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Demystify this!

82 comments

Ever since I started blogging (two years this May!), some people have painted me out to be some kind of dinosaur who’s afraid that my world — that of the old-fashioned, top-down, print-based wine critic — is fast disappearing.

Trying to defend a system whose time has come, they say. Refusing to recognize that ordinary consumers no longer want or need “experts” to tell them about anything. And whenever I rise to my defense (and the defense of wine critics in general), I’m answered with something like this: “You’re just an industry gatekeeper, pushing back out of fear against the new world wherein every wine drinker is entitled to his own opinion.”

That’s how the well-known M.W., Tim Hanni, has been putting it, mostly lately in this article, in today’s online Guardian, out of England. Tim once again criticizes the “snobbery” and “prejudice” of those of us who dare to make wine suggestions and recommendations, a sin he believes “costs the wine industry billions of dollars a year” (for some undefined reason). Along the way, he also “debunks” one of wine’s most cherished assumptions: that certain wines and foods pair well together while others don’t. “’Matching’ wine and food is lazily unchallenged bunk,” the Guardian writer paraphrases Tim as saying. And, a little later: “For years, Hanni taught that wine had unassailable, objective absolutes; that certain foods are best eaten with certain wines – oysters with muscadet, say, or chablis.” There followed for Tim, in the mid-1990s, “an epiphany or a nervous breakdown” that made him reconsider “everything he had formerly believed.”

Well, I’m not big on epiphanies, although I’ve had my share of surprises that have made me reconsider lots of things. But I can’t imagine anything that would make Zinfandel taste good with oysters. Or a big, oaky Cabernet Sauvignon. Can you? Uggh.

Sure, it feels great to reassure people that they can drink anything they want with any food. People love reading that. It frees them from the very real tyranny that too often surrounds the wine-drinking experience. Tim argues that his mission in life is to liberate consumers from formulae, including pairings that are very old and well-understood. It’s what he calls “this profoundly modern, compellingly individualist approach,” which stands in utter contrast to tradition. And what better time to trash tradition than today, when everything we’ve known for so long seems to be coming undone?

I don’t agree with Tim’s premise, though. He can call me a dinosaur, an industry gatekeeper pushing back furiously against the onslaught of change. But none of that changes the truth. A winetaster can learn to understand and talk about wine. The longer you study it, the better you get. A wine critic who tastes his way through thousands of wines a year is in a better position to make judgments than the ordinary consumer. Food and wine pairings are not arbitrary.

Look, if you want to drink Harlan Estate with your oysters, be my guest. Not gonna lose any sleep over that one! If you want to say that all wine critics are full of it, go right ahead! Sticks and stones and all that. If you want to take the view that everybody’s palate is equal, feel free. I’m not gonna argue with you. If you tell people not to worry so much about wine, I’ll be right there beside you. In fact, I’ll say it now: People! Don’t worry so much about wine!

Still, having said that, I do think there’s a movement afoot in America driven by the “de-mystification” crowd who hope to make a living by doing that professional “de-mystifying” the public so deserves. Ironic that the people leading that movement are former critics and “snobs” themselves. Like Twelve-Steppers, they claim to have “seen the light” or “seen the error of their ways” (or, in Tim’ case, to have had “an epiphany”). But I’ll tell you the truth: Anybody who says their goal in life is to make simple what we wine critics over-analyze is giving you a simplistic explanation and one moreover you should take with a grain of salt. Beware the demystification industry. It’s not as pure and disinterested as you might think.

  1. Tim,

    “AND I say find the critic that aligns with YOUR personal Sensitivity Quotient, passions and sense of aesthetics but at the end of the day feel completely free to dismiss any feeling of REQUIREMENT and drink what YOU love. Again – Oliver felt my message was inspiring and freeing. Happens a lot.”

    Why does anyone need to find a critic that aligns with his or her personal sensitivity quotient, passions or sense of aesthetics? Laziness? Validation? Explanation of your own desires?

    You obviously are selling something that is the anti-critic culture. I applaud the concept wholeheartedly; if you would take the time to find out more about me, you’d discover that. Still, I consider the claims behind your method suspect until I experience proof.

    Re, journalism: what you describe in your opening paragraph is what pros would call “the death of journalism.” One of the things I’ve despised for most of my writing life is the disgusting notion that a quick, prurient, funny, whatever headline is required. It isn’t required, but it often is misleading.

    It’s true that journalism, from its inception in America, has always been biased–ever read the revolutionary pamphlets? But the bias should not be in the writing–it should be in who receives coverage. The reporter should always be a bystander, not the lead. The crap on talk radio and most cable news is not journalism in any shape or form. It is entertainment with a bias.

  2. Even Steve needs to sleep.

  3. I have known Tim for some thirty years since he was in charge of Happy Herman’s wine department in Atlanta, Ga. I can say this that Tim believes over and above all else that all of us should enjoy the wine we prefer with or without food.

    Now any great body of knowledge should withstand the test of time and change brought about by new research and technology. In this way there is adaptation as new discoveries come about. Also I note that Tim has studied the traditional body of knowledge about wine and has credentials to prove it. If he had not done that he would be unqualified to challenge it. It is interesting that those of you who want to say the Tim’s challenges are not valid have not studied the new body of knowledge on taste preference that Tim has now deeply engaged with and which Tim is applying to traditional wine tasting and food pairing. I suggest you go to lunch with Hanni with an open mind and get at least a rudimentary Taste SQ 101 knowledge of the subject before making more comments about something that quite frankly you are not expert in.

