Wine and science have a funny relationship or, more accurately, passionate wine drinkers and scientists who study wine have a funny relationship. The reason for this is that while scientists who study wine want to find the rational and scientific reason for every aspect of the wine in our glass, there are certain things, such as terroir, that passionate wine drinkers wish to remain unexplainable.
Evidence of this relationship can be seen most recently in the furor that was created by an article on terroir and microbes published yesterday by The New York Times. In this article, scientists from UC Davis claim to have identified microorganisms that live on grape skins and have an impact on the finished wine. Scientists claim the microorganisms are different depending on the region of the world the grapes are grown, and thus are the actual creators of the oh so elusive “terroir” that many wine drinkers are so passionate about. One need only to venture to the comments section of the article to realize that there are many passionate wine drinkers who do not agree with the scientists’ recent discoveries.
The issue above is one that comes up a lot: scientists claim to have found a rational cause for a phenomena that is much more romantic and alluring to wine drinkers if the cause is unexplainable. Part of wine’s allure for many people is that it’s mysterious, so the more wine is explained scientifically, the more certain people begin to bristle.
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Another example of this tension is related to the subject of wine tasting. While scientists claim studies prove tasters truly can’t tell the difference, for example, between a Grand Cru and a Village wine from Burgundy, wine drinkers passionately disagree. Read the comments section of any published article that claims there is no difference between a wine that costs $15 and one that costs $50 and you’ll find wine drinkers fiercely arguing against the claim. In fact, even if the studies by the scientists are true, many wine drinkers don’t want the truth to be found, as there is, of course, more allure in mystery for these consumers.
This is where the tension lies. We have one group seeking scientific proof and another wishing for certain things to remain a mystery.
We believe the lesson here is that there is nothing wrong with either opinion. Scientists should continue to study wine, discovering amazing geeky things and wine drinkers should continue to be attracted to wine’s unexplainable qualities. How we choose to drink and understand wine should be a personal preference. If scientific studies inform us and give us more pleasure, wonderful, but, should we choose to instead think of terroir or a Grand Cru as an unexplainable romantic phenomenon, there is nothing wrong with that either.
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