Where are You on the Wine Tasting Continuum?

Have you ever wondered why some wines taste great to you, but not to your friends?  Perhaps you like big tannic reds, and your friends prefer sweet rieslings.  This doesn’t have to do with a lack of palate sophistication; it just has to do with the fact that everyone has different tasting preferences.   It is a recognized fact that there is wide diversity in tasting due to both genetic and environmental influences.  However, anyone can learn to taste and appreciate wine – it is just a matter of understanding your palate first.  There are no right or wrong answers – it is just what you like.

One way to learn more about your tasting preferences is to take our mini-questionnaire below to see where you fall on the Wine Tasting Continuum.  Also ask your friends to complete it, and then you can determine the diversity of palates within your group.

The Wine Tasting Continuum was developed by Tim Hanni, MW, an expert at sensory science and wine tasting.  It was published in an article that Tim and I wrote together called “Wine Marketing for Diverse Palates” in Vineyard & Winery Mangement, Vol. 34, No.1 and 2 (a two part article).

Mini-Questionnaire on Wine Tasting Preferences

1)     I prefer my coffee/tea black. YES NO SOMETIMES
2)     I like the taste of scotch YES NO SOMETIMES
3)     I prefer salty snacks over sweet snacks YES NO SOMETIMES
4)     I prefer semi-sweet dark chocolate to sweet milk chocolate. YES NO SOMETIMES
5)     Cream/sugar in coffee/tea ruins it!  (agree means “yes) YES NO SOMETIMES

 In order to score your results, for every “yes” you circled give yourself 2 points; for each “no,” give yourself 0 points; for each “sometimes,” add 1 point.  Then total your score.  If you fall in the 7 to 10 points category, you are most likely a Tolerant Taster; the 4 to 6 point category, you are most likely a Sensitive Taster; and the 0 to 3 point category, you are most probably a Hyper-Sensitive Taster.

The Wine Tasting Continuum

Hyper-sensitive Taster (0 – 3)Highly sensitive to tannins, bitterness, and acid in wine. Prefers less intensity.  Finds alcohol is very harsh and ‘hot’.Usually prefer lighter wines such as pinot noir, chardonnay, and merlot; as well as sweet wines such as riesling or white zinfandel.  However, can learn to enjoy big tannic reds over time. Sensitive Taster (4 – 6)Moderately sensitivity to tannins, bitterness and acid in wine. Open to a broad range of styles.Usually enjoys all types of wines, but ofter start out preferring smoother reds and lighter whites, before moving into bigger more tannic reds or acidic whites. Tolerant Taster (7-10)Rarely notices tannins and bitterness in wine.  Often prefers more intensity. Finds alcohol has a ‘sweet’ taste.Usually prefers red zinfandel; big cabernets and syrahs.  Enjoys big tannins and higher alcohol wines.  Often finds smooth reds and light whites insipid, but can learn to appreciate them.

If you feel the mini-questionnaire didn’t specifically describe your palate, another method to determine where you are on the tasting continuum is to purchase of pack of Thiourea tasting papers used in high-school chemistry classes.  You simply put the piece of paper in your mouth and if you taste nothing, you are most likely a Tolerant taster.  If the taste of the paper is slightly to moderately bitter and offensive, then you are most likely a Sensitive taster.  If the paper makes you gag and feel like throwing up, then you are probably a Hyper-sensitive taster.  That is because the paper is coated with 6-n-propylthiouracil which is usually disagreeable to people with very high tasting sensitivity. Thiourea tasting papers are available at http://www.carolina.com/p2p/endecaSearch.do?keyword=thiourea+papers&Search.x=37&Search.y=12.

If you find this type of sensory science fascinates you, make sure to visit Tim Hanni’s website where you will find much interesting information on this topic http://www.timhanni.com/.

Happy tasting!