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Is Wine Expertise Genetic?

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A controversial new study finds that wine professionals taste wine differently than consumers, but others call the research off-target.

When it comes to tasting wine, does our ability lie in our DNA, or is it learned? A controversial new study concludes that taste sensitivity to wine comes from our genes, but other experts question the findings and their implications.

"Wine Expertise Predicts Taste Phenotype," by Profs. John Hayes and Gary Pickering, at Penn State’s Dept. of Food Science and the Brock University Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, respectively, appeared in the American Journal for Enology and Viticulture in March. The study separated 330 participants into two groups—"wine experts," defined as professionals in the wine industry, and consumers—and gave them a paper disk treated with some drops of the chemical 6-n-propylrhioueacil (PROP) and asked them to taste it.

Some people find PROP tasteless, and others mildly or extremely bitter. Hayes and Pickering wrote that PROP testing "has been widely adopted as a marker of genetic variation in taste" and that some recent studies showed “those who experience PROP as being intensely bitter not only experience heightened overall oral sensation, but also may be more acute tasters, with the ability to discriminate smaller differences between oral stimuli.”

Read full story on Wine Spectator

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