View Full Version : On the Origin of Tastes by Means of Fermentation Selection.

10-16-2006, 08:29 AM
(Originally posted on Patron Web Page, but broken into 4 pages so difficult to read properly, so reposted here for comments. Apologies if it is long.)

Recently, I was able to take an afternoon tour around the beautiful vineyards of Sonoma. During this little trip, I stopped at 3 small wineries and sampled their goods. Now, I am not nor have ever been a wine drinker, preferring to kill my brain cells with wine’s maltier cousin, but I have to say that I am now a convert. Wine has captured my taste buds.

The first step down the path of becoming an Oenophilist, and I must stress here that I use this name as a goal rather than as a label, began in the van ride over. The driver and tour guide played a video by John Cleese called “Wine for the Confused”, a very basic introduction to the world of wine. Within the first couple of minutes, John Cleese made a statement that I feel should be taken to heart by every home brewer, regardless of type of intoxicant they brew, and should guide them in their endeavors. He said "Don't let anyone ever try to tell you what wine you like, because people have different tastes and we shall honor that." OK, so it seems to be a fairly obvious statement. But how many of us are looking to others for comments on their wines/meads/beers? How many times do we make blanket statements about the quality of something, such as “that ___ is the best in the world!”? How do we know that what a critic thinks of our product means anything at all? More on this later.

It was at the first vineyard that the conversation concerning opinions continued. One of the employees kindly provided us with a brief, but very educational, lesson in the pleasures of wine tasting. Through all of the swishing, smelling, sipping, spitting and/or swallowing (the five ‘S’s), we discussed why some people find sweet wines good, while others prefer dry; why reds are the favorite of some over whites, and vise versa. The discussion led in two interesting directions, the nurture and the nature theories.

The nurture theory states that the likes and dislikes of an individual are formed from their experiences. What a person was fed as he/she grew up imprinted a tendency to enjoy certain flavors more than others. The nature theory (the one my somewhat addled brain came up with after a few glasses had been consumed) states that the unique wiring inside every individual’s body and brain (a product of genetics) results in the pleasure receptors perceiving tastes in a different way, and therefore enjoying certain flavors more than others.

Let me provide the example I used. Let us say that science develops a way to transfer a persons mind into another body (not their brain, just who they are). This mind is now receiving the signals from the new body, including all of the five senses. He picks up an orange, and is amazed that it is red. It looks like an orange, smells like an orange, feels like an orange, tastes like an orange, but is not colored orange. Why? My answer, and do challenge me if you think it is wrong, is that the wiring inside his old body transmitted certain signals to certain parts of his brain and were processed and filed away as an experience. When he questioned what color that experience was, he was told it was orange, and from then on, when the brain received that particular signal, it interpreted it as the color orange. But his new body has the signal being transmitted to a slightly different area of the brain, the area that his old body perceived as the color red. Now, he has to relearn all of the colors since they are completely different to what his previous experiences have taught him. (The discussion continued, with eventual agreement on the actual answer being a combination of nature, nurture and continued learning, but memory is a little fuzzy as to the specifics, so I shall not attempt to write it down).

This is why we all have different tastes; in food, clothing, music etc. We are all wired slightly differently from each other. And this is why, when asking the question “Is it any good?” we should take a moment to realize that the answer we are getting may mean absolutely nothing with respect to our own tastes. You may find that Joe’s Ancient Orange is bland, bitter, or hot, while someone else can’t get enough of the stuff. It is all a matter of taste. Instead, look for feedback on the fundamentals, such as whether the oak is too strong, or the yeast flavor too prevalent, or if it would be better a little dryer. And do not take offence at the answers given. Remember, not only may others be perceiving things slightly differently than you, but they have also had different experiences and therefore have different likes and dislikes. Also, you are looking for ways to improve your product, and constructive criticism is the only way to obtain other’s opinions.

Finally, if you are providing the criticism, be honest, but remember that I have feelings too and you had bloody well better like my Mead, dammit! ;)