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MW symposium to test critics’ taste buds

The world’s top wine critics will have their taste buds scientifically tested this summer at the four-yearly Institute of Masters of Wine Symposium.

The test, devised by a professor at Yale University School of Medicine, will rate sommeliers, wine critics and MWs ‘supertasters’, ‘average tasters’ or ‘non-tasters.’

Supertasters are defined as those who can detect a bitter substance called PROP when chewing a piece of paper impregnated with it. It is understood at least one MW has been defined a ‘non-taster’ after failing to detect the substance.

Programme organiser Tim Hanni MW predicts that if the audience is predominantly male, there may be quite a few disappointed people, since most supertasters are female and most non-tasters male.

He insists, though, that the aim is not to judge the delegates, but to challenge our notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ tasters. ‘People live in very different sensory worlds,’ he said. ‘One person might experience things very intensely, while others can’t sense them at all. We’d all like to be supertasters, but in fact these people might be very limited in the wines they are able to appreciate, because intense and concentrated flavours overload their senses. We’re just trying to understand why people like what they like.’

Other topics to be debated at the Institute’s sixth symposium, billed ‘the global thought forum for the wine trade’ include the role of genetics in winemaking, water shortages, global warming, industry consolidation and the challenge of changing consumer expectations.

The last symposium took place four years ago in Vienna and attracted a broad international audience. This year’s speakers will include Jancis Robinson MW, Christian Seely of AXA Millésimes, Christopher Carson, former head of Constellation Europe, Grange winemaker Peter Gago and Prof Dr Monika Christmann of the Geisenheim Research Institute.

They will be joined by experts from other fields, such as former special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, who led investigations into the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky affairs during the Clinton administration, and has been retained by California’s Coalition for Free Trade as a legal consultant, music producer Terry McBride, Starbucks’ chairman Howard Schultz and anthropologist Dr Lionel Tiger.

The Institute of Masters of Wine Napa 2006 Symposium takes place in Napa, California from 29 June to 2 July 2006

Written by Beverley Blanning MW

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