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This weekend I am returning to Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. Calvin Trillin's 2002 essay "The Red and The White" deals, of course, with wine. In it, he addresses the question of whether experienced wine drinkers, in the absence of color and temperature cues, can actually tell the difference between red and white wines.
From the outset, Trillin emphasized his lack of sophistication in matters of the vine:
"...when I'm trying to select a bottle of wine from a liquor store I'm strongly influenced by the picture on the label. (I like a nice mountain, preferably in the middle distance.)"
I laughed out loud when he recounted an experience at a "barrel tasting" held at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York:
"Displaying manners that I thought would have made my mother proud, I drank what was placed before me - not noticing, as I glanced around to see whether more food was ever going to appear, that everyone else was just sipping. I have since heard two or three versions of what transpired that evening, but they do not differ in whether or not I fell asleep at the table."
He also observes "... wine is way beyond any other subject in inspiring in the American layman an urge to refute the notion of expertise. (Modern art must come in second)."
Trillin attempts to get to the bottom of the question by investigating a famed study from University of California at Davis. He learned instead that the study had never been conducted and was, actually, little more than urban myth. UC Davis does, however, give a test at the end of a class it offers. Students try to distinguish between varietals using taste and, especially, smell. (Trillin flunked a 2 glass red-white test on the spot.)
Still curious, he approached a Napa Valley wine-making friend and proposed to round up a small group of "wine people" for the red-white test. An informal test was given, using methods suggested by the UC Davis professor... all wines at the same temperature, black glasses, some even wearing sunglasses!
And the result of this unscientific test? When there is no deliberate effort to fool the tasters, experienced wine drinkers could distinguish between red and white wines 70% of the time.
So tell me... will you be conducting your own temperature-controlled, black glass wine-tasting this weekend? I'm thinking it might be fun. Cheers!
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