STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some other news now. A new study explores a question that has occurred to almost anybody who's looked at an expensive bottle of wine and wondered if it was really that much better than the one that costs a few bucks. As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, the answer may depend on your biology.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When I got the assignment to look into the science of wine-tasting subtleties, the obvious place to go was a wine shop.
JON GENDERSON: You are in Schneider's of Capitol Hill and my name Jon Genderson.
AUBREY: As we navigate the narrow rows of his shop, I ask Genderson if he could find us a wine that the experts of the wine world, the people who come up with those ratings, absolutely love.
GENDERSON: There's quite a few.
AUBREY: He places his hand on the neck of one bottle.
GENDERSON: A Charmes Chambertin from this grape producer Domaine Dublere.
AUBREY: And the price tag...
GENDERSON: It's $150.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
GENDERSON: It's Charmes Charbertin Grand Cru.
AUBREY: Okay, I'm confused.
GENDERSON: And that one is very, very expensive, very highly rated and very expensive.
AUBREY: Genderson says in the high-end wine world, ratings really do drive prices and trends. And reviews are based on a complicated vocabulary that lots of us pretend to understand.
GENDERSON: It's soft. The tannins are balanced and integrated into the wine. It has lovely fruit.
AUBREY: But as Genderson talks in this language of wine, I realize to some extent he's lost me. I mean, sure, I can fake it, but honestly, I don't know how to detect notes of plum or eucalyptus. Now, it's possible that with some training I could learn, but it's also possible that what separates me from experts like Genderson is a matter of biology as well. That's what scientist John Hayes thinks.
JOHN HAYES: It may be that he actually has different physiology in his mouth and nose and brain that allows him to pick out some of those nuances that no matter how much training you have you'll never find.
AUBREY: Well, okay, but Hayes and some of his colleagues at Penn State have just published a study that offers some proof of this theory, that in the world of wine tasting there are super tasters and then there are the rest of us.
HAYES: Well, we evaluated about 330 wine drinkers with a specific bitter chemical that measures taste ability. And when we did that, we found that the wine experts, people like wine makers or wine judges or wine writers, were much more sensitive to the bitterness of this chemical.
AUBREY: It's similar to the studies that have found super tasters are more sensitive to the sweetness of sugar, the spiciness of chilies or saltiness of chips. So if it turns out that lots of us don't or can't taste the subtleties of fine wines, it makes me wonder, why do people pay for them? Outside the wine shop, I asked a group of law students, including Jim Stanton (ph).
JIM STANTON: I think a lot of times when you pay more for a bottle, you sometimes don't want to admit to yourself that it's not something good.
AUBREY: But now that we know that lots of us can't taste the difference, maybe we won't feel insecure about sticking with our more economically priced favorites. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.