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I Taste Red by Jamie Goode: Book Review

William Kelley recommends I Taste Red by Jamie Goode as a good read for curious wine lovers who want to learn more about the science of taste. Read his review below...

I Taste Red Jamie Goode

Jamie Goode already enjoys a richly-deserved reputation as wine science’s most able populariser. With Wine Science (2014), he has made many of wine’s most arcane technicalities accessible to laymen, explaining difficult subjects such as the chemistry of reduction and oxidation in a clear and comprehensible style.

With his latest book, however, Goode has undertaken a still more ambitious challenge, for I Taste Red is not merely (as its sub-title would seem to suggest) a study of ‘the science of tasting wine’, but in fact nothing less than ‘a wide-ranging exploration of the nature of perception itself’, drawing on the insights of physiology, psychology, neuroscience and philosophy to elucidate this complex subject.

In Goode’s hands, for example, a discussion of synaesthesia opens a window onto the relationship of the senses, revealing how sound and colour can shape perceptions of taste. Indeed, an holistic approach is one of the book’s signatures: wine’s components, Goode contends, are perceived as a whole and need to be studied as such. Fascinating insights abound: subliminal concentrations of one aromatic substance, we learn, can amplify the intensity of another perceptible scent.

One of the central tenets of I Taste Red is that we are not simply measuring devices: our sensations are edited by our brains. That reminds us how personal wine tasting ultimately is: Goode explores how our response to wine changes with increasing experience, as well as the assets and potential pitfalls that experience brings.

A discussion of specific anosmias includes the bombshell that fully a fifth of the population are insensitive to rotundone, the chemical which gives Syrah its peppery aroma. Such an irrefutable reminder that we do truly ‘live in different taste worlds’ cannot but instil salutary humility in the professional critic and wine taster.

Certainly, these are serious subjects, treated in some detail. But throughout, copious and often complex scientific subjects are handled with Goode’s characteristic lightness of touch. Illustrative thought experiments and helpful summations aid the reader through the more difficult material. All that means that I Taste Red will amply reward both professionals and amateurs alike.

Written by William Kelley for Decanter.com

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