30 Second Wine Advisor: Do we really taste wine?

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Do we really taste wine?

When we thoughtfully sniff and sip, enjoying both the sensory pleasure and the intellectual stimulation that comes from analytical tasting, are we only fooling ourselves?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's the message that I take away from the brief, amusing video, "Out of the Bottle: Wine Psychology," last of a three-art series on wine that aired last February on NPR's Science Friday. (For the careful readers out there, yes, I said "video," and I said "National Public Radio." The video version appears on the program's web site.)

In this five-minute video, Dr. Brian Wansink, Director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, puts on some markedly sardonic expressions as he demonstrates the ways that expectations, environment and social cues can fool us into believing that our wine tastes better or worse than it is.

If you like, feel free to take a break and watch the short video right now. You'll find it embedded in Science Friday's pages here, or you can cut to the chase and go straight to the video on YouTube here.

At the end of the day, I didn't see much that was new here. I'm pretty sure that we've all had the experience of hearing a fellow taster call out a description ... "This wine smells like elephants!" ... and sure enough, then we pick up a whiff of pachyderm, too.

Narrator Wansink seems to enjoy pointing out that those snobby wine tasters love a wine that they think comes from California, but hate the same wine if they think it comes from North Dakota; love a wine that they're told is expensive, but hate the same wine if they're warned that it's cheap.

And so it goes. It's beyond dispute that psychology plays a powerful role in wine tasting, and I'm not about to deny that it works on me. This is why "blind tasting," analyzing wine without any clue to its origin or price, is a powerful way to keep the wine critic (or consumer) honest.

The Science Friday piece, unfortunately, brings more snark than science.

Or at least that seems to be the case in this episode. Dial back a couple of weeks, though, to the first episode in the series, and you'll get a more serious look at the kind of wine tasting we enjoy. In "Out of the Bottle: Wine Flavor," Dr. Gavin Sacks of Cornell University's Viticulture and Enology department offers a an approachable, scientific look at wine's chemical components and the magical 1/10 of 1 percent of your wine that carries that vast smorgasbord of oak, flowers, green peppers or even elephants to our glass.

(The second episode, "Out of the Bottle: Tricks of the Trade," covers wine-geek concepts like breathing, corked wine and "tears," including a few wacky wine-geek tricks such as stirring a corked wine with Saran wrap in (the usually vain) hope of pulling out the dank aroma.)

One thing is certain: Even in blind tasting, I'm pretty sure that I could reliably discern the lean, elegant fruit and aromatic white-pepper scent of this week's excellent featured wine, Weingut Markus Huber 2011 Niederösterreich Zweigelt, from, say, a blockbuster Cenral Coast Pinot Noir or Austrian Shiraz. See my tasting report below.

Wine Focus on Austria

Speaking of Austrian wine, we're featuring Austria from Alzinger to Zweigelt as our Wine Focus for November on the WineLovers Discussion Group. You're most welcome to join us in this and all our conversations, now with instant and easy forum registration and login through Facebook!

So let’s explore Austria for a month. Travel the wine trails of Styria and Burgenland. Wander through Wagram and the Wachau. Don’t forget the Kremstal and Kamptal. It’s a wide world of its own in Austria. There’s no shortage of diversity, so there is something for pretty much everyone’s palate and wallet.

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Today's Tasting Report

Weingut Markus Huber 2011 Niederösterreich Zweigelt ($15.99)

Huber Zweigelt

Zweigelt, a 20th century cross between the Austrian Sankt Laurent grape and Blauburgunder Dark garnet with a clear edge. Good, fresh red-fruit aromas, tart cherry and cranberry, are appealing but restrained, elegant but no fruit bomb. On the palate it's lean and crisp, light but delicious fruit and fragrant white pepper, with an intriguing back note of stony minerality. It's lean but not austere, showing good refined, elegant fruit at 13.2% alcohol. U.S. importer: Circo Vino, Evanston, Ill. (Nov. 5, 2014)

FOOD MATCH: Its refined style would suggest lighter red-wine meat pairings such as the obvious Austrian match, Wiener schnitzel, or other Viennese or Milanese-style preparations. Good cheese is a natural - it was memorable with thin slices shaved from a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano - and it would be fine with lightly spicy Asian dishes such as our choice, Red-lentil dal with collards.

WHEN TO DRINK: Good balance and fruit and a sturdy metal screw cap should protect it for a few years, but I like its fresh fruit and would probably favor drinking it up over the next year or two.

VALUE: My local retail price, $16, matches the U.S. median reported at Wine-Searcher.com. I'm told the wholesaler in our region intends to kick it up a buck or two, which might make me cranky, but I'd probably pay up to the upper teens for this red without too much complaint.

For a good English-language fact sheet on this wine, click here for information from the producer.

Check prices and find vendors for Weingut Markus Huber Niederösterreich Zweigelt on Wine-Searcher.com.

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