    Go for it TIm! Keep that wine revolution going. Because of your work more of us today choose the wines we like to drink with the food we choose to eat. Bravo!

  4. I don’t know why everyone is being a freak about all this. Wine fashion changes just like it has for the past 500 years.

    There will always be new discoveries and there will always be an old guard to defend the past.

    There has been a strangulation on tastes in wine some of it powered by special interests.

    Just drink the wine you like to drink and drink it with whatever you like to eat, unapologetically and without pressure from the “experts” who can only make recommendations based on their own preferences. There is no wine critic that is completely neutral. It’s physically impossible.

    Steve I am going to bust on you for your last comment: “Beware the demystification industry. It’s not as pure and disinterested as you might think.”. C’mon dude, don’t paint yourself as a pariah warning the masses of the evils that will befall human kind if they think differently than the “elders”. That’s so not cool.
    Now, I’m going to go have leftover pizza with Dom 2000 for breakfast and later were having roast chicken with Malle Sauternes for lunch. It’s the weekend! Woohoo!

  5. Nice to see David Rosengarten here, and I have been one of his followers ever since I read Red With Fish, when we each was a child…

  6. Thomas P wrote: “Then there’s Tom Merle, who seems to have alluded to Steve and others who write about wine having an extended agenda which, by extension, casts aspersion on journalism, which is not exactly a dying sport these days.”

    Virtually everyone in this dialog has an “agenda” if by this we mean an underlying motive driving one’s point of view. I jumped on Steve for accusing TH of being driven by the need to make money in the promotion of his program. But except for those who are retired and are content with their lot, we all need to make money. I don’t believe this reality casts aspersions on journalism, even if you work for the National Enquirer. But perhaps TP can elaborate.

    My gripe is that those who make their moola by writing professionally about wine will understandably fine more reasons to debunk consumer outlets since these alternative ways of assessing wine challenge the standing of the expert critic. Nonetheless, as has been pointed out repeatedly, choice always reins supreme–may a thousand flowers bloom with some being more attractive in the marketplace.

    This extended conversation has several threads running through it. One has to do with knowledge vs. pleasure. I’m with the hedonists. Wine appreciation is strictly a sensuous experience. The enjoyment we get by knowing about the impact of a 3.7 PH level on Pinot adds dimensionality to our wine drinking experience, but it doesn’t affect our taste buds. That said, experience in tasting more wines more often allows us to expand our range of pleasure as it does with, say, music.

  7. Steve – here is a sampling of some of the the work from just one of the researchers I work with – Dr. Virginia Utermohlen, Cornell University. I will then address how this rall elates to the value of matching people to the critic that best suits their sensitivity and passions. We have Virginia and one of her star graduate students analyzing our current Consumer Wine Preference survey – a critical study that will then be analyzed against several taste senstivity studies underway with UC Davis and the Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi that is the source of Steve H.’s original horror!

    Dr. Virginia Utermohlen, Cornell University
    Research Focus
    The relationship of sensory sensitivity (taste, smell, and vision) to determinants of personality, food choice, attitudes toward food and eating, choice of profession, short-term memory, and academic performance.

    Educational Background
    M.D., College of Physicians and Surgeons, Medicine, Columbia University, 1968
    A.B., Physics, Washington University, 1964
    Internship and Residency, Pediatrics, St. Luke’s Hospital Medical Center,1968-1971

    Research
    The research performed at the Taste Science Laboratory is centered around the relationships of taste and smell sensitivity to measures of food choice, eating behavior, personality, and decision-making. Some of our findings (with work in progress):

    Highly sensitive tasters tend to be more sensitive than other tasters to most smells as well (Bauer, D. Santi, A., Utermohlen, V. “How Individual Differences in Taste Input Impact Smell and Flavor Perception – An Example of a Complex Process.” InterJournal Complex Systems, Article #364).

    Children are significantly more sensitive to taste than their parents – which may explain why you may like some foods now that you would refuse eat when you were a child! (Bauer, D. Santi, A., Utermohlen, V. “How Individual Differences in Taste Input Impact Smell and Flavor Perception – An Example of a Complex Process.” InterJournal Complex Systems, Article #364).

    In the food-related professions, highly sensitive tasters tend to be “wine” people; moderately sensitive tasters tend to be chefs; and mildly sensitive tasters tend to be bakers and financial experts (work in progress!).

    The role of memory in imagination varies by taster status, with the association of imagination with memory likely to be strong among tasters (“Was Proust a Taster? Taste Sensitivity to 6-n-Propylthiouracil and the Relationships among Memeory, Imagination, Synesthesia, and emotional Response to Visual Experience.” in Food and Foodways, 10:99-109. 2002).

    Decision-making style varies by taster status, with mildly sensitive tasters being more likely to choose reasoning as their preferred mode for coming to decisions (“Taste Sensitivity, Smell Sensitivity, and Reasoning: An Interaction of Genes and Culture?” submitted for publication).

