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EMWTK: The Zone Theory Of Taste

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I'd guess that most of you are of an age where at some point in your youth, you were probably exposed to the concept of tastebud zones: sweet near the tip, sour along the sides, bitter towards the rear, etc. It was in those fancy anatomy diagrams in all of the encyclopedias, and I for one had no reason not to believe it.

Then recently, thanks to the Riedel-stemware-debunking article in _Gourmet_, I was surprised to learn that science had discredited this theory decades ago. Tastebuds aren't distributed that way, scientists proclaimed, and the Riedel effect is adequately explained by the power of suggestion, and confirmed by proper experimentation. Well, the latter is easy enough to accept...there is no substitute for empirical observation.

And yet, leafing through the opening pages of the Zingerman's guide, I'm struck that Ari Weinzweig devotes a couple of paragraphs to the zone theory. I mean, the guy KNOWS good eats. I figure he must have grown up with the theory...has knowing about it influenced the _way_ he tastes? What about supertasters - those people whose genetics give them many extra tastebuds? What about umami, for which taste receptors have only recently been found? Could it be that tastebuds are uniformly distributed, but the wiring of the nervous system isn't?

I'm still uncertain whether or not I still believe the zone theory myself, but then again I'm also highly food-suggestible. What do YOU think? I'm particularly interested in seeing responses from people who have not heard of this zone theory before. Do your senses of sweet/salt/sour/bitter peak on different parts of your tongue?

Dave

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This was sent out by the guy from Pearson's a few of weeks ago. Looks like he totally bought the Riedel idea. Is the Gourmet article online somewhere?

"RESULTS OF THE RIEDEL SEMINAR . . . ASTONISHING

© 2000-2005 Stephen Silver, all rights reserved. Posted Oct 24, 2005 - 01:09 PM

2005 Pearsons Newsletter

For those of you who missed the Riedel Wine Glass Seminar . . . starring Max Riedel . . . you should have been there. I've been in the wine business for a long time . . . and never have I attended a wine experience this informative.

riedel tasting set Riedel's philosophy is straighforward . . . to get the most pleasure out of a glass of wine you must drink it from a vessel of the proper shape.

Hogwash, you retort. A glass is a glass and wine is wine and no matter what you drink it from, it's got to taste the same.

Allow me to summarize what it took about two hours that night to demonstrate.

There, in front of each of us, were five wine glasses . . . four were Riedels: a Bordeaux, tall and large; a Burgundy, large bowled yet smaller at the opening; a Chardonnay, similar to the Burgundy, but shorter and wider; and a Sauvignon Blanc, tall and narrow. The fifth glass, the "joker," was typical of what you might find in almost any restaurant, large bowled, yet clunky.

Everybody in the room assumed they knew what was coming . . . that we would drink the wines from the expensive crystal and criticize the less refined glass . . . not exactly.

This is the demonstration that dropped jaws and opened eyes at every table.

Each wine . . . and they were all high quality, delicious examples of their varietal . . . was tasted from ALL THE OTHER RIEDEL GLASSES.

The Chardonnay from the proper glass was creamy with room filling aromas . . . but from the Sauvignon Blanc glass it was tinny with hardly any aroma at all. The Pinot Noir from the Burgundy glass was extraordinary . . . but from the Bordeaux glass it lost its charm. Again . . . and again . . . and again . . . I swear to you that each and every wine . . . without exception . . . tasted different out of every other glass.

The room buzzed with astonishment.

Why is this, you ask . . . how could it be?

The explanation.

Your palate, better known as your tongue, perceives flavors differently on its different parts. The tip of the tongue detects sweetness. The sides detect saltiness. The back of the tongue detects bitterness.

Riedel glasses are formed to work with these sensations. Tannic red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are meant to be drunk from glasses which deliver the wine to the front of your tongue, to taste the sweetness first. By comparison, sweeter wines, like Chardonnay, should be tasted first on the back of the tongue to balance the bitter with the sweet. Each varietal has its own nuance, each glass is formed to react to it.

By the end of the evening I do not think I saw a single disbeliever. Thank you, Mr. Riedel. I am convinced.

Riedel Vinum Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon)

Riedel Vinum Burgundy (Pinot Noir)

Riedel Vinum Montrachet (Chardonnay)

Riedel Vinum Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre, Fume Blanc)

ALL ON SALE THIS WEEK $16.99 EACH

Reg Price $20.00

==========================

Steve Silver, Proprietor"

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From this site:

# A single taste bud contains 50–100 taste cells representing all 5 taste sensations (so the classic textbook pictures showing separate taste areas on the tongue are wrong).

# Each taste cell has receptors on its apical surface. These are transmembrane proteins which bind to the molecules and ions that give rise to the 5 taste sensations.

# Although a single taste cell may have representatives of several types of receptor, one type may be more active than the others on that cell. And, no single taste cell contains receptors for both bitter and sweet tastants.

# Each taste receptor cell is connected, through a synapse, to a sensory neuron leading back to the brain.

# However, a single sensory neuron can be connected to several taste cells in each of several different taste buds.

# The sensation of taste — like all sensations — resides in the brain

And from this site:

One rather more empirical approach to resolving this question is to stimulate the different areas of the tongue directly. Thermal stimulation of the anterior sides of the tongue in humans (fungiform papillae and the chorda tympani nerve) evokes sweet and salt/sour taste. While thermal stimulation of the rear of the tongue (foliate/circumvallate papillae and glossopharyngeal nerve) causes a different relationship between temperature and taste to the anterior stimulation. One can conclude that the classical "taste map" is an over simplification. Sensitivity to all tastes is distributed across the whole tongue and indeed to other regions of the mouth where there are taste buds (epiglottis, soft palate), but some areas are indeed more responsive to certain tastes than others.

