A recent book launch caught the eye – Neuroenology by Gordon M. Shepherd, a Professor of Neuroscience at Yale University. The book builds on principles by the same author where he presented Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates flavour and Why It Matters.
At the same time, I also have trading history to reflect upon where samples of wine are presented to a buyer and then rejected on the grounds of taste.
It forms an enquiry about what, in the Hospitality and Catering trade we are trying to do when we present wine, build wine lists and ultimately satisfy our customer. We are all about taste, but what is taste about?
The book explains that molecules of wine don’t actually have taste or flavour, however when they stimulate our brain, the brain then creates flavour in the same way it creates colour. All of the activities related to wine tasting – looking, smelling, both orthonasal (breathing in), and retronasal (breathing out) and tasting the wine. It is amazingly intricate stuff. For example
“judging the color of a wine takes place within a framework of integrating the senses, the emotions, the memories and the use of language.”
The scientific experiment that colleagues in Bordeaux University carried out demonstrated that as humans we can’t actually detect between white and red wine. They colour dyed white wine, into red wine, and had the students describe it. There was no reflection on it being white wine and they used the same descriptors as for the red wines tasted previously.
This is something that has been known for a while. If you blindfold a group of people and deny them the sight of wine, it is impossible to taste the difference between red and white wine.
So that’s a little of the science. Basically taste is in the mind and brings together many other activities of the brain as well as creating a taste profile.
In relatively recent history of trading wine and from my own personal buying experience, I know of situations where wines have been rejected purely on the superficial idea of taste. It is often heard in the industry ‘it’s about what is in the glass at the end of the day’, which is veiled language for success or otherwise.
Either a trader championing a recent success maybe at competition or winning business or bemoaning a failure when competing for business.
As a trader you can play with a very straight bat. Line up all of your potential targets’ wines and align them with your business’ proposals. Taste them, blind even, and feel confident that your proposals match up to the current line up. Send in to the buyer and expect a positive result, only to be disappointed with the knock back that your wines didn’t taste as good.
As a buyer you maybe overwhelmed by samples and propositions. The sample cupboard is full to bursting with competing suppliers wanting to sell wine to your business. So the easiest thing is to blame the taste, when rejecting the latest supplier to come around and ask for an explanation as why their wine is not to be listed.
“It just didn’t match up to the quality we get currently” the buyer might be heard saying. As the buyer you know that this may or may not be true, but frankly there is just too much out there, and customers aren’t going away disappointed, so why change what is not broken?
It’s at this point that bringing to two ideas together, cristallises some clarity in what the Hospitality and Catering trade strategy might be when it comes to wine considerations. Building the wine proposition for customers is in the mind. As humans we create enjoyment in our minds. Olfactory sense is a significant part of enjoyment in the hospitality trade’s environment, but it is also about situation, look , feel and how the whole proposition communicates with the customers. In short does it entertain?
This brings in every angle of the wines and what they say. That includes how they appear on the list, how the label displays from the back of bar, how the staff talk about the wine, how it matches the food and why, does the wine proposition match the values of the organisation – is it naturally produced, biodynamic or organic? Taste is one thing and objectively it is a construct in our minds. In order to gain the most value from the customer table there is much more value to be gained by taking in the wider aspects of the propositions and how entertaining to the audience it is.
It seems, after all, that taste is about many more things than just taste!
Hospitality & Catering News, Wine & Drinks Editor