    We are now conducting large scale screening of non-student populations, such as of attendees at the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 22-25, 2004, and at BookExpoAmerica, held May 18th-21st, 2006. (concluded – fascinating stuff)

  8. This one from Thomas begs for a different post. I know that Dan Berger is a hypersensative taster and even have a picture of his tongue (I have pictures of hundreds of tongues). His hypersensitivity clearly impacts his experience of wine. Steve H. I am guessing is a sensative taster, more toward the tolerant end of the scale. His experiences with alcohol levels and phenolics is completely different than Dan’s. Added on top is the neurological factor: passions, travel, experiences that develop our sense of values, aesthetics, acquired tastes, disposed of tastes and so on. If you are passionate about Porsches you want to find others passionate about Porsches. If you love Lotus (like me) you will find we are wired differently! Same with so many things in life. I am committed to exploring the how and why of consumer wine preferences and building fun and empowering bridges between people so they can more confidently share and explore wines. Everyone is getting so pissed off and cynical it becomes ugly. So here your go, and I can find you examples of this type of disparity for every type of wine made:

    “Why does anyone need to find a critic that aligns with his or her personal sensitivity quotient, passions or sense of aesthetics? Laziness? Validation? Explanation of your own desires?”

    Dan Berger, January 22, 2010:
    “For more than a decade, I have hoped for a miracle. Then last week I realized the worst: Cabernet sauvignon has changed so appreciably that I fear we’ll never see it in the way we once did.

    Cabernet has undergone a makeover that has, probably forever, made it little more than a parody of itself, entering a realm that 20 years ago I never would have believed.”

    Steve Heimoff, about a week earlier:
    “Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is pretty much as good as it can get — at least, it’s hard to see where it goes from here.”

    Hmmm….

  9. Steve;

    Colleagues part two: The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent scientific institute, established in 1968, dedicated to basic research on the senses of taste, smell, and chemesthesis (chemically-mediated skin senses). It is currently headed by Dr. Gary Beauchamp. Gary had to give my presentation in Kyoto on how umami taste in food affects the taste of wine (suppresses umami taste in wine, magnifies bitterness, astrigency and acidity) and mitigation of this effect via bitter-suppressive qualities of salt, restoring wine balance. This was crazy – I was having a travel meltdown and could not be at the symposium and Gary had to give my presentation. His Ph.D thesis turned out to be related directly to bitter-suppressive qualities of salt!

    “Drs. Charles Wysocki and Gary K. Beauchamp discover that the ability to smell androstenone is genetic.”
    This demo literally stunned about 250 people at the MW Symposium in Napa when I had Chuck Wysocki (my mentor for 20 years) present along with anthropologist Dr. Lionel Tiger and Pycho-sensory specialist Dr. Michael O’Mahony (details in next post). About 80 attendees smelled the exact same container. 1/3 smelled flowers. 1/3 smelled wet wood. 1/3 smelled urine. Same container. Hmmmmmm….:
    “Drs. Charles Wysocki and Gary K. Beauchamp discover that the ability to smell androstenone is genetic.”

    Chuck’s book published in 1991 – one year after I met him at a wine and food writer’s conference at Beringer and part of my ‘epiphany’ (that seems to really get people acivated). Chuck was conducting taste detection threshold, intensity and memory connections – I was blown away! Not ONE of the writers dared to take the test!!! They were absolutely terrified to find out about their sensitivity!
    Chemical Senses: Genetics of Perception and Communication
    by Charles J. Wysocki (Editor), Morely R. Kare (Editor)

    Education
    Ph.D., Psychobiology (Neuroscience), Florida State University

    Research Summary
    Individuals differ quite substantially in their ability to smell myriad odorants. In some instances a person may not be able to detect an odor when others in the group can clearly perceive it. In other situations all may detect an odor but there is considerable disagreement about what it smells like. I explore this variation at different levels of analyses, e.g., genetic influences, gender differences and the impacts of age and the environment on odor perception. In another area of research I have explored the effects of body odor on the physiology and behavior of individuals who are exposed to the odor. Even among humans there is mounting evidence that we communicate information about ourselves to others via pheromones (chemical communication), often at a subconscious level. This information can be used to identify individuals, to alter hormone systems and to modify mood and emotion.

    Wysocki, C. J., Louie, J., Leyden, J. J., Blank, D., Gill, M., Smith, L. et al. (2009, electronic publication). Cross-adaptation of a model human stress-related odor with fragrance chemicals and ethyl esters of axillary odorants: gender-specific effects. Flavour and Fragrance Journal. doi:10.1002/ffj.1927

    Wysocki, C. J. & Preti, G. (2009). Pheromones in mammals. In L.R.Squire (Ed.), Encylcopedia of Neuroscience, volume 7 (pp. 625-632). Oxford: Academic Press.

    Lundstrom, J. N., Wysocki, C. J., Olsson, M. J., Yamazaki, K., & Preti, G. (2008). Explaining the association between kinship and fertility. Science, 320, 1160-1161.

    Sergeant, M. J. T., Louie, J., & Wysocki, C. J. (2008). The influence of sexual orientation on human olfactory function. In J.Benyon, J. Hurst, C. Roberts, & T. Wyatt (Eds.), Advances in Chemical Signals in Vertebrates (pp. 121-130). New York: Springer.

    Wise, P. M., Bien, N., & Wysocki, C. J. (2008, electronic publication). Two rapid odor threshold methods compared to a modified method of constant stimuli. Chemosensory Perception. DOI 10.1007/s12078-008-9010-8.

    Wise, P. M., Toczydlowski, S. E., & Wysocki, C. J. (2007). Temporal integration in nasal lateralization of homologous alcohols. Toxicological Sciences, 99, 254-259.

    Wise, P. M., Canty, T. M., & Wysocki, C. J. (2006). Temporal integration in nasal lateralization of ethanol. Chemical Senses 31, 227-235.

