Are Wine Critics Born or Made?


I have heard of the UC Davis sensory test more than once but never read about it.  I agree with its accuracy on a general sense.  What I was taught myself is that 10% of people are "supertasters" and 10% are "non-tasters" and the rest fall in between.  I have a good example.  I had lunch with a friend from years back a few days ago and one thing I have always remembered about him is how as a serious wine drinker he has zero ability to taste.  He is 100% non-taster.  I found out by accident when I gave him a sip of a very nice wine just as token of friendship.  He tried it but instead of sharing my enthusiasm said "it's okay."  I realized something is wrong with him.  How could he not appreciate the wine.  I tested him again later with some of the worst wines you can taste and they were "okay."  My theory was confirmed that I had met someone who just cannot taste.  On the other hand, I can taste wine better than average and I have done tastings myself at which the results were recorded and mine are almost always the opposite of lay drinkers.  I don't know about wine critics but wine tasting in general has a little bit to do with nature.  Won't you agree?


I've always blamed it on UC Davis. I took their "Introduction to the Sensory Evaluation of Wine" course and I came out of it smelling green pepper in Cabernet Sauvignon and talking endlessly about currants and gooseberries.

Now I'm starting to wonder if it's genetic. ("Beaujolais Nouveau, Baby Nouveau," by bhollar)

My dad puts me to shame when he describes a wine. He smells all kinds of things–rhubarb, for instance–that elude me.

And I think my niece is going to put me to shame, too. She's thirteen. We were visiting friends in Paris and they–in true French fashion–offered her a taste of the delicious Chenin Blanc we were having with dinner. She refused, but did allow as how she'd like to smell it. I handed her my glass, expecting her to twist up her face and say "blech." Instead, she lowered her nose into the glass and made an appreciative sound.

I asked her what it smelled like, and braced myself for the response "wine." Her grandmother frequently has this response, and the child is, after all, thirteen and eats mostly white meat chicken and rice. What does she know of gooseberries?

"Citrus and meadowlands," was her reply.

I almost fell off the sofa. She pretty much nailed the aromas in the wine–and it's not because we text message each other about wine. Her parents drink wine but I think both would admit that they enjoy sipping it more than talking about it. And I see my niece once every few years–so I haven't contaminated her with winespeak.

I've been thinking about her response ever since and wondering if wine appreciation has a genetic component. That's not to say that education means nothing–I think it means a lot. But I do wonder now if both an interest in wine and the ability to taste and smell a wide range of flavors and aromas in wine also depends on your DNA.

I'm sure there's a scientific study somewhere that talks about this, but I want to know what you think. How do your sensory abilities with respect to wine stack up to your parents and grandparents? What about your kids? And if you have kids who smell wine, I wonder if they are less inhibited and more intuitive in their descriptions. As we age, do our minds tell us "there's no raspberry in that," whereas once our noses were screaming "berries, yum, berries"?


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