Wednesday, May 25, 2011



The background lighting provided in a room has an influence on how we taste wine. This is the result of a survey conducted by researchers at the Institute of Psychology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. Several sub-surveys were conducted in which about 500 participants were asked how they liked a particular wine and how much they would pay for it. ScienceDaily (Dec. 29, 2009)

I think you will find the results to be both fascinating and provocative, and demonstrate the powerful role color plays in our perception of flavor. The study found the same wine was rated higher when tasted in a room with red or blue ambient lighting, than green, yellow or white lighting.

Wines tasted in red light were perceived to be 50% sweeter than wines tasted in white or green light
The wines were also rated to have more fruitiness when tasted in red light. The test persons were even willing to spend in excess of one Euro more on a specific bottle of Riesling when it was offered in red instead of green light.

"It is already known that the color of a drink can influence the way we taste it," says Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel of the General Experimental Psychology division. "We wanted to know whether background lighting, for example in a restaurant, makes a difference as well. Accordingly, one conclusion of the study is that the color of ambient lighting can influence how wine tastes, even when there is no direct effect on the color of the drink. “Another conclusion is that color contributes to our perception of flavor by activating stored information.

Dr. Oberfeld-Twistel also recommends that serious wine tasting should be conducted in a neutral light color environment.

Other studies have also shown the powerful influence that color has on our perception of taste. One was conducted in which researchers gave subjects a purple-colored, orange-flavored drink. Almost all of the test subjects perceiving the beverage to be grape flavored. This study also found that increased depth of color is associated with more intense flavor, and the same wine will be perceived as more intensely flavorful if it is darker in color.

Another study  “The Color of Odors” [Morrot, Brochet and Dubourdieu] has shown the impact color has in determining the adjectives we use to describe wines. A panel of 54 Oenology students at the University of Bordeaux smelled a white Bordeaux wine and described it using appropriate white wine descriptors. When an odorless red dye was added, the tasters used red wine terms to describe it. The perception of the flavors and the adjectives used to describe the flavors changed to reflect the color of the wine! The authors raise a provocative question: When we describe a wine, how much are we relying on our sense of taste and smell and how much on what we see?

The results of this experiment demonstrate how much people rely on context for interpreting their odor experience. People are more visually and verbally oriented to clues on odors than we are to our olfactory system. , even experts who you would expect to be less susceptible to these context manipulations look for cues in their visual and verbal worlds.” “The analysis shows that the odors of a wine are, for the most part, represented by objects that have the color of the wine…because of the visual information; the tasters discounted the olfactory information….our results suggest that the above perceptual illusion occurs during the verbalization phase of odor determination.”

MY PRIVATE SOMMELIER interprets these studies as re-enforcement of the axiom that ‘If you like it is good wine” and “I like it” is the best description possible of a WINE.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


MY PRIVATE SOMMELIER gets a lot of questions about DECANTING! As with most things related to WINE there are not hard and fast rules, and most WINES don't benefit from, and some WINES can even be hurt by DECANTING!

The DECANTING "RULES" are very simple and flexible.

Let's start with why you would DECANT a WINE in the first place. Pouring a WINE into a DECANTER or a carafe increases the exposure to oxygen, hopefully letting the aromas and flavors develop more quickly than they would in a WINE glass or in the bottle.

Simply allowing WINE to "breathe" in the bottle is essentially a waste of both your and the WINES' time, as only a small surface of the WINE is exposed to oxygen. By DECANTING you are exposing a maximum amount of the WINE to oxygen in a short time frame.

When should you DECANT a WINE?

YES! DECANT young, red WINES. Decanting these WINES will allow the fruit flavors to develop and excess tannins to soften and mellow. It will also help the process to vigorously splash the WINE into the DECANTER.

YES! DECANT complex WINES that have a little age on them. Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo based wines, even after a few years of age, will benefit with DECANTING for an hour or so, by allowing complex flavors to develop and emerge. Pour the WINE into the DECANTER slowly so you don't disturb any sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

PROBABLY NOT! BE CAREFUL ABOUT DECANTING fully mature WINES. Too much oxygen can actually cause their flavors to go flat and the fruit and tannins to dry out. Also don't splash the wine around too much as you pour it into the DECANTER. Most fully mature red wines probably need only a little time in the DECANTER to allow any sediment to fall to the bottom of the DECANTER. Also it helps to allow the bottle to stand upright overnight to allow as much sediment to be deposited in the bottom of the bottle.

YES! DECANT unfiltered and unfined WHITE WINES if they appear cloudy. It is a good idea to allow these wines to sit upright over night as well.