    Martins, Y., Preti, G., Crabtree, C. R., & Wysocki, C. J. (2005). Preference for human body odors is influenced by gender and sexual orientation. Psychological Science, 16, 694-701.

    Wise, P. M., Canty, T. M., & Wysocki, C. J. (2005). Temporal integration of nasal irritation from ammonia at threshold and supra-threshold levels. Toxicological Sciences, 87, 223-231.

  10. Part three and my primary go-to for info and testing of hypotheses, my mentor for 20 years. He, his colleague Rie Ishii (next post) and 5 of their students are overseeing the tasting protocol for the Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi. When you see his work you can see how it relates to new methodologies and protocols for our Consumer Wine Evaluator project. This will all also tie into Dr. Virginia Utemohlen’s work with me. The Consumer Wine Preference survey currently underway was drafted with the input of both parties plus the results of an earlier work I conducted with nearly 7,000 respondents.

    MICHAEL A. O’MAHONY
    Professor and Sensory Scientist
    Department of Food Science and Technology
    University of California

    SPECIALTY:
    Psychophysics
    Sensory evaluation of food
    Taste function

    EDUCATION:
    1964 Bsc., Physical Chemistry, Bristol University, United Kingdom
    1966 Bsc., Experimental Psychology, Bristol University, United Kingdom
    1971 Ph.D., Chemistry and Psychology, Bristol University, United Kingdom

    POSITIONS HELD:
    Demonstrator, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, England, 1969-71
    Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Bristol, England, 1971-77
    Professor and Sensory Scientist, Department of Food Science and Technology, UC Davis, Davis, California, 1977 – present

    RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

    Study of he sensory mechanisms and cognitive processes that are the basis for sensory evaluation and consumer testing. Taste psychophysics, Thurstonian models, signal detection, concept formation and measurement, discrimination methods, scaling, cross-cultural studies, statistics.

    RECENT SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS

    It is often important to determine whether very slight differences in food flavor actually exist or not. For this, there are a whole set of tests called difference tests. These vary in their sensitivity; a given judge will discriminate between two foods using one test protocol but not discriminate using another. Even a slight change in the wording of instructions to a judge will affect the search procedure set up in his head and completely alter his performance. This has not been well understood. This lab developed a model based on physiological and brain processing effects to explain such variations. The lab also challenged the conventional theories in this area and demonstrated how they were based on faulty assumptions. A new model combining the best parts of the various rival theoretical approaches has been developed and explains most of the variation in test sensitivity. This can now be used to vary the sensitivity of judges as required for the various types of sensory measurement encountered in the food industry and academic research.

    Sensory difference tests have always been ‘all or none’ affairs, giving results in terms of ‘the foods are different’ vs ‘not different’. However, an application of Signal Detection Theory, an approach involving the analysis of the nervous system as a communications system, can provide more sophisticated information. Instead of ‘different’ vs ‘not different’, a measure of ‘how different’ is now available. There are several measures of degree of difference but this lab has developed the R-index, a simple yet robust measure based on minimal statistical assumptions. Because of this, it has wide applicability.

    Descriptive analysis provides a description of all the various sensations a food gives to the taster and their relative strengths. It is a widely used technique providing ‘profiles’ of various food products, that can be compared and used to assess characteristics of products which are important for consumer acceptance. However, it is difficult to describe tastes or smells because we have not developed sufficient language to do so. Thus, a language and categorization system has to be developed for each food and judges must be trained to use it. This lab has studied the information processing that takes place in the brain for such a system to be developed. We have developed a theoretical basis and successfully used it to develop techniques to increase the performance and speed up training of judges using this method.

    Descriptive analysis requires a lot of training and expense. Some systems need approx. 100 hours to train and calibrate judges before they can be used. This lab has developed an alternative technique called Focused Difference Testing, which requires little training and relies on the natural biases and skills, as well as robust alternative methodology developed in the lab to produce profiles.

    It was long suspected that fluctuations in salivary content affected taste sensitivity. This is important because tests that measure taste sensitivity are being used more and more in the diagnosis of various disfunctions like cystic fibrosis, hypertension, adrenal cortical changes (Addison’s disease, Cushing’s syndrome) etc. Although the connection between taste and saliva was suspected, it could not be demonstrated. One reason for this is that as soon as a judge tasted a test stimulus, the environment in the mouth was changed so destroying any effects of saliva. However, a direct connection between saliva and taste sensitivity was established in this lab, using specialized sensory measurement techniques developed by this lab.

    As a judge undergoes repeated testing, his taste sensitivity is reduced; this is a perfectly normal sensory function and is called adaptation. Adaptation has been studied extensively in this lab and techniques developed so that sensitivity is not lost during testing.

    A common misconception is that there are four basic tastes: ‘sweet’, ‘sour’, ‘salty’ and ‘bitter’. The idea was based on mistaken translation from early German research and, unfortunately, has become established in most textbooks. Methods of measurement based on this fallacious idea have produced many artifactual results. Work in this lab has demonstrated the artifactual nature of these measures, often in the teeth of angry opposition.

    SELECTED PUBLICATIONS:

    Descriptive analysis and concept alignment. M. O’Mahony. 1991. p. 223-267. IN: H.T. Lawless and B.P. Klein (eds). Sensory Science and Applications in Foods, Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York.

    A theoretical note on difference tests: Models and cognitive strategies. M. OÕMahony et al. 1994. J. Sensory Studies 9:247-272.
    Sensory measurement in food science: Fitting methods to goals. M. OÕMahony. 1995. Food Technology 49:72-82.

