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Wine Ratings May Be Meaningless for Most People

TUESDAY, March 6 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to wine, a new study suggests that the ratings and reviews of experts may be lost on many consumers.

The professionals seem to have a much more sensitive sense of taste than most people, researchers from Penn State University explained. As a result, wine experts are able to tell the difference in a wide range of flavors that other people just can't taste.

"What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different," John Hayes, an assistant professor of food science and director of Penn State's sensory evaluation center, said in a university news release. "And, if an expert's ability to taste is different from the rest of us, should we be listening to their recommendations?"

For the study, the researchers asked 330 people who attended wine-tasting events in Ontario to sample an odorless chemical, called propylthiouracil, PROB or probe, which used to measure reactions to bitter tastes. People with an extra sensitive sense of taste will find this chemical very bitter, the study authors noted. Those with a normal sense of taste, however, will find the chemical only slightly bitter or tasteless.

"Just like people can be color blind, they can also be taste blind," Hayes explained.

After using a short questionnaire to distinguish the wine experts from the wine consumers, the investigators found that wine experts were much more likely to find PROB bitter than non-experts.

"Statistically, the two groups were very different in how they tasted our bitter probe compound," said Hayes.

The study, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, suggested that expert recommendations may be based on tastes that are too subtle for the average person to notice, such as grapefruit, grassy notes or the balance of sugar and acid.

Experience may have something to do with it, but the authors pointed out that previous research has shown that biological factors may explain the very sensitive taste of experts.

"It's not just learning," concluded Hayes. "Experts also appear to differ at a biological level."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about wine and heart health.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Penn State University, news release, March 1, 2012

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