On Taste

grand cru glassIn a previous post I mentioned that Norman Mailer was not a writer particularly to my taste. Just after writing that I came upon an account of a couple of interesting experiments that speak to the subjectivity of taste — in this case the taste of wine. The following passages are from an article by Jonah Lehrer on “The Subjectivity of Wine.”

In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.” Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” while the vin du table was “weak, short, light, flat and faulty”. Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.

It’s hard to judge these experiments without knowing more about how they were conducted. But it’s amusing to see, from the comments to the original post, the reactions they produced.

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  1. Some very interesting case histories do the rounds of business schools on the taste wars between the major soft drink sellers and they all bear out what this article talks about. Taste is something that is highly individual and expert comments are only to give people who wish to talk about it a handle. Just like reviews of books. How often we get fooled into buying/reading books based on a review by a reputed reviewer!

  2. No love for Norman? Tsk, tsk! I think that I read his first novel when I was a teenager or maybe in my early 20? I certainly read the one with the story of the woman who was raped and the whole thing just disgusted me. Later, when I found out about him stabbing his wife and his life long male chauvinism as well as his roll in helping a dangerous criminal get released from prison, well, I just could not get past that into appreciating another person who celebrated violence. However literary and artistic. I realize that there is more to Mailer than that but there are so many books and so little time, I prefer to read authors whom I love – Marquez, Borges, Lessing, among others.

  3. ancient evenings is probably the best book i have ever read. 2nd choice; the baroque trilogy by neil stevenson.