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Monday, April 23, 2012

Wine Expertise Predicts Taste Phenotype

Taste phenotypes have been studied in relation to alcohol intake, dependence, and family history, with contradictory findings. However, on balance—with appropriate caveats about populations tested, outcomes measured, and psychophysical methods used—an association between variation in taste responsiveness and some alcohol behaviors is supported. Recent work suggests supertasting (operationalized via propylthiouracil [PROP] bitterness) associates not only with heightened response but also with more acute discrimination between stimuli.

This work examined relationships between food and beverage adventurousness and taste phenotype. A convenience sample of wine drinkers (n = 331) was recruited in Ontario and phenotyped for PROP bitterness via filter paper disk. The subjects also completed a short questionnaire regarding willingness to try new foods, alcoholic beverages, and wines as well as level of wine involvement, which was used to classify each one as a wine expert (n = 111) or a wine consumer (n = 220).

In univariate logisitic models, food adventurousness predicted trying new wines and beverages but not expertise. Likewise, wine expertise predicted willingness to try new wines and beverages but not foods.

In separate multivariate logistic models, willingness to try new wines and beverages was predicted by expertise and food adventurousness but not PROP.

However, mean PROP bitterness was higher among wine experts than wine consumers, and the conditional distribution functions differed between experts and consumers. In contrast, PROP means and distributions did not differ with food adventurousness.

These data suggest individuals may self-select for specific professions based on sensory ability (i.e., an active gene-environment correlation), but phenotype does not explain willingness to try new stimuli.

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