My emphasis.

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The article referenced is "Shattered Myths" by Daniel Zwerdling in Gourmet , August 2004. I didn't find it online, though I only spent about ten seconds looking. It is one of the best pieces of writing in Gourmet in years, and well worth looking up.

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Target is now selling Riedel glassware. I've got no idea how they compare to the "real" Riedel. I'd love to hear from someone who knows more about their products than do I.

Target Riedel Glassware

Although Riedel isn't necessarily the reason I started this thread, I too noticed these at Target last week. According to the pamphlets next to the display, this line is exclusive to Target. I didn't examine the boxes thoroughly enough to determine country of origin, but the displays didn't seem to make the usual fuss about glass shape. Could it be an exercise in brand licensing?

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Although Riedel isn't necessarily the reason I started this thread, I too noticed these at Target last week.  According to the pamphlets next to the display, this line is exclusive to Target.  I didn't examine the boxes thoroughly enough to determine country of origin, but the displays didn't seem to make the usual fuss about glass shape.  Could it be an exercise in brand licensing?

The informational blub on the Target site refers to the glassware as "Tyrol crystal". Tyrol's in Austria, correct? Of course, I'm sure bad glassware can be made just as easily as the good stuff in Austria. I did open up on of the boxes and check out the glasses.....but I don't know enough about the qualities of fine glassware to know how these measure up.

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Lest anyone think my palate is aging, buy-and-try the Rite-Aid brand of "acid reducer" - the coating of the tablets is flavored with artificial vanilla. I'm not sure why I've always been able to tell when the coating of pills (e.g., Advil) changes its flavoring, but I've always been able to.

Does that make me a better person than you? Yes.

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On 11/15/2005 at 7:55 PM, Free Wilma said:

Target is now selling Riedel glassware. I've got no idea how they compare to the "real" Riedel. I'd love to hear from someone who knows more about their products than do I.

Target Riedel Glassware

In case anyone thought this "silly little problem" would be resolved by the Free Market:

Screenshot 2018-12-20 at 23.46.32.png

Yes, there are now glasses for "Unoaked Chardonnay," "Extreme Oaked Chardonnay," "Performance Chardonnay," etc., to which I say, in perfect French:
SPAREZ-MOI!

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I once attended a Riedel seminar given by Max Riedel's father George, and like Steve Silver I came away at least convinced that the different shapes had merit.

We also tasted spirits, and George demonstrated that a small narrow glass like a sherry glass was infinitely preferable to a snifter for cognac. He frankly said we only sell snifters because people throw money at us for them.

I have some "inside" knowledge on dealing with Riedel, and can say they can be an exasperating company to deal with. They have a vast array of products and codes, but in some cases, you can end up paying two different prices to Riedel for exactly the same product that is deliberately sold under two different names and codes. Even people who constantly deal directly with them, have trouble understanding their methodology.

Edit to add: Even their own employees sometimes have difficulty explaining what they are trying to achieve.

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22 hours ago, Count Bobulescu said:

I once attended a Riedel seminar given by Max Riedel's father George, and like Steve Silver I came away at least convinced that the different shapes had merit.

That's because they are masters of manipulation. Seriously, anyone interested in how opinions can be shaped should read this article. There's a lesson in there that goes far beyond stemware. Also, the conclusion might surprise you. Shattered Myths.

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6 hours ago, porcupine said:

That's because they are masters of manipulation. Seriously, anyone interested in how opinions can be shaped should read this article. There's a lesson in there that goes far beyond stemware. Also, the conclusion might surprise you. Shattered Myths.

Don't dispute your assertion at all. I intended my lukewarm embrace of Riedel (different shapes had merit) to indicate that unlike Steve Silver I was not completely "sold". Damned with faint praise etc. I was sold on the cognac comparison though.

As for the scientific tests I think they may be partially explained by the participants. Most of them appear to have been quote "untrained novices"  It's been my experience that frequent tasters are more aware of the nuances, and you will likely get different results from them than novices. If you had a novice and a Formula One driver test a new sports car, you'd expect a better more detailed analysis from the professional.

Don't dispute any of the scientific findings either, but the article was also an indictment of journalistic rigor. I usually find Daniel Zwerdling interesting when I hear him on NPR. I'm not a shill for Riedel. You can find similarly shaped stemware for much less. You might also be surprised at how low a price Riedel sells some stemware that is not available to the public. 

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I agree with both porcupine and Count Bobulescu. I do think that Riedel stemware can emphasize different aspects of a wine, depending on its shape and size, but exactly *which* aspects are emphasized is where the bullshit lies.

If I serve a wine - most any wine that hasn't seen new oak - which hasn't undergone malolactic fermentation (which takes crisp, green-apple-like, malic acid, and converts it to round, milk-like, lactic acid), and say, "How many of you smell apples?" most of the room would raise their hands.

I've been to several, perhaps numerous, tastings where the importer strategically arranges the ordering of the wines in order to make some show better. Case in point: at a Bobby Kacher tasting, perhaps twenty years ago, he inserted this huge, strapping red by Edmond Burle that was far too powerful for most people upon first taste. Kacher noted that he "loved it," although he only had a couple of cases left in stock. That was followed by a much less serious, more mass-produced, medium-bodied, red wine that, after the behemoth Burle, tasted like the first day of Spring - it was a crowd favorite, and it just so happened that people could buy as much of it as they wished - there was plenty in stock. I never discussed this with anyone, but it was blatant palate manipulation. 

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