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Wine Tastings - Some of their peculiarities

Wine Interests

Wine tastings are curious things, the more you do them the more you're struck by the peculiarities of the tasting process. I started thinking about this some time ago in Italy, when some friends of mine were saying that they'd only drink Champagne, never Italian sparkling whites.

Wine tastings are curious things, the more you do them the more you're struck by the peculiarities of the tasting process. I started thinking about this some time ago in Italy, when some friends of mine were saying that they'd only drink Champagne, never Italian sparkling whites. There's no doubt that some of the Italian sparklers can be cloying and their sole offering to the drinker is sweetness and bubbles. But there are others, made in the same way as champagne, that are very good wines and cost a quarter of the price of the imported French bubbly. But then again, champagne is rarely drunk for its taste.

My own favourite of the Italian variety is 'Ferrari', one of the more expensive. And that too set off a train of thought: how much are we influenced by labels? Is it significant that the Italian bubbly that I like best shares a name with a car that I like best? Are there subliminal connections that affect the way our tasting process works? With other senses - sight for example - we know that it's possible to fool the perception with optical illusions. Your eye sees what isn't there and passes on this data to the appropriate processing part of the brain. I suspect that the sense of taste is equally subject to illusion.

To put this to the test I arranged a tasting with seven friends. I chilled four bottles of sparkling wine, covered the labels and removed the neck capsules. I gave everyone a glass, a sheet of paper and a biro. The instructions were simple. Write down your impressions of the wine; if you like it or not and if possible say why. When we'd all tasted number four it was time for the unmasking. The first three got very little praise from anyone, some were even harsh in their criticisms, but number four was universally liked.

Call me a sadist if you like, but it was all in the interests of research. I uncovered each bottle in turn and we read our opinions of each. When we got to number four, there was the surprise entry. It was exactly the same wine as number two. Yet two and four were perceived in every way differently by every one of the panel. I can offer an explanation, but I wouldn't be brave enough to call it definitive. Since four wines are not enough to dull the taste buds, something else is causing the illusion and I'd suggest it's this: the aftertaste of the previous wine has a big effect on the one you're tasting. 'Cleansing the palate' with a piece of bread or cheese between wines starts to look less like an affectation.

Recommended wine

Krone Borealis Brut, non-vintage, Twee Jonge Gezellen

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