    Who told you the triangle test was simple? M. OÕMahony. 1995. Food Quality and Preference 6:227-238.

    A new approach to category scales of intensity. K-O. Kim & M. OÕMahony. 1998. J. Sensory Studies 13:241-267.

    Effects of forgetting on various protocols for category and line scales and intensity. H.-J. Lee et al. 2001. Journal of Sensory Studies 16:327-342.
    Hedonic R-index measurement of temperature preferences for drinking black coffee. Pipatsattayanuwong, S. et al. 2001. Journal of Sensory Studies 10:517-536.

    Effects of forgetting on performance on various intensity scaling protocols: Magnitude estimation and labeled magnitude scales(Green scale). Tae-Young, K. et al. 2002. Journal of Sensory Studies 17:177-192.

    Investigating more powerful discrimination tests with consumers: Effects of memory and response bias. B. Rousseau et al. 2002. Food Quality and Preference 13:39-45. Ê

  11. And finally, Dr. Rie Ishii:

    Duties

    Rie designs, runs and analyzes statistically sensory and consumer testing experiments. She assists in teaching and training of students and visiting scholars to design, perform, analyze and report sensory and consumer testing studies. She also performs basic research into the functioning of the senses and brain design mechanisms and uses this research to develop new and better sensory testing protocols.

    This is a key project she was part of and integral part of our on-going studies with her and the students (who we are funding to attend a sensory conference with the proceeds from the Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi, in addition to the funds going to the Lodi Today Rotary foundation charitable contributions):

    FLAVOR PERCEPTION: SENSORY METHODOLOGY

    PROJECT DIRECTOR: O’Mahony, M. A.

    PERFORMING ORGANIZATION
    Food Science and Technology
    UNIV OF CALIFORNIA
    DAVIS,CA 95616

    NON TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Current consumer and sensory testing procedures like preference or discrimination testing, rating sensation intensity, liking or “likelihood to buy,” were generally developed half a century ago and often lack power, increasing costs to industry. Using cutting edge knowledge of sensory function and information processing in the brain, more efficient and powerful methods are being developed.

    OBJECTIVES: To investigate physiological and cognitive variables affecting sensory analysis and consumer testing of foods so as to develop reliable and valid methods. This involves investigation of adaptation, concept formation, Thurstonian modeling and the development of physiological and cognitive models of measurement. Development of more powerful methods has high priority.

    APPROACH: Model systems will first be used to investigate and understand taste and cognitive function and to develop theoretical models. From this, measurement methods for taste and sensory evaluation will be developed and applied to food flavor measurement to be more compatible with the human sensory system. Present methods were developed with a view to statistical rather than ergonomic efficiency.

  12. I don’t know why anyone should be surprised that critics can disagree with each other. It would be odd if we didn’t.

  13. Oh – I forgot this one! Dr. Herb Stone is President of Tragon Research. Jane Robichaud, who I worked with at Beringer for many years, now works with Tragon on high-level sensory wine projects and introduced me to Herb again almost 20 years ago. He was an attendee at a think-tank/wine and food workshop, along with 30 other sensory scientists, that was the point of my ‘epiphany.’

    Herbert Stone, Ph.D.Tragon Senior Advisor & Co-FounderA former Director of Stanford Research Institute (SRI), Dr. Stone was President of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) from 2004-2005. With a Ph.D. from U.C. Davis, he has lectured worldwide, is the author of over 125 publications, and holds six patents. Dr. Stone is co-author with Joel Sidel of Sensory Evaluation Practices, one of the most respected texts in the industry. Along with Mr. Sidel, Dr. Stone founded Tragon® in 1974.

    Case against ‘Universal Scale’ for sensory evaluation

    Dr. Herbert Stone, author of Sensory Evaluation Practices and a pioneer of Quantitative Descriptive Analysis procedures employed wide throughout the food and wine industries, offer these insights into the sensory analysis, the value of descriptive lexicons and the impossibility of creating meaningful ‘universal scale in sensory evaluation’ (see Reference IV):

    Much research has been done to understand consumer behavior and there is no doubt much more will be done before we have a better understanding of consumer choice behavior. In this work, one regularly encounters myths about consumer behavior that defy established knowledge about the anatomy and physiology of the senses and observed response behavior. One of these myths is the proposition that consumers can be trained to be invariant… Perceptual skills vary considerably; about 30% of any population cannot differentiate at or above chance among products that they regularly consume. This knowledge is either ignored or summarized in ways that mask differences, and leads to sensory evaluation being labeled as an inexact science.

    Another myth focuses on the use of lists of words that describe a product, often referred to as “lexicons” and the implication that the use of such lists will yield a universal language (the aura of a periodic table of the sensory elements for products)… It ultimately was found to have little or no relationship to consumer preferences or purchase behavior. Words used to represent sensations are nothing more than labels and assumptions as to causality are not sustainable without appropriate experimentation. The idea that with such a list the sensory evaluation of products is easily achieved impugns the science of sensory evaluation, the perceptual process, and raises questions as to the role of sensory evaluation within the business environment.

    The idea of a universal scale in sensory evaluation is another myth that has considerable appeal but is equally false. It ignores the most fundamental of issues, namely, that each person is uniquely different. Mathematically, one can produce a universal scale but at what expense?

    Human sensory behavior is far more complex than what some might like to believe. Any population will exhibit a wide range of sensitivities and preferences; trying to eliminate or mask such differences does not do justice to the science of sensory evaluation nor does it provide confidence in business decisions. Sensory professionals and food science professionals as well, need to recognize these myths and respond to them as they would to snake oil, with all due respect for reptiles.

