At a lounge a few nights ago, I happened
to be seated near a fellow who ordered a bottle of merlot. It
was time for Wine Tasting Theater. He did everything but lick
the bottle and listen to the cork. Finally he approved the
purchase. Later I asked the sommelier how many bottles were
returned in an evening? He said: We've never had one returned.
At the risk of having you think I hang
out in bars, I recall another evening when a sweet young thing
ordered a vodka tonic and specified a specific brand of vodka.
It showed the power of advertising. Even if there was a
difference that anyone could actually taste, the tonic would
more than overwhelm it.
People think such displays show a
refined, upper class palate. The truth is, humans can only taste
five things: sweet; sour; salty; bitter plus umami... and that
last one refers to a rich mouth feel more than a taste. Anyway,
the tongue is there mostly to help us pick good things that are
generally sweet and to avoid potentially poisonous things that
are generally bitter.
And it doesn't even work that well. Most
of what you taste is what you smell. Close your eyes, pinch your
nose and try to distinguish between cubes of apple and bits of
raw potato. And even at that, our sense of smell is one of the
worst in the animal kingdom.
To make this point in my university
class, I would blindfold students and give them small cups of
Coco Cola, Seven Up and Ginger Ale. After a sip or two, they
couldn't distinguish the difference. But you don't have to
believe me. Get three bottles of wine and ask your wine
connoisseur friends to differentiate a merlot from a cabernet
from a shiraz.
Of course there's always the question of
price. Can people really tell a higher end vintage from a lower
end vintage. I bought three bottles of champagne, two cheap and
one expensive. I then emptied the expensive brand and refilled
it with one of my cheap brands. I covered the labels (thought it
was easy enough to spot the difference in the bottles) and asked
a group to sample both. Every single one of them had an
overwhelming preference for the same exact wine when it had been
decanted into the expensive bottle.
Look At It This Way
Their are certain things in life that
most people believe are true but that are just not true. If it
costs twice as much it must be twice as good is an example.
There are lots of people who say they can taste the difference
but have they ever been tested? Number identical cups from 1 to
7. Have a friend pour samples of several drinks. Put on a
blindfold and have your friend hand them to you in no special
order. Can you tell the difference? If you can't and if I can't,
who do you think can?