// May 25th 2012, from 2:30 until 5:30 pm
Institut Nicod – Salle des rĂ©unions
Pavillon Jardin, Ground Floor
29, rue dâ€™Ulm 75005 Paris
Abstract. How have people talked about the organoleptic characteristics of wines? How and why have descriptive and evaluative vocabularies changed over time? These vocabularies have shifted from the spare to the elaborate, from medical implications to aesthetic analyses, from a leading concern with â€śgoodnessâ€ť (authenticity, soundness) to interest in the analytic description of component flavours and odours. The causes of these changes are various: one involves the importance, and eventual disappearance, of a traditional physiological framework for appreciating the powers and qualities of different sorts of aliment, including wines; another concerns the development of chemical sciences concerned with flavour components; and still another flows from changing social and economic circumstances in which wine was consumed and the functions served by languages of connoisseurship. The historical span surveyed here extends from Antiquity to the present and displays talk about wine tastes as a perspicuous site for understanding aspects of wide-ranging social and cultural change.
Psychologists and neuroscientists tell us that flavour is the result of multi-sensory integration of olfactory, tactile and taste impressions, modulated by tastingâ€™s dynamic time course and the location of sensory stimuli in the mouth. According to this definition, the flavour of a wine is a psychological construct that can vary from subject to subject as a result of different threshold sensitivities tasters have to acid, tannin, sugar, alcohol, C02 and sulphur. Lighting conditions, mood, and even sounds can affect our experience of tasting, and wines can be enhanced or distorted by accompanying food choices. All of this suggests that wine makers have very little influence over the resulting experience drinkers of their wines will have. However, we must distinguish between the experience of drinkers and the flavours of wines. The relationship between them is far from simple and it takes experience and practice to become a proficient taster, able to pick out the flavours in a wine. I will argue that we need to recognise flavours as intermediaries between the chemistry of wine and our reactions to it if we are to explain our practices and understand what the science of wine making contributes to our consumption of it.
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