    ***Next is some of the neuroscience work!!!! I had forgotten how much cool stuff I have been working over the past 20 years, not to mention the really cool and wonderful people!!

  14. Tim,

    I understand all the stuff concerning the research of how humans differ genetically, experientially (sp) and perceptively, and that has a decided unfluence on sensory reception.

    What I don’t understand is how this information negates the information pertaining to the reaction of our sensory organs to proteins, fats, acids/pH, sugar, alcohol, tannin, and so on, as they relate with one another. In many cases, all it takes for people to “get” a wine and food pairing is for them to slow down and focus (of course, always with exceptions, as people are truly unknowable).

    Re, your Heimoff/Berger Cabernet S. reference: aesthetic criticism is merely an opinion. That’s all the weight it deserves. That’s also the message that consumers ought to be receiving–at least as far as I am concerned, but I am not going over that argument again. I just don’t think it makes sense to advise consumers to latch onto someone with whom they agree; how solidly boring a life that would lead to, anyway ;)

  15. Make that “influence…”

  16. This comment stream has officially become legendary!

    I need to go heat up some popcorn, pour another glass and catch up on all of this…!

  17. Hey 1WineDude – make some for me and move over. I have THREE of these going on!!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/feb/04/wine-criticism-tasting-flavour-matching?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments

    http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/village/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=30104&p=256060#p256060

    Thomas – I hope you can keep this all in fun perspective which is my intention but it is getting more and more he’t up! Thanks for all of the great conventional wisdoms to play with!
    “What I don’t understand is how this information negates the information pertaining to the reaction of our sensory organs to proteins, fats, acids/pH, sugar, alcohol, tannin, and so on, as they relate with one another.

    Where the hell did I say that? You wanted background, I provided it and now you are saying things I don’t think I ever said. Holy moly. Read all of the research papers you asked for, interview all of the scientists I work with and then conduct controlled tasting, phot0graph hundreds of tongues, conduct consumer interviews with 8,300 people in the US and 2,000 people in the UK, correlate the results to the hypotheses you formulated and review everything with your mentors. Then cook lunch for 3,000 people over the course of the year, observe their behaviors, rehypothesise 9is that a word), then my son to school and to the orthodontist, practice guitar and take a nap. Then call Dr. Linda Bartoshuk, interview at least 3 of the people who disagree with her great work. And she just looks at one, tiny dimension of all of this in amazing detail. She called me “her hero” in the Wall Street Journal for expanding the dimensions of this work and finding actual ways it can be applied to consumers.

    Now, go tell Dr. Virginia Utermohlen that inspite of the intense, horrible bitterness and burning she experiences with virtually any ‘classic’ wine and food pairing that “In many cases, all it takes for people to “get” a wine and food pairing is for them to slow down and focus (of course, always with exceptions, as people are truly unknowable).” Tell her if she slows down and focuses it will change. NOT She, my mother in law, Barry Goff (poster child for male Sweet tasters and CEO of Tavistock restaurants) and literally millions of consumers for whom wine is their PREFERRED beverage of choice, that they are “truly unknowable.”

    This is so easily disproved I can’t wait for lunch. You only need to got to wine and food pairing blogs and boards to see the disagreements – and I bet you are vociferously there disagreeing with many!!

    OK – forget all of that – just tell me where I said…”What I don’t understand is how this information negates the information pertaining to…”

    I don’t think you get it at all but I am getting lunch ready. While hanging out on the couch with 1WineDude (pass the popcorn, bud). I am going to fetch some of the neural studies so stay tuned!!!

  18. Tim,

    These comments are where I get the idea that you are questioning the interactions of component make up:

    “THE SCIENCES USED TO EXPLAIN THINGS ARE MOSTLY MISGUIDED

    I am claiming that the scientific bases for pairing wine and food, which I have studied systematicially, in depth and with experts around the world for over 20 years, turn out to be so counter to conventional wisdoms that it renders virtually every single explanation we use useless.”

    If I am misunderstanding you, forgive me for being dense. But I think I am misunderstanding you.

    When you do your research with people, what kinds of controls do you employ? I’m curious, because I know that everything that happens during the course of a day has an effect on our senses, therefore, so does everything that happens during our lifetime past.

    Tim, not to worry about me getting heated up. I love a debate. The only time I get angry is when it deteriorates into a clash of egos instead of a clash of minds.

  19. Ah! Got it. You misunderstood me in your haste and maybe anger? Am I sensing maybe you might be softening up and we can be friends? I think you will like me and I play guitar, have a hot wife and really cool kids. And I am a good cook. PLUS I am the most desirable designated driver in the Napa Valley. I love debate as well, and thanks for playing.

    “THE SCIENCES USED TO EXPLAIN THINGS ARE MOSTLY MISGUIDED
    I am claiming that the scientific bases for pairing wine and food, which I have studied systematicially, in depth and with experts around the world for over 20 years, turn out to be so counter to conventional wisdoms that it renders virtually every single explanation we use useless.” Does not imply “this information negates the information pertaining to the reaction of our sensory organs to proteins, fats, acids/pH, sugar, alcohol, tannin, and so on, as they relate with one another.” It implies that we got it all wrong, use bad science and when better science is applied things come out WAY differently.

    Now then, “When you do your research with people, what kinds of controls do you employ? I’m curious, because I know that everything that happens during the course of a day has an effect on our senses, therefore, so does everything that happens during our lifetime past.”

