The degree to which you experience bitterness, sweetness, astringency, and acidity in wine—and your resulting wine preferences—is related to your genetic taster status.
Half the population has one dominant and one recessive gene for taste, categorizing them as “regular” tasters. They choose moderate flavors and are only mildly sensitive to wine’s tannin, sugar, and high alcohol. For a quarter of the population, both genes are recessive. They are called “non-tasters.” They prefer intense tastes, sweet wines, and are more forgiving of high alcohol in wine. Studies have suggested that non-tasters might consume more alcohol and be at greater risk for alcoholism. The remaining 25 percent have two dominant genes for taste and are termed “supertasters” or “hypertasters.” These people experience flavors more intensely, preferring softer flavors in wine. They disdain sweet wines, heavy tannins, and the bitterness of high alcohol. There are greater numbers of them among women and Asians. Also, the term “supertasters” should be avoided as it connotes superiority over regular or non-tasters.
The number of taste buds on the tongue can vary greatly. Interestingly, taste buds wear out and are replaced on a weekly basis, but after age 45, they are replaced less frequently, causing more people to gradually become regular or non-tasters.
There are two simple, defining tests to determine your class of taster. One test involves counting the number of papillae on the tongue. Dye your tongue blue with blue food dye place a hole punch enforcer on your tongue, and count the pink bumps (papillae) on your tongue within the ring enforcer. If you have more than 35 papillae, you are likely a supertaster; 15 to 35, a regular taster; under 15, a non-taster.
The other test involves recording your sensitivity to 6-n-propylthiouracil or PROP (a drug used to treat hyperthyroidism). Order an at-home test consisting of a strip of paper coated with PROP that you apply to your tongue for a few seconds. Non-tasters will taste nothing or blandness when the PROP touches the tongue; regular tasters will experience a small degree of bitterness; hypertasters will notice a strong and unpleasant bitter sensation. You can order Supertaster Test Kits at www.supertaster.com.
Remember that in the end, regardless of genetic predisposition for tasting sensitivity, it is the drinker’s experience, proclivity, and love of the grape that dictate the ultimate drinking experience.
For more reading about insights into your personal wine preferences, I recommend the book, “Why You Like The Wines You Like: Changing the way the world thinks about wine,” by Tim Hanni, Master of Wine.