and describe an aroma, although there are some cultural differences that create problems. One man’s grapefruit is another man’s cat pee. The average human can describe about 1,000 different aromas, a sommelier about 2,500, and perfumer closer to 10,000 due to their primary focus on odors alone. Recent research demonstrates that humans have far more neurology dedicated to vision as a percentage of our cortex than dogs. Why, you ask.

Dogs have hundreds of millions more cells devoted to detecting smells than humans. Depending on the breed, dogs have between two hundred million and one billion receptor cells compared to the average human with six million. Yes the dogs with the longest snouts tend to have the most receptors. Dogs also have over 800 different kinds of receptors so they can encode more discreet information than humans. Think about that for a second. The human eye uses three receptors to draw the colorful scan of a Hawaiian sunset in your mind. With 800 receptors the possibilities for the “odor Landscape” are nearly beyond human understanding.

A dog’s olfactory bulb is not as large as one might expect given a dog’s dependence on their sense of smell to navigate the world. Their olfactory bulge takes up about 2 percent of a dog’s brain. Think of this as two pennies to a dollar vs a human’s bulb being one thirtieth of a penny. Of a dog’s total 19,000 genomes, almost 5% provide the blueprint for smell receptors. Dogs have 1,100 olfactory receptor genes, with about eight hundred of them being active. The inactive genes are called pseudo genes. Dogs have about 20% of their olfactory genes inactive whereas humans who not only have fewer olfactory receptor genes more than half are pseudogenes.

I wonder why one of the companies that trains bomb sniffing dogs doesn’t train some dogs to find cork taint (TCA). I could imagine a herd of miniature toy poodles trained to find the wines with cork taint with ease.

** This blog post originally appeared on medium.com/wineryguide

What Complicates Your Ability to Smell Wine

WineryGuide napa wineries winemaker photo.
Image attributed to SOMM: Into the Bottle (2015)

Two of the most common complications when you smell wine are adaptation and cross adaptation. A good example of adaptation is when Apple founder Steve Jobs worked at Atari he did not bath for days. Steve didn’t believe he smelled bad because he had “adapted to his own smell”. Steve is a genius but he could no longer smell his own “body odor” because he had adapted. His co-workers knew otherwise. So if you have smelled coffee or hot chocolate before you go wine tasting, you won’t be able to identify those aromas when you start wine tasting. As you taste wine you adapt to the aroma’s in the wine so you can no longer smell them. If you cook fish in your kitchen and then go outside to garden for half an hour and then come back into your house, you notice it smells like fish. While you were cooking the fish you adapted to the smell while you were cooking.

Cross adaptation occurs most commonly in a wine tasting room when a visitor is wearing strong perfume or has been smoking a cigar or cigarette. The aromas the visitor brings keeps you from experiencing the aromas in your wine because your sense of smell adapted to their aromas.

** This blog post originally appeared on medium.com/wineryguide