    This is the nut of everything I do and way, way beyond! 20 years of investigation, in formal, informal, very controlled and less than controlled studies and by conducting presentations and demonstrations to scientists, chefs, wine experts and anyone who dares to come over for lunch. This is where I get the information to base my ‘always waiting for more/better/new information’ assumptions and conlcusions on. When you make it for lunch we will assault all of the conventional wisdoms and metaphors of wine and food matching. Does the ‘big’ wine ‘kill’ the little fish? If the wine smells like brambleberries with a whiff of fenugreek will the duck with brammbleberry and fenugreek sauce be a seamless match? What the f*ck is fenugreek anyhoo and does anyone really get it? What happens with fat and tannin (not what you think).

    If astringency is defined as the tactile sensation of coaresness/drying related to loss of lubricity in the oral cavity due to denaturing of proteins in the membranes and saliva, does providing residual negatively charged (or is it positively charged) protein in the form of masticated rare meat (steak) provide new attachement points for the positively charged (or is it negatively charged), colloidally suspended polyphenolics of the wine (tannins) thereby reducing the loss of lubricity and, combined with the replacement of lubrication provided by the fat of the aforementioned protein source (fatty steak) reduce the astringency of a tannic red wine?

    No. (sh*t) And this is only one of dozens of C’mon by and I will take you through it systematically yet in a relatively uncontrolled environment. You will still be amazed.

    Again – i gots 20 years of this under my belt. The sciences have been provided and I don’t have time to go through them individually. I have been doing this all over the world, with innumerable scientists, chefs, consumers, sommeliers, yahoos, geeks and even family.

    What else?

  20. OK everyone – I am offering pictures of Italian sommeliers and normal (oxymoron?) people on wine over at the http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/village/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=30104&p=256093#p256093 site. C’mon – let’s go!!

  21. Hate to add to the temperature in these arguments so I’m sorry if people get their noses out of joint with Tim’s research, observations and ideas. Really, after years of happily spirited arguments with Tim, I remain a staunch fan of his work. I’m mystified why others are threatened by it. We’re learning more and more about how our senses work, how they make us different people and inform our differing preferences. Is that so crazy and revolutionary?

    I’ve been doing this wine and food stuff for three decades and I’ve noticed that people like different things (duh) and have always thought that was natural and normal. I’ve always figured our experiences and, uhm, our equipment must differ as well. Those of us who think Tim and the many other professionals exploring these matters are helping the industry aren’t crazy or misguided.

    What’s crazy is that people continue to hang onto ossified notions of “correct” wine or “correct” matching of food and wine. Correct for whom? Most of us with experience in restaurants learned long ago that the trick is to match the wine with the customer, not with the food. Just common sense.

    Now Tim and others are researching methods to further relax these silly codes of food and wine. Why is that threatening? Or maybe more to the point, why do people suddenly assume all wine knowledge is being threatened? Why cling to a few favorites when there’s a world of flavor out there?

  22. Hey Doug! I will send your $20 by PayPal…Thanks, bub.

  23. I don’t know from where the idea that I am angry springs. I’m asking questions, throwing out responses to what is posted, and trying to understand what this is all about.

    I think I understand more now, but I still wonder how the science of component interaction on the palate is altered by the fact that people are different as are their life experiences and perceptions. Is it that perceptions change scientific facts, is it that Tim has discovered another way of looking at how wine and food operate on the senses, or is it that the experiments are flawed?

    Since I still have no idea what controls are used to prove the efficacy of the experiments, I s’pose I’ll just have to wait until I have that lunch to get the answers to my questions.

    Incidentally, in my seminars I never use the “silly codes” or ever reference what is “correct” in pairing wine and food. I simply illustrate components and then try to show how they interact when consumed. I stooped years ago trying to persuade people that there’s a better way to enjoy wine with food than the one they employ, simply because I learned years ago that there is no right or wrong way–only pathways.

  24. someday, I’ll master the keyboard on this Mac–stopped, not stooped…

  25. I think the remarks below are kinda the source of what Doug is referring to – at best a hostile environment, sometimes a tad paranoid, at worst an angry mob. Certainly not a kind and gentle place!

    “Beware the demystification industry. It’s not as pure and disinterested as you might think.”

    “I think Tim Hanni had been drinking(swallowing) when he made the comments about food/wine pairings. Seriously, the argument is ridiculous.”

    “But to not acknowledge that the decision will impact the meal is ludicrous and seemingly ignorant.”

    “A culture built on hucksterism deserves all the hucksters it gets.”

    “By the way, I read the Hanni piece a bit like Charlie did, as more pathetic than anything else. Hanni should know better.”

    “Finally, blaming the media is too easy and too simplistic. If you think they are getting it wrong, it could be either that your message isn’t intelligible enough for a simpleton journalist to get or that you need to focus better on both the message and the type of journalist you court.”

    This is exactly the kind of crap I am working to put and end to! Anyone who dared enter into this conversation could not help but sense the tension and anger – and it started with the original post, and one before condemning me and the Consumer Wine Awards, with no room for understanding and learning. And, by the way, the wine community summarily writes off millions of wine consumers who happen to like sweet wines in a similar fashion With complete ignorance of how valuable, popular and expensive sweet wines have always been in France, Italy and everwhere in the world. And it goes way beyond that as can be seen on this thead – we rail against each other that ‘Parker is too powerful’, this competition is nonsense, Cabernet is in decline/never been better, or this food goes with this or that or that Tim Hanni put his credential after his name or not. Lighten up dammit!

    Doug Frost and I had a wonderfully nasty, angry debate years ago. Knock down, drag out for hours with a bemused and somethimes terrified group of a dozen spectators. Lasted until about 3 in the morning I think. Here is the place we finally agreed and where the possibility of a great, lifetime friendship opened up: it is really about people, not the damned beverage after all. It is about our friends, family, communities, neighbors. The willingness of the wine community to respond that someone is ludicrous, ignorant, a huckster, selling snake oil, having a relapse, pathetic unintelligable or anything else – you should all be ashamed of (our)yourselves!! Ha ha – not really. It is human nature! But lighten up, dammit! Debate is great but these are attacks. AND I know every one of you is a human, probably smart, obviously passionate and definately confronted.

    But dang it – look out there at all of the anger and fingerpointing over something that I once was told is “grape juice that has not finished going bad yet.” What happened to the beverage of civility and community? Sharing and family? Huh? Huh? :-)

    The reason I do what I do in the wine biz is because I love it – passionately. I also know a lot about it in spite of my hard-earned credential. I love what I do even more now that I don’t drink – which is so bizarre and alien a concept many of you are horrified by the mere thought! The reason for this is I have a beautiful wife of 17 years, an unbeleivable family and a great life to look forward to. So there.

    I have been working very hard for the past 3-4 years, relatively quietly if you can believe, on closing the loop on many of my diverse and co-related projects. I will never achieve completion on everything because I am on an expedition and every day, literally, something new, better or even something that completely invalidates what I thought to be true crops up. But I can tell you I have made huge progress and closed enough of the loops to present something I think (save the delusional remarks – I know, I know), can make a profound difference for wine lovers, critics, consumers and the wine trade.

    The reason I invite you all to lunch is it provides a place where you can experience what I have to offer. At my home I can let you experience what we have found out about wine and food that seems so shocking, show you the research, the surveys, the data, the pictures of hundreds of blue moist tongues (yuck) and very hopefully share the table with people who have radically different taste physiology. This is when it hits home, “you get what? I am experiencing something completely differently…” This is what happened to Loiver Thring – he took a piece of it and shared, then faced the wrath of the wine community.

    When conversation turns to HOW we each create our points of view and opinions via neural-gastronomic programming you cannot imagine the conversations it sparks. All you need to do is once experience a wine and food dinner where people who have been scolded their entire life (hypersenstitive and sweet tasters) that they now have permission to drink the wine they love with the food they love. Un-friggin-believable. And guess what – good for eveyone involved with any enterprise having to do with wine!

    I have stated over and over – I love Steve Heimoff, Dan Berger, Bob Parker and Jancis Robinson. What I am saying is that there is also room, and a really cool new way, to have consumers generate peer-to-peer and consumer-to-consumer wine evaluations and ratings. AND a way to help MORE consumers confidently shop for the wine critics that are a match for their own Sensitivity Quotient, aspirations, values and aesthetics.

    All of this kinda got lost in defending my intelligence, honor, motives, credentials and even my sobriety. No said ‘yer momma wears army boots.’ She didn’t, thank you very much. She is dead. I will be too. Same to y’all. Now – what the hell are we going to do between now and then?

    I have an idea – come to lunch? I was in Whole Foods yesterday and the person who runs the Culinary Center said, “we HAVE to do another tasting!” It occurred to me we can organize a Webinar or something and all have lunch together globally. Lunch may be at 3:00 in the morning for some of you. If you are in NorCal please consider attending, we can fit about 30 people in the space. I am working to find out how to pull this off but I will post a list of wines and foods you will need to have, plus your computer, and I will do a live feed and PowerPoint presentation while you sing along. Anyone interested?”

    Thanks, love and peace from Napa.

  26. Now that four days and some 18,000 words have been spent, I am really impressed by social media. Steve – these past two posts are the greatest juxtaposition you could hope for. From the classic Mr Hugh Johnson to the…well, what do you say when someone burns so much time, effort, and wastes so much time and effort. I can only try to hear Hugh Johnson say in the same paragraph….[what the f*ck, and my wife is hot.] I am not surprised that has been edited from your site. Had that comment remained up, I would not have written this. When I saw it had been removed, well…What a waste.

  27. WOW. Shut off the computer for a couple of days to get some rest and see what one misses! Fascinating stuff. And not one bit of it useful to me as a winegrower.

  28. John, maybe not useful. But fun, no?

  29. Yes, a lot of fun! And conducted with a level of respect and conviviality not often encountered on the interwebs.

  30. WOW! ladies and gents that was a lot more interesting and fun…(I am not certain about useful) than any thread I have read in a long time. Even better than Dr Vino vs The Advocate last spring. Frostie and Hanni hold a debate prior to the internet….wish I had been there. Congratulations to all the contributors as you are all right. Remember there are only 365 drinking occasions a year, make them all matter. Thanks for the start of all this Steve, I hope you enjoy the symposium this week.
    BTW the seasoning works especially at home…Cheers

  31. Hey Tim, looking forward to seeing you again, whenever and wherever that may be.

  32. Hi John Kelly – contact me and I will fill you in on things you may find of interest and how all this may (or may not!) pertain to a winegrower!

    Steve – any time and hope to see you soon as well.

    Thomas Pellachia – great talking with you Sunday and keep on keeping on you hypersensitive fool! :-)

    And Chris